There’s a big difference between virtue signaling on things you don’t really stand for and having a plan. People who do the former, (and you can’t go wrong by citing Senator Lindsey Graham on virtually any issue) overreact and then backtrack because they’re trying to appeal to voters on issues they don’t have a gut feeling for.
Having a plan, and the Left tends to have plans, means picking your battles, defeating the enemy and then claiming the spoils.
The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision was an important legal victory, it wasn’t a political victory. It didn’t happen because the public changed sides, but because conservatives had made their own long march through the judiciary.
The enemy had been defeated legally, but not politically or culturally.
The smart thing to do at this point would have been for states to test the waters by banning late-term abortion and other politically unpopular forms of abortion, and then let the Left vent its fury, and have the national public debate on those terms.
Instead, Republicans have gone for six-week abortion bans and abortion pill bans that are, whatever the case on the moral and legal merits may be, politically unpopular. They’ve given the Left the battle on the terms it wanted to fight it. And the long-term implications may very well lead to a comprehensive defeat for the pro-life cause and a victory for abortion.
The tactical overreach came from politicians who were virtue signaling and also from passionate pro-life activists whose sense of conviction overruled any kind of strategy. And I can sympathize. We’ve all spent decades watching conservatives retreat from one battle after another, counseling “strategic patience”.
But that wasn’t the scenario here. The pro-life side had won a legal victory, but it needed to win the public debate. The best way to do that was not to advance to the least popular position possible.
I know we’re now in a political culture where some think that the best way to fight the Left is to imitate it, adopt the farthest possible position to open the Overton Window, and assume that the public will go along. That works a whole lot better when you control the media, corporations, public discourse and the entertainment industry.
It also works a whole lot better on issues that people don’t care as much about.
Passing late-term abortion bans and forcing the media and the Left to defend that would have been the smart strategy. Debating abortion pills is not. Democrats would have almost inevitably tried to move the battle to that terrain anyway, but Republicans didn’t have to make it so absurdly easy for them.
Pro-life activists are right to be suspicious of a cowardly and unprincipled political class, but going too big has given that class every excuse it needed to retreat and hold up shiny new objects. We’ve seen this play out before on numerous other issues.
Dobbs was not a sea change in American life. It was a legal sea change. At the moment we’re a country that is rapidly losing its religion, patriotism and even sense of family. Turning the tide is a cultural battle and the abortion debate has to be seen in that light. A strategic battle on abortion could have provided cultural victories, instead a lack of strategy has allowed the Left to claim those cultural victories while conservatives retreat to the bastion of the law. If the last few generations have shown us anything, it’s that the law is not a defense against a culture war.