May 30

Guns, abortion, and the stirrings of the slumbering giant

Guns and abortion may galvanize the biggest political mobilization in a generation

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Robert Reich exposes where power lies in our system — and how it's used and abused.
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Hello, friends. I hope you’re having a restful and safe Memorial Day.

Today, I want to ask: Can anything positive come from last week’s tragedy? Or the mass shooting ten days before, in Buffalo? Can anything positive come from the Supreme Court’s imminent decision to reverse Roe v. Wade?

Making your own decision about whether to have a child, and keeping any child you do have out of harm’s way, are surely two of the most basic of all human needs. Yet both are fiercely resisted — the first by evangelical Christians, the second by the gun lobby. And Republican lawmakers are in the pockets of both.

The American people are not at all evenly divided on these issues. According to nearly every poll, wide majorities (including many G.O.P. voters) support requiring universal background checks for would-be gun purchasers, and most support “red flag” laws, bans on high-capacity magazines, and bans on sales of assault weapons.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans wants to maintain access to abortions before the first trimester of pregnancy, which has been the rule since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.   

What does it matter? Nothing will happen to restrict the sale of guns, or maintain access to abortions — or will it?

In the wake of last week’s massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, Congress is once again about to vote on gun control. Because of the filibuster, gun control proposals need 60 votes to pass the Senate -- requiring that 10 Republicans join the 50-person Democratic caucus to approve any legislation. Almost no one believes 10 Republican senators will come around, even after last week’s horror.  

Weeks ago, after the leak of a draft opinion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, written by Samuel Alito and evidently joined by four other G.O.P.-appointed Justices -- which argues that no right to abortion can be found in the Constitution or read into the Fourteenth Amendment, and that, therefore, no such right exists –- Senate Democrats tried to codify a national right to abortion.  But on May 11, the Women’s Health Protection Act failed in the Senate, 49-51. That was short not only of a simple majority but, more importantly, of the super-majority of 60 votes required to overcome the inevitable filibuster. (Only the West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin crossed party lines.)

Meanwhile, while steadfastly refusing all attempts to control guns and maintain access to abortion, Republican lawmakers at the federal and state levels remain opposed to government funding for child care, parental leave, sex education, and contraception, and for reproductive, maternal, neonatal and pediatric health services.

It takes a great deal to awaken the slumbering giant of America. Most voters do not belong to either major political party. In the typical midterm election, fewer than half who are eligible to cast a ballot do so. In most presidential elections, slightly more than a third do so. (The 2018 midterms, 53 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.)

Yet every so often the slumbering giant awakens — and with a swoop of its huge arm at the ballot box puts an end to a growing disconnect between what voters want and what politicians do (or fail to do). It happened in 1932. It also happened in 2020, when about 158 million Americans voted -- 81 million for Joe Biden and 74 million for Donald Trump. (Even then, one-third of eligible voters, approximately 77 million Americans, failed to vote.) Midterm elections tend to be quieter affairs. In the 2014 midterms, only 20 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 went to the polls, for example. But in the 2018 midterms, the giant stirred: 36 percent of young people voted — giving control of the House to the Democrats.

The disconnection between the majority of Americans and Republican lawmakers on guns and abortion may well awaken the slumbering giant for this fall’s midterm elections.

Most pundits are convinced that the Democrats are doomed to lose the House and Senate in the upcoming midterms, as well as the presidency in 2024. They point to the fact that after fifteen months in office, Biden is polling badly, at around 40 per cent But the punditocracy is ignoring guns and abortion, and failing to see the stirrings of the great slumbering giant of the American people that these two issues are provoking. (The pundits also forget that at the same point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan was polling at around 40 percent. But as inflation declined, Reagan ran for re-election against Walter Mondale and won 49 states.)

If the slumbering giant does awaken — and I believe that to be more likely than not — a mobilization such as America has rarely seen will propel Democrats to even larger majorities in the House and Senate this coming November, and consign Republicans to a near permanent minority (as they already are on guns and abortion).  

What do you think?

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