Conservatives May Not Want to Celebrate the Demise of Roe Just Yet

The decision has not yet been handed down and if it goes as expected, we may not like all the consequences.

I read a few stories today that claim Chief Justice Roberts is trying to water down the draft decision that was leaked a few days ago.  I don’t know if that’s true, no sources were named and therefore I’m not going to link to the story here.  However, it seems entirely plausible (given what we’ve seen in the past from Roberts) that he wants to uphold the Mississippi law without completely overturning Roe.  That seems to be a tall order, but the fact remains that the court has not yet handed down a final decision.  Things may change.  The court is notorious for very narrow rulings and in the end, this may be another example.

Let’s assume the court rules the way most seem to think it will at this point.  By that I mean, they overturn Roe.  This may not turn out to be a good thing for conservatives.

One of the “rules” of politics – and may other fields – is the law of unintended consequences.  I don’t care much what you do, how noble the cause, how right the cause, there are ALWAYS unintended consequences.  Always.  In my memory, this is a concept that neither political party has ever accounted for let alone embraced.

I don’t remember much about LBJ’s administration.  I do remember the election of 1968.  And I certainly recall the elections thereafter.  During my living memory, almost every presidential election has been, to at least some degree, a backlash.

Nixon’s election in 1968 was a backlash against LBJ.  The war in Vietnam (and how it was handled by LBJ’s administration) had become unpopular.  On top of that, civil unrest at home had become quite frightening to the average citizen.  Nixon ran on ending the war and restoring law and order, and he won in 1968.  Nixon was reelected in 1972 in a landslide, but that same year Watergate was beginning to break and by 1974 Nixon resigned.

The election of 1976 was a backlash against Watergate and all those “involved” – whether or not they were actually involved.  Republicans faired poorly.  Carter beat Ford in the presidential election, and the state of Washington (still largely conservative then) elected Dixy Lee Ray as governor.  Backlash.

Carter was in over his head.  He could not manage to bring inflation under control and his foreign policy chops just weren’t there.  The U.S. came off as weak on the world stage even to Americans.  The hostage crisis and inflation were Carter’s undoing.  In 1980 he lost to Reagan.  Backlash.

Reagan’s first term was rough.  Inflation continued to soar.  The Fed finally raised interest rates to incredible levels – a mortgage was like 18% for a time.  The economy went into recession and some places, like the town I lived in at the time, saw over 30% unemployment.  But things were getting much better by 1984 and Reagan won reelection in a landslide.  By the end of his second term, Reagan was still very popular and the country (the economy) was doing well.  His VP George H. W. Bush won the presidency in 1988.

Bush did quite well early on.  His popularity soared over the first Iraq war.  But the economy tanked, and times were rough again, so Bill Clinton shot Bush out of the saddle in 1992.  I think many (at the time) thought that essentially 12 years of the Reagan administration was enough – and at this point the GOP did not have a solid economy to point to as a success.  “It’s the economy stupid” – became a thing (still is).  Backlash.

Bill Clinton is a bit of a different story, at least in recent times.  What he ran on and what he accomplished, in many cases, were essentially conservative ideas.  Under Clinton welfare was drastically revised (as one example).  Clinton was reelected (the economy was doing well – thanks to Reagan).  But his VP Gore couldn’t manage to succeed him.  I don’t know how much to ascribe to the Clinton scandals on this point – most of the people I knew at the time didn’t give much of a damn about them.  But in any case, George W. Bush won in 2000 (in a very close election).  I don’t know for sure if this was backlash or not.  It’s probably a major reason the race was tight – neither candidate had much juice – neither candidate had much charisma.

The way the George W. Bush administration wound down however, was clearly a case of backlash.  Bush foolishly got the U.S. into ground wars with no definition of victory and now end game.  They ended up going on for decades – far past the end of his second term.  The economy crashed due to criminally poor lending policies enabled by the federal government.  And it crashed hard, with the outcome being federal bailouts for large banks, insurance companies, and auto makers among many others.  It was an unmitigated disaster.  For the first time in memory, many found that they could not sell their house even for the price they paid for it and suddenly could not secure a loan to buy a house at all.  Obama won in 2008.  Backlash.

Obama’s overreach with ACA, his IRS scandal, and his “I got a phone and a pen” comment outraged many.  Trump’s election was due to Obama.  Backlash.

To be honest, Trump’s election as a backlash against Obama may be the clearest case of backlash against over-reach in my memory.  But it is clear to me that it was exactly that.  The “pen and phone” comment, to me, was the most outrageous statement I’ve ever heard from a sitting president.  I know it didn’t get much attention at the time, but it should have.  That was a very clear statement in support of the imperial presidency and against the U.S. Constitution.  I’ll admit that early on I rather liked Obama even though I disagreed with him ideologically, but after that statement I was entirely disgusted.  I never voted for him, but after that I couldn’t stand him.

Joe Biden’s victory over Trump was a backlash against Trump.  In this case, not so much because of over-reach as demeanor.  Trump was clumsy with his rhetoric and angered people he really had no good reason to anger.  He ruled largely from the center, but his rhetorical style drove many (most prominently in the media) over the edge.  Backlash.

To preempt my critics, yes, what I’ve written here so far is an oversimplification – a dramatic oversimplification.  That doesn’t negate the fact that there are consequences – intended or otherwise.

If Roe is overturned, the result will be joy for some and outrage for others.  We’re already seeing this even without an official ruling.  Conservatives may want to ask themselves, where will the outrage be directed?

I’ve read a few articles in the last few days that suggest the outrage of the pro-choice people may be directed at Democrats – for failing to stop this, or prevent it, and for failing to do anything about it now (not that there is much they could do right now).

The outrage could also be directed at conservatives.  Polls on this are pretty wild – and most notably the issues I find with the polls come down to the question.  For example, about 70% polled do not want Roe overturned.  But this is largely because those polled believe that if it is overturned abortion would be banned nationwide.  This is obviously not the case – if Roe is overturned the regulation of abortion goes back to the states.  However, what it does indicate is that 70% of the country believes abortion should be legal in some cases.  SOME CASES.  What exactly those cases are, and how far into the pregnancy is not clear.  A decisive majority believe abortion should not be legal in the second or third trimester – according to what I read.  So, there is a great deal of support for restrictions as the term becomes later.  There is little support of a ban in the first few weeks. 

Overturning Roe would be a victory in the mind of many conservatives.  But if conservatives over-play this hand there may well be a backlash.  Conservatives – particularly at the federal level – should not be talking about a federal ban across the board.  It will cause a backlash and it will also destroy the conservative argument that the issue should be decided at the state level.  Conservatives would do well to not rub any progressive noses in this mess – leave it alone – we made the argument on the ideal that the states should decide this (not the court) so let the states decide.  Press too far, and you’ll lose elections.  Yes – I know voter memory is short and by the time November rolls around there will be a lot of other issues and arguments.  But the election of 1976 was a full two years after Nixon had resigned.  People did not forget.

It’s entirely possible I’m wrong about all of this.  I think it’s also entirely possible that a backlash against this could set the conservative movement back years.  And I think it is irresponsible for conservatives to ignore that possibility.  The polls I see say somewhere between 60 and 70% of the citizens do not want Roe overturned.  Those polls are no doubt skewed and lack context at least to some extent.  Even if they are half true, conservatives should take notice – because this is a large block of voters.


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