By Phil Boas
Sometimes authoritarian diktats glide so smoothly off the tongue they are barely perceptible to the human ear.
That was the case last week when Kirsten Gillibrand, Democratic candidate for president and high-profile U.S. senator from New York, declared the end of politics.
Only a few national newspapers and news programs paid much attention, but Gillibrand had essentially said it.
Politics are dead.
“(It is wrong to) deny women … basic human rights,” she told the Des Moines Register editorial board. “I think there's some issues that have such moral clarity that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable.”
Gillibrand wants to erase their views
The illegitimate other side here is the self-described “pro-life” opposition to legalized abortion. And one can only presume, given Gillibrand’s maximalist view, it includes those who would keep abortion legal but also impose restrictions on it.
Gillibrand added that opposition to abortion should be regarded in the same way we regard racism. In other words, critics of abortion need to be banished from the public square. They need to be treated with all the loathing and disdain we reserve for racial bigots.
They should never be granted access to polite society. Never hold corporate jobs. Never rise to any position of legitimate authority. They should be shunned and ignored and otherwise marginalized – made so radioactive that their views are no longer to be considered. Only condemned.
And that especially goes for federal judges one suspects may harbor anti-abortion convictions.
How is abortion not a political issue?
“Imagine saying it's OK to appoint a judge who's racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic,” said Gillibrand. “Asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America, I don't think those are political issues anymore.”
Not a political issue?
There has been no more sharply divided issue in this country over the last half-century than legalized abortion. A majority of Americans support it, but a majority also either oppose or want restrictions on it. Former President Bill Clinton reflected this point of view when he said abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.”
To declare “case closed” on this issue, one so polarized and broadly debated, is to say Kirsten Gillibrand and those who share her point of view dictate what Americans can and cannot discuss.
Gillibrand is no better than Trump
The American left has been rightly appalled at the authoritarian impulses of Donald Trump, including his Sunday tweet storm calling the New York Times and Washington Post once again “the enemy of the people” and asking if his supporters will insist he serve a third (and unconstitutional) term.
Where is their condemnation of Gillibrand, who just last week unilaterally decided the abortion debate is over and her side won?
I wonder if she would like to explain to American Hipanics, an important constituency in the Democratic Party, that their mouths have been zipped.
Nearly half of them believe abortion should be illegal in “all or most cases” (44%, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center Poll.)
Abortion has been debated rigorously in our lifetimes because it is morally ambiguous. There are no clear lines. The truth depends on how you view the fetus, how it is defined and whether it warrants protection.
All of us, pro-abortion and anti-abortion, should be conflicted about the issue because the choices are stark and have real-life consequences.
A complicated issue demands debate
Whether you believe a fetus worthy of rights or not, abortion is still a jarring act – the dismemberment and vacuuming of life that left untouched would become an independent, conscious human being.
On the flip-side, talk to doctors who worked American emergency rooms before Roe v. Wade and hear the horrors of women who came in butchered or poisoned by back-alley abortionists.
If we make abortion illegal, we shove it back to the shadows and leave it to the butchers.
With no clear lines of agreement, the issue demands discussion and ongoing access to the American conscience.
Politics is the way we deal with such disagreements and disputes in our society, with words, not clubs.
Take that away and what are we left with? “Politics by other means.”
As a leader with a high profile in American politics, Gillibrand’s comments are dangerous and should be called out. Particularly by liberals, who in these days are especially attuned to and appalled by the murmurings of authoritarians.
Phil Boas is editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic where this column first appeared.
What others are saying
Kirsten Gillibrand, Twitter: "Repealing the Hyde Amendment is critical so that low-income women in particular can have access to the reproductive care they need and deserve. Reproductive rights are human rights, period. They should be nonnegotiable for all Democrats."
Michael Gerson, The Washington Post: "Gillibrand’s argument represents a type of ideological authoritarianism that seems fashionable in our politics. Instead of defeating other viewpoints through argument, she would rather prohibit them as illegitimate and unacceptable. Trying to win by disqualifying your opponent — by placing him or her outside the bounds of decency and public discourse — is easier than reason and persuasion. It is also a form of undemocratic cheating."
The Register's Editorial Board, Des Moines Register: "There were a couple of moments where it seemed Gillibrand’s political polish was a little too slick. She passionately defended the need for Democrats — all Democrats — to stand up for abortion rights, even to the point of allowing federal tax dollars to subsidize the procedure for poor women."
What our readers are saying
Pro-Life is an egoistic approach to one's liberty. After all god, who pro-lifers base their beliefs on, gives everyone free will, the ultimate right to chose. It is grave sin to deprive anyone of it. Christians should know it better than anyone else.
— Petr Perelman
Where is the column: liberal women don't all agree on abortion?
— Harry Papers
With regard to being "pro-life" and caring for the unborn, I would add also caring for the babies afterward. You can’t just say they have to have the babies and then turn around and walk away.
— Bob Rejefski
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Gillibrand wants to silence anyone who is pro-life. That's dangerous: Today's talker