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Republicans Are Winning on Abortion but Devoted to Death

·4 min read
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Another day, another embarrassing Republican politician.

In case you’re keeping track, I’m referring to Thomas Massie, the U.S. congressman who on Saturday tweeted out a “Christmas” photo showing his smiling family packing heat, with the words, “Santa, please bring ammo.”

You can be in favor of the Second Amendment without feeling the need to fetishize weaponry and publicly display it. Unfortunately, the context of Massie’s photo—coming just days after a school shooting where four students were fatally shot and seven other people hurt—shows that his faux pas is not just stupid; it’s heartless.

It’s also quite revealing about the current Republican ethos. This behavior signals a radical autonomy that focuses on “rights” instead of responsibilities, and prioritizes a desire for cheap buzz and attention over concern for others, like the family of the victims.

The same thing could be said about how Republicans are prioritizing personal autonomy and publicity when it comes to COVID-19 mitigation efforts over care for vulnerable Americans. Who could forget about Ted Cruz’s attack on Big Bird for tweeting in support of vaccinations? Or Marjorie Taylor Greene’s comments about “vaccine Nazis” and comparing House mask mandates to the Holocaust? The consequences are real. According to a new NPR analysis, people living in Trump country are much more likely to die from COVID-19, possibly because they believe misinformation about mitigation.

On Monday’s episode of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough and his panel made this point, while referring to the Republican Party as the “party of death.”

I agree with that take—except on the issue of abortion.

It is noteworthy that the life issue, once the defining one for many Republicans, is philosophically out of step with the right’s ascendant worldview.

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In fact, if you were designing America’s two political parties today, de novo, you might create one party that is radically individualistic, and another party that is more communitarian. The former would be obsessed with individual “rights;” the latter, on community and protecting the vulnerable. Today’s GOP would probably be the former, while the Democrats would be the latter.

It’s no coincidence that today’s anti-vaxxers on the right have co-opted the left’s old pro-choice slogan, “My body, my choice.” Both sides are selfishly prioritizing an individual’s preferences over protection for the vulnerable.

I’m not the only one to notice the hypocrisy. It has become a cliche to hear progressives talk about how Republicans are pro-life until after birth (at which time, you’re on your own when it comes to health care, gun violence, addiction, etc).

To the degree this is true, the corollary is that Democrats are only interested in defending the vulnerable who manage to be born at all.

For Americans who have a consistent life ethic, this is not a rounding error that can be easily dismissed. According to the Guttmacher Institute’s most recent report, “Approximately 862,320 abortions were performed in 2017.”

To put this in perspective, last year, gun violence killed around 20,000 people (roughly 44,000, if you include suicides), auto accidents killed about 42,000 Americans, and COVID-19 took about 352,000 lives.

What this means is if you agree with the notion that the GOP has become (as Morning Joe put it) “the party of death”—except (as I am pointing out) for abortion—you still might rationally decide that voting Republican is the lesser of two evils. Indeed, math would support this contention. That the Supreme Court, on the heels of three Trump appointments and confirmations, could be on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade seems to affirm this political calculation.

As it stands, there is no consistently pro-life party, which suggests there could be a market for one. For reasons having to do with keeping their current coalition together, Democrats won’t fill this vacuum, but they could try and exploit this political opportunity by returning to the Bill Clinton-era formulation of “safe, legal, and rare.” Instead, the Democratic Party has been trending in the opposite direction, as evidenced by Joe Biden’s 2019 flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment.

From where I sit, we have not one, but two, parties of death. If the Democrats don’t get you in the womb, the Republicans might finish the job.

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