The longtime political writer and nationally syndicated columnist Charles McDowell once described a politician who, “had his ear so close to the ground he had crickets in it.”
That was McDowell’s way of saying the politician knew where the people he served stood on the issues of the day.
Former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s writings tell us from young manhood up he’d found slavery wrong and despicable, but the canny Lincoln knew that the nation as a whole didn’t agree with him at that time,, and it would not support slavery’s outright abolition.
That’s called “being in touch,” and it’s an excellent virtue in leaders.
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the Dobbs case that ended Roe v. Wade in 2022, I have been thinking about what being in touch really means.
This column will not argue the merits of either side of the abortion debate.
I only mean to note that well before the Dobbs decision, polls revealed year after year that a clear majority of Americans, up to 60 percent at times, consistently favored keeping abortion legal, with some restrictions. The people were not for outright abolition.
Anti-abortionists must have known about the numbers. I can only guess they didn’t believe them or they didn’t care.
Well, they should have.
What a shock it came to them that within weeks of the decision, the voters of ruby-red Kansas, by a thumping margin, voted down a measure that would have enacted a constitutional ban on abortions in that state.
Kansas?! Gotta be an aberration, said many a far-right pundit. Maybe a devious Democrat plot with George Soros at the root.
It wasn’t. If the anti-abortionists had consulted those pesky polls, they might not have been so surprised.
Yet, despite that stunning result, the obvious conclusion they should have drawn has not sunk in: most of the people are not with them.
Just look at what is going on in statehouse after statehouse across the nation enacting all these new draconian laws. The Louisiana legislature just passed a law ensuring no exceptions to their all-out abortion ban for rape or incest. In Idaho and elsewhere, obstetricians are leaving the state for less perilous places to practice their vocation, opening the possibility that there may soon be baby-doctor deserts in those states. That bodes well for no one.
It also seems lawmakers in those states know what would happen, al la Kansas, if the issue were put to an actual vote of the people. Because as we see that in state after state, Republicans are trying to do end-runs around the popular will.
Online media outlet Jezebel reported last week that Ohio Republicans look to block a proposed abortion ballot measure from passing by popular vote in November. They are going to spend $20 million in taxpayer dollars to hold a special election that would raise the referendum threshold from a simple majority to 60 percent of the vote to win.
“Abortion rights supporters in Ohio must collect 413,000 signatures by July 5 to put their measure codifying abortion access in the state constitution on the November ballot. (The initiative would also enshrine the right to make decisions about contraception, fertility treatment, and miscarriage care.) But on May 10, Republicans passed a resolution to hold an August special election on whether to make it harder to amend the state constitution,” Jezebel reported.
Any politician perversely looking for some sure-fire way to get himself or herself blown at the moon need look no further than showing contempt for the people’s will.
Having said all of that, I feel it’s my duty to defend these tone-deaf politicians. They should not be tossed aside lightly. They should be hurled with great force.
Robert Whale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.