In this post, I continue down my list of problematic presidential election voting models. Today’s model, #2 on that list, seems to have become a very popular one over the last two decades. Most people who consider themselves progressive think it’s a good idea to look for candidates who are pro-choice or environmentally friendly. I find it to be a fairly problematic one for several reasons.
1. It’s not clear that this category is an accurate or satisfactory litmus test of the political credentials of the candidate. I want to be clear: I am furiously, firmly, steadfastly, immovably in favor of reproductive rights and active protection of the environment. But a presidential candidate who claims to be pro-choice does not necessarily have a commitment to support legislation that protects reproductive rights. In fact, the very language of “choice” is a regressive language, as Marlene Fried reminds us: it recalls a language of individualism. One can be pro-choice and against abortion (yes). It allows a broad and ambiguous base of support for “reproductive rights.”
2. Being pro-choice or green can be a social stance without any structural teeth. One can be pro-choice and still not be an active advocate for the distribution of public monies to support reproductive rights for women who may not have funds or transportation easy access to the services. It would be important/enlightening to scrutinize the candidate’s pro-choice platform with regard to her/his position on the following: social services; the allocation of government monies for social services; public aid; health insurance (and remember health insurance doesn’t guarantee access to reproductive services), the endorsement of better access to social services (like public transportation, location of clinic in rural areas, the availability of advocates and medical personnel who can be comforting supports to women seeking reproductive services, etc.).
3. A pro-choice candidate is not automatically a progressive candidate; it’s possible to be pro-choice and environmentally friendly and be a libertarian or liberal (without ever naming him/herself as such). A libertarian pro-choice candidate might say that the state needs neither to interfere nor prohibit nor support a woman’s reproductive decisions (as reflected by the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits monies for abortion services to be extended through Medicaid). By extension, the liberartarian also need not endorse legislation that distributes monies or services that enable access to reproductive decisions. A liberal pro-choice candidate might articulate a “strong” commitment to reproductive rights, again, without endorsing legislation to enables women to make use of those rights. A liberal pro-choice candidate can still subscribe to conservative family ideologies that limit access to reproductive rights. Similarly, a self-described “pro-environment/green” candidate need not be progressive; they can be libertarian or liberal –or downright conservative, endorsing anti-immigration policies on the dubious grounds that immigrants that destroy our environment (and if they do so, it’s in order to provide services to wealthy Americans). One also wonders how immigrants become the villains, while DuPont, Dow, and BP are seen as real environmental heroes.
4. Pro-choice/green candidates typically don’t describe themselves as liberal or libertarian. This is a no-brainer: they/their handlers are trying to cast as wide a net for voters as possible, and it’s easier to insinuate one’s pro-choice/green politics in order to attract a wide constituency. I mean, really: can any one ever seriously “be against” the environment? In many ways, a “green” (and often, a pro-choice) stance is more of rhetorically appealing than it is informative.
Rather than be taken in by a candidate’s “pro-choice” stance, it’s probably more effective to explore whether a pro-choice candidate iis also pro-social services, pro-civil liberties or whether they are pro-corporation, pro-banks, against progressive taxation for the upper 1%, might give us a better sense of how substantial or facile their pro-choice/green stance really is.
By the way, there are women in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan (countries formerly or currently under assault by the United States). I’m betting those women also care about reproductive rights. When considering a pro-choice candidate, it might be important to ask what their position on invading those countries is. It might also be informative to ask what 10 years of cluster bombs and depleted uranium deposits have done to the reproductive systems of women in Iraq? It might be equally as informative to find out how 10 years of bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, oil fires in Kuwait and Iraq, and other chemical assaults have affected women.
This issue brings up the additional question of “which constituencies” one aligns oneself with when one votes. It may not be a conscious alignment, but it forms the contours of our voting preferences. Voting for a candidate on a single (seemingly uncomplicated) issue such as reproductive rights or the environment, when his/her stance on issues such as war, invasions, and empire is credibly supportive tells us that the voter (that’s you) has chosen certain constituencies to favor (e.g., “women” qua women in the United States) to protect over others such as international civilian population (who include women of color, non-wealthy women, children) who will be innocently subjected to drone attacks, bombs, covert wars. These international civilian populations will surely also include black and brown men, and if the last decade is any indication, often Muslim men and women.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a cost-benefit vote. One calculates the cost of voting for a president who has promised to be pro-“choice”/”pro”-environment while also promising to invade other countries with the anticipation of large casualties. If this is your model, then okay. But keep in mind that you are trading hostages in the process, and the casualties will still be casualties as the result of your political choices.
Can these casualties be mitigated? Hard to say. It’s not clear whether a presidential candidate who puts forth pro-choice/environmentally friendly in lieu of/without committing to progressive stances on structural and foreign policy issues will actually support pro-choice or environmental issues. Over the last few decades, we have become all too familiar with this trade-off.
A more effective approach would be to explore whether a presidential candidate who claims to be in favor of protecting reproductive rights is also in favor of protecting social services, access to health care, and civil liberties or whether s/he is aligned with protecting corporations, banks, health insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies. This might give us a better sense of whether a pro-choice/green stance is really substantial or merely facile.