Mickey Huff Nolan Higdon Original Politics Supreme Court

Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff: Defund the Democratic Party

More Republicans in office will not save abortion rights, but history has shown, neither will more Democrats.
Supreme Court of the United States of America by Brandon Bourdages on Shutterstock

By Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff / Original to ScheerPost

On June 24, 2022, a majority ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States officially reversed the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established that pregnant women had a constitutionally protected right to choose to have an abortion. This has quickly transformed the nation around reproductive issues. Eleven states had trigger laws which immediately banned or heavily regulated abortion once the decision became official. Another 12 states have legislation in place to do the same. Rather than take swift action to protect abortion rights, the Democratic Party — which currently controls the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government — chose to fundraise.

Democrats rightly chided Republicans, who have boasted for nearly 50 years that their political project would overturn Roe v. Wade. In that time, Republicans successfully advocated for 1,000 restrictions on abortions. But on the other side of the ideological spectrum, the Democratic Party also focused blame on the left: Jill Stein voters from 2016, the fabled “Bernie Bros,” Susan Sarandon followers, and Bad Faith Podcast subscribers. The party’s analysis, to a significant degree, relied on attacking its left flank in defense rather than engaging in introspection about what it could have done to prevent Roe’s reversal.  

A more substantive and introspective review would look back to Joe Biden, who has a long history of questioning the legitimacy of the Roe decision, for the way he aided abortion foe Clarence Thomas in his confirmation to the court. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Thomas becoming a justice in 1991 without Biden — who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time — leading a rhetorical assault on Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment. At the time, Biden was so confident that Thomas would not overturn Roe that he accused those who claimed otherwise of experiencing a “failure of logic.”

Still, Biden is just one of the many Democrats who have demonstrated that abortion rights are not a central issue for the party. On two separate occasions since the original Roe decision, the Democrats have had supermajorities in Congress, which would have allowed them to end any Senate filibuster of a law codifying abortion rights. But on one such occasion, in 2009, Barack Obama stated that abortion rights were ”not the highest legislative priority.” Later in Obama’s two terms, abortion rights advocates were admonished by party loyalists when they called for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was suffering from cancer at an advanced age, to step down so Obama could nominate a more viable justice to extend her legacy of protecting women’s rights.

Democrats have routinely made the fear of losing Roe a key plank in their campaign strategy, and that specter has vaulted many a Democrat into office. It is not surprising that a party that can offer little other than the threat of a worse alternative has taken few decisive steps to safeguard abortion rights. For many Democratic candidates, the prospect of losing Roe has been their only point of leverage with voters, the linchpin of a “vote blue no matter who” electoral strategy. In practice, this has translated into a hollow “we’re not the other party” message of fear. 

In 2016, after Democratic leadership colluded to defeat the pro-choice candidate Bernie Sanders in the primaries — when some polls showed Sanders doing better than Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump — they picked Clinton, who had at times stigmatized abortion and who chose Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate. Kaine had supported and signed anti-abortion legislation as governor of Virginia. During Trump’s administration, the New York Times ran articles making a “liberal” case for supporting his first two Supreme Court nominees, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Bloomberg provided a similar argument for Amy Coney Barrett. All three voted to overturn Roe, to the surprise of almost no one.  

Even after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe was leaked to the press in May, Rep. Jim Clyburn — the South Carolina Democrat widely credited with saving Biden’s 2020 presidential run — campaigned on behalf of Rep. Henry Cuellar, an  anti-abortion Texas Democrat, who was also endorsed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and numerous other party leaders. What a tangled web these Democrats weave. 

Just as it has done in the five decades since Roe, the Democratic Party refuses to protect  abortion rights while it has the power to do so. Instead, Democrats ignore that history and blame Republicans and dissident leftists rather than themselves. At least officially, they currently control both the legislative and executive branches of government. They could remove the filibuster and codify abortion rights tomorrow, but evidently would rather protect an extra-constitutional Senate rule (often used to support white supremacy) than women’s right to choose. This is especially mystifying given that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has clearly stated that if the GOP reclaims the majority in the 2022 midterms, it may remove the filibuster in order to pass a national abortion ban. If the filibuster is likely to disappear anyway (and for overtly partisan reasons), what possible argument is there for not protecting abortion rights while the Democrats still can? Why are they going to repeat the strategic blunder of refusing to end the filibuster without getting anything out of it?

The story doesn’t end there. Democrats could also wield their power to expand the Supreme Court. Yes, that would break with recent precedent (although the example of FDR’s failed attempts to do so could certainly be reconsidered). Republicans had no problem breaking with precedent when they refused to entertain Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016 because it was an election year, and then reversed themselves by confirming Justice Barrett only days before the 2020 election. Shortly after Roe was overturned, the Biden administration once again refused to consider expanding the court. Such a radical maneuver may be exactly what is needed to counter reactionary rulings by unaccountable justices in defiance of stare decisis (the importance of legal precedent). But the Democrats are certainly not radicals; they are performers in an increasingly empty work of political theater.

Rather than propose an immediate plan of action, on the day of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, Pelosi read a poem, Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted a picture of herself watching pro-choice protests, and Democratic members of Congress sang “God Bless America” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. This vapid virtue-signaling was just the beginning. The same Democrats who failed to protect abortion rights for ages had the audacity to fundraise off this mass assault on women’s rights. This was an email sent by Pelosi’s office just days after the ruling:

Now that Trump’s Supreme Court just ruled to rip reproductive rights away from every single woman in this country: How we act NOW will decide the future of reproductive rights. I don’t say this lightly. We can either sit back and admit defeat to these far-right extremists… Or we can RISE UP, meet this ONCE-IN-A-GENERATION moment, and marshal a response so HISTORIC that we make every last anti-choice Republican REGRET what they’ve done. Please, I’ve never needed your support more than now. Can you chip in $15 so we can WIN these midterms and finally codify reproductive rights into law?

Pelosi’s call to “act NOW” doesn’t even try to explain why the party needs another $15 to use its current power to — act now. Nor does it explain why Democrats have been so ineffective for nearly five decades. Pelosi even suggests that the other option is to “sit back and admit defeat to these far-right extremists,” which has effectively been what Democrats have done for the last 50 years. What evidence is there that Pelosi — who has herself been in Congress for 35 years — will do anything different with these donations than her party has done for the past half-century? She is only one of many members exploiting this tragic ruling to fill their coffers and distract voters from the party’s political ineptitude. 

In her first major interview since the reversal of Roe, Vice President Harris rejected any plan to codify abortion rights, shooting down Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to expand abortion access on federal lands, declaring “it’s not right now what we are discussing,” and saying, “We are 130-odd days away from an election, which is going to include Senate races.” So the plan is to give Democrats $15 and vote for them in November. But to do what? Pretty much nothing. This is the way Democrats have governed since the 1970s. They are happy to fundraise around images of inclusivity, diversity, women’s rights, labor rights, immigration and social progress, but consistently refuse to take substantive actions to achieve the most relevant goals. Instead, they blame Republicans, the news media, Russians, fake news, overzealous progressives and the “far left” for their failures. To say this is tiresome is a gross understatement.

Leaders do not blame, they lead. Movers and shakers such as Lyndon Johnson, warts and all, knew that the art of politics necessitated deal-making to get things accomplished. Today’s Democrats rely on the art of inaction and lecture voters on what they contend is possible, rather than working to make the purportedly impossible become reality. Their argument is always that if the public wants us to protect X (such as abortion right), they need to elect more Democrats in November. How many more Novembers are we supposed to wait? Voting for the same milquetoast neoliberal centrists who made the collapse of Roe possible (or inevitable) will do nothing to change our current political reality. Indeed, that is the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Women deserve better, as do all of us. The Democratic Party should recognize this, and change course dramatically.

Nolan Higdon

Nolan Higdon is a national judge for Project Censored and a frequent contributor to their yearly book, State of the Free Press. He is a lecturer at Merrill College and the Education Department at University of California, Santa Cruz. Higdon’s areas of concentration include digital culture, news media history, and critical media literacy. Higdon is a founding member of the Critical Media Literacy Conference of the Americas. He sits on the boards of the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME) and Northwest Alliance for Alternative Media And Education. His most recent publications include The Anatomy of Fake News: A Critical News Literacy Education (UC Press, 2020) and The Podcaster’s Dilemma: Decolonizing Podcasters in the Era of Surveillance Capitalism (Wiley, 2021). In addition, he has been a contributor to Truthout and Counter-Punch; a source of expertise for numerous news outlets, including The New York Times, CNBC, and San Francisco Chronicle.

Mickey Huff

Mickey Huff is the director of Project Censored and president of the nonprofit Media Freedom Foundation. To date, he has co-edited 14 editions of the Project’s yearbook, including most recently Project Censored’s State of the Free Press (2022), with Andy Lee Roth. He is also co-author with Nolan Higdon, of Unites States of Distraction: Media Manipulations in Post-Truth America (and what we can do about it) (City Lights, 2019) and Let’s Agree to Disagree: A Critical Thinking Guide to Communication, Conflict Management, and Critical Media Literacy (Routledge, 2022). Huff received the Beverly Kees Educator Award as part of the 2019 James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California. He is professor of social science, history, and journalism at Diablo Valley College, where he co-chairs the history program and is chair of the Journalism Department. Huff is executive producer and host of The Project Censored Show, a weekly syndicated public affairs program that airs across the U.S. on Pacifica Radio. Learn more at projectcensored.org.

31 comments

  1. Finally – a sensible analysis of the political impact
    Of ROE SINCE THE 70s and the failure of regressive
    Democrats to legislate their way to victory on this
    Subject despite decades of clear opportunity to do
    so.
    Women will only win when they become the peace
    making gender and the citizenship gender and get off
    enslaved gender knees and grab power from the war
    monger male gender.

  2. Hey ersatz Ds:

    -You ditch the New Deal.
    -You abandon unions and the US majority working class.
    -Your center (right) shift enables the Rs to go hard right.
    -Your ‘inclusiveness” has a class requirement.
    -Your sponsors are the same as the Rs’ sponsors.
    -You use fear tactics to scare us but do nothing for us.
    -You’re now de facto neocons.
    -Your imitation flavor and coloring is unhealthy for all life.

    Yet somehow WE’RE the problem?!

    I was president of my large high school’s Teen-Age Democrats in 1965-66. I managed local D political campaigns in the 70s-80s. I was treasurer for my large county D party. I was on union boards and worked with the D party locally and nationally. I’ve done fund raising for the D party on numerous occasions.

    This was MY party, and that of so many people like me.

    I’m sure you care not at all what this nonentity thinks; here it is anyway. I despise you elitist corporate whore lying war mongers. You haven’t gotten a Roosevelt dime out of me for decades and you won’t until the neolibs and the neocons are gone.

    DEFUND THE IVY DEM MOB!

    1. People hate their betrayers more than their enemies. We stand against the Rs knowing what to expect in their fight, and then we are run through from behind by our “allies” (Ds) at every battle. How many times must this happen before we begin fighting in both directions. Not a @!#$%-ing penny for them!

      1. You bet “Debs Was Right”!!!

        My grandfather the self-taught logger was a Wobbly, and cones don’t fall far from Pac NW trees.
        Summa us peasants cain rede, wraht, an thank. (Much to the discomfiture of the oh-so-meritorious Ivy D elite.)

  3. Everything you said is exactly what i and others have been saying, trying to get people to see, since the DNC cheated Sanders out of the nomination in 2016. But every year it just gets worse, with so many blinkered Dem supporters unable to countenance anything other than “Vote Blue No Matter Who” and that merely by voicing these concerns we are “helping Trump” or “letting fascism win”. Now with Biden, the worst potus in living memory, losing his marbles, obviously in early stage dementia, the merest criticism is met with hysterical attacks calling into question our motives and just flat out refusing to see it, or admit it more likely. Most of them are still Russiagating, seemingly oblivious to the findings of Comey’s investigation. Why? Why protect those most at fault? Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, Clydeburn et al have all done nothing. Nothing but fundraise while Rome burned.

  4. Just for the record, Biden didn’t vote to approve Thomas, and he has since expressed regret he wasn’t more favorable towards Anita Hill during her testimony.

    Would improve your article to get those facts included because you paint a picture that Biden pushed for Thomas, when the reverse is actually true.

    1. Even taking into account those corrections Biden, whichever way you look at it, has never been and still is not an advocate or supporter of Pro-Choice. Biden, along with the entire sclerotic Democrat leadership, is part of the problem not part of the solution to this and many other ills to have befallen the US in recent times.

      1. And I would add to Mr. Calarco’s comment: Please read Branko Marcetic’s ‘Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden’ as well as Ben Schreckinger’s ‘The Biden’s: Inside the First Family’s Fifty-Year Rise to Power’ This nation is a grand FARCE what with leadership like Joe Biden occupying the highest offices in the land. In comparison, Donald Trump was a breath of fresh air. And please, I’d never vote for someone like him, nor would I ever vote for a Joe Biden, wrote in Bernie Sanders if only to keep my sanity in check. And for the record: in calling Trump a “breath-of-fresh-air” seems idiotic, does this not state the case for where our nation stands today? Think about it.

  5. Agreed. But, we need an alternative. Please, Bernie, AOC, etc…. Get out and set up your own Party.

    1. To Daedalus,
      In ’16, when Sanders was asked if he would ever run as an Ind (which he claimed he was), he said No, because he “didn’t want to wind up like Nader” – a man who was trashed and absurdly blamed for the ’00 Bush “victory” (another SC debacle) by running as an Ind, trashed by the same Party he then chose to run with.
      When he was obviously being screwed by that Party, he was invited to join the Green effort to elect someone who was running on the same issues he claimed to champion – and he never responded ….

      So there is an alternative out there and has been for decades – but those folks you mention will not join it nor set up their own because they don’t want to “wind up like Nader” …. when push comes to shove, they do not have the courage of their convictions – they are afraid of what the D estab. can and will do to them – and actually standing up for the people just ain’t worth it to them …

      1. AGREED! And this’ why I contend that the entire Progressive caucus is a sham as they campaign in defense of, We the People (you know, working people) but once in office, they show their stripes as stated by SH: “…they are afraid of what the D estab. can and will do to them – and actually standing up for the people just ain’t worth it to them …”

    2. People are so afraid of a Third Party. “Don’t throw your vote away,” they chant. Well voting for our two-party mafia now is throwing your vote away! Has anybody really listened to Jesse Ventura? He is 100% Independent, cuts through the BS, and totally trashes the Ds & Rs. He may be the only high profile person that can draw from both parties.
      He may be the only candidate I would vote for if only he could get on the national ballot.

      1. I wholeheartedly agree! But he might be too old – 80 is my cutoff for emeritus status.

    3. Daedalus, those so-called “Stalsworths” of the Progressive wing of the Democratic party continue to cave to their “leadership” and mouth platitudes instead of forcing the vote on such things as a living wage, single-payer public healthcare, voting rights, pro-choice rights, so on and so forth. Wake-up! Leave the Democratic party in your dust and join a third, opposition party dedicated to a progressive/populist platform. But in all honesty, you won’t, instead, you’ll continue to “vote Blue No Matter Who” out of fear of the Republican horde. Too bad!

  6. Thanx! Great piece!! Reflects what I have been saying for some time in multiple places – but doesn’t go quite far enough in suggesting that we take what is the logical, necessary step – not just defunding them but replacing them with those who will do what we want, what the Ds haven’t and won’t do – voting 3rd party en masse – take to the streets and go directly to the polls …

  7. The penultimate paragraph exactly states what I’ve been saying about them since Kennedy/O’Neil sabotaged Carter’s presidency (with a lot of help from Iran/Contra treason.). I agree with Dems on 75% of issues, but w/Greens on 90% – including everything I agree w/Dems. Vote for what you want, even if you know you won’t get it; don’t be frightened into voting for what you don’t want and getting lots of it.

  8. Since the political impotence of the left, democratically speaking (i.e., their inherent inability to generate electoral majorities), is a matter of record and fact, the left-ish, Neo Progressive solution to the US two party system is a one uber conservative party dictatorship, modelled on the Chinese and Russian authoritarianism?

    Yet another sample of the fact that left-ish, Neo Progressive pundits (and flock) had not only lost their way – theoretically, practically and electorally – but their mind as well…

    1. Still lost in your fantasy world of”Neo-progressives, ” eh? Your latest crazed scenario is ” one uber conservative party dictatorship, modelled on (what else) Chinese and Russian authoritarianism.” Where on earth did you conjure that?
      Not a word here on the inescapable conclusions drawn in the article above; you’re one of the dead-enders who are trying to make a rightwing, pro-war, pro-Wall Street Dem Party seem normal , vital. Keep digging.

      1. @Tim

        I am not surprised math is an alien concept for you.

        (Dem + GOP) – Dem = GOP == “one uber conservative party dictatorship, modelled on the Chinese and Russian authoritarianism”

        You really seem to have drank the Neo Progressive Cool Aid all the way through to believe that the only solution (or even a viable one) to the faltering US democracy – entirely due to the rise of far right zealots into power (with anti-liberal assists from left-ish ignorants like yourself) – is the demise of the Democratic party.

        As to your confusion regarding Neo Progressives, it is you.

    2. Excellent, about half of America believes Trump should be the President and Joe is illegitimate.
      They claim to be ready to shoot it up.
      We can always explain that we are democratic and not Authoritarian because Trump’s lost was rigged and Bush minority win was also rigged.
      Either way, the unAmerica left is awesomely always to blame for every thing. When Trump is reelected 2024, it would not definitely be Authoritarian but the results of our unbalanced Electoral College which is legally, constitutionally perfect.

  9. Agreed! Defund BOTH parties and their corporate donors. We got rid of all of our subscriptions yesterday. We decided it was better to save the money and at least not add to the corrupt system. It’s all about the money anyway.

  10. More ‘pressure on the Democrats’ stuff – just like Sirota in today’s Guardian. The Democratic Party is different than the Republican Party, which wants no change in capitalism or to go backwards. The Democrats want normal neo-liberal capitalism to continue, but have to pretend to want change, or tweaks thrown as a bone. Two different goals and electoral bases. Both are deeply embedded in the present system, a system that is becoming more and more outdated.

    So every time liberal ‘analysts’ say ‘now’s the time to pressure the Democrats’ they lead everyone right back into the swamp. You want to pressure the Democrats with real power? An urban labor populist party and candidates in the cities they control will FORCE them out of office, first locally, then it will spread.

  11. “The Democratic Party should recognize this, and change course dramatically.”
    What a remarkably lame “conclusion” to a strong article. The title is far better.

    You’ve just made a case that the Dems are PROGRAMATICLY, intentionally, and corruptly useless. Why should we care whether they “change course”? In any case, we already know that they will not: this is who they are.

    Defund them, and fund alternatives with the money and personal time and energy you’ve been giving to the Dems. Yes, it’s an uphill climb; the next few years will be anyway. And it’s no worse than trying to “reform” the Dems.

  12. There are idiot countries that do not allow major donations political parties but funded by public funds. Silly countries that think it would lessen corruption and reduce influences, such as lobbyists of M I complex.
    These dumb countries become meek and mild and use diplomacy instead of our advanced wars.
    They get pushed around and depend on US for economic advantages and trade Dominance, or leadership for superior tariffs.
    Without American leverage and currency power to maintain superiority, the Western group wound have a much reduced standards of life.
    The rise of Asia, especially China, has been transformative
    to many western economies, especially American middle class but only enriched the top class.

  13. Excellent piece, but the author’s final words say it all: “The Democratic Party should recognize this, and change course dramatically.” Since when? The title states: “Defund the Democratic Party” but there’s no demand for that, not one single mention, only more demands for reforming a party that needs to end: NOW! What will it take for people to wake-up and demand an end to this political nightmare known as DUOPOLY? Please shout it load and often: Leave the Democratic Party in droves, call for Progressives in party leadership to leave as well, form a strong, truly opposition third party around progressives/populist ideals, fight to get this new leadership into government and force change before it’s too late for this nation, and this world.

    1. Well said! I will not donate or vote for them ever again. Duopoly is dead.

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