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Gerson: 'Starbucksization' makes for bitter politics


On the evidence of an October 2017 vote—concerning legislation that would have restricted abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation—there are three pro-life Democrats in the House. On the evidence of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s decision not to endorse one of those representatives—Dan Lipinski of Illinois—many Democrats wish the count was zero.

This is not, of course, the official Democratic position.

When Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez declared last April that support for abortion rights was a litmus test for Democrats, some elected members of the party pushed back, forcing the head of the DCCC to say, “there is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates.”

But this is done with a theatrical wink and nod. According to a January count by Vice News, there isn’t a single, serious pro-life Democrat running in the 91 House districts that Democrats hope to flip to their column this year. The 2016 Democratic platform called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from paying for most abortions. And there are only three Democratic senators—Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey—who have less than a 100 percent lifetime score from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Does this pro-choice orthodoxy hurt Democrats politically? In some places, surely. It is a safe bet that a pro-life Democrat running in the recent Alabama Senate election would have beaten the epically tainted Roy Moore by a healthier margin.

But Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report points out two complicating factors:

First, the heterodoxies of local candidates seem to matter less and less in the way Americans make political choices. Increasingly, Walter says, “all politics is national.” Voters believe that support for any Democrat—even a more conservative Democrat—is actually support for the Nancy Pelosi-Chuck Schumer team. “Somewhere along the way,” argues Walter, “the idea that each district is different went by the wayside.”

She calls this the “Starbucksization” of American politics. Voters are choosing a national brand instead of a local variant.

Lipinski’s primary challenger, activist Marie Newman, is particularly explicit on this point. “No matter how you feel personally [on abortion],” she says, “you have to vote to support the Democratic Party values.” Think on that a moment.

Newman is contending that Democrats, whatever their deepest moral beliefs on a matter of life and death, have an obligation to tow the party line. It is the complete triumph of political tribalism.

Second, Walter points out that the political battlegrounds in American politics have shifted. The Democratic targets of opportunity in the 2018 midterms are generally not, for example, in the rural House districts of Georgia; they are in the upscale suburbs of Atlanta. As they are in Charlotte, Richmond, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Orange County. “The action is among suburban Republicans,” says Walter, which makes outreach to social conservatives less urgent than it might otherwise be.

The Democrats’ solidification as a pro-choice party is, in the end, a function of the ideological polarization of both parties.

At one point, the GOP and the Democratic Party both had liberal and conservative wings. Now they generally flap wildly with one.

The geographic sorting of the parties also figures heavily. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, who learned to win elections in relatively conservative border states, wanted abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.” With the effective collapse of the Democratic Party in such places, fewer rising Democratic officials gain office through moderation on cultural issues.

The end of two-wing parties encourages a certain attitude toward politics, which Walter summarizes as: “We shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything to win.”

In this ideologically unforgiving environment, it is difficult to imagine, say, abortion-reduction measures—conceding the likely continued legality of the procedure while encouraging (and funding) practical help for women who wish to keep a child—gaining much legislative traction.

This trend also narrows the ideological range of American politics. The absence of a pro-life option in the Democratic Party leaves some compassionate and reform conservatives utterly homeless as they wait on the recovery of GOP sanity.

And it leaves no place for many Catholics wishing to be consistently faithful to their church’s social teaching—pro-life and pro-poor, against euthanasia and against the dehumanization of migrants. It is not a small thing that neither party cares to accommodate the social agenda of Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis.

Meanwhile, the partisans count another achievement: Making American politics more generic and bitter. Enjoy your political Starbucks.

Our Views: Arm teachers to save lives, stop shooters

Educators and school officials have been too quick to dismiss state Attorney General Brad Schimel’s suggestion to arm teachers.

Improving security through better entryways, surveillance systems and bullet-proof doors should remain a high priority for school districts, but such measures don’t go far enough. Districts should consider ending outdated policies that prevent teachers from taking proactive steps to protect themselves and students.

We don’t eagerly call for arming teachers, but a spate of mass shootings has left this nation with little choice. In a gun-free school, teachers can lock their doors and call for help, but these defensive tactics have proven woefully inadequate. Critics of arming teachers say it would harm the learning environment, but even if that’s true (and we’re not sure it is), that’s a small price to pay for empowering teachers to stop a shooter.

Any plan to arm teachers would include only a small percentage of them. Only those comfortable with the idea and willing to use their guns if necessary should have weapons available. Any armed teacher should have to undergo psychological evaluation, background checks and active-shooter training. Wisconsin might consider adopting a Texas program, created in 2013, which requires armed teachers to undergo 80 hours of training once every two years.

Almost inevitably after each school shooting, we hear stories about teachers bravely trying to protect their students, despite having no firearms. In the Florida shooting, assistant football coach Aaron Feis died while using his body to shield students—literally taking a bullet for them.

Imagine if Feis had been armed. Would 17 people have died at the Parkland, Florida, high school? Likely not. But regardless, these students would have stood a better chance of survival with an armed teacher at their side.

Last week, The Gazette asked Janesville school officials about Schimel’s suggestion to arm teachers, and their responses were disappointing. In knee-jerk fashion, they objected, saying arming teachers would be too dangerous. They might point to an incident this week in Georgia, where a teacher is accused of firing a gun in a classroom. But this incident actually affirms the need for arming teachers because the suspect wasn’t allowed to carry a gun on campus. Deranged youth aren’t the only threats to student safety—deranged staff members also could kill their colleagues and students.

Arming school teachers isn’t as untested as the anti-gun contingent claims. In Texas, teachers have been allowed to carry guns for many years. Its new program goes a step further by allowing schools to designate teachers as marshals, whose identities are kept secret so shooters can’t target them. The marshals are deputized to respond to an active shooter, according to a Feb. 24 Politico report.

Opponents of arming teachers say bringing guns into schools might have unintended consequences, but what about the unintended consequences of maintaining gun-free schools? These places are supposed to be havens of safety, but the opposite has happened. They’re like a neon sign making schools into easy targets.

In response to Parkland, we must send a message to prospective shooters that there’s no longer such a thing as a gun-free school. If they try to attack, they won’t have license to slaughter—not anymore. They will encounter armed resistance.

Web Views for Friday, March 2

From online story comments and Facebook

On Sunday editorial, “Milton should focus on security upgrades”: It’s a good idea but the Milton School Board won’t listen. They only have one agenda.

—Jared Lee

  • All schools need to refocus!

—Janet Hackett Hollingshead

  • Communities, our state and our nation need to refocus on what contributes to young men becoming mass killers. This latest shooter in Florida used the school’s own safety measures—a fire alarm—against the school. Turning schools into military bunkers is not the answer. In 1983, 241 U.S. Marines were killed in a military bunker.

—Joe Brown

On Milton School District proposal to buy Hawk Zone: What are the projected annual costs if this building were purchased? Electricity? Heating? Water? What major investments will be needed in the short term (roof, flooring, equipment)? What about long-term investment (structure, pavement)? Where does this fit in your annual budget? These are all things we as taxpayers must ask ourselves when we purchase personal items. How is the school board any different?

—Jared Lee

On Thursday story, “City, association disagree on Monterey Dam permitting process”: If Jeff Navarro wins a council seat, Council President Doug Marklein won’t be able to threaten to throw him out of meetings any more. He’ll just have to get used to hearing arguments he opposes while trying to give the impression that he hasn’t closed his mind. The council could use another member that doesn’t toe the majority’s line.

—William Schuldt

  • Great! Get that death trap out of the water. Just wonder why they didn’t start sooner.

—DeWayne Manon

  • Bye, bye dam. It’s about time.

—Wade Newkirk

On Gov. Scott Walker’s Tuesday Beloit visit: I would hate to see what my property taxes would be if it wasn’t for him.

—Donovan Fischer

  • Republicans, you’re outta here.

—Mark Winchester

  • Maybe we should stop crucifying politicians so that someone decent will run.

—William Heidenreich

Your Views: Columnist makes incorrect assumption in professor's case

R. Emmett Tyrrell's assumption ("Campus brownshirts go after professor who dares to promote family values," Sunday) that Professor Amy Wax was being persecuted for promoting family values is incorrect. The assumption that she is racist is also suspect. When you use the figures on unwed mothers or single-parent homes, you find (according to an article by NewsOne) that 72 percent of single-parent families in the U.S. are African American. The reasons stated are a cultural shift towards acceptance of single mothers, the lack of governmental support for families and childcare and economic strains on traditional families to stay together. Thirty-six percent of single parents are employed, though at the bottom of the earnings ladder. Stating the fact that a certain population does not have the traditional family role is not racist. It just happens to be true. It says nothing whatsoever about their "values." Simply stated, Mr. Tyrrell weaves a winding tale, while Professor Wax's detractors don't like statistics. More civil discourse and less finger pointing on both sides would be helpful.