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The Anti-Rights Democrat

Just as Democratic power once depended upon the powerful presence of segregationists, the price of this victory has been welcoming anti-rights Democrats into the party.
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Out here in the blue part of the Blue/Red Zone, people have been walking around with shocked smiles. This is Western North Carolina, where I've been teaching, as divided a Congressional District as any in the country. There is very little purple in these hills. Asheville is as liberal as Santa Monica; the university town fifty miles to the west is much the same. In between is an area so red that a local preacher demanded that his congregants leave church if they so much as thought of voting for John Kerry.

But vote Democrat is what a good number of red-area folks must have done. Western North Carolina just unseated an eight-term pork-barrel (and rather porcine) Republican and replaced him with ... well, that's kind of the question.

I don't know anyone who was happy to vote for Heath Shuler, the Democrat who campaigned on the code words "our mountain values." Shuler will no doubt vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker. Given the chance, he'd also vote against gay marriage and against abortion.

In Asheville, that's a problem. Straight people here proudly refer to the town as the lesbian capital of the South; when they joke about "A-she-ville," they're proud.

Nevertheless, just like liberals in Pennsylvania, people here held their noses and voted as if this were a parliamentary election (which, of course, it was). They voted not for Shuler but for the Democrat. Only now, of course, they're stuck with him.

For people my age, gay-rights and abortion-rights (or opposition thereto) go together like a horse-and-carriage.

For my students, it's a different matter. Many come from those deep-red, evangelical hills. And yet while they acknowledge homophobic parents, a surprising number of them are not. Simply put, they have to deal with openly gay or gay-friendly fellow students and faculty members. To reject gays would mean to reject specific people they know. And that's something which a lot of them simply refuse to do. Young Congressman-elect Shuler may well represent the last generation to be fundamentally anti-gay.

The same is not true, however, for abortion. The same generational divide which is providing hope for gay rights allows for virulent anti-abortion sentiment. These kids may know gay students; they don't know anyone who has been covered with a blanket in the back seat of a stranger's automobile en route to an illegal abortion. They don't know anyone who's come out of an illegal abortion sterile or who nearly bled to death or was bankrupted trying to get the procedure.

In other words, there's a generation coming of political age who are either pro-gay or gay-neutral but deeply anti-abortion. Shuler half fits them, and he's far more likely to get an opportunity to vote his "mountain values" on abortion than on gay marriage.

The same day we celebrated the Democrats taking of the House, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the federal anti-intact-dilation-and-extraction law.

Abortion rights may very well become the rights which are left behind (or left segregated to traditionally blue states). If abortion rights and gay rights get a divorce, it won't be abortion rights which remain protected.

We've taken back the House; we have probably taken the Senate; we've forced Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. But just as Democratic power once depended upon the powerful presence of segregationists, the price of that victory has been welcoming anti-rights Democrats like Casey and Shuler into the party.

Depending upon how the Court rules on today's argument, we may all too soon discover whether that price will include women's lives.

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