Oh, Indiana….

Monday evening, I spoke to the League of Women Voters in Ft. Wayne about women, the midterms–and the effective disenfranchisement of voters in Indiana. I’m posting an abbreviated version of my remarks below.

The results of the 2022 midterm elections stunned political observers who had anticipated a politics-as-usual rout of the party in control of the White House—especially this time, when the omens for the Democrats were very negative.

As we know, that Red wave failed to materialize. Democrats held the Senate, and lost the House by a margin small enough to complicate Republican plans to thwart Biden’s agenda. To say that these results were unprecedented is an understatement. And while it is never accurate to attribute the outcome of an election to a single cause, the data clearly points to the overwhelming importance of women voters, and their anger over Dobbs.

The Republican Party’s war on women’s autonomy is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I ran for Congress in 1980, I was pro-choice and pro-gay-rights, and I decisively won a Republican primary here in deep-Red Indiana. Since then, the GOP has become the party of fundamentalist Christians, cultural conservatives and Christian Nationalists, and in response, women voters have shown a growing preference for Democratic candidates. The Dobbs decision, overruling Roe v. Wade, supercharged what was already a substantial gender gap.

Dobbs attacked the doctrine of substantive due process, often called the right to privacy. That’s shorthand for the principle that in a free society, there are personal decisions that should not be made by government. The doctrine draws a line between the myriad issues appropriate for resolution by majorities acting through government, and decisions that government in a free society has no business making.

The constitutional question is “who gets to make this decision?”

The deeply dishonest ruling in Dobbs would allow fundamental rights–to bodily autonomy, to the choice of a marriage partner, to decisions about procreation– to be decided by legislatures  that have theoretically been chosen by “democratic” majorities.

I say “theoretically because in states like Indiana, gerrymandering allows lawmakers to choose their voters, rather than the other way around.

The decision in Dobbs is part of a larger problem—one that the League is clearly aware of.  I think it is fair to say that, if American democracy was working properly, it is unlikely we would be here. Our governing institutions would reflect the policy preferences of large majorities of voters. But our democracy is not working properly, and gerrymandering may be the single most destructive element of our multiple electoral dysfunctions.

Partisan redistricting undermines democracy and voter choice; in a rapidly urbanizing country, it has given rural voters—who reliably vote Republican—vastly disproportionate political power. Thanks to gerrymandering, for example, the last Republican Senate “majority” was elected with 20 million fewer votes than the Democratic “minority.” Gerrymandering has insulated lawmakers from democratic accountability. In the run-up to the 2000 election, the nonpartisan Cook Report calculated that only one out of twenty Americans lived in a genuinely competitive Congressional District.

Gerrymandering has also weakened the GOP and abetted its takeover by extremists. Thanks to the Republicans’ very skillful and successful national gerrymander in 2010–a redistricting that created a large number of deep-red Congressional districts– many of the candidates who won those districts no longer saw any reason to cooperate with national party figures, or work for the party’s national priorities.  Former Speaker John Boehner dubbed those Representatives the “lunatic caucus”–they knew that the only real threat to their re-election would come from being primaried by someone even farther to the Right, and that they would pay no price for ignoring the over-arching needs of the national party.

It is important to recognize that the erosion of democratic self-government– making a mockery of the ideal of “one person, one vote”– also poses a threat to women’s continued economic and political progress. That is because, as democratic systems falter, it is the theocrats and rightwing populists who stand ready to assume control. The growth of populism over the past decade has been global; in the United States, its appeal is based largely on nostalgia for an imaginary past in which “those people”—Black, Brown, female, gay–knew their place and no one questioned the rightful dominance of the White Christian Male. To say that such a worldview threatens women’s progress is to belabor the obvious.

Just over 100 years have passed since women finally secured the right to vote. The recent midterm elections made it very clear that most women in America have no intention of relinquishing the hard-won rights that followed enfranchisement– including the all-important right to control our own reproduction.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to suggest that in November of this year, the votes of American women saved democracy.

But then, of course, there was Indiana. We were the only state to elect an election-denier as Secretary of State, and Indiana kept its legislative Republican super-majority

The reason Indiana is deeply uncompetitive? Gerrymandering.

I served on the legislative study committee formed in response to the efforts of the League and Common Cause, and watched as most  Republicans on that committee ignored data and evidence and the huge turnout of Hoosier voters at every public meeting who demanded reform. It became very clear that the beneficiaries of gerrymandering will never voluntarily give up the power to keep themselves in control.

Other states have combatted gerrymandering via state constitutional amendment. But Hoosiers will never have the opportunity to vote on such an amendment. Indiana has no referendum or initiation process.  Amendments to Indiana’s constitution can only be put on the ballot through referral from the legislature, and the legislature must pass precisely the same language in two separate sessions. In other words, the super-majority that benefits from gerrymandering would have to vote—in two separate legislative sessions—to put the matter to a popular vote.

That will happen when pigs fly. (Pigs may fly first…)

Gerrymandering results in voter apathy and reduced political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Thanks to the lack of competitiveness, Indiana’s turnout in the midterms was abysmal.

The creation of safe districts makes it very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. As a result, in many of these races, even when there are competing candidates on the ballot, the reality is usually a “choice” between a heavily favored incumbent and a marginal opposing candidate. In many statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor runs unopposed.

So–what can Hoosier voters do?

We can certainly hope for passage of the federal “For the People Act,” which would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, ban partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders.

In Indiana, we can work through organizations like the League to get out the vote—encouraging people who have concluded that their votes won’t count to reconsider, and especially encouraging them to vote in the primaries, which are dominated by the ideological extremes in both parties. A high turnout would demonstrate that a number of supposedly safe districts aren’t so safe when more people vote..

We can try to recruit candidates in both parties who are willing to run on an anti-gerrymandering platform.

We can continue efforts to educate voters, and explain why gerrymandering is so pernicious.

And we can lobby for the right to initiate constitutional amendments.

But the reality is, in the absence of federal action, Indiana citizens who want change are effectively disenfranchised.


Women Will Save America

The “chattering classes” are still churning out their reactions to the mysterious non-appearance of a Red wave in the midterms, and several of those analyses echo that of conservative-but-not-crazy Bret Stephens. In his weekly back and forth with liberal Gail Collins in the New York Times, Stephens summed up Democrats’ surprising performance by concluding that– however American voters might feel about inflation or crime or the overall direction of the country — they weren’t ready to give up reproductive rights, endorse election denialism or cast ballots for “Republican candidates who have the intelligence of turnips and the personalities of tapeworms.”

A politically-savvy friend says voters had crazy fatigue…

Whatever else was in play, the enormous importance of reproductive rights to those election results has become increasingly obvious. All five states with abortion measures on the ballot voted for women’s bodily autonomy, including deep-Red Kentucky. More importantly, in virtually every state, turnout by women–many of whom had only recently registered to vote–increased.

That increase was consistent with longer-term trends; as The Center for American Women and Politics reports

Women have registered and voted at higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1980, with the turnout gap between women and men growing slightly larger with each successive presidential election. Women, who constitute more than half the population, have cast almost 10 million more votes than men in recent elections.

Once again, more women voted, and the message they sent was unmistakable: women are not going backward, not handing their reproductive choices to state legislators.

In a VoteCast exit survey, pro-choice voters (those who said abortion should be legal in all or most cases) were far more likely than pro-life voters (those who said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases) to say that the Dobbs decision had a “major impact” on which candidates they voted for. The partisan gap was more than 30 points– 65 percent of Democrats said Dobbs was a major factor, compared to 32 percent of Republicans.

It isn’t just through voting.  Women are protecting America in other forums, too.  A recent column by Jennifer Rubin detailed the current status of the investigation into Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election being conducted by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. 

A voluminous new report from the Brookings Institution provides a legal road map for the potential prosecution of Trump. The report debunks defenses that Trump will likely deploy and underscores the real possibility that his closest associates might flip in the case, given how many might face criminal liability.

The Brookings Report to which she cites enumerates the multiple efforts made by Trump and his associates to subvert the election results in Georgia, and concludes that those efforts violated several relevant criminal statutes, including: 1) solicitation to commit election fraud, Ga. Code Ann. § 21-2-604(a); 2) intentional interference with performance of election duties, Ga. Code Ann. § 21-2-597; 3) interference with primaries and elections, Ga. Code Ann. § 21-2-566; and 4) conspiracy to commit election fraud, Ga. Code Ann. § 21-2-603.

Meanwhile, in New York, another female Attorney General, Letitia James, has sued the Trump organization for fraud.

That lawsuit is currently being tried, but James already won an important interim victory: a New York court granted James’ motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that the claims in her lawsuit are likely to succeed at trial. The Court ruled that Trump and the Trump Organization “cannot transfer any material assets to another entity without court approval, are required to include all supporting and relevant material in any new financial disclosures to banks and insurers, and ordered to appoint an independent monitor to oversee compliance with these measures.”

Going into the midterms, there was considerable debate about whether American democracy would prove robust enough to withstand the obvious and significant challenges it is facing from White Christian Nationalists and MAGA Republicans. Democratic governance requires adherence to one of the most important elements of the rule of law: the principle that no one is above the law–not rich people, not celebrities, not elected officials, and not Presidents.

That essential principle–accountability– is one of the (multiple) aspects of American governance that Donald Trump and his corrupt cohorts utterly fail to understand. If there is any one thing Donald Trump clearly believes, it is that rules are for other people–that the rules don’t apply to him.

Thus far, one of the very few Republicans who has had the cojones to tell him otherwise–forcefully and publicly– has been another female: Liz Cheney. 

As Rubin noted in her column, it takes courageous women to do “what hordes of sniveling Republican politicians, donors and insiders cannot: hold Trump accountable.”

Don’t mess with us….


Pins And Needles

To subscribers who received these introductory paragraphs  yesterday–accidental “pre-post.”  Sorry.

I will be honest–the last several weeks have been painful. Initially, I devoured political news and punditry, but for the past couple of weeks, I’ve even avoided most of the news–including financial updates and coverage of the sort of policy debates that usually engages nerds like yours truly.

Because–let’s be candid–what difference will any of it make if we lose our chance to build the America I’ve inhabited mentally for these many years.

I don’t want to hear from the nay-sayers and holier-than-thou-ers who will predictably lecture me on the multiple ways in which America the Country has routinely failed to live up to the America of my goals and aspirations. I know that history–but even at its worst, it hardly justifies handing the country over to the drooling haters, know-nothings, QAnon believers and (perhaps worst of all) the otherwise “nice” people who never bothered to learn about or follow government and politics and so mindlessly continue to cast their ballots (if they bother to do so) for a GOP that no longer exists.

All this is by way of explaining the dread leading up to an “after the votes are counted” post. Of course, votes are still being counted…

So–as of today, what do we know?

Well, for one thing, we know that the predicted “Red Wave” failed to materialize. (Unfortunately, so did the Blue Tsunami I was hoping for, but that was admittedly a pie in the sky hope.) Virtually all the headlines I saw yesterday focused on the failure of the GOP to make the gains they’d confidently predicted.

Red Wave? Nah–pink puddle.

Paul Ogden really nailed it in his comment yesterday. After detailing the headwinds Democrats faced, he wrote “I can’t begin to tell you how historic yesterday’s election was.  It’s never happened before where the party in power does so well in  a mid-term despite horrible numbers going into the election.”

Robert Hubbell echoed that conclusion in his daily newsletter, writing that preventing the anticipated Red Wave was “no small thing.” Democrats battled gerrymandering, “a slew of voter suppression laws, inflation at a 40-year high, a sustained disinformation campaign against democracy, and low presidential favorability ratings. Despite all that, they made a strong showing that should give Republicans pause for the next two years.”

What should give Republicans pause and what will give Republicans pause, of course, are two very different things. That said, the pundits who confidently predicted that concerns about inflation would overwhelm fury about abortion were proven wrong– at least according to exit polls. Voters reported that the two issues were fairly even motivators. (Hmm…a temporary rise in the price of eggs versus loss of a fundamental right to personal autonomy…sure, those seem roughly equivalent. Not.)

In the five states where abortion rights were on the ballot, voters massively supported those rights. Even in Kentucky!

Here in my deep Red state of Indiana, the election denying, sexual assaulting, incompetent (and arguably criminal) candidate with an R next to his name won his election for Secretary of State, and will be in charge of the election in 2024 if he hasn’t been arrested before that. (In non-urban areas of Indiana, it takes more than stupidity and criminal behavior to defeat a Republican.Even in suburbs that are slowly turning purple, regressive culture-war candidates for Congress and school boards eked out depressing wins.)

In urban areas of the state, however, sanity mostly prevailed. Indianapolis’ incumbent Prosecutor won handily, and we re-elected our highly competent, legislatively-skilled and all-around nice guy Congressman, Andre Carson. In Northwest Indiana, where Republicans had mounted a challenge to the first-term Democratic Congressman, the Democrat prevailed.

What is abundantly clear is that America is conducting something approximating a civil war between Blue cities and the Red states in which they are located.

The bottom line–if there is such a line–seems to be that neither party delivered a knock-out punch. Those of us who want to elect candidates who are actually interested in governing–on addressing the thorny policy issues we face at the local, state and federal levels–will have to contend with at least two years of gridlock (at best) and sustained culture war  waged by would-be autocrats(at worst).

The good news is: we lived to fight another day…


Where We Are

I’d planned to introduce today’s post with a rundown of what we’ve narrowly escaped OR what comes next after a disappointing midterm. I still don’t know where the results will land us, but it is obviously neither a rout nor the Blue Wave I’d hoped to see.

The good news, as Heather Cox Richardson reminded us yesterday, is that many more Americans today are concerned about our democracy, and determined to reclaim it, than were even paying attention to it in 2016. As she pointed out, we see new organizations, new connections, new voters, and new efforts to remake the country better than it has ever been.

And new efforts to prevent a rightwing populist takeover.

In last Sunday’s New York Times book review, two recent books exploring the decline of democracy investigated “the F word”–fascism

As the review noted, the use of that epithet used to be reserved for extremist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society. No longer. Even mild-mannered Joe Biden has admitted what virtually any person familiar with politics and political history can see: the Republican “MAGA philosophy” is–if not full-on–at least “semi-fascism.”

If we look at the 1920sand ’30s versions of fascism, some things are different but other elements are frighteningly similar.  As the reviewer noted, anti-democratic ultranationalism — one definition of fascism — looks different today, but overall,  MAGA Republicanism “employs many of the rhetorical tropes of traditional fascist politics.” Those tropes include a focus on racial purity, a proud anti-intellectualism, and especially the invocation of “a mythic past and appeals to blood and soil.”

The two books focused specifically upon fascism that were reviewed by the Times were “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them” by Jason Stanley, and “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present” by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Both authors emphasized the importance of “alternative facts”–invocation of a mythical past, and the absence of a shared factual reality.

The invocation of the past is politically strategic. “It is never the actual past that is fetishized,” Stanley writes. He notes that monuments to the Confederacy were erected long after the Civil War ended in part as propaganda to whitewash the horrors of slavery. Fascists, both authors suggest, want to destabilize the shared sense of reality that is necessary for democratic dialogue. They seek to create what one might call an air of QAnon-like unreality, in which elected officials and government institutions are targets of bizarre claims — including, for instance, that they are covers for child sex-trafficking rings.

And of course–as we have seen in the most recent electoral cycle–there is a constant drumbeat of “othering”–an insistence of the dramatic differences between “us” and “them.”

The classic debate between liberty and equality is distorted by fascists, who see equality as a denial of a natural law whereby some people are inherently more deserving of power than others. For fascists, democracy makes unequal people equal, and tries to equate “them” with “us.” Fascist rhetoric is designed to divide citizens into two distinct classes: the sons and daughters of the soil, who are the true citizens of the nation, and the “other” — the foreign, the rabble, the lawless.

 I know my constant insistence on the importance of civic literacy can seem tiresome–the carping of an academic convinced of the supreme importance of her area of “expertise.” But a citizenry unfamiliar with the history of their country and unacquainted with the most basic premises of its system of government is uniquely vulnerable to the distortions that turn one American against another.

Just one example: Voters who don’t understand why the Founders separated Church from State are easy targets for revisionists who deny both the history that impelled that separation and the fact that the language of the First Amendment was intended to erect it. They are receptive to the fascist claim that their God has made them the rightful custodians of the country.

The philosopher Santayana warned that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”


Women And The Law

The final part of my “War on Women” argument is mercifully short.


A Constitutional U-Turn

In addition to the First Amendment’s prohibition against legislating religious doctrine, for the past fifty years Americans have relied upon a constitutional doctrine known as substantive due process, often called the “right to privacy.” That doctrine has strengthened the conviction of most Americans that certain “intimate” individual decisions—including one’s choice of sexual partners or the decision to use contraception– are none of government’s business.

The right to privacy was explicitly recognized in a 1965 case titled Griswold v. Connecticut. The Court was considering the constitutionality of a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of birth control by married couples. (The law also prohibited doctors from prescribing or pharmacists from selling contraceptives.) William O. Douglas’s majority opinion reflected the logic of its conclusion. He wrote “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.”

The majority recognized that a right to personal autonomy was necessary to the enforcement of several of the amendments, which Douglas noted would be difficult or impossible to respect without the implicit recognition of such an underlying right. In a concurrence, Justice Goldberg found that same right in the Ninth Amendment, and Justices White and Harlan argued that privacy is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment—hence the doctrinal title “substantive due process.” Wherever it resided–in a “penumbra” or the 14th Amendment–a majority of the Justices agreed on its presence and importance.

Procedural due process protects Americans’ right to a fair process—a fair trial or other governmental proceeding. Substantive due process distinguishes between decisions that government has the legitimate authority to make, and decisions which must be left to each individual. In the fifty years since Griswold, the recognition that the U.S. Constitution protects personal autonomy and respects the right of each individual to self-determination has powerfully influenced American culture. Much of the anger over the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs can be traced to shock over Justice Alito’s assault on what most Americans had come to consider a bedrock principle:

Government has the right–indeed, the obligation–to intervene when a person’s behaviors are harming people who haven’t consented to that harm. (Mask mandates to protect public health are an example.) Otherwise, government must leave us alone. Secular and religiously tolerant Americans who had dismissed warnings about growing fundamentalist assaults on that principle, confident that their right to self-determination was secure, reacted to the conservative Christian overtones in Dobbs, justifying an invasion of that right, with predictable shock.

As the foregoing discussion has made clear, different religions—and different denominations within those religions– have very different beliefs about women and procreation, and what amounts to the Court’s elevation of a particular version of Christianity has engendered an enormous and negative reaction. Survey research has confirmed that a majority of Americans, including a majority of religiously-affiliated Americans, disagree with the Court’s decision, and are even more opposed to emerging efforts to make access to contraception difficult or impossible. Large numbers of Americans see the overturning of Roe and cases like Hobby Lobby[ as part of an escalating war on women.


On November 8th, the American people need to send an unmistakable message to the arrogant theocrats and paternalists on the Court. A massive vote for Democrats–BLUE NO MATTER WHO–will send that message, in three parts: it will be a repudiation of the Court’s current trajectory; a signal that the Court’s legitimacy has dangerously eroded; and it will convey a willingness to make significant changes to the Court’s composition and jurisdiction.

A failure to send that message will be seen as acquiescence to the Court’s retrograde direction, with very negative consequences for all Americans, not just women.