The fringe crazies at the tea party got a lot of attention. But one of the most noteworthy things about the protest was the heavy representation of anti-abortion activists who don’t like Obama’s health plan because it will offer federal subsidies for abortion. That’s not my view, but obviously there’s a substantial minority of Americans who want to see abortion banned so it’s natural that there would be opposition to this subsidized abortion scheme. Except for the fact that the health reform plans in congress wouldn’t actually do this. The anti-abortion side, in other words, already won this argument. Except nobody told them.
Tactically, that makes sense. The anti-abortion movement is one of the largest and most robust social movements in the United States. If you want to beat something, enlisting that movement’s passion and organization will be very helpful. So the leaders of the conservative movement are happy to willfully deceive their followers on this point, the better to mobilize them. It’s smart, but it’s ugly and it’s extremely disrespectful. It’s also, in strict anti-abortion terms, incredibly counterproductive. The anti-abortion side won this debate because many Democrats wanted to do health reform without feeling their wrath. But if the wrath continues even when you do what they want, then there’s very little incentive to make concessions in the future. Which only furthers one sense that the conservative elite sees the anti-abortion movement as something to be cynically manipulated rather than a cause to be advanced.