March 3, 2024

and the right side of history

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932                                                   
Rights and the right side of history
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – The 2024 election for the president, House members, and one third of senators is rapidly shaping up as a contest of “rights”: women’s rights, parental rights, and gun rights.
          Polls indicate solid majorities favoring a woman’s right to choose, parents’ rights in their children’s education, and the nation’s right to enact responsible gun control legislation. But in a nation of 50 states, unintended gerrymandering matters more than national majorities. That gerrymandering caused by state borders and economic opportunities has resulted in a large population gap between large and small states, especially demonstrated by California’s 39 million people, a majority of whom are Democrats, to Wyoming’s less than 600,000 almost exclusively Republican voters. Yet both states have two U.S. senators, which is why state majorities trump national majorities. And when it comes to parental rights, local communities dominate.
          In this fractured environment purple states matter, which is why swing states such as Wisconsin are in the headlines. Voters there turned out in big numbers to elect pro-choice judge Janet Protasiewicz to the state Supreme Court. She campaigned on a promise to be the deciding vote to save abortion rights, and her 11-point victory margin over a conservative, anti-abortion judge demonstrated once again the power of reproductive rights as a voting issue, and gives Democrats a court majority there for the first time in 15 years.
          While there are pro-choice advocates in both parties, they represent an overwhelming majority in the Democratic Party and a not-so-clear minority in the Republican Party. So, while Florida lawmakers passed a 6-week ban on abortion, which Republican Governor Ron DeSantis supported, voters in ruby red Kansas voted last year to preserve abortion rights. In short, Republicans face a problem on the issue.
          Enter parental rights. Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin got elected as a champion of parental control over local school boards and teachers’ unions, and his upset victory in a blue state alerted the GOP to the political value of his approach. It was an opening created by the left wing of the Democratic Party in some local jurisdictions to have teachers discuss sexual orientation with pre-adolescent children.
          Capitalizing on Youngkin’s message, the GOP-controlled House last month passed a “Parents Bill of Rights,” largely on a party-line vote. The legislation calls for more transparency online about curriculum and reading lists, and more parental involvement in decision making, which most school districts are already doing.
          The Senate will not pass the bill so it will not become law but that does not matter. It is the message that counts: schools cannot be trusted to stick to the basics, reading, writing, and arithmetic, and teachers if they are not properly monitored, will be indoctrinating children with a partisan agenda.
          “We want education not indoctrination,” says DeSantis, an aggressive champion of opposing what he calls the so-called “woke” culture that has infiltrated schools.
          This poses a serious vulnerability for the center-left majority of the Democratic Party if it is unable to override its far-left minority. One significant defection already occurred in North Carolina where State Rep. Tricia Cautham, 44, who was elected as a Democrat, announced she was switching to the GOP, giving the Republicans a veto-proof majority to override the Democratic governor’s opposition to GOP legislation.
          A longtime Democrat, Cautham has been an outspoken advocate for abortion rights, once giving an emotional speech to lawmakers describing her personal experience of having to terminate a pregnancy. So, her switch at this time with abortion rights under siege surprised her colleagues. She said in her statement that she no longer recognized the Democrats as a big tent party.
          Finally, there is the issue of gun rights, an issue that crosses party lines, primarily due to extensive lobbying and fund raising.
         After the recent shooting in Nashville that took the lives of six people, including three nine-year-olds, DeSantis quietly signed legislation to allow the carrying of firearms anywhere in the state without a permit, making Florida the 26th state to expand gun rights in this way. For Republicans, gun rights and parental rights go hand in hand, especially in small conservative states.
          Meanwhile, Democrats retain the upper hand with women’s rights, but they may fail in 2024 unless they get a handle on parental rights that resonate with the public. And, finally, Democrats need to recognize that American democracy is a time-has-come democracy, for in our history, the time had long since come to end slavery, long since come to enshrine a woman’s right to vote, and now the time has long since come to address America’s cycle of violence by unequivocally embracing meaningful gun control legislation.
          The 2024 election will go to the party on the right side of history.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2023 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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