The US Democrats’ presidential election campaign is a fine balancing act of managing a double ticket. Joe Biden is undeniably not in control of his campaign. Kamala Harris and her backers are the organ grinders. Behind them stand the forces of radical feminism, wokeism and leftist, liberal agencies like Planned Parenthood. These forces are challenged with managing a campaign with something like a conjurer’s deftness of hand, revealing and concealing in turn. Obviously, Biden’s association with the good old liberal, tolerant days of the Obama years is for public view. But his apparant confusion and incoherence must be kept diligently out of sight. Yet, he is the lead candidate, the man, despite all the questions about his health, who beat Kamala Harris and several more for the party’s nomination. This of itself raises questions about Harris. What is is about her that might be a liability or a weakness ? What put her in second place to a man like Biden?
Democratic campaigners would no doubt say it was a question of glass ceilings and racism compounded by gender prejudice. A supremely qualified woman already lost out to Donald Trump and sexism. That is simplistic if not disingenuous. Donald Trump saw off an equally qualified, Ivy league phalanx of male candidates in his own party. He also defied the best efforts of the Republican establishment to block him. There is no reason to conclude he could not have won against a male candidate with something of Hillary’s Clinton’s agenda and political profile. That aside, there are things other than sexism, that might make Democrats a little fearful about Kamala Harris’s appeal, if the campaign was predominantly focussed on her.
There is no issue in a politically and ideologically polarised country more heated and divisive than the abortion question. It is both a litmus test and lightning rod for each side. With it goes the question of freedom and autonomy: a question that runs the gamut of individual liberties, for women, for taxpayers, for employers, for nurses and doctors. It is also about corporate liberties when it affects church agencies and companies wth a pro-life ethos. Donald Trump has brought the issue unapologetically to the top of the political agenda. In particular, his decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood has galvanised the abortion lobby like never before.
Kamala Harris stands with the most liberal advocates of abortion rights. Her association with Planned Parenthood goes beyond the merely ideological. As Attorney General of California, she actively promoted legislation targeting pro-life counselling services, often run by the Catholic Church. She supported laws to enforce them to display signs advertising free or low-cost abortion and to enter disclaimers in their publicity that implied they were not qualified to carry out the work they were doing. When these laws were challenged, eventually to be overturned by the Supreme Court, Harris fought to defend them every step of the way. The success of the pro-life lobby rested on the Court’s view that the legislation contravened the First Amendment that guarantees freedom of expression and religion to American citizens
The First Amendment, or more generally stated, the right to exercise freedom of expression and conscience is at the core of this debate. What apples to abortion applies equally to other debates around euthanasia, gender recognition and marriage. And of course the same core questions are now underpinning the debate around hate legislation in Ireland and elsewhere. That is perhaps the reason why the abortion debate so readily swings to arguments about the exercise of freedom.
Pro-life activist, David Daleiden, shocked the world in 2015, with a secretly filmed video showing Dr Deborah Nucatola of Planned Parenthood sipping wine as she casually discussed how she harvested foetal livers, hearts and lungs during the barbaric dismemberment of abortion. Public outrage and revulsion was met by California’s Attorney General Harris with a police raid on Daleiden’s home. Files and laptop which contained as yet unreleased footage were seized on her orders. This led to the first and only case of criminal enforcement of the Californian video-recording law. Daleiden is still appealing judgements against him, set in train by Kamala Harris, by again evoking the First Amendment.
While the country struggled with its conscience, the woman who would be next in command was clearly more exercised in exploiting a dormant state law to protect a powerful abortion agency than in defending fundamental citizen rights guaranteed under the American Constitution. Even worse, she worked to prevent the broadcast of information that, by any reasonable reckoning, rightly belonged in the public domain, particularly as Planned Parenthood was at that point in receipt of public money. She has forced Daleiden to join people like the Little Sisters of the Poor as unlikely champions of American freedoms.
There is another even more worrying dimension to this alignment of politicians with powerful lobbies. In November of last year, Planned Parenthood launched a $45 million electoral programme to help ensure the election of ‘a pro-choice president ‘ in battleground states. Their webpage currently has a puff piece on the many reasons Kamala Harris will make a great vice-president. There is not a word about Joe Biden. This is one platform where Harris has traction. There will be other platforms across America where the measured, more statesmanlike Biden, or rather the memory of him as he was during the Obama years, will be pushed to the fore. If memory can trump present impressions – and the opportunity to form them will be minimised – that just might be enough to get him across the line in November. After that, it will be Kamala Harris’s hour.
As already stated, this is part of a larger debate about social order and cohesion within an ideologically divided society. The First Amendment enshrines a value that is a cornerstone of democracies everywhere. Without the right to dissent and protest publicly there can be no freedom in any meaningful sense. The big question facing democratic societies at this time is whether there can be a consensus around where to draw the line between individual freedoms and the current majoritarian view of what constitutes the common good.