Imagine all the people!


Maddow and Lithwick can’t: How are we liberals now being trained?

We were struck a colloquy on Monday evening’s Rachel Maddow Show.

Maddow was speaking with Dahlia Lithwick about the spread of state laws which limit abortion rights. Virginia was on the verge of passing a law which would require invasive ultrasound examinations.

In just her second question, Maddow wanted to know if this proposal made any internal sense. Were laws like these compatible, in any way, with conservative “small government” frameworks? Is there any way to avoid the conclusion that The Other Tribe is just a big gang of slobbering hypocrites?

Unlike us, that is! This was Maddow's proffer. To watch the full segment, click here:
MADDOW (2/20/12): Dahlia, you I think more than anybody have done more to help non-lawyers understand the legal means by which some of these issues have been approached by the right—the way that abortion rights have been sort of chipped away at from the edges by the anti-abortion movement and conservative movement more broadly. When you look at the approaches to the legislation like this, trying to change state laws like this, the approaches they’ve taken in terms of federal legislation— Is there any connection that I just can’t see, because I’m a liberal, between the way they have approached this issue as a policy matter and the rhetoric about supporting small government?
Maddow said she just can’t see it. Lithwick explained why that is:
LITHWICK (continuing directly): You know, there is none. This is—it makes no sense for a party that purports to want to shrink government down to the size that you could drown it in a bathtub, to then sort of insert it into your uterus. It makes no cognitive sense.
Maddow can't see the connection here because there is no connection! It makes no "cognitive sense." (We'll admit we don't know what that phrase means. But we think we get the idea)

As she continued, Lithwick discussed Anthony Kennedy’s vote in the 2006 Gonzales case. For ourselves, we were struck by her declaration about the other side’s complete lack of “cognitive sense.”

As readers may know, the Maddow show is the place to go to hear that the others are hypocrites. Presumably, this is true about many of the other tribe’s office-holders. But is it true that it “makes no sense” to favor small government while supporting various anti-choice measures, including this highly intrusive measure?

Does this really “make no sense”—“none?” Here at THE HOWLER, we favor abortion rights as conventionally defined. But on a logical basis, could it make sense to favor “small government” while opposing abortion rights? Are those two stances incompatible?

For our money, those two stances are compatible, although we don’t support either one. It’s amazing to see that Maddow and Lithwick can’t even imagine the thinking involved here.

“Small government” isn’t no government. It isn’t strange to favor small government while supporting laws against murder or assault, for example. And pro-life people say they consider abortion to be the taking of a human life. We don’t see it that way ourselves. But it’s amazing to see that Maddow and Lithwick can’t navigate this well-lit pathway—to see that they can’t even imagine the possible reasoning here.

The Virginia law under discussion is very intrusive. But if you can’t even imagine a way this procedure could be supported within a “small government” framework, we’d have to say you aren’t very good at imagining things that extend beyond your own highly limited self.

But then, please remember the world’s oldest stricture, a stricture which extends from pre-history:

The tribe must never imagine the mental life of the other tribe. Such flights of fancy can’t be allowed. The other tribe isn’t human!

We'd oppose that Virginia law ourselves. But can we imagine where it comes from?

Well actually, yes. We can!


  1. It's the old hypocrisy charge.
    Anti abortion laws, voter ID Laws, Home foreclosure laws, Anti immigration laws, all have different motivations behind them.
    Then we have anti gun laws, free election laws, photo radar laws, Etc.
    What people really want is for government to interfere in the other tribe's lives, and and stay out of their own.
    Yes, we are hypocrites. So what?

  2. Every time a pundit starts a sentence with "I just can't understand...", an angel dies.

  3. This is how Fox News would explain it to their viewers. Roe v. Wade: federal. The Civil Rights Law of 1964: federal. Federal bad. The new state laws making it harder for an abortion applicant to get the procedure: state level. State level good. State level small government.
    Federal law big government.
    Their side connects on a very elementary level. Our side, elementary as it is, makes no connection.

  4. Sorry, Maddow and guest are right about this one.

    There is no logic to wanting a smaller, less intrusive government and wanting the government to force women to undergo an intrusive, medically unecessary procedure.

    The women don't even have to see the results. How silly is that?

    Keep in mind without this law there is nothing preventing a doctor from performing the procedure when, in their best medical judgement, its necessary.

    I wonder how many Virginia legislators would approve of this law if it was an anal probe on males.

    "Bend over, I'm going to probe for no reason other than I'm ordered to. You don't even have to bother yourself with the results of this totally unecessary procedure."


    And these are the same Republicans fighting the federal health insurance mandate as being too intrusive.

    How do their heads not explode?

    1. This is how their heads don't explode: "big government is bad" is just a slogan, not an immutable law of physics. You are going into their heads, cherry-picking ideas, making some more important than others, and then deciding that this brain, the one you have contructed, doesn't work right.

      How does this judgment help anyone?

    2. "You are going into their heads, cherry-picking ideas,...."

      Aren't they the ones cherry-picking which laws are intrusive and which aren't and not being very logical about it to boot?

      I'm still waiting for an answer to the question I posed: how many Virginia legislators would approve of this law if it was for a forced, not medically necessary anal probe performed soley on males?

    3. I'm still waiting for an answer to the question I posed: how many Virginia legislators would approve of this law if it was for a forced, not medically necessary anal probe performed soley on males?


  5. if requiring a woman to have something shoved up her vagina, for no medically necessary reason, in order to have a perfectly legal abortion, doesn't constitute "intrusive" government, nothing does. "smaller" and "less intrusive" are not, by definition, mutually inclusive attributes. the confusion stems, i believe, from the assumption that they are.

    a government can certainly be small, and can certainly dedicate all its time and resources to intruding on your personal life. again, i think this is the source of maddow's/lithwick's assuming the two ideas to be the merged into one "conservative" thought. the result: anything that violates one concept is presumed to violate both. therefore, proposed legislation, such as va's, are, by definition, examples of republican/conservative hypocrisy.

    in truth, those sorts of laws are examples of republican/conservative hypocrisy, but only of the "less intrusive" gov't kind, not the "smaller" gov't brand.

  6. The Howler has phrased the burden of persuasion very cleverly here, but if he doesn't see the stark inconsistency perhaps he should think a little harder.

  7. I think the two republican views are about as "incompatible" as liberal views on wanting less government involvement on social issues and more government involvement on economic ones. At the end of the day both parties are nothing more than coalitions that contain complementary but often very divergent interests. This is how politics works at a very basic level. Maddow has to understand this - of course, she's also gotta fill up that time slot with something!

  8. @Anonymous 1:09 p.m.

    "about as "incompatible" as liberal views on wanting less government involvement on social issues and more government involvement on economic ones. "

    But in fact most liberals wants lots of government involvement in "social issues". What they reject is government involvement in matters of sexuality and other private behaviors which are consensual and don't involve behavior widely viewed to be criminal.

    There's no inconsistency here at all: government butts out in matters of personal conscience, but makes an effort to an effort to protect the public good in realms beyond individual control.

  9. "It isn’t strange to favor small government while supporting laws against murder or assault, for example."-DH

    Then where is the intrusive procedure on the man that impregnated the woman? Since it is so important (MURDER), then they should force the co-conspirator to an equally intrusive medical procedure without his or his doctor's consent. However, they do not.

    This advocacy is also incompatible with the Right's claims of not trying to demonize women in these situations and only being interested in going after the physician if abortion becomes illegal. Lastly, a majority of VA Republican woman do not support this legislation, so they understand the false dichotomy presented by their male elected officials.

  10. One other contradiction is the Right is so concerned about the First Amendment in terms of religous freedom, but not so much in terms of privacy issues. It is an abomination to require an employer to provide equality in health coverage in the case of contraception (but not vasectomies or Viagra). However, a woman is not allowed to make her own decisions about her own body and is forced to pay for a procedure neither her nor her doctor wanted.

    So, in summary if one person or entity has to provide an insurance plan for his or her employees and one individual utilizes an option that the employer finds immoral on religious grounds that is unnacceptable. The government is forcing religion down our throats in that situation, supposedly. However, an individual can be forced to be physically violated and forced to pay for an unecessary procedure, because some (mostly on relgious grounds) deem a legal right invalid. This somehow is not a freedom of religion infringement. Gimme a break, Mr. Somerby you are out to lunch on this one.

  11. mdana, being pro-choice I agree with you. However, I understand that the pro-life folks don't see this as a decision only about a woman's body. They consider the fetus to be a separate body.

    I can certainly understand that. We gave our fetuses names -- one was Cletis. When we felt motion, we said the baby was kicking; we didn't say my wife had indigestion. And, modern viewing options give a very clear view of the fetus as an individual. So, although I'm pro-choice, I don't see the pro-life people as hypocrites.

    1. They're not "pro-life," they're ANTI-ABORTION.

      These anti-abortion fanatics could care less about lives; many support every unjustified war the US participates in, they don't do a thing for children and adults who're barely getting by, and very few of them protest at state executions.

      They are blastocyst and fetus-obsessed anti-abortion fanatics.

      You really must come along every single time and promote right-wing propaganda, mustn't you? I hope they're paying you good money, David in Cal, I really do.

    2. I prefer to refer to them as Anti-Choice, but in responding to David I used the "neutral" Pro-Life. I think Pro-Life is a biased term in that it gives this group a more positive description than they deserve.

    3. Fido, as I said, I'm pro-choice. But, I have friends, Steve and Ruth, who are quite a bit more liberal than I am, who happen to be pro-life. Steve and Ruth are independents who vote Dem as often as they vote Rep. I don't agree with Steve and Ruth on the issue of abortion, but they're not obsessed fanatics. They're intelligent, compassionate people who happen to differ from me on this particular issue.

      One should be able to disagree with people on an issue while still respecting them and not demonizing them.

  12. "They consider the fetus to be a separate body."
    A fetus is not a baby. If they consider an animal a part of the family, it does not make it human.

    "And, modern viewing options give a very clear view of the fetus as an individual." You have to actually be born to be an individual. The living breathing human trumps the potential person, that is why the conception laws have failed. How can one person have dual individual rights? It is impossible.

    The proposed VA law trumps professed conservative tenets such as individual privacy rights, unfunded mandates, religious rights, state intrusion on healthcare decisions, forcing individuals unnecessary expenses, etc. This is a tax on a right (not a priviledge like a driver's license).

    Ms. Maddow and Ms. Lithwick were looking at this through a very specific lense: does this law square with conservatives mantra of limited government? It obviously does not. Unfortunately, Mr. Somerby presented a superficially equivalent construction based on the tenet of Pro-Life, as opposed to the one Maddow and Lithwick were actually discussing. Mr. Somerby has a problem because in his false constuct of the discussion they are not meeting his demand. I think that is dishonest.

  13. "The tribe must never imagine the mental life of the other tribe. Such flights of fancy can’t be allowed. The other tribe isn’t human!"

    What if you *can* imagine it, and are horrified? And what exactly is the appropriate response when the party setting the agenda in the U.S. (in collaboration, of course, with big business and powerful religious movements), is far to the right of anything seen in the modern era, in any industrial democracy, anywhere, and where the "liberal" party is well to the right of the conservative parties of Europe?

    Do you have any idea, Mr. Somerby, how very grave this situation actually is? How is it that what aggravates you most is Rachel Maddow, and the failure of "liberals" sufficient respect Republicans? Very, very strange priorities. One would never guess, reading these columns, what trouble we're in.

  14. Just because you are horrified by a group of people doesn't make every argument against them correct, or importantly, influential. This dog (if you are for limited government, then you shouldn't be for this bill) doesn't hunt. Who's for limited government in all cases? Noone. Many liberals want government involved completely differently on certain occasions. Why this clamour for consistancy, especially with people you disagree with?

    This Virginia bill is so easy on the merits, too. What is wrong with looking a Republican right in the eye and saying that this bill obviously presents an undue burden for a woman seeking an abortion, *and* places a substantial obsticle in her path? Which, also, just happens to be the law of the land.

    This Maddow nonsense also gives too much respect to the whole "limited government" canard. Often this is a just a way for some to say that they hate the welfare state. So, just to get a good feeling by showing how stupid the other side is, now you have to convince these same people you just insulted, that if you like limited government, you're right about abortion rights, but you're wrong about that stimulus package.

    What are we trying to do here, return to civilzation, or win a slap fight?