HOW WE GOT HERE: President Clinton's talking-point!


Two out of three ain't half bad: Back in 1973, was Roe v. Wade correctly decided?

Inevitably, that calls for a subjective assessment. We don't have the expertise to speak to that point, which has been widely debated.

Let's move to a second question. Given the doctrine of stare decisis, should Roe v. Wade have been overturned last week?

We can't tell you that either. In the ultimate sense, neither can anyone else. We can tell you this:

In the most obvious sense, the route by which our blue tribe was handed last Friday's vast defeat runs through two presidential elections. As we've already noted, those two elections were these:

The 2000 election: Candidate Gore narrowly won the nationwide popular vote. Candidate Bush ended up in the White House. 

Before he was done, he had nominated two Supreme Court Justices: Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

The 2016 election: Candidate Clinton won the nationwide popular vote by almost three million votes. Candidate Trump ended up in the White House.

Before he was done, he had nominated three Supreme Court Justices: Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett.

Four of those Justices voted to terminate Roe v. Wade. In the most obvious sense, we got here by losing those two elections—elections in which we won the nationwide popular vote! 

(So it goes with our creaking electoral systems.)

For the record, the ultimate way those elections were lost involves the early rise of The Crazy in modern American discourse. For the record, some of that early rise of The Crazy came from "the right-wing noise machine"—but a lot of it came from within the world of the upper-end mainstream press corps.

The Crazy was already active. Like the highly self-confident hare who managed to lose a race to the tortoise, our self-impressed tribe was too dumb to notice this fact, too lazy to push back in real time. 

In the mid-1990s, we let the very holy Reverend Falwell spread his claims about the Clintons' many murders. Rush Limbaugh floated the notion that Hillary killed Vince Foster.

Starting in 1999, we let a cabal of upper-end mainstream journalists invent Candidate Gore's many troubling "lies." We let them stage their endless nervous breakdowns about his troubling wardrobe.

In short, The Crazy was already on wide display before Candidate Trump came along! Our self-impressed tribe was too dumb to push back. It's a huge part of how we got here.

Out of all this, one thing is quite clear—presidential elections matter! So do the views and the viewpoints of our fellow citizens in the red tribe—the people who went out and voted for Candidates Bush and Trump.

You may not agree with their views and opinions, but they do have a right to their views. They're American citizens just like we are, and they won't be going away.

If we want to receive more votes, we have to win some such voters over. We have to persuade an array of our neighbors and friends—the very people we may be inclined to denigrate as Others.

How do we manage to win more votes? That's more an art than a science. 

Concerning the art of winning votes, let's return to a buzz phrase invented by the first Candidate Clinton. We refer to the campaign talking point in which he said he wanted abortion to be "safe, legal and rare."

As of 2019, that famous phrase had come under widespread review. It was widely noted that Candidate Hillary Clinton had dropped the part about abortion being "rare" during her run in 2016.  

The reasons for this rhetorical shift were widely discussed in 2019. To see the discussion published by Vox, you can just click here.

Concerning the original formulation, we would only say this:

President Clinton had given voice to a three-part dream. Two parts of his dream—"safe" and "legal"—were directed at Us and reflected our views. 

In the third part of his dream—the part in which he said the word "rare"—he was paying a bit of respect to the outlooks and views of The Others.

Safe, legal and rare! This was always a mere talking-point, a rhetorical bumper sticker. It wasn't a legislative proposal. It was simply something you said to present yourself to the voters.

Two of his points paid homage to Us—and, by traditional reckoning, two out of three ain't half bad! But by the time Campaign 2016 arrived, many of our blue tribe's activists were already rebelling against such acts of cultural deference. 

Even in our rhetorical talking points, we wanted it all our way.

As far as we know, Hillary Clinton didn't "lose" to Donald J. Trump because she abandoned the third part of her husband's talking point. (She had used the original formulation back in 2008.)

Beyond that, we aren't saying that anyone's particular view of abortion and abortion rights is "wrong." We're speaking to the politics, to the outreach—and to nothing else.

Within the past week, since last Friday's defeat, a famous phrase from American history has been rattling around in our heads. It's found in the very first paragraph of a famous American document, such as that document was:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind [sic] requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The founders, such as they were, wanted to display a decent respect for the opinions of humankind. Within our blue tribe, it might not be the worst idea if we took that approach more often.

By normal reckoning, The Others are entitled to their viewpoints and views, just the way we are. By the rules of the game, if we want them to see the world our way, we have to go out and persuade them.

In large point, Bill Clinton was able to win by six and eight points because he was skilled at displaying a decent resect for the opinions of humankind—even for the opinions of people who weren't inclined to support him. So it was with his view of Arkansas' Pentecostals, a view we discussed last week

No, he didn't share their views, especially about abortion rights, but he was willing to say that he'd never met finer people. Similarly, he threw the pro-life crowd a bone when he added that third word: "rare."

Abortion never did become "rare" during the era is question. Nothing in President Clinton's proposals was designed to make it so. 

He was simply throwing The Others a bone, saying he didn't loathe them. Our tribe has been moving away from that stance as the tribalization of the past thirty years has advanced.

Our tribe has always been self-impressed. We're inclined to look down on The Others.

We've displayed this trait for the past many years. Now we've been handed a savage defeat, a bit like the hare who took a nap by the side of the road as the slow-moving tortoise blew past him. 

The hare was much too self-impressed. His arrogance brought on his defeat—and then too, it was quite unattractive.

We were too dumb and too lazy to stand up for Gore. Bush won, then gave us Alito! The same thing with Clinton and Trump!


  1. "Candidate Gore narrowly won the nationwide popular vote."

    There's no such thing as "nationwide popular vote" in presidential elections, dear Bob.

    Federal government's chief executive in the US is elected by the states, states' electors. And these electors don't even need to be selected by a popular vote. You see, dear?

    "As far as we know, Hillary Clinton didn't "lose" to Donald J. Trump because she abandoned the third part of her husband's talking point."

    Trust us, dear Bob: talking points got nothing to do with it.
    The psycho-witch lost because your hate-mongering tribe, owned by global finance, has nothing offer to normal ordinary humyn beings.

    1. No, it doesn't exist, dear psycho-dembot.

      To begin with, there is no requirement for a popular vote to elect the electors.

      Aside from that, in the states where the outcome is entirely predictable, there is no reason for campaigning, for voter mobilization -- precisely because there's no national popular vote, because it has no meaning.

      Sorry to disappoint...

    2. That is a good argument for why the electoral college should be eliminated.

    3. Indeed, dear dembot, your liberal tribe's goal is elimination of the United States.

    4. Wrong, shit for brains. The goal is the elimination of the Confederacy. One man, one vote.

      "Before 1861 the two words "United States" were generally used as a plural noun: "the United States are a republic." After 1865 the United States became a singular noun. The loose union of states became a single nation. ...."
      James M. McPherson

      I understand why you would like us to continue fighting the Civil War, but you lost. We are One Nation..

    5. Boo-hoo, dear psycho-dembot.

    6. Can I block commentators as not worth reading on this site?

  2. "In the most obvious sense, we got here by losing those two elections—elections in which we won the nationwide popular vote! "

    Somerby doesn't mention the deceit by McConnell when he refused to consider the appointment of Merrick Garland in the final year of Obama's term in office. Nor does he mention the lies told by the nominees under Trump, when they affirmed the concept of stare decisis in their nomination hearings and interviews. He also ignores the contentious hearing of Kavanaugh, his possible perjury and the failure of Congress to take the accusations against him seriously.

    But Somerby can hardly go back and contest every election of the 21st century, pretending that if Democrats had won them, then Roe v Wade would have been protected. The entire Republican system of enacting minority rule in a country where the majority has won the election popular vote needs to be examined. Not simply Gore and Clinton's elections.

    Finally, Somerby says that 4 justices voted to overturn Roe v Wade. He is incorrect. Five justices did that and joined the majority opinion, with a 6th making a more narrow statement on the case at hand. There were only 3 dissenting votes, not 4, on a 9-person court.

    1. Pettiness is not a very good trait.

    2. Not a big fan of accuracy?

  3. "For the record, some of that early rise of The Crazy came from "the right-wing noise machine"—but a lot of it came from within the world of the upper-end mainstream press corps."

    Somerby makes it seem like most of the crazy (a lot of it) comes from the left, but that is wrong. Most of the crazy comes from the right, and the type of craziness is not equal either. The weirdest and most harmful craziness comes from the right, not the left. And the big increase in politically motivated violence comes from the right, not the left, according to the intelligence agencies and those tracking it. And further, the increase in political crime in our country has come mainly from the right, not the left. Trump can be considered a political crime boss using mob tactics and there is no equivalent to that on the left.

    This imbalance, Somerby pretense that the left is as bad as the right, constitutes disinformation to the point where one must consider Somerby's motives for attributing the same behavior to both sides. His repeated use of conservative memes to attack the left, his insistence on focusing on the left when the problems arise on the right, his daily attacks on the media, which is neither left nor right, ignoring Fox News, a propaganda arm of the right, all suggest his efforts here are intended to support the right and their nefarious crimes against our nation. Somerby is far from a neutral player in today's politics.

  4. "In large point, Bill Clinton was able to win by six and eight points because he was skilled at displaying a decent resect for the opinions of humankind—even for the opinions of people who weren't inclined to support him."

    This is nonsense. No analyst of Clinton's success (and there have been many) has called this one out as a factor in his victories. For example:

    Penn says that Clinton won by staking out a centrist position and emphasizing economic issues. Greenberg stressed that Clinton's emphasis on pocketbook issues attracted new, less afluent voters. Nothing about adding Pentecostals to the traditional Democratic coalition.

    Somerby is making this up to support his own preferred narrative.

    1. It isn’t a matter of opinion but of history.

    2. You seem to conceive of history as akin to a hard science rather than a narrative distillation from an overwhelming set of facts and men's motives.

      There are as many histories as there are historians.

    3. My theory for how Clinton won: let's face it, GHW was nowhere near nasty enough to excite the barbaric republican base. Same reason McCain and Romney lost. They were despised by the Rush Limbaugh faction for being too nice.

    4. Remember "It's the economy, stupid"?

      There is one actual history and many opinions about it, but there are also rules to doing history, such as that the narratives must conform to and explain the facts provided by primary sources. The sources I cited conducted interviews with voters about why they supported Clinton. That takes precedence over revisionist theories about Clinton's victory, such as Somerby's use of Clinton for his own purposes. Similarly, Clinton own book is a first-hand account of his life. It is self-serving (as all autobiographies are, especially those written by past presidents), but it needs to be considered ahead of Somerby's attempts to impose entirely different motives onto Clinton's life. Somerby doesn't know the first thing about doing history, because he didn't study it in college. There is a methodology involved that Somerby knows nothing whatsoever about.

      Just as Somerby imposes his own views on those despairing expert anthropologists living in caves, he thinks history means whatever he wants it to. Don't advance that idea yourself by saying that history has no constraints -- you are as wrong as Somerby if you think that.

  5. "It was widely noted that Candidate Hillary Clinton had dropped the part about abortion being "rare" during her run in 2016. "

    The number of abortions is at its lowest point now, with this overturn of Roe v Wade. Abortions have been steadily declining, along with the teen pregnancy rate and many other measures of social problems. The court didn't suddenly decide to get militant on abortion because Hillary left out the word "rare." Abortion was already becoming rare.

    1. Perhaps one of a number of reasons it was becoming more rare is because of an attitude reflected in phrases like "safe, legal, and rare" and perhaps it would be even more rare if Democrats didn't promote abortion as a woman's crowning glory.


    This bizarre Princeton story was on page 1 online. Stepford wife meets the professor!

  7. Some Democrats would rather have the issue than legalize abortions. After the decision was leaked, Chuck Schumer introduced a federal bill to legalize abortions. This was a good idea. However, instead of working with Republicans to design a moderate bill that could be passed, Schumer introduced a bill more extreme than Roe v. Wade. Of course, it had no chance of passage.

  8. "As far as we know, Hillary Clinton didn't "lose" to Donald J. Trump because she abandoned the third part of her husband's talking point."

    Yes she did.

    She and her party abandoned the talking point word, a manifestation of abandoning the attitude that underpinned its inclusion in her phrase.

    Voters were horrified to witness Democrats transformed from a party that included a recognition that a human life is snuffed out with every abortion and every moral person has a level of discomfort with the act, to a radicalized pro-abortion party that celebrates the killing and insists that anyone who says it should be rare must hate women.

    By the time Hillary ran against Trump, Democrats also abandoned support for the Hyde Amendment, which Hillary, Bill, Biden, Obama, and every other Democrat supported before. More evidence of a radicalized and morally deficient party that became comfortable not only with the killing, but with forcing everyone to contribute to it.

    The party is so radicalized a pro-life Democrat candidate will be drummed out of it. The GOP is taking advantage of this moment and making moves to peel the working class and hispanics away from Democrats.

    You're wrong if you think the change in attitudes about a moral issue represented by changes in phrases and public funding didn't shift enough voters to Trump's column to deliver him the presidency.

    1. You know less than zero

    2. The change about abortion being rare was part of a pattern. Hillary made it clear that she has contempt for her opponents. This arrogant attitude must have affected enough votes to change the election.

    3. Getting a little bitchy there, David. David supported Donald J Chickenshit, who showed great respect for his opponents.

      Tell us again about how Cassidy's testimony concerning the out of control horse's ass you voted for had been "debunked". Tell us again David. I need a laugh.

    4. @6:23 Yes, Trump showed contempt for his opponents as individuals. Trump was childish and disgusting. However, unlike Hillary, Trump showed respect for all the voters on the other side.

    5. No, he did not. He had them thrown out of his rallies and urged the crowd to beat them up.

    6. Trump showed respect for all the voters on the other side.

      By trying to steal our votes.

      I will admit, he treated both sides with equal contempt. He lied and bullshitted everybody showing no favoritism.

    7. David, take your Hillary hate and stick it, you sad silly pig.

  9. Somerby's portrayal of Clinton's interaction with the Pentecostals isn't the way it was presented in Clinton's memoir. In his book, My Life, he describes the interaction with the Pentecostals as his introduction to the hand-shaking and farm-visiting style of campaigning used by Fulbright. Clinton worked for Fulbright while he was in high school, and then again later between college and grad school. He considered Fulbright a mentor. He describes how much he admired the way Fulbright would stop and chat with locals in small towns all over the state, and he tried to emulate that in his own interactions with people. That is the context for his story about meeting the Pentecostals. Fulbright was also a very successful politician, but this old style campaigning was fading out by the time Clinton became a nominee, due to the advent of TV and the inability to drive cross-country and visit everyplace as a presidential nominee.

    Somerby grabs this explanation of where Clinton learned his political skills and distorts it to fit his own narrative about compromise and "respect." In the book, Clinton explicitly says that he doubted the pentecostals were going to change their views, and neither was he going to adopt their views, but they had a nice talk. Somerby distorts that by expecting liberals to change their views to mollify conservatives, and he has lost the mutuality inherent in true respect between people -- both sides need to show it.

    Somerby is not a reliable reporter when he talks about the things he's read elsewhere. He takes Clinton out of context and distorts his intention in the passage, to make it appear that Clinton was advancing Somerby's own narrative, when I doubt he would agree with much that Somerby says, especially about Al Gore. How do you suppose Clinton felt about the way Al Gore threw him under the bus? Can Somerby possibly imagine how Gore's disdain for Clinton may have come across to Clinton fans? I have no doubt that lost him votes, because it didn't make me very fond of him either. I considered it stupid at the time, and I still do, but Somerby seems unable to consider whether Gore might have lost his own election through his own bad choices.

  10. Had Hillary included the word "rare" in her statement about abortion, she would not be showing support for abortion access in those states where limitations were being increasingly being put upon the procedure. She may have wanted to be unambiguous in her support for this right, not appear to be agreeing with the states where legislators tried to make abortion disappear by imposing non-medical restrictions to decrease access. That is a legitimate political decision -- one that matters to women and to those who support Choice (which has been a longstanding part of the Democratic Party platform for every presidential candidate). Hillary is a longstanding advocate for women and children and families, so there is no way she would abandon that issue just to run for president. She geuinely cares about women's issues, unlike many male candidates in both parties.

  11. “The founders, such as they were, wanted to display a decent respect for the opinions of humankind. “

    No, they declared a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.

    The founders were stating their reasons for splitting from England, reasons that ultimately led to war.

    They are not stating their respect for the opinions of England or its king. In fact, they are accusing the king of all sorts of contemptible things.

    They mean to say that they felt that mankind deserved to know the reasons why the colonies could no longer abide being controlled by England.

    It’s also worth noting that a large faction in the colonies remained loyal to England. I doubt too many schoolchildren have heard how those loyalists were treated. Doesn’t fit with the glorious narrative of our founding, and does not serve as an illustration of how the founders were so respectful and deferential towards those who disagreed with them, the “others” of that period.

    So, this has no relevance at all, zero, to Somerby’s thesis about persuading the “others” to vote for you.

    1. I mean, we all remember the rousing speech that Patrick Henry gave, wherein he said “give me liberty, if you guys are OK with it, or if not, let’s discuss maybe remaining with Britain ,OK?”

  12. People need to break with their faith in Democratic Party. You have to leave behind everything you once believed in. It's the only escape from our current hell of institutional dominance.

    1. They are. The only solid Democrat group left is women over 50.

    2. And people with college educations.

    3. And people with college degrees.

    4. All they cater to is the managerial class. They are the last, deluded diehards.

    5. Ah yes, unfortunate fellas, lobotomized by years of atrocious liberal "education"... Not to mention endless mandatory "workplace trainings"...

    6. It’s astonishing to see how poorly-educated the “college educated” are now. Indoctrinated with brain curdling ideology to be sure but dumber than stumps.

    7. They're in debt up to their ears.

  13. “You may not agree with their views and opinions, but they do have a right to their views.”

    No one is saying they don’t. That doesn’t mean their views should be the law.

    If Somerby really supports the pro-choice position, as he claims, then he has an opportunity right here in his own blog to engage in a discussion with opponents of abortion. He can see the kinds of arguments that abortion opponents make. They are unfamiliar to exactly zero liberals.

    But he won’t do it, because it is easier to accuse others of being incompetent than to actually illustrate his own superiority by showing us how it’s done. I’m going to assume that he has no rejoinder to the characterization of liberals as murderers of babies, and that he can’t really bring this up because it renders a true discussion practically impossible.

    And since, like a mainstream pundit, Somerby wants to view the overturning of Roe as a horse race political win/loss, let’s see who is really losing:

    Saying the Dobbs decision is a loss for liberals is kind of like saying the Dred Scott decision was a political loss for the abolitionists. Maybe it was a loss for Mr Scott and others like him. Of their human rights.

    1. The argument that one denied abortion of a pregnant child in one state is worth millions of lives saved is going to be a hard sell.

    2. Tell it to Bob. He supports the pro-choice position and says liberals don’t know how to discuss it. Well, we’re all waiting for his devastating rejoinder to your “argument.”

  14. Popular ideas like civil rights and rights for women and workers aren't the priority of our government. You can vote all you want but your opinions will not end up as policy. You have to confront the money, the PACs.

  15. Actually you have to go back to the ugly white racism of the Thomas appointment to encompass what Bob is saying, but he is basically correct. The Dem’s political
    blundering is practically endless, not that it
    should not be painfully noted.
    That does not excuse either the
    the Court’s wretched performance or
    the Republicans ruthlessness in forming
    The Court, two things you won’t find
    Bob writing about.
    This also raises the issue of Dem’s
    looking the other way, at best, when
    Bill Clinton is thrown under the bus.
    Bob stopped noticing such things too,
    which is really sad. And Rush Limbaugh
    did not “float” the idea that the Clinton’s
    had killed Vince Foster, he harped on
    it five days a week for two years.

  16. Yeah, things have become even uglier than they were, thanks to the way we get information. Everything we "know" is informed by it. That is, the media we consume. I for one haven't watched the MSM on TV for many years. Talk radio? Don't make me lol, except that it seems to be affective [sic] for some reason.

    The very last part of this video really encapsulates what Bob has been saying lo, these many years. Who says comedians can't also be philosophers? Comedy is rife with them.