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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Time Machine Game

OK, here's how we play. I have a time machine, and I can send you back to any point, but only to ask people in the past about their expectations of the future. In today's installment, we're going back to 1989--yes, that's right, 20 years into the past!--to ask informed citizens a simple question: "Do you think that abortion will be as central to U.S. politics in 20 years (i.e., 2009) as it is today?"

Now, 1989 person has good reason to be skeptical of this. Given the Court confirmation fights of the recent past (Bork! in 1987)--and the election of "pro-life" George [H.W.] Bush in 1988--it looks like Roe v. Wade is toast. [Of course, 1989 person has no way of knowing that Bush will nominate Souter, who along with Reagan nominees O'Connor and Kennedy will decline to overrule Roe. And we violate temporal continuity if we tell her--so hush!] So there's likely going to be something in the post-1989 period on abortion. But will abortion be a litmus test--largely for both sides--in 20 years? Or will the agenda have moved on?

I think that it's pretty clear that the agenda has not. For 20 years, other issues have come, and gone, some have returned. But abortion remains central. I've been surprised by how often it has already come up in the Sotomayor discussions.

I find this surprising--and I'm sure 1989 person would, too. The issues in 1989 were not the same as in 1969; the issues in 1969 were not the same as in 1949. But in 2009, one major issue--and potentially more, like affirmative action, taxes, etc.--is pretty much a 1989 issue.


At 1:19 AM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Hmmm. . . . Chalk this up to failure of imagination on my part, but I never expect big political changes until they're almost imminent ("black president" I saw maybe a year and a half ahead, which is actually damn good for me). It never would have occurred to me in 1989 that abortion would be off the table by now.

I think your logic may be off here too. Why would overturning Roe have ENDED the issue? Seems quite the opposite to me. More like a prolongation. Overturning Roe looks to me like Prohibition--a momentary experiment in moral engineering likely doomed to failure.


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