Stupak Hints at Retirement and Senior Dems Are Trying to Talk Him Out of It?

Serious disconnect.

MSNBC reports this morning that “at the top of the list” of concerns about “important incumbents” who might retire sits Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak. 

The Democrat best known this year as the Democrat who delivered the winning margin of votes for the president’s health-care reform bill is said to be simply exhausted. The criticism he received — first from the left, and then from the right — has worn him and his family out.

From my vantage point and those of millions of Democratic women voters, Mr. Stupak is not best known for delivering the “winning” margin of votes for health reform, but rather for holding up the process of health reform for months, and, likely among other things, leading the way for adoption of language in the Senate bill that, while not his own damaging amendment, ultimately erodes the most basic rights of women to access health care and undermines their most fundamental choices about whether, when and with whom to have a child.

And honestly?  As I have said before: I can’t feel sorry for Bart Stupak’s exhaustion nor that of his family.  His behavior and language, and the desire by Stupak and others to impose their own religious beliefs on the rest of us is the very root cause of the problem.  It was his choice to make that stand, and to cater to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  It was his choice to make every effort to hold the health care of milions hostage to ideology.  And it is his positions and those of the rabid elements of the anti-choice movement that exhaust, threaten the lives, health, and wellbeing of medical doctors, nurses, clinic personnel and women everywhere.  Every day.  I don’t feel sorry for him.

MSNBC says:

And if [Stupak] had to make the decision now, he’d probably NOT run. As of this writing, a bunch of senior Democrats (many of the same ones who twisted his arm on the health care vote) are trying to talk him into running. The filing deadline in Michigan is still a month away, but veterans of that state’s politics are skeptical anyone other than Stupak can hold that district in this political climate.

The Democratic party, which I have long supported in my personal capacity, for which I have long worked as a volunteer–and to which I long looked as the party of “choice”–clearly no longer is.  It is that simple.

I am not naive nor stupid.  I know that there are issues about specific districts, specific incumbents, specific voter populations and their preferences.  And that to keep it’s “majority” the party believes it must cater to the most ideological, most anti-choice elements to achieve some notion of “common ground,” or whatever.

I simply reject that as a long-term viable strategy, either for the Democrats or for women, like myself, who are at the brink of hanging it up.  If one Congressman from Michigan fronting for the Catholic Church can effectively take away my rights and those of my daughter–and those of millions of other women through regressive domestic and international policies that cater to the ideology of the Catholic Church, or any other religious body, I want no part of it.

This is sheer lack of imagination on the part of the Democrats.  Or it is “whatever works in the moment, we have no-long-term-vision” strategy.  Or it is “we’ll-tell-women-what-they-want-to-hear-and-do-what-we-want-to-do” taking for granted those of us who gave money, worked the phones, banged the doors, put up the posters….Or it is all of the above.

This is a hole that the Democratic Party dug for itself.  And I see no signs of it rethinking that original strategy.

I guess it’s easy just to make the tradeoffs on women’s lives, and particularly the lives of poor women, when you are still a largely male, and still a largely white–and unquestionably largely middle and upper-middle-class party–that simply doesn’t have to deal with unintended pregnancy, the fear of bearing a child you can not care for, the reality of not having the funding necessary to get preventive care, never mind a safe abortion.  I guess it is easy to create ridiculous obstacles in health care reform, creating two-check policies that exist for no other legal procedure, for no other medical procedure and for one half the population.

I guess it is easy when the most important thing is not the health and well-being and rights of American women, of low-income people or those devastated by health insurance premiums and illness for which they can not afford to pay….but when above all is else the most important thing is your own power, and your own seat in Congress.

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  • claire-keyes

    Stupak has less support than he did in the past.  Plus he has a worthy foe in pro-choice Connie Saltonstall.  I would not be surprised if he is hoping to be begged to stay, plus given the party backing.  He is vulnerable in this election and is probably just checking to see which way the wind is blowing.

  • jodi-jacobson

    I agree it could be a ploy.


    But the real issue for me is what, if anything, has been learned from this whole episode and whether the basic–if not explicitly stated–position of the Democratic party now is to allow the whittling away if not the wholesale demolition of a woman’s right to choose whether and when to carry a pregnancy to term.


    Bart Stupak is a symbol of a much deeper problem, and I am not sure the Democrats even see it.  Are they supporting Saltonstall?  Are they looking beyond this specific race for others to take Stupak’s seat?  Or are we in the mode of just playing good-old-boy politics?


  • colleen

    whether the basic–if not explicitly stated–position of the Democratic party now is to allow the whittling away if not the wholesale demolition of a woman’s right to choose whether and when to carry a pregnancy to term.

    this is precisely what Democratic ‘centrists’ are doing and have been doing for quite some time now and that this is one of the goals of the DLC, the NDN and the rest of that sorry lot. Indeed, I believe that what you describe above is precisely what is meant by ‘common ground’. Look at the the current leadership. Harry Reid, Joe Biden and Tim Kaine are all anti-choice. Obama, sadly, appears to be. Despite enormous majorities in the House and Senate the Democrats (with the aid of the Catholic Bishops!) accomplished the largest rollback of Women’s reproductive rights in a generation and without even a public option in HCR (or, for that matter, any other price controls. They even managed to retain the anti-trust exemptions)
    It’s not just reproductive rights, what with charitable choice legislation we’re being forced to fund our own oppression. There IS no real separation of church and state anymore.
    As for the ‘common ground’ bullshit I believe that the Democrats will continue to cave on abortion rights and try to sell ‘common ground’ by telling us how bravely they fought for effective contraception and the right of women to travel across the Canadian border. After all, it’s not as if anyone in congress has tried to raise a couple of kids on minimum wage.
    The Democrats are considerably to the right of most of their constituents and by ‘to the right’ I mean they regard the liberal base as an tiresome albatross around their necks, they believe they can dispense with any need to respond to the poor by shoveling more money at the churches (where it will never be seen again and almost certainly not by a low income woman.

  • kaleva

    Stupak couldn’t have won past elections by the margins he has unless a majority of women in his district voted for him. One may try to argue that women only did so because Stupak was better then any Republican he faced but i think what happened to Stupak’s primary challenger, Connie Saltonstall, in her campaign for the state 105th house seat offers evidence women in this district tend to be socially conservative. Connie got just under 37% of the vote running aginst a pro-life Republican. I woulkd say with confidence that roughly half if not an outright majority of women in Mz. Saltonstall’s home area voted against her in favor of a conservative pro-lifer.

     Focusing on Democrat Party leadership while ignoring the demographics of a particular district or state is non-productive.

  • jodi-jacobson



    I have to respectfully disagree.  This is true in the “moment.”  However, there is a bigger and longer-term picture that we don’t like to examine, but in which the far right is all too happy to invest.

    We are where we are today in the larger sense because at each point along the way the Dems and many progressives have either passively allowed the far right to define contraception and abortion debates over the past 15 years, and stigmatize these issues, and/or have done so themselves by referring to them as “divisive” too “hot too handle,” problematic, etc.  Then without reframing and fighting for the values they’ve espoused–and on which they’ve raised money–they concocted a strategy that actually undermines the very rights for which they campaigned.

    As but one example in many, President Obama remained largely silent on his “most important initiative” throughout all of last year.  He squandered huge amounts of political capital, allowed the right to take over the debate–including an obsessive and destructive and as always factless debate about abortion in health reform–and he never said one word to correct the record, to take a stand, to move the conversation elsewhere.  Instead, he basically disappeared.  I thought i campaigned for and fought for a man who (on the record) espoused support for a public option, for women’s rights to choose, to health care that would address the real needs of the poor, for ….”change.”  what we instead got was politics as usual and then they called it change for the sake of PR.  and we spent huge political capital doing so.  Now the same exact strategy–preemptive capitulation–is being used on other issues.


    Just getting a piece of legislation is not a goal in itself and is not a success.  The real success is if and when the legislation addresses the core problems we face in real ways.  And it assumes that the burden of so-called compromises is spread fairly and evenly.  So far in the Obama Administration, that burden has mostly fallen on women, who’ve once again had to give up their own rights in service of others, without a single word in support of those rights from the Dems elected to support them.

    Stupak is but one example of a much deeper and broader problem here.