How Abortion Caused the Debt Crisis

Last night, right before the fatal deadline, the U.S. Congress finally came to a deal that allows us to raise the debt ceiling, without which the federal government would basically shut down completely and start to default on its loans, creating a cascade of economic disasters.  Congress came to a deal before we had to learn those Depression-era money-saving skills (sadly, we don’t have flour sacks to make clothes from any longer).  Now it’s time to reflect on how our country has gone so far off track that we can’t even handle the basic responsibility of keeping the country from plunging into a manufactured crisis that nearly led to economic collapse.  There are multiple causes, but one that hasn’t been discussed much is abortion.

Yes, abortion. Or, more specifically, the sustained sex panic that has been going on in this country since the sixties and seventies, when the sexual revolution occurred and women secured their reproductive rights.  If it seems a little strange to argue that sex panic helped bring us to the verge of economic collapse, well, that’s the nature of the circuitous, ever-evolving world of politics.  But it’s sex panic that helped create the modern right-wing populist, and it’s the modern right-wing populist that created the current crisis.

Despite the recent coinage of the term “Tea Party,” what we call the Tea Party has been around under different names forever.  It’s basically right-wing populism, and has been the thorn in the side of democracies for at least the past century.  The modern form of it in the United States really formed in the sixties, in response to two major social changes: desegregation and the sexual revolution/feminism. (Yes, I realize feminism and the sexual revolution are separate things, but for the right wing, they may as well be one thing, since it’s women’s sexual liberation that really gets them going.)  You had this huge group of socially conservative people who were wound up about these social changes, but not a lot of direction for their anger and hate.  Outside of glowering at Gloria Steinem and Martin Luther King Jr., what are you supposed to do to stop widespread social change? They needed direction.

The genius of conservative leadership was that they were able to take all this anger about sexual freedom and desegregation and put the blame on two enemies: Democrats and the federal government.  Democrats were blamed for society getting “out of control” and the federal government’s role in enforcing women’s rights and desegregation made them an easy target.  Once these villains were established, all this right-wing populist anger could be pointed towards generic goals of big business Republicans.  If you hate the federal government for enforcing the Civil Rights Act, it’s easy enough to start hating them for levying taxes, especially if you can be convinced those taxes are going to welfare to pay for what you believe is immoral behavior, such as single motherhood.  If you hate the Supreme Court for Roe v. Wade, it’s easy to get you to support putting more conservative justices up there who will routinely vote for business interests.

The theory is that the Republican Party basically exploited right-wing populist anger and used it towards their economic, corporatist ends.  This is a non-controversial statement, and is the thesis behind Thomas Frank’s famous book What’s the Matter with Kansas?, in which he wrote:

“Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically-correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.” 

A lot of people, including myself, have been critical of Frank’s cynicism in this formulation, arguing that the leadership actually delivers more on right-wing populist demands than Frank gives them credit for doing. 

But what we didn’t argue with was the basic premise that there’s two kinds of conservatives: right-wing populists and country club Republicans, and while liberals may not much like the latter, we at least had the reassurance that they’re not crazy.  Country club Republicans may want less regulation and lower taxes, but they don’t actually believe that federal power is illegitimate, or that liberals are motivated by Satanic forces and therefore can be treated as always wrong.  For the past few decades, the leadership of the Republican Party was able to work with Democrats on commonsense governance such as raising the debt ceiling, precisely because they didn’t believe the wild-eyed rantings from right wing talk radio about how Democrats and the federal government are pure evil.  (And the legality of abortion is example #1 in the right wing pantheon of reasons to believe the federal government is evil.)

What I think Frank and those of us who were mildly critical of him failed to grasp is the right-wing populist beast may not be within the control of the Republican Party forever, and that the populists may become a large enough group of people that they could take over the party and make their obsessions—the evils of sexual liberation, the end of the federal government as we know it—the actual priorities of the Republican Party. They very nearly brought a real end to our country as we know it, defying what what Wall Street wanted, and a major reason is that the populist caucus in the party is more interested in ideological purity than doing simply following the lead of Wall Street. 

I suppose it should have been easy enough to see coming: for decades, a constant stream of propaganda about the evils of federal power, abortion rights, affirmative action, social spending, multi-culturalism, gay rights and other right wing bogeymen has energized the base to keep voting and giving money and running for office.  At a certain point, the populists would have enough power to change the rules of the game.  This crisis was averted, but we should not forget the important lesson learned here.  The constant feeding of the paranoid, sexually and racially panicked right wing extremist imagination does not come without consequences.  In the past, the mainstream media could downplay this because the major victims didn’t have a lot of privilege or power. But increasingly, it looks like the victims could be all of us. 

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  • adolmd


    Wake up. Badness is happening!  Time to wear a Silver Ribbon to show that you TRUST WOMEN with reproductive rights. 80% of the US supports a woman’s right to choose abortion. Wear a ribbon (make your own or donate and get one) and please like us on Facebook. The pin will strike up conversations that we need to have with our unaware friends.


  • justconservative-girl

    You are batshit crazy. 

     First and foremost, not raising the debt ceiling never meant automatic default on the debt.  It meant that for the first time in more than a generation the government would actually have to live within its own means.  Something that the rest of us have to do everyday. 


    For someone who thinks only the well educated in politics can be taken seriously at least get your facts straight. 

  • rambleann

    Is this is satire? Was this really written by a misogynist to make women look bad? This was linked to by Instapundit where I am sure they are having a laugh. 

  • brucemcf

    Regarding: “Congress came to a deal before we had to learn those Depression-era money-saving skills” … the deal, both in what it includes and in what it omits, including no long term unemployment extension, should kill in excess of 1.5m jobs and remove more growth in 2012 than we are likely to have in 2011. And since the two growth drivers for this sluggish recovery are exports and consumer durables, and since consumer durables will dry up when the news of the new downturn hits … that’s not a “brief dip”, or “softness in the numbers”, but a full fledged recession.

    Add the financial turmoil when the functionally insolvent mega-banks ~ and, remember, we “fixed” the problem of Too Big To Be Allowed To Fail banks by financing their ability to take over better run medium sized banks ~ and it has the makings of a deep recession.

    And two successive recessions without real unemployment ever getting below 10% ~ that’s a Depression.

    The choice that we were faced with on Monday was entrenching a Depression now, or waiting until the election year to get it entrenched.

    If we do not get firebrand left populists running against some of these Take Everything Away Party right populists, I fear for the retention of the democratic institutions need to fight back.

  • rebellious-grrl

    Who’s “batshit crazy?” It’s amazing to me how conservatives have selective memories and can’t remember the spending spree that took place during the W. Bush II years. The government DID NOT live within its means during the W. Bush years. During that time we waged two unfunded wars, and never paid for Medicare Part D. Under W. Bush the government borrowed money to pay for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Abortion politics are most certainly involved in federal and state level budget debates. For example the state of Minnesota’s last budget debate that shut down the government and a recent national budget debate to defund Planned Parenthood.

    So when the batshit crazy Republicans can ACTUALLY and not rhetorically live within their means they should keep their mouths shut about living within their means like normal people. Amanda is spot on with this one again.

  • crowepps

    The debt ceiling is an artificial barrier set to alert government when the price for the things that Congress has already agreed to buy goes over the ‘credit limit’ on the card.  Refusing to raise the debt ceiling does indeed mean the the government is defaulting on its debts, because the government will be unable to make payments on either the money that it has borrowed and must pay back with interest, or if it shifts money around to make its loan payments will default on the other debts that it is obligated to pay like paychecks to federal and military employees for work already performed, payouts to Social Security, disability or veterans beneficiaries, or paying bills for work already performed by doctors, hospitals and contractors which the government has promised to pay when the bills arrive.  Defaulting means you can’t pay SOME of your bills, and it doesn’t matter which bills.


    “Government” cannot live within its means because the average American wants government to continue to provide his/her own personal federal benefits like mortgage insurance and bank deposit guarantees and student loans and supervision of drug safety and to continue Social Security and provide Medicare, but wants someone ELSE to have THEIR benefits cut.

  • maiac

    “First and foremost, not raising the debt ceiling never meant automatic default on the debt”

    Okay, this is my frustration with the ultra-right-wing-burn-it-all-down-tea-baggers:a basic lack of grasp on the generally accepted nature of reality.


    In this particular case, I think “just a conservative girl” may be falling victim to the same metaphorical confusion that I think explains why the crazy House Republicans pushing this are more stupid than self-destructive. Check it out – here’s my theory:

    Some well-meaning aide of lobbyist was attempting to explain the nature of the debt ceiling to Bachman, et al. In an effort to draw a familiar analogy, they compared raising the debt ceiling to raising a credit card limit. Bachman, et al were swept away by the elegance of the metaphor and wrong-headedly believed that the debt ceiling was actually that simple. I really think they truly (and idiotically) believe that refusing to raise the debt ceiling will curb spending. I genuinely do not think these nut bags understand that’s NOT HOW IT WORKS.


    Sometimes I wonder how much trouble metaphors get us into….

  • crowepps

    Metaphors don’t get us into anywhere near as much trouble as the stupidity of the people who make using them necessary because they can’t understand actual facts.  Metaphors are an attempt to make complicated subjects comprehensive to uneducated people.  The cure is not to abandon metaphor but to require that our politicians, entrusted with the future of our country, not be complete idiots.

  • maiac

    I know that metaphors aren’t really causal here; I’m not suggesting that we abandon metaphors.


    But I am increasingly way of drawing inapt metaphors, and being at RH Reality Check makes me aware of that, becuase I think the MOST inapt metaphors are those we use for pregnancy. Becuase pregnancy is NOT like any of those metahpors; it’s just different. And until we get comfortable with that, we’re not going to be making effective reproductive justice arguments.


    I’m really just musing here; trying to work one of things that’s been tossing around in my head for a while…

  • crowepps

    It would sure help if we could get rid of the present inaccurate metaphor for pregnancy, where the woman is a ‘garden’ and her uterus is the ‘soil’ and the sperm is a ‘seed’ complete in and of itself that with her provision of ‘nutrition’ grows flawlessly into a perfect baby.  We have managed, mostly, to get rid of ‘miscarriages are caused by a jealous old woman’s evil eye’, ‘flaws in the baby are caused by mother’s bad thoughts’, and ‘crib deaths are caused by the fairies’.  Mostly.

    “What we now see now on the political landscape are not conservatives, but free-market fundamentalists who combine a hostility to beneficent government with the religious beliefs of medieval peasants.” Caroline Hamilton