Today’s Post-Intelligencer features a short post about Cecil Andrus, who visited Washington state recently — and who governed my home state for most of my childhood. By the time I was old enough to vote — just four years after Andrus left office — the idea of Idaho electing a Democratic governor was absurd, almost surreal. As far as I can tell — from my elitist, bike-riding catbird seat — that is still largely the case.
The piece is largely complimentary, but also nostalgic for the party’s imagined heyday: “Andrus is what the ‘D Team’ used to look like in days when Democrats represented guys (and some girls) at the workplace and stood for education, family-supporting jobs and conservation,” the writer of the piece, Joel Connelly, gushes. The emphasis is mine, because isn’t that parenthetical a little odd? I mean, women, especially blue-collar women, have always worked; Idaho was the fourth state in the nation to grant women the right to vote; women voters favor Democrats by a much wider margin than men.
But, you know, whatever. Everybody slips up from time to time, including writers whose commentary skews progressive. Connelly continues in the “in the good old days, all Democrats cared about was fair wages and the environment” vein, a position I have taken myself. I’m glad union membership has increased — however slightly — in the last couple of years. I’m glad we’re talking about taxing the rich again. That birth control is even an issue this election cycle makes my stomach churn.
But then Connelly goes on to say:
“Our state’s Democrats seem preoccupied with social issues and talk ceaselessly about birth control, same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana and the right of women to terminate their pregnancies.
“Andrus took an opposite tack, stressing Inslee’s independence and willingness to buck the majority in his House votes against bank deregulation and the resolution authorizing the Iraq War.
“Inslee, too, was sounding like a lunch bucket Democrat with talk of hooking up Washington to the new energy economy, and “chowder heads in the Legislature” who once tried to cut money to rural schools.”
“‘Didn’t last. Soon, Inslee was back referring to “access to contraceptives” and the right to choose.”
These gosh darned Washington Dems and their gosh darned fringe social issues, basically! Why can’t they just stick to fair wages and creating wilderness areas like we did in the ’70s? Could we stop pandering to the pot-smokers and the gay-marriers and the birth controllers ALREADY? Is it so hard?
(Never mind that environmental issues — and funding for education — have been considered fair game in the culture war for some time now, at least in the inland Northwest.)
The answer is, in part, that it’s not the ’70s. The world got more complicated, the big tent got bigger and let more people in, and some of the people who’d always been there started talking about stuff that wasn’t on the table before. Also, the Idaho Dems — and Andrus in particular — had a lot of support from loggers’ unions and unions in general. National policy killed the unions and a combination of dwindling resources and NAFTA killed the timber industry. The voting base left, or did other things, and turned on AM radio.
But also: anybody who thinks “access to contraceptives” and “the right to choose” are not economic justice issues is either trolling or willfully ignorant or both. A copper IUD installed using Title X funding costs about a grand, all told — a fraction of the cost of educating a kid in public school for just one year. People who care about family-wage jobs — including those who don’t happen to have ever held one, including many women — care about contraception and abortion, too.
“Some girls” aren’t the only folks with a vested interest in improved access to contraceptives, either. Never mind, either, that Democrats are not the only ones who need or use birth control. Loretta Lynn’s only political contributions have been to Republican politicians and generally right-leaning groups; maybe because she had four kids before she became legal, she seems to get it just fine.