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Tuesday, January 18, 2022


Esther Terry, the wonderful woman who chaired the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts for many years and recruited me in 1992 to join the department – God bless her – grew up poor in a small town in North Carolina on the Virginia border, and though she eventually earned a bachelor’s degree at Bennett College, a Master's degree at UNC Chapel Hill, and a doctorate in English at UMass, she retained the colorful language of her youth. When I ran into a problem and things did not go as I wanted them to she would say to me, “Bob, you have to learn to make chicken salad from chicken shit.”


Well, socially, politically, medically, globally, it has pretty much been all chicken shit for a while now, so in this post I am going to try to create a little chicken salad out of it. What follows is not a prediction.   As Yogi Berra famously said, “it’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  What follows is my effort to find some ray of light, some reason to hope, in regard to the forthcoming midterm elections. No need to tell me that I am being foolish. God knows, I am all too aware of that.


Let me begin with an observation. I consume cable news obsessively – I watch MSNBC and CNN for hours each day. I have been quite struck by the slow but steady and irreversible tendency of the hosts and their guests to treat what is happening as a genuine existential threat to American democracy itself. It has really taken less than a year for the common wisdom, the consensus gentium, to come to an agreement that what we are witnessing now is one of the two major political parties being transformed from a conservative party into an autocratic cult that seeks nothing less than the end of democratic elections in the United States. Little by little, the qualifications and hesitations have dropped away and the statements of prominent Republicans are now routinely described as lies. Now I am well aware that only a small fraction of the American electorate watches these cable news channels, but the change is striking nonetheless. “Both sidesism,” the curse of the mainstream media, has all but disappeared.


Let us agree that voting rights action at the federal level is dead for the time being. We can also agree that the usual suspects in the Republican Party – Collins, Romney, etc. – will stand by and do nothing while the party seeks to kill democracy.


However (here comes the chicken salad) there is reason for hope. Turnout in midterm elections is always very low. In 2018, the turnout soared more than 10 percentage points above its usual level and got all the way to 50%, which means that even then half of the eligible voters did not bother to vote. In short, the outcome in midterm elections is determined, more than anything else, by turnout.


This spring, probably in June, the Supreme Court will hand down its decision in the Mississippi abortion case and the probability is very high that by a vote of 5 to 4 or 6 to 3 the court will strike down Roe V Wade. At that point, in a large number of red states, antiabortion laws already on the books will go into effect immediately. There is, I believe, good reason to hope that in the four or five months between that disastrous decision and the election, two things will happen. First, there will be an outpouring of rage and anxiety from women across the country, including in those red states. If we are lucky, this will produce a surge in Democratic votes. The second thing that may happen is that the evangelicals, who for 50 years have been voting Republican in the hope of seeing abortion outlawed, will embrace the decision and in significant numbers not bother to go out and vote, their dream having been realized.


There it is. A nice big platter of chicken salad made entirely out of chicken shit.


Dig in.


Unknown said...

Having already invoked Appeasement in reference to Putin, I fear I must invoke it again about evangelicals. It would be wonderful if they, or their masters, were content with a victory over abortion rights. But why would they stop there? There remain gay marriage, prayer in the schools, control of public schools, letting "them" vote and counting votes, immigration, and so on ad infinitum.

Meanwhile I see far too many screeds from activists against racism threatening to desert the Democrats unless Biden achieves the impossible.

And while we fight about all these issues, CO2 keeps rising.

Barney Wolff

Howard said...

But... The Supreme Court knows this- are they impartial to the effects of their rulings?
Plus, on the other hand, this will give the right momentum and they will manufacture other irate issues

LFC said...

Is Barney Wolff any relation to R.P. Wolff?

Anonymous said...


Prof. Wolff is modestly avoiding your question. I believe Barney Wolff is his singularly mature and knowledgeable grandson.

Bjorn said...


Why would they stop there? A very good question indeed. It is rather optimistic of Prof. Wolff, I must say, to hope that abortion is the only thing getting the theocrats to vote. They'll smell blood and go for the throat, if history is any guide. Give them a finger, they take the hand, etc.

aaall said...

The anti-abortion folks' goal isn't returning the issue to the several states; it's federal legislation and an eventual SC decision defining personhood as beginning at conception. The coming decision will likely be written in a way to confuse the mainstream media.

Unknown has a point as scanning various conservative sources reveals a long list of lie-based grievances. They are too close to the goal (a herrinvolk democracy) to back off.

Re: CO2 - there's a reason New Zealand had to set limits on foreign property ownership. Some folks can see a coming Dark Age.

Another Anonymous said...


The Supreme Court will not rule that personhood begins at conception, because that question is not before it. The question before it is whether the Mississippi statute which bans the abortion of a fetus after 15 weeks is unconstitutional. It is likely to rule that it is not. But how they frame that decision will be significant in terms of what will be left to the states to do. If the Court focuses on the liberty interest of the mother under the 14th Amendment, and rules that the mother’s liberty interest does not outweigh that of the fetus after 15 weeks, then states will still be free to enact statutes permitting an abortion before 15 weeks. In fact, it is conceivable that some states, like California, could determine that under its state constitution, women have the right to an abortion in excess of 15 weeks, because their constitution recognizes a greater liberty interest for women than does the U.S. Constitution. On the other hand, if the Court frames its decision in terms of the fetus’s liberty interest, and rules that under the U.S. Constitution the fetus’s liberty interest after 15 weeks outweighs that of the mother, then states could not resort to their state constitution to allow abortions after 15 weeks, because that would violate the liberty interest of the fetus protected under the U.S. Constitution. In that event, states would still have the option of permitting abortions prior to 15 weeks. In that event, however, some states could hold that their state constitution protects the liberty interest of the fetus prior to 15 weeks, and ban abortions altogether. In that event, Planned Parenthood would challenge the constitutionality of such a statute as violating the liberty interest of the mother under the U.S. Constitution.

LFC said...

Anonymous @3:56 p.m.,

No. As I recall, Prof. Wolff has told his readers here that his grandson's name is Samuel. So Barney Wolff, whoever he is, is not Prof Wolff's grandson.

Michael Llenos said...

Professor Wolff,
Let's not dig in and grind that chicken salad too quickly! If there is too much heavy backlash by Democrats because of the abolishment of Roe vs Wade, the Republicans may reenergize their base too, because of some response to an outrage done against Republican sensibilities concerning some scandalous Democratic event in response to reneging the abortion laws. The left should hope Democrats will energize their base cautiously and prudently, but not Republicans too, as the result of some backlash (or legal scandal) which could affect the direction of the next presidential election. If the Democrats come out too strongly too fast, it could give the Republicans enough ammunition to counter the pro-abortion surge. The Democrats need a cautious Fabius movement first before they send in their Marcellus.

aaall said...

AA, I was merely pointing out that overturning Roe will only be the beginning and the battle will move to individual states in part but will mainly focus on federal legislation and personhood at conception. I am, of course, aware that the current case deals with the 15 week ban. I have no doubt that if the Gang of Four could work personhood in they would but don't see R and K willing to join in.

I see an opinion that moves the ball but written in a way to allow the Tiger Beat folks to opine "nothing much to see here." As Santa Clara County shows, considerable mileage comes in many ways. Then there is Kavenaugh's resurrection of Rehnquist's state legislative supremacy doctrine.

BTW, California has already determined that it's constitution protects the right to abortion and uses a viability/life and health determined by the physician standard.

ML, recognizing that there is no way to ban some things (among them abortion) in a free society in a way that doesn't end the "free" part doesn't make one "pro" anything but freedom. The Right is on a roll and determined to end liberal democracy. The conservative majority on the SC will do its best to thread the needle.

Unknown said...

In response to the curious, I'm RPW's baby cousin, a mere lad of 75.

Barney Wolff

Tony Couture said...

Since I think your "Chicken Salad" story was politically astute, I wonder if you could continue this theme into the international scene after the Joe Biden first year news conference/ask me anything scrum and Russian moves in the Ukraine as a "Duck Soup" situation. Duck Soup (1933 film) is the Marx Brothers' prophetic parable about politics in the lead up to world war 2. Their idea is that human beings are so phony and such liars, that they easily fall into war with each other. If governments are really staffed by clowns and liars, then it is too easy for war to break out and compound disasters.

Wikipedia explains that " "Duck soup" was American English slang at that time; it meant something easy to do. Conversely, '"to duck something" meant to avoid it. When Groucho was asked for an explanation of the title, he quipped "take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup for the rest of your life."

So in world politics today, we have some kind of duck soup recipe: Two turkeys (Joe Biden, Putin), one goose (Boris Johnson), four cabbages (some Ukrainian politicians), and this absolutely undigestible broth of politics is going to boil over into war. Is the world about to get a big taste of duck soup???