Jonah Goldberg comes in for some well-deserved dissing for his latest Los Angeles Times column, in which he twists a quote from an interview of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Emily Bazalon in this past Sunday’s New York Times, to accuse Ginsburg of favoring abortion to reduce births in populations considered “undesirable” (such as poor, black women).
The column, which is titled “Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a Question of Eugenics,” starts out like this:
Here’s what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine: “Frankly I had thought that at the time [Roe vs. Wade] was decided,” Ginsburg told her interviewer, Emily Bazelon, “there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”
The comment, which bizarrely elicited no follow-up from Bazelon or any further coverage from the New York Times — or any other major news outlet — was in the context of Medicaid funding for abortion. Ginsburg was surprised when the Supreme Court in 1980 barred taxpayer support for abortions for poor women. After all, if poverty partly described the population you had “too many” of, you would want to subsidize it in order to expedite the reduction of unwanted populations.
Left unclear is whether Ginsburg endorses the eugenic motivation she ascribed to the passage of Roe vs. Wade or whether she was merely objectively describing it. One senses that if Antonin Scalia had offered such a comment, a Times interviewer would have sought more clarity, particularly on the racial characteristics of these supposedly unwanted populations.
Isaac Chotiner fills in the rest of the quote, which Goldberg failed to include:
Goldberg’s style of polite inquiry is something that one must get used to. The man earnestly wants to know, dawg gonnit, whether we will soon have two liberal fascists on the supreme court. Anyway, here, in context, is Ginsburg:
Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.
This seems pretty clear to me. Ginsburg is saying that the lack of support for Medicaid-funded abortions surprised her because she assumed that unnamed people or groups would have wanted certain populations (i.e. the poor) to have more abortions. Considering that the main impetus behind forbidding Medicaid abortions came from the right, Ginsburg’s “surprise” obviously refers to her realization that the right-wing did not want greater access to abortions for the downtrodden. Now, I know nothing about this subject, and I am far from knowledgeable about whether Ginsburg’s assessment is fair (even she admits it was wrong!). But it is perfectly obvious that she is making a point that has nothing to do with Goldberg’s article.
Chotiner notices that the idea behind Goldberg’s column — Ginsburg and possibly Sonia Sotomayor favor fascistic solutions to poverty and overpopulation — fits in perfectly with the theme of his book, Liberal Fascism.
… Goldberg is a rather clever guy, and so I chalk up his decision to write ‘Liberal Fascism’ to purely financial motives. This column is just more evidence for my thesis. Again, Goldberg is not stupid; what are the odds that he happened to (grossly) misread a column in a manner that perfectly fits with the argument of his book? Hell, maybe he will even sell a few more copies today. Throwing away one’s credibility might be short-sighted or sad, but who says it is not profitable?
Matthew Yglesias says Chotiner is “dead wrong”:
Goldberg is stupid.
My understanding from my own off-the-record chats with conservative writers is that Liberal Fascism was published for pecuniary reasons. Goldberg’s editor, in other words, understood that this was the sort of red meat the rubes would eat up. But the gossip I’ve heard has it that he was then taken aback to discover that Goldberg didn’t see the project that way. He’s sufficiently vainglorious, out of touch, and egomaniacal that he really does think of the book as a “very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care” and genuinely takes offense at the fact that people are grappling with his scholarship.
Recall his indignant huff that his book “isn’t like any Ann Coulter book.” It is! And just like some of Coulter’s work, it’s sold a lot of copies. But he really sees himself as embarked upon a more ambitious project than that of base-whipping provocateur.