Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Kansas voters in 2022 weighed in on abortion rights

Voters wait in line at the Westlink Church of Christ Eve in Wichita, Kansas on Tuesday August 2nd, 2022 as voters decide on a constitutional amendment regarding abortion. (Photo: Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Very Good People of Kansas

Kansans, like most Americans, know the difference between what should be left to personal choice and what should be public. But in its ardor to fuel the culture war, the GOP forgot.

I want to talk about Kansas. Not about its corn as high as an elephant’s eye, nor about Dorothy and Toto trying to find their way home, but about Kansas as the geographic and Republican center of America, Kansas as the vintage Norman Rockwell core of America, Kansas as what the Republican Party was before being hijacked by Newt Gingrich and then mugged by a New York real estate con artist.   

I’m moved to do so because on Tuesday the good people of Kansas voted against a ballot measure that would have stripped from their state constitution a woman’s right to choose, and they did it by a whopping 18-point margin.

Prairie populism lies just under the surface of the Kansas topsoil, as it does in much of the Midwest.

For decades, the Republican Party has exploited social fissures in America – from immigration to race – as its means of deflecting attention from the immutable fact that most Americans, especially those without college degrees and depending on an hourly wage, have been on a long downward escalator, and an ever-larger portion of the economic gains have been going to the top. Republicans have had no economic response to this except to promote the gonzo fiction that tax cuts for the rich somehow trickle down.

For much of this time, Democrats have unwittingly aided this Republican strategy by eschewing the populist-progressive economic policies that attracted downwardly mobile voters in the 1930s and 1940s, and before that, in the 1880s and 1890s. Instead, modern Democrats have substituted a neoliberal stew of free trade, privatization, and deregulation (until big banks or corporations need to be bailed out). The stew has helped corporate Democrats to prosper but, as I’ve argued elsewhere, has left the working class in the dust.

But something has now happened that few predicted. The Republicans’ culture war has come back to bite the Republicans in their incidentals. The GOP has ventured into territory that even Kansans apparently decided was a dangerous overreach. A woman’s right to choose tipped the scales but the scales were already tipping as the GOP began to encroach on many aspects of private life: contraception, same-sex marriage, transgender bathroom rights, books, and religion.

Kansans, like most Americans, know the difference between what should be left to personal choice and what should be public. But in its ardor to fuel the culture war, the GOP forgot.

In addition, prairie populism lies just under the surface of the Kansas topsoil, as it does in much of the Midwest. Over the last several decades the giant corporations that supply Kansans with seed and fertilizer, and that turn the livestock and crops Kansans produce into food products, have grown much larger and more powerful. They are now among America’s biggest monopolies, siphoning off money from farmers as well as from consumers. If there’s one thing Kansans dislike as much as government intruding on their freedom, it’s big predatory corporations intruding on their meager profit.

Perhaps Kansas, as well as much of the rest of America, is ready for a dose of economic populism. If so, the Democrats’ pending “Inflation Reduction Act” – with its healthcare subsidies, declining pharmaceutical costs, and boosts for solar and wind power -- may prove more popular in the hinterlands than anyone expected.

As William Allen White, the famed progressive editor of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette in the first half of the twentieth century, once wrote:

Democracy is an experiment, and the right of the majority to rule is no more inherent than the right of the minority to rule; and unless the majority represents sane, righteous, unselfish public sentiment, it has no inherent right.

(White also wrote: “My advice to the women of America is to raise more hell and fewer dahlias.”)


© 2021 robertreich.substack.com
Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include:  "Aftershock" (2011), "The Work of Nations" (1992), "Beyond Outrage" (2012) and, "Saving Capitalism" (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good" (2019). He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·


Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·


Betrayal of Railway Workers Ignites Working-Class Fury Toward Biden and Democrats

"Politicians are happy to voice platitudes and heap praise upon us for our heroism throughout the pandemic," said one rail leader. "Yet when the steel hits the rail, they back the powerful and wealthy Class 1 rail carriers every time."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo