Sunday, November 07, 2004

A Hard Question: The Dems and Abortion

Disclaimer: Everyone now gesticulates and bloviates about how the Dems need to change direction after this election. In most senses, I think that's idiocy. Everyone points to this 3 point defeat in the Prez election and the Senate losses and is ready to label the Democrats extinct. For all purposes, I hope the Republicans make such a tactical error. At the same time, the D's were WAY MORE in danger in 2001-3. They were a party that was looking pretty damn irrelevant after 9/11 and the 2002 midterms, and yet they came back, won two Senate races, and only lost by 3 million votes (less than the population of Northern Virginia.) So the Dems should make some minor retooling, that I agree with, but the party has come a long way since they had their asses handed to them in 2002, and I think it would be a mistake to scrap a lot of the good things that come out of this. So here, I will begin a three part series on issues I think the Dems need to work on. The first one is a big one. Abortion.

Moral Issues carried the day, so I think it's time to say something. It's obvious that the Republicans and the pro-Lifers are WINNING the abortion rights issue. The fact is it's happening so slowly, that the reproductive rights lobby and NARAL haven't even noticed that they have become amoral extremists in the eye of the American public. Here's the frickin genius mind of the genius website of sensible religiosity, Beliefnet's Steve Waldman in Slate

John Kerry had secretly discovered the formula, but he forgot to mention it. In 1997, Kerry voted for an amendment banning abortion of post-viability fetuses. That's perfectly consistent with Roe v. Wade, which also pegged abortion rights to viability, and yet it would have banned more abortions than Bush's partial-birth abortion. Kerry could have talked about his plan to curb late-term abortions—"because that's a life and killing a life is immoral"—and at the same time hammered the Republicans for supporting a constitutional amendment banning ALL abortion. (Yes, that was in the Republican platform. Why didn't Kerry mention that?)

Yet Kerry refused to talk about this—presumably because he didn't want to offend pro-choice voters and fund-raisers. Well, Republican leaders routinely sit down with their interest groups and say, in effect, "Cut me some slack and we'll win this thing." And the interest groups do—and they win. Democratic politicians have to say to pro-choice groups, "You got 100 percent pro-choice purity from the Democratic nominee—and Republican control of the White House, Senate, the House, and Supreme Court. Perhaps we could try a different approach?"


As an ideological pessimist, the Dems approach of never seeing a Pro-Life measure they didn't hate and never seeing a Pro-Choice measure they didn't love bothers me. That, and I'm not truly convinced abortion isn't murder. There, I said it, and it felt good. The Democrats, if they really want to see some motion, need to be more flexible about this. The above Constitutional Amendment Kerry voted for (back when he was actually a very sensible moderate Democrat who had sensible opposition to Affirmative Action and was for reforming Social Security, before he decided to run for President and pander to every Dem interest group there is) is a good start. A good start for the Democrats to shed some of the extreme anchors holding them down and become the party of the middle. Not all choices are good. Not all cells are life. This postion is not ridiculous, it's not gutless, it is in my mind brace. Why not? Why not float something like that? It would please me, because I, like most of America, am made very queasy by partial-birth abortion too. Supporting partial-birth abortion is a TOTAL LOSER, and was potent ammunition against every incumbent D in this election.

The D's need to go the route of sensible pragmatists here and realize the fallacy in pro-choice position that choice is inherently good and that part of the choice here belongs to the fetus. You have to draw lines, as many have said, and I think viability is a damn good one. Then you can really paint the other side as the extreme anti-choicers they are. No doubt I'm going to catch some flack for this. As THK famously said "I'm not 100 percent pro-Choice," and I say that as someone who marched in the March for Women's Lives this year (not because I agreed with a lot of the nutjobs who were in that march, but I do think a lot of the Bush Administration's positions are so extreme as to sometimes endanger women's health). The Abortion Struggle plays further into the R's hands every year. Unless it is rethought, reimagined, retooled, and redeployed in a different, more sensible, less extremist tone the R's will win this war totally and completely. Anyone who stands on the other side of it will be viewed as radical feminazis or amoral atheists (if they aren't already.) I think most Americans feel grayer about abortion than the black and white sides let them have it, and it's time to start catering to that. Bill Clinton appealed to a lot of people by saying he wanted to make abortions "safe, legal, and rare" and I think that is the minimal banner the entire party should take up, and might want to consider taking deeper into the heart of the matter. I'm even pro-parental notification, land sakes, and I don't think it's dangerous for Democratic candidates to be pro-parental notification.

So flame me. Bring it, Skywalker. I only say that because I know you're a pro-lifer who's going to say this disgusting nuanced position is totally principleless. But, then again, I've never been one for principles.