Friday, December 02, 2005

The Big Tent Party

The Moose suggests that Democrats assemble the big tent.

Before you send the Moose a nasty missive, this mammal is not recommending that the Democrats give up their pro-choice principles. Thoughtful pro-choicers recognize that while they do not believe that abortion should be criminalized, it is not a social good. Even if you do not consider a fetus or fertilized embryo the moral equivalent of a person, it is a form of life. That is a scientific fact. Therefore, every abortion is a tragedy. That is why Bill Clinton spoke in terms of making abortion "safe, legal and rare."

Many in the Republican Party have long realized that they have their own abortion vulnerability. It is not easy holding together a coalition of pro-choice suburbanites, corporatists and bible thumping fundamentalists. From his experience, the Moose believes that many otherwise pro-choice or abortion neutral GOP office-holders "bought" a package that included a pro-life position simply out of political expediency. They do not wake up each morning with a passion to save a fetus but rather to permanently eliminate the estate tax. The worse thing that could befall the GOP would be if the Court actually overturned Roe - a civil war in the party would then become inevitable.

There will a increasing temptation to make the Alito nomination primarily about abortion - that is a dangerous strategy. While making abortion illegal is a non-starter, there is also majority support for some restrictions on abortion. If Democrats are seen as the abortion on the demand with no restrictions party, they will risk losing traditionalist middle class voters.

Democrats must demonstrate some subtlety on this issue. On the one hand it must reach out to suburban Republican who would object to overturning Roe. On the other hand, the party must reach out to traditionalist voters with their support for Bob Casey, the son of the Governor that advanced the most significant abortion restriction law. This may seem impossible, but it requires a deftness by a party that has usually been deaf to these socially conservative voters.

Democrats should not cede the "culture of life" issue to the Republicans. After all, abortion rates dropped during the Clinton years. And the great contradiction for most Republican pro-lifers is that they seek to weaken the safety net while claiming to be pro-life. In contrast, the "seamless garment" school of the pro-life community promotes strong programs for maternal health and medical care for the child after birth.

In the past year, Senator Clinton has renewed the call of reducing abortions while maintaining the legal right. And an effort is underway on Capitol Hill to advance this effort. Congressman Tim Ryan has been working on proposals that would reduce abortions by supporting government services to pregnant women. The Washington Times reported ,

"Democrats in Congress are preparing a bill they say will reduce U.S. abortions by 95 percent over 10 years by preventing "unwanted pregnancies" and providing "social support" for pregnant women...

"I would worry if I were the Republican leadership, because we are going to provide the true, long-term solution to reducing the number of abortions," said Rep. Tim Ryan, a pro-life Democrat from Ohio."

Some serious thinking is underway on the left on the issue of abortion. The latest example is Garance Franke-Ruta piece on repeat abortions in the New Republic. She writes,

"Yet the reluctance of liberals and pro-choice advocates to shine a spotlight on the troubling repeat-abortion phenomenon has obscured a growing public health issue. Studies suggest that women having repeat abortions as compared with those having first-time abortions are more likely to be minorities, poor, and victims of sexual abuse--in short, among society's most vulnerable. Liberals have always sought to aid the neediest, but their fear of undermining abortion rights has paralyzed them when it comes to helping women at risk of repeat abortion. The sad fact is that, three decades after legalization, abortion is no longer mainly a tool women use to shape their own destinies, but rather a symptom of larger social problems that ought to be addressed by policymakers. Realizing this may just mean accepting that there's some credibility to conservative views on abortion."

The key to win back many socially conservative/economically progressive voters is for the Democrats to concretely demonstrate that they respect their views and values. Whatever the fate of the Bush Administration, scandals alone will not convince these voters to return to the Democratic column. And Republicans will attempt to exploit the hot button social issues to deflect attention from their multiple woes.

As the Moose constantly urges, the donkey must play against type and surprise. Democrats should not abandon the cause of the "Culture of Life" to the elephant - open the big tent.
-- Posted at 8:21 AM | Link to this post | Email this post