Thursday, May 15, 2008

Criss-Cross: Democrats, Republicans, and Abortion

Suppose this: suppose a politically savvy Rip Van Winkle in say, 1965, perceiving that a movement to legalize abortion was gaining strength in the country, were asked, "Which of the two major political parties will eventually identify with that movement?" What would he answer? I think he would mull it over in his head for awhile and then say: "the Republicans, probably." Why? "Well, in the first place, it fits pretty well into the Republicans' private-property philosophy. 'Let's keep government out of a woman's most personal property.' secondly, consider the demographics. The Republicans draw heavily from the upper-middle class WASPs, where the drive for population control has always come from. Abortion fits very well into the old eugenics mythology-the belief that you can improve the health of the 'race' by limiting the breeding of 'undesirables.' You can still hear echoes of that in the conversations of bicoastal Republicans. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Republican Party came out with a plank saying 'We support abortion, in certain cases, for the nation's overall health and well-being.' Finally, consider the Republicans' emphasis on the need for law and order and their conservative approach to welfare. The Republicans may not say this out loud but it slots right into their conservative ideology: abortion is good because, by holding down illegitimate births, it will cut down on crime and welfare costs."

What about the Democrats? "Well," Rip would say, "let's start again with demographics. Consider the heavy concentration of Roman Catholics in the Democratic party. The Church hierarchy would go bananas if any prominent Catholic Democrat-or any Democrat at all-came out in favor of abortion. The Church has consistently held that abortion is one of the gravest moral offenses because it involves the direct killing of an innocent human being. No way is a Catholic Democrat, or any Democrat who wants Catholic support (and what Democrat doesn't?), going to support abortion. It might even be smart politics for the Democrats to pick a fight with the Republicans on the abortion issue. Democrats like to boast that they protect the weak and the vulnerable. You remember Vice President Hubert Humphrey's characterization of his party as the advocate of those "who are in the dawn of life; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." All they have to do is insert "unborn children" into that list and they can beat up Republicans every time on the abortion issue. I can hear them now: 'Let the Republicans pick on the weak and vulnerable, killing children in the womb to cut welfare costs. We Democrats are the party of compassion, the party that sticks up for the little guy, including the littlest guy of all, the child in the womb. (Applause)"'

Having delivered himself of this well-considered prophecy in 1965, Rip Van Winkle goes down for his nap. When he wakes up and we tell him how the abortion issue finally sorted itself out between our two major parties, Rip says, "Huh? How could that have happened?"

Yes, what happened?

It this July 2006 article Human Life Review Criss-Cross: Democrats, Republicans, and Abortion George McKenna, Emeritus Professor of Political Science at City College (New York), offers an broad brush picture of what happened in the abortion debate from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The two ton elephant in the room that no one mentions this debate had serious effects on both political parties and the Catholic Church.

The debate caused serious cases of cognitive dissonance in the Church. For the progressive wing (and leadership) of the Church the Democratic Party most represented their view of political and social issues but abortion support became an important issue for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, however the Church has a nearly 2000 year old history of vigorously opposing abortion. We see the fallout of attempting to resolve this dissonance in today’s politics. I think we can see the shadow of this in the different demographics that make up the supporters of the two presidential candidates.

In the January 2007 issue of Fr. John Richard Neuhaus First Things How We Got to Where We Are Fr. John Richard Neuhaus extrapolates on this article at length.

But George McKenna is right: When it came to the crunch in 1980, when the Democrats had unequivocally become the abortion party and the Republicans unmistakably the pro-life party, it was obvious that liberal Catholics, including most bishops, had chosen, whether they knew it or not, party over principle. Under the tutelage of Cardinal Bernardin and others, consciences had been sedated, and the bishops turned their energies to writing pastoral letters on "peace and justice" issues such as disarmament and economic equality. For which they received the enthusiastic plaudits of the media. Largely because they were not talking about abortion.

No matter what you think of abortion, if you want to know what happened and how we got here these are indispensible articles.

See Also Cause not Harm

HT : Christopher Blosser at Catholic in the Public Square


Diodotus said...

Thank you. This is excellent. I have sometimes puzzled over this very question.

I wonder whether you see the potential 4 a party realignment o sorts along the question o abortion (and others). I need to look back at the statistics, but I seem to have read that a wide swath o progressives in the US are uneasy with abortion-on-demand, 4 very progressive reasons. Thoughts?

hank_F_M said...

I understand there is some shifting, though not radically just a few points on the scale from abortion on demand, amoung several groups but I haven't looked at them in detail

The parties are going to have realign some how and the abortion issue will be one of the drivers. They are both coalitions In which the constituent parts have grown to far from each other. But how I’m not sure.

Both Edwards and Huckabee with a difference in nuance delivered a two America message. The Mike Huckabee Evangelicals (which is a subset, and they are definatly not fundamentalist in the strict sense) I would think are recruitable by the Democrats, but the Democrats might have to dump to many core constituencies to make that sale. And be politer to them. This is also the part of the Evangelical movement that is considered soft on abortion. The “active Catholic vote” is defiantly recruitable by the Republicans but they will insist on some changes. It should be noted, that the Catholic Liaison staff of the Bush administration has gone to some effort to put Bush’s speechs in terms that can be understood as consistant with Catholic Social teaching. Some politically consrative Catholics are doing the same thing more systematiclly. If this has any success it will be a long term project.

It might go to multiple parties in 2012 and or 2016 as the coalitons readjust and abotion will be one of the main factors in the adjustment. But I think two parties (maybe not the current ones) will coalesce with stable coalitions after that.

The last time we had multiple parties with an issue this divisive was 1860, whose aftermath we need not repeat. My hope is that when it settles down we have two parties with the common sense wing firmly in charge in at least one.

A thought: If we assume the unscientific sample of people I know who held their nose and voted for George Bush in 2000 because of Gore’s strong pro-abortion stance is a valid sample for Florida, and Gore had been at least convincingly nerutal on the subject he could be finishing his second term.

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