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Free the Pro-Life Movement

November 6, 2008

I’ve been distracted with personal matters for the last few days. Given these personal matters, my reaction to the Obama victory was bittersweet. But I make no apologies for being gladdened by his victory, by being hopeful for the future. and for finally being able to emerge into the clear light of day from an eight-year nightmare. From a cursory glance of the Catholic blogosphere, though, I see the same entrenched and bitter rhetoric, and even going so far as to blame us Catholic Obama supporters for the current situation (flattering, but nonsensical!).

Right now, I don’t intend to rehash the same old arguments of probabilities, prudential judgment, and what policies are most likely to reduce abortions. No, I want to argue instead that the alignment of the pro-life movement with the Republican party has proved be be an absolute disaster, which has seriously set back the likelihood of any real progress on the abortion front. For look at what the Republican party has become in recent years: a rump party of the south and the plains, mired in an anachronistic culture that has little resonance with the modern world and with the younger generation. Consider the following map, which shows the areas of the country where McCain actually did better than Bush in 2004:

We saw it coming. In many respects, the Republican party took up the mantle of the old south, padded with some more modern elements of a romanticized white rural culture: the sense of cultural superiority; the opposition to the foreign, especially if deemed “elitist”; the abiding anti-intellectualism, and disdain for expert knowledge; the rugged frontier individualism; the robust honor-driven militaristic culture; the theology of American exceptionalism that saw God bestowing a special blessing upon the USA, granting it a unique role in the world. Sarah Palin became the emblem of this culture, which explains both her popularity among the ever-narrower Republican base and the broader backlash against her. This movement was marked by a fanatical zeal for guns, a glorification of the military, and a fervent desire to avoid redistribution toward “the other”. For let us not deny the racial element either. Just look at the contours of the map above. The coded appeals to white southern voters in the domain of crime, welfare, and affirmative action were part and parcel of the post-Nixon Republican alignment that proved so successful for a while. And yet now the chickens have come home to roost.

Obviously, the Republican party needs to remake itself. And that is for the best, as a single dominant party breeds corruption and lethargy. But that is not my concern here; leave that to the Republicans. Look at the list above. One thing I deliberately left out was the right to life, defined narrowly as the opposition of the “right” to abortion. The reason I left it out was because it sits uneasily. It is not consistent with, and does not blend easily among, the other traits of the modern Republican party. And yet, the so-called social conservative wing not only accepted abortion as a key leg of the movement, but they also accepted the whole Republican agenda. In other words, many who stressed the supremacy of abortion as the defining issue in our political discourse were in effect quite comfortable with the rather narrow cultural base of this party and its favorite issues and themes. This was really brought home to me by the ecstatic reaction among many Catholics to the selection of Sarah Palin, which went far beyond her position on abortion. No, I was told she represented the “real America” (whereas people like me clearly did not) and that she would gleefully thumb her nose at all of those nasty elitists who look down their own noses at small-town white culture. This was an eye-opening moment for me.

There are other examples. I talked recently about how James Dobson had bought into McCain’s really bad economic analysis. Of course, he is not Catholic. But many Catholics who support the Republicans largely on the abortion issue are also extremely comfortable with laissez-faire liberalism, and are inclined to blame government entities and programs rather than free market greed for the current financial crisis. I look across Catholic blogs, and sometimes I get the feeling that Ronald Reagan is a major figure in Catholic social teaching! Bizarre.

Needless to say, hitching the pro-life cause to this wagon has been an unmitigated disaster. Rather than being seen as part of a principled ethic of life, opposition to Roe v. Wade is instead part of a philosophy and a culture that is rapidly losing salience in America. Look at the lop-sided youth vote, which is staggering. Any movement that is so detested by the younger generation is doomed. And it is taking the pro-life movement down with it.

Was it ever about abortion? Many pro-lifers seem genuinely puzzled by Obama’s appeal, given his strong pro-abortion rhetoric. Unfortunately, for most people, abortion is a minor issue. This year, economic fears dominated. Four years ago, a country confused and scared about terrorism flocked to George Bush; his views on abortion were distinctly secondary. And yet, some people just keep digging. Pro-lifers ogle over Palin, defend McCain’s economics, support pre-emptive war, oppose universal health care, keep quiet about torture and global warming, and stand against any restriction on gun ownership. None of this is coherent. None of this is consistent.

The pro-life movement should use the Obama victory to make a clean break with the entire Republican agenda, at least until the party has reformed. Pro-lifers need to reach out to Obama, knowing well that he will not agree with them on some fundamental issues. But Christians can only persuade by example. The only viable example is that of the consistent ethic of life, grounded in Catholic social teaching. Strong and loud, yes, but first consistent.

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61 Comments
  1. Policraticus permalink
    November 6, 2008 3:15 pm

    Your last paragraph, I think highlights the deepening need for a new party in the U.S. The GOP has hurt the pro-life movement because, politically, abortion is viewed as an ideological commitment rather than a grave moral injustice. This stems from, as you describe, the uneasy grafting of it onto a platform that starkly resembles not Christian principles of social action but Enlightenment values. The pro-life movement must emancipate itself from the GOP. I am not suggesting that it attempt to graft itself onto the Democrat Party but that it force both parties to change–not from within, but from without.

  2. S.B. permalink
    November 6, 2008 3:18 pm

    For look at what the Republican party has become in recent years: a rump party of the south and the plains, mired in an anachronistic culture that has little resonance with the modern world and with the younger generation.

    That’s just not true. As recently as 2004, Republicans swept the Presidency and Congress. Don’t mistake the transitory combination of 1) a deeply unpopular Bush, 2) a bad economy, and 3) an unusually charismatic Democrats, for some kind of permanent order. Young people are more liberal, yes, but people usually become more conservative as they grow up (particularly if they have children).

  3. November 6, 2008 3:25 pm

    MM — I guess you couldn’t resist one post, but now you don’t have the GOP to kick around anymore. It’s time to get to work on making your party one that pro-lifers would be proud to ditch the GOP in favor of.

  4. November 6, 2008 3:31 pm

    Congratulations. Now you no longer have any reason (proportionate or otherwise) to engage in remote material cooperation with Obama’s evil policies.

  5. David Nickol permalink
    November 6, 2008 3:32 pm

    From my point of view, one step in the right direction would be to come up with a name for the movement other than “pro-life.” The pro-life movement is in reality almost entirely the anti-abortion movement, not the “consistent life ethic” movement.

  6. Policraticus permalink
    November 6, 2008 3:37 pm

    The pro-life movement is in reality almost entirely the anti-abortion movement, not the “consistent life ethic” movement.

    Pope Benedict XVI has said that “pro-person” is a more desirable label for the Catholic position on the dignity of the human person. This term could better distinguish the Catholic view from the narrow and restrictive “pro-life” view that is a concoction of political posturing.

  7. Katerina permalink*
    November 6, 2008 4:29 pm

    Pro-person

  8. November 6, 2008 4:31 pm

    Up with People.

  9. November 6, 2008 4:53 pm

    No, I want to argue instead that the alignment of the pro-life movement with the Republican party has proved be be an absolute disaster, which has seriously set back the likelihood of any real progress on the abortion front.

    I certainly agree that it is inefficacious for the pro-life movement to be exclusively aligned with one party. The idea that abortion is a “right” conflicts with anyone’s morality.

    But Christians can only persuade by example. Not only do I disagree with this, I don’t think you believe it either. Christians have a long history of argument to advance our beliefs, both religious and moral. You’re not half bad at verbal argument yourself, MM.

    So, the pro-life movement needs to become Democrats? And therefore remake the Democratic Party as a pro-life party? Sounds like a great idea! What’s the plan?

  10. November 6, 2008 4:57 pm

    It would be nice to have a party that is in full accord with Catholic social teaching and embraces a consistent gospel of life. I don’t see it happening (especially in a system that does not use proportional representation). By all means, work within parties to change them– and by that I mean both parties, not just the Democrats. But at a fundamental level, we need to start focusing less on executive power and more on what Murray referred to as subsidiary mediating institutions. We need to lead by example.

  11. November 6, 2008 5:00 pm

    I don’t see it happening

    Four years ago, did you see the election of a black man named Barack Husein Obama who advocated “spreading the wealth around” happening?

    Yes, a lot of little things had to happen to get there, but I am not taking “It’s not gonna happen” as an answer anymore.

  12. S.B. permalink
    November 6, 2008 5:05 pm

    But at a fundamental level, we need to start focusing less on executive power and more on what Murray referred to as subsidiary mediating institutions.

    Are you the same guy has written boatloads of posts about how important it was to elect Obama to the chief executive position in America?

  13. November 6, 2008 5:20 pm

    Are you the same guy has written boatloads of posts about how important it was to elect Obama to the chief executive position in America?

    The cynic in me might think that once the grave moral obligation to oppose him on his evil policies kicks in, he becomes less important.

  14. November 6, 2008 5:20 pm

    So let me get this straight: Having campaigned really, really hard for Obama (and having blasted many of us for having supported Bush to one extent or another over the last eight years) two days after your candidate wins you suddenly decide that we need to focus less on executive power and more on subsidiary mediating institutions?

    It’s nice to find a new convert to the view not every problem is a nail to the federal government’s hammer, but I can’t help feeling that it’s awfully convenient to first insist that we must, must, must support Obama and then once he’s elected immediately say that actually we can’t expect him to make any of these problems better and we’d better go find other ways to address these problems.

    That said:

    Agree with Poli it would be interesting to see a viable third party.

    Disagree with MM & Poli that it’s likely we’d ever see a party “fully in accord with Catholic social teaching” — in part because there’s little ability even among serious Catholics as to what exactly that would mean.

  15. M.Z. Forrest permalink
    November 6, 2008 5:24 pm

    I think MM is being misunderstood when he says subsidiary mediating institutions. I take it to mean the academy for one, the places the parts of sausage go before they are formed.

  16. November 6, 2008 5:54 pm

    Great post, MM – the “Pro-Life” movement does indeed need to disentangle itself from the Republican Party, pronto. Their explicit support of the Republicans has alienated Pro-Life progressives who otherwise would be ardent supporters.

  17. November 6, 2008 5:55 pm

    “Pro-Person” progressives, sorry :)

  18. Maxwell permalink
    November 6, 2008 6:39 pm

    Tying the Prolife movement to the Republican party worked brilliantly—until it didn’t.

    That said, don’t expect anything to change. Too many have been caught up in the scam. Politicking has become part of their dogma. Some even make a nice living off of it. They will now be caterwauling on the sidelines waiting for Godot in the form of a President Santorum or Brownback who will lead us into the Promised Land.

  19. November 6, 2008 7:40 pm

    So… y’all elect the most pro-abortion president in history, presumably for other reasons while opposing his pro-abortion stance, and the first thing that it occurs to you to do to work on mitigating the grave evil with which you’ve just materially cooperated is … to criticize the Stupid Party you defeated and rendered irrelevant.

    Good show. I mean, I’ve been as critical of Republicans as the next guy and I vociferously opposed voting for McCain, but you guys are something else again. Living the lay vocation.

  20. November 6, 2008 7:41 pm

    So… y’all elect the most pro-abortion president in history, presumably for other reasons while opposing his pro-abortion stance, and the first thing that it occurs to you to do to work on mitigating the grave evil with which you’ve just materially cooperated is … to criticize the Republican Party you defeated and rendered irrelevant.

    Good show. I mean, I’ve been as critical of Republicans as the next guy and I vociferously opposed voting for McCain, but you guys are something else again. Living the lay vocation.

  21. Tim F. permalink
    November 6, 2008 8:14 pm

    Zippy for President!

  22. jonathanjones02 permalink
    November 6, 2008 8:48 pm

    No one ever claimed the GOP was an ideal or close to ideal vehicle, and I think it was self-evident McCain wasn’t terribly interested in domestic policy.

    That said, what policies have the Democrats advanced since 1973 – the beginning of abortion as a culture war issue due to the outrageous judicial power grab – that in any way shape or form aim to curb this “right”? And it’s not just that – the party is dominated by extremists on this question, including its newly elected head. What is the level of tolerance for the contrary position? And if the most high-profile anti-abortion Democrat – Casey, noteworthy in part for being so alone – will disappoint on key votes under pressure of party unity, what does this say about the possibility of others?

    Criticize the GOP – I’m with you. But they have also given us (or work to give us) many important successes: no federal funding, no military bases, Mexico City, the Hyde amendment, partial-birth, parental notification….where are the Democrats? These policies matter. They need protection and advancement.

    We have two parties who dominate lawmaking. The anti-abortion movement needs legislative allies. How open are the Democrats?

  23. jonathanjones02 permalink
    November 6, 2008 8:59 pm

    the “Pro-Life” movement does indeed need to disentangle itself from the Republican Party, pronto. Their explicit support of the Republicans has alienated Pro-Life progressives who otherwise would be ardent supporters

    NARAL and the ACLU and a whole host of groupings support one party 90 percent or so because that party is far and away the most sympathetic to their cause. The reason is simple and obvious: they want their cause advanced. This is rather common in places with democratic processes. So, again, the question: where are the Democrats?

  24. Natalie permalink
    November 6, 2008 9:12 pm

    The problem lies in cultivating pro-life Democrats at the local level. Being a pro-life Democrat in a liberal state like California is often a sad existence. On the bright side, a few pro-life Dems were elected yesterday in AL and OH. It will take time for the numbers to grow, since many grow frustrated with the liberal wing of the Democratic party and switch to the GOP. As far as Senator Bob Casey Jr. goes, it is unfortunate he has been unable to be strong on his convictions like his father was. Whether it be due to party pressure or campaign funding, pro-life Dems have a greater chance at reaching elected office in the Midwest. With the increase of the Latino population in states like New Mexico, which aided in turning the state Blue, it would be wise to find a pro-life Dem. to run there.

  25. November 6, 2008 10:47 pm

    I’m curious, Natalie, as you observe that pro-life Democrats have a propensity to get disgusted with the hard left wing and become Republicans: Is it necessarily the case that it’s a better shot to try to plant pro-life seeds in the unfriendly soil of the Democratic party, or try to bring those elements of progressivism that pro-life Democrats find essential over to the GOP? Is it affection for the party as a party?

  26. November 6, 2008 10:58 pm

    Zippy, is it just about abortion? Nobody is doubting your credentials on this issue, but I would like to draw attention to a comment you made before, which supports my point that much of the attraction with the modern rump GOP is cultural:

    ————————————————————————-
    “it isn’t surprising that MM doesn’t like Sarah Palin, for the same reason that a lot of ordinary Americans like her. I think the reason many people have responded positively to her is that unlike any of the other three people in the race, she seems uniquely American – not Americanist, but American. Motorcycles, hunting, outdoors, apple pie, cookouts, motherhood, self-reliance, hard work, ambition — all wonderful aspects of what uniquely makes up American culture. Obama could have come out of the burbs of Paris; Palin couldn’t have come from anywhere but America.

    And at bottom MM, like at least one and probably several other contributors here, just detests everything that is uniquely American.”
    ————————————————————————–

  27. TeutonicTim permalink
    November 6, 2008 11:07 pm

    Apparently bashing southern people is OK?

    Let’s take a portion of your post and change it around a bit:

    For look at what the Republican party has become in recent years: a rump party of the south and the plains, mired in an anachronistic culture that has little resonance with the modern world and with the younger generation.

    For look at what the Catholic Church has become in recent years: a rump group of moral wannabes, mired in an anachronistic culture that has little resonance with the modern world and with the younger generation.

    Sound good?

    Who cares if the culture has little resonance with the “modern world” and the younger generation?

    The “modern world” has brought us:
    - gay marriage
    - assisted suicide
    - genocide
    - divorce
    - “baby daddies”
    - race wars
    - government “charity”

    and many more. The younger generation outside of conservative evangelicals and conservative Catholics have no moral compass, think all of the above is just part of being “modern”

    Thinking that only those who voted for Obama are “with it” is very elitist, insulting, and coupled with your disdain for the South shows your true colors.

  28. November 6, 2008 11:11 pm

    Yeah, my old comment about Sarah Palin and why the Freakish Enemies of the Normal instantly hated her so much isn’t even slightly a lame attempt to change the subject.

    So… y’all elect the most pro-abortion president in history, presumably for other reasons while opposing his pro-abortion stance, and the second thing that it occurs to you to do to work on mitigating the grave evil with which you’ve just materially cooperated is … to criticize Sarah Palin.

    Keep up the good work.

  29. November 6, 2008 11:59 pm

    The problem lies in cultivating pro-life Democrats at the local level. [...] Whether it be due to party pressure or campaign funding, pro-life Dems have a greater chance at reaching elected office in the Midwest.

    I strongly agree with your first line I quote here, Natalie, but I’m not as sure about the second; I have a good friend who is a lifelong Democrat and is also pro-life (incidentally, he hasn’t found himself able to vote for any candidate for president since Mondale, and that was because he was young… I applaud him for that). Four years ago he ran for state legislature and got absolutely nothing from the county Democrat party machine, because they were extreme in their social views (pro-abortion rights, pro-gay marriage). No money, no help, nothing. And I think this is more common than many realize.

    But as I said, I agree with your larger point… I’ve told a couple people that, frankly, I might offer a few bucks to the pro-life Dem caucus (*not* individual pols… they have a nasty habit of flipping); I don’t agree with many of their policies, but I think we need to support pro-life elements in the Dem party in a greater way.

    Apart from Natalie’s post, it goes without saying that the abortion rates during President Obama’s presidency will be closely watched by those who could accept the thesis offered by Kmiec, MM et al. Now that he’s going to be our president, I obviously hope that y’all are right, but I remain skeptical.

    As to 3rd party… Allan Carlson has some interesting thoughts on a pro-family 3rd party. In an article in the November 2006 issue of Touchstone he argues for a Christian Democrat-style party in the US. And ISI published a book by him (he’s got several others) last year on distributism.

  30. Natalie permalink
    November 7, 2008 1:14 am

    Chris- I’m sorry to hear about your friend. It’s people like him that pains me the most with the Democratic party. My comment about pro-life Dems having a better chance at reaching elected office was a generalization based on statistics I read in my college political science courses, and perhaps I should have instead emphasized that pro-life Dems have a greater chance in non coastal states (like California). Generally, Democrats in the Midwest are more moderate than their liberal counterparts (Pelosi for one), but of course it would vary on the demographics.

    I for one would gladly support a viable Christian Democrat-style 3rd party.

    DarwinCatholic Says- I think it honestly depends on the individual. I registered as a Democrat when I was 18, but grew frustrated with being the odd person out with my opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and gay marriage. I switched to the Republican party for about a year, but I left disgruntled over immigration issues. I chose then to go back to my party I suppose for an affection as you state. Why is it that we can’t have another Gov. Bob Casey Sr.? I long for the party of old, though I am too young to remember such a time.

    I am not opposed to pro-life Democrats switching to the GOP if our party makes the environment for them hostile, but that has the unintended consequence of moving the pro-life movement within the Democratic party backwards. And with pro-life Dems switching over to the GOP, I would imagine they would become more conservative on immigration, gun control, health care coverage, etc. Although they were probably more moderate on those issues to begin with, the question is what faction of the GOP prevails in that local district?

  31. November 7, 2008 8:21 am

    Natalie, I forgot one important detail: I live in Sioux Falls, SD. That was why I commented on the 2nd sentence of yours, but I neglected to include that important fact! :-)

  32. S.B. permalink
    November 7, 2008 8:47 am

    Apart from Natalie’s post, it goes without saying that the abortion rates during President Obama’s presidency will be closely watched by those who could accept the thesis offered by Kmiec, MM et al.

    The problem, of course, is that Kmiec, MM, etc., will attribute any decline in the abortion rate whatsoever to Obama’s causal powers, even if they can’t point to a single thing Obama has actually done. These guys specialize in post hoc fallacies.

  33. S.B. permalink
    November 7, 2008 9:18 am

    Thus, the important thing will be to wait for a few years and then look for something written by a responsible, serious, and credible economist or social scientist, in which the abortion rate or ratio is the dependent variable, in which a specific presidential action (NOT the mere fact that Obama is in office) is an independent variable, and in which the economist controls for other factors.

  34. Greg permalink
    November 7, 2008 9:33 am

    Policratus,

    I am surprised that people all of sudden think that the pro-life movement should disentangle itself from the Republican party. Simply because the Republicans lost the election? The time to disentangle the was 24 yrs ago when it was clear Reagan wasn’t much of an ally.

  35. Zak permalink
    November 7, 2008 10:11 am

    I think it would be nice to see a pro-life (pro-person) PAC that funded candidates who weren’t getting money from their parties because they were advocating anti-abortion, pro-family, preferential option for the poor policies. Focusing on the House of Representatives and state legislatures would help lay the groundwork for achieving small goals and for creating viable future candidates for higher office.

    I think greater “hearts and minds” efforts are needed too though, and part of that is pro-lifers showing that they don’t embrace policies that seem to undermine the needy, because appearances matter and the movement can’t afford to lose younger voters by appearing hypocritical.

  36. November 7, 2008 10:28 am

    Changing the subject, Zippy? Sorry, but the awful marriage between the pro-life movement and a particular culture is exactly the point of my post.

  37. November 7, 2008 10:28 am

    “I am surprised that people all of sudden think that the pro-life movement should disentangle itself from the Republican party.”

    All of a sudden? People with sense have been saying this for years.

  38. November 7, 2008 11:21 am

    I think it would be nice to see a pro-life (pro-person) PAC that funded candidates who weren’t getting money from their parties because they were advocating anti-abortion, pro-family, preferential option for the poor policies.

    I would gladly both give money, and spread the word far and wide about such a PAC, Zak.

  39. November 7, 2008 11:22 am

    People with sense is a notoriously slippery category — given that few people agree on whom the set contains.

    Though I am a conservative in sense other than being against abortion, gay marriage, euthenasia, etc., I do certainly find the idea of the pro-life movement being viable in more than one party attractive. The question is, of course: where. It’s all very well for those who don’t like the GOP anyway to say that the pro-life movement should abandon the Republican party — but it’s also quite clear that in the modern Democratic party pro-lifers are often only welcome if they shut up and vote against their principles half the time.

    I would love to see a viable third party to shake things up, and it seems to me that the success of Perot (in the face of his being a total flake) underlines that there is a hunger for that kind of thing in the country. However, someone needs to actually put the work into getting such a thing off the ground. (And the real question would be — how many of the pro-life progressives who say they really would like to see a Christian Democrat style party in the US would be willing to stick to that even in an election year when siphoning off 10-20% of the electorate to such a party ended up meaning seeing a Republican win the presidential election rather than a pro-choice Democrat.)

  40. November 7, 2008 11:25 am

    Incidentally — I like the PAC idea (and have no problem putting my money where my mouth is) but I fear that such a PAC would pretty much have to decide to be conservative or progressive in slant. Otherwise you’d quickly have the progressives deny funding to any conservative opposing social programs, and the conservatives denying funding to progressives who only voted anti-abortion half the time, or supported explicit sex ed, etc.

  41. David Nickol permalink
    November 7, 2008 11:47 am

    (And the real question would be — how many of the pro-life progressives who say they really would like to see a Christian Democrat style party in the US would be willing to stick to that even in an election year when siphoning off 10-20% of the electorate to such a party ended up meaning seeing a Republican win the presidential election rather than a pro-choice Democrat.)

    DarwinCatholic,

    How many pro-life conservatives would vote for such a party, even if both Republicans and Democrats nominated pro-choice presidential candidates?

  42. Zak permalink
    November 7, 2008 11:58 am

    I think you’d have to set limits on the issues from the beginning. Just like Emily’s List has two limits: Female and pro-choice. That’s how they have influence.

    For a third party, it seems to me it has to have a narrative, and this election doesn’t lend itself to a third-party narrative that appeals to both Dems and Republicans. It can’t just be “Democratic+pro-life” because that won’t attract many Democrats, few of whom care about abortion all that much, even if they are pro-life, and most of whom are very excited about Obama for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with Republicans. It also can’t be Republican but a little nicer to the poor.

    Obama uses center-right rhetoric for center-left goals, and thus leaves very little room for a third party movement to coalesce. The most successful third party movement today would probably be anti-immigration, which wouldn’t appeal to many people here in VN, including me.

    My thinking is that one third party narrative could be pro-person and localist, and focus on local and state elections by emphasizing crunchy-con themes. It might do well in rural areas and in some African-American and Hispanic urban settings (emphasizing vouchers, school choice, AND public school investment and measures to protect working families while pointing out that the Hispanic and Black political elite in the Democratic party generally doesn’t care about the cultural concerns of those communities). How such a coalition could then expand beyond those two groups (and whether it could really gain traction against the Republicans in the country and Dems in cities) isn’t too clear to me, but I would focus on smaller MSAs like Allentown, Peoria, Buffalo, Green Bay, etc.

  43. November 7, 2008 12:19 pm

    David Nickol,

    Well, that all depends on what one holds the makeup of the electorate to be.

    VN is something of an odd environment in that a number of its leading lights seem to think that there’s a real niche for a pro-life Social Democrat kind of party. I personally suspect that such a party would appeal to no more than 1-2% of the US population.

    What I do suspect would appeal to a large percentage of the populations (drawing some traditional GOP voters and some Democratic ones) would be a party which offered some combination of big government populism and/or populist localism with generally social conservative/pro-life moral values. Basically, imagine a Huckabee or Brownback with policy wonk side.

    Me personally: If the GOP had run a pro-choice candidate (like Giuliani) or if McCain had picked a pro-choice VP (like Lieberman) I would have voted third party or stayed home (because I think the GOP needs to understand that it is electoral suicide for them to dis the pro-life faction of the party). I suspect that roughly 10% of GOP voters (5% of the nation) would have acted similarly.

  44. David Nickol permalink
    November 7, 2008 12:31 pm

    DarwinCatholic,

    Are you saying, then, that a new American party that attempted to take authentically Catholic positions on all issues (opposed abortion, supported unionization, opposed same-sex marriage, supported the concept of a “living wage,” opposed most wars, and so on) would appeal to almost no one?

  45. November 7, 2008 12:35 pm

    Darwin – There are many more Pro-Life progressives than you seem to believe – in fact, some of the freshman Democratic congress are for changing the legal status of abortion, but also economic populists.

  46. November 7, 2008 12:36 pm

    a new American party that attempted to take authentically Catholic positions on all issues (opposed abortion, supported unionization, opposed same-sex marriage, supported the concept of a “living wage,” opposed most wars, and so on)

    Where do I sign up? :)

  47. November 7, 2008 12:41 pm

    Speaking of which, “attempted to take authentically Catholic positions on all issues (opposed abortion, supported unionization, opposed same-sex marriage, supported the concept of a “living wage,” opposed most wars, and so on)” pretty much describes Teddy Kennedy before he switched positions on Roe.

    There needs to be a robust pro-life faction of the Democratic Party that can take down, or at least diminish the influence of (by matching their dollars one-to-one) Emily’s list and NARAL. This is a particular interest of mine, and I am currently exploring ways to make it happen.

  48. November 7, 2008 12:56 pm

    David Nickol,

    No, I’m not saying that, because I don’t agree with what your summation of what a “Catholic position” on all issues necessarily is.

    Put it this way: I think it would be difficult to put together a pro-life explicitly center-left third party, because conservative pro-lifers would be inclined to keep voting Republican (unless the GOP nominated a pro-choicer, in which case there would probably be big spill-over) and pro-life progressives are already used to shelving their pro-life principles in order to try to win, and thus would probably continue voting Democratic.

    However, I think that an economically populist (not the same thing as Social Democrat), socially conservative third partly could well (depending on who the major parties nominated, and also depending on their getting candidates who actually seemed viable rather than flakey) could probably pull down 20-30% of the population, and perhaps even more if the major parties made bad picks.

    Less likely than that happening, however, in my mind would be seeing more “big government conservatives” and broad populists within the GOP. Generally speaking, it’s easier to take over a party than create one. (Which is, for instance, why dominating the Democratic party has worked well for the libertine/secularist section of society in a way that starting their own party wouldn’t have.)

  49. Greg permalink
    November 7, 2008 1:08 pm

    MM,

    It’s rather ironic that you tell us to “work within the parties” for change and at the same time tell us that the pro-life movement needs to extract itself from the Republican party. This “work within the party” mentality has been tried for the past 36 years and has been proven to be an utter failure. So what on earth makes you think you’ll have one iota of impact on the Democratic party? What a joke.

  50. Nathan permalink
    November 7, 2008 1:39 pm

    Speaking of PACs that we should support to get “pro-person” candidates in elected office… check out:

    1) Democrats for Life of America is a national organization for pro-life members of the Democratic party and exists to foster respect for life, from the beginning of life to natural death. This includes, but is not limited to, opposition to abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia.

    2) Susan B. Anthony List was founded by a diverse group of women in 1992 to advance the role of pro-life women in the political process at http://www.sba-list.org.

    For a vivable third party to be created, doesn’t history show, that the third party has the best change of success when we splinters off the major party with several elected politicans already in office – changing their affliation to the their third??

  51. Kurt permalink
    November 7, 2008 1:49 pm

    I’m putting together a slate for Democratic committeemembers in my precinct and have three openings. I’m happy to slate any reasonable person meeting the criteria mentioned above. If you are inclined to GOP, you might want to talk to my Republican counterpart when she is not busy at her Planned Parenthood board meetings.

  52. S.M. Stirling permalink
    November 8, 2008 1:23 am

    You can’t say anything meaningful about “trends” with a single data point. The Democrats did about as well this time as the Republicans did in 2004.

    The Republican showing in 2004 didn’t mean they’d win forever; the Democratic showing in 2008 has exactly the same long-term significance.

    The election was close in terms of the overall vote; the next election will be close too. Both parties will endure; this election means very little by itself in the long run.

    And there are no final victories in politics; at least, not in electoral politics.

    Furthermore, the Democrats as a whole will remain institutionally hostile to social conservatism in any form; they will remain extremely pro-choice and will defend Roe v. Wade to the death.

    They will continue to be receptive to gay rights, and they will continue to be disproportionately the party of the aggressively secular, the party of individualistic hedonism, the party of the culturally libertarian and of those deeply hostile to the presence of organized religion in the public sphere. (Or hostile to religion as such.)

    This is because their political class cares deeply and passionately about those issues; more than they care about economic ones, in fact.

    The pro-life movement didn’t “join” the Republicans; it was kicked out by the Democrats, who basically said (and continue to say, with sincere feeling) “we don’t want your kind here”.

    They use economic issues tactically, but the culture-war stuff is the real driving force for the well-educated and affluent ‘new class’ who thoroughly dominate the Democratic Party.

    In other words, if you think Obama or his party is going to budge one inch on ‘life’ issues like abortion or stem-cell research, you guys have been had; you’re dupes, you’re Linus hoping that -this time- Lucy won’t pull the football away.

    I suspect the author of the article above knows this, and simply doesn’t much care — his priorities are obvious.

    PS: not long ago, someone did a survey, found out that the median age for those who attended concerts of classical music was 57, and said that the art-form was doomed because few young people were present.

    Then someone else did a quick search and found that the median age for those attending classical music concerts a generation ago was… 55.

    In other words, the median age at the concerts had increased less than the median age of the general population. A taste for classical music was generally something people acquired as they got older.

    There’s an old saying: a man who isn’t a leftist when he’s 20 has no heart. If he’s still a leftist when he’s 40, he has no brain. This is a long-term phenomenon and continues to operate, at least for those who get out of academic life and “community organizing” and get real jobs, marry, and have kids.

  53. kurt permalink
    November 8, 2008 12:06 pm

    Dear S.M.,

    I take that as a “no, I’m busy that night.”

  54. November 8, 2008 12:24 pm

    The pro-life movement didn’t “join” the Republicans; it was kicked out by the Democrats, who basically said (and continue to say, with sincere feeling) “we don’t want your kind here”. … In other words, if you think Obama or his party is going to budge one inch on ‘life’ issues like abortion or stem-cell research, you guys have been had; you’re dupes, you’re Linus hoping that -this time- Lucy won’t pull the football away.

    You’ve got that right. And the Republicans are well along in the process of doing the same.

  55. November 8, 2008 6:56 pm

    S.M. Stirling is exactly right about the history behind pro-lifers’ move to the GOP: they had no other choice. At present, Dems-for-Life is little more than a strategy the Democrats have reluctantly adopted to take on conservative GOP office-holders. Try showing up at a local Democratic meeting and announcing that you favor abortion restrictions, as an idealistic young friend of mine did recently. You are dead meat!

    What MM and the CathObamiacs want is for the rest of us to adopt their present political “sophistication,” the sort of thing you find at the Commonweal blog (or in Peter Steinfels’ pieces in the NYTimes). The latest line is that really sincere Catholics are those who lavishly pour out time/effort for every social justice cause EXCEPT stopping the killing of the unborn, which would be a good thing if AND ONLY IF it were somehow a by-product of their own heroic efforts to do something different, like community organizing. Bishops who find this silly are deemed schoolyard bullies.

    These are the views of the only “Catholic” spokesmen today’s Democratic party is turning out and turning to for political advice. In retrospect, it might have been better for the pro-life movement if Rudy Giuliani had been the GOP presidential nominee or Tom Ridge the VP nominee. Then perhaps pro-lifers would have DEMANDED serious pro-life Democratic candidates. But right now, the best they have are wimpy do-nothings like Baby Casey and and an ever-growing band of urbane apologists for abortion.

  56. S.M. Stirling permalink
    November 8, 2008 11:24 pm

    Now, the GOP is in fact sincere when it as an institution supports restrictions on abortion.

    The problem is, of course, that (a) this is not its only priority, and (b) it just hasn’t had the power to overcome the ferocious opposition of the Democratic party, and of the interests and classes behind it.

    Note how much harder the Democrats fight on these issues than they do, on, say, taxes or war. They’re willing to roll over on that stuff, particularly if it seems expedient at the moment. On ‘life’ issues they fight tooth and nail, and do so regardless of short-term damage. It’s a matter of genuine conviction.

    The core power group of the Democratic party is ideologically committed to radical individualism on cultural and reproductive matters. This is, ultimately, their top set of issues and they will not budge, and they will not be displaced as the arbiters of what’s -salonfahig- in their party.

    It is neither accidental, nor “false consciousness” that most regular churchgoers of all denominations vote Republican — and did so in this election, by the way, though by a slightly smaller proportion than in 2004. Conversely, it is also no accident that the completely secular overwhelmingly vote Democratic.

    (I should note here that I’m a non-believer myself, and in fact pro-choice. But I’m not an anticlerical, I don’t regard pro-life people as wicked would-be oppressors, and I cordially dislike those who do so regard them. Also I think political issues — like abortion — should be settled politically, by voting, and not imposed by courts -de haut en bas-. If that means the side I support loses, as it did with Proposition 8 in California, then I accept defeat and don’t try to do an end run around the will of the people.)

  57. Steve permalink
    November 9, 2008 3:55 pm

    I’ll try to remember MM’s “lead by example” platitude when the partial birth abortion ban is overturned and the first full-term babies’ skull collapses after its brains are sucked out.

    What should our example be if we have already voted for someone that we *KNEW* would allow this to hapen? Who is going to take your convoluted, contradictory example seriously?

  58. Steve permalink
    November 9, 2008 5:10 pm

    It’s begun.

    President-elect Obama plans to use his executive powers to make an immediate impact when he takes office, perhaps reversing Bush administration policies on stem cell research…

    Congrats.

  59. Elihu Yale permalink
    January 20, 2009 4:41 pm

    Greed is a constant. It does not account for the sudden and exceptional crisis we find ourselves in now.

Trackbacks

  1. While some herald a new era for “reproductive rights”; a Catholic for Obama muses: “was it ever about abortion?” « The American Catholic: Politics and Culture from a Catholic perspective
  2. Are Pro-Lifers Stuck With the Republican Party? « The American Catholic: Politics and Culture from a Catholic perspective

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