Believe it or not, there was a time when it was possible to survive and even thrive within the Democratic Party as a principled opponent of abortion. In 1972, the same year the party acquired its “acid, amnesty, and abortion” label, two pro-lifers made it onto the Democrats’ national ticket.
Thomas Eagleton — the man Robert Novak credits with coining the Democrats’ triple-A sobriquet — was George McGovern’s first choice for a running mate. Eagleton was replaced on the ticket by fellow abortion opponent Sargent Shriver. And although he had to upset pro-life frontrunner Edmund Muskie to win the nomination, McGovern himself was more ambivalent about abortion than his countercultural supporters.
In chronicling the decline of the pro-life Democrat, however, political journalist Mark Stricherz assigns a considerable amount of the blame to McGovern and a commission bearing his name. His book Why the Democrats Are Blue traces the decline of the “people’s party” to the displacement of its socially conservative base among blue-collar Catholics and (to a much lesser extent) Southern Protestants by white-collar secular liberals.
When bills expanding access to birth control began wending their way through state legislatures, they often passed with the votes of Rockefeller Republicans over the objections of Catholic Democrats. The GOP, the party of Phyllis Schlafly, endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment in its platform years before the Democrats adopted such a plank. Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie were initially more vocal in their opposition to liberalizing abortion laws than Richard Nixon.
Consider the long (by no means exhaustive) list of high-profile Democratic politicians who began their careers as abortion opponents only to embrace a pro-choice position as their political fortunes advanced: Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Joe Biden, Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Richard Durbin, and Dennis Kucinich. Even Bill Clinton once wrote, in a 1986 letter to Arkansas Right to Life, that he was “opposed to abortion and government funding of abortions.” Democratic opposition researchers and attack ad-makers beware: Mitt Romney has had plenty of company in the abortion flip-flopping business over the years.
ALL THESE DEMOCRATIC pols changed because their party did. On the social and cultural questions of its time, the Democratic Party of the 1960s and early '70s was a house divided. It was the party of both the Southern defenders of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. It was also the political home of both moral traditionalists and '60s radicals.
Although many Catholic Democratic leaders tried to keep the New Deal party together, combining economic liberalism and support for blacks’ civil rights with social conservatism, these divisions came to a head at the 1968 convention in Chicago. The clashes between the demonstrators in the streets and Mayor Richard Daley’s police convinced much of the “Silent Majority” that the Democrats were on the other side. And it convinced many of the young liberals who worked within the Democratic power structure but sympathized with the demonstrators that the party bosses and political machines needed to be supplanted.
Enter the McGovern Commission. Ostensibly aimed at making the Democratic Party more small-d democratic, it reduced the role of party officials and bigwigs in the nomination process while increasing the importance of caucuses and primaries in choosing delegates to the national convention. But the commission also mandated quotas to enhance the representation of women, minorities, and the youth movement.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?