Tuesday’s primaries effectively ended the millionaire socialist’s campaign for the presidency. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has no path to the Democratic nomination, let alone the presidency, so long as America’s goofy uncle, former Vice President Joe Biden, remains above ground.
The vote did something else significant: it advanced the ideological cleansing of the Democratic Party. Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski was defeated. He was almost the last pro-life Democrat in the House. Texan Henry Cueller recently, and narrowly, survived a similar challenge. Minnesota’s Collin Peterson is spared primaries because he is in a competitive district that could turn red if he were ousted.
There are a couple other pro-life Democrats, but like Peterson they are protected from the abortion lobby by holding otherwise impossible seats: West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. Beyond that, the political environment among Democrats is toxic for anyone who believes that (unborn) lives matter.
Political sacrifices such as Lipinski’s are demanded by the Left. And the Democratic Party has abandoned its own. Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which normally supports all incumbents, cancelled a planned fundraiser for the eight-term incumbent.
Political sacrifices such as Lipinski’s are demanded by the Left. And the Democratic Party has abandoned its own.
Lipinski was targeted by the usual and a few unusual liberal interest groups. He also may have been harmed by the COVID-19 scare, which may have kept away from the polls older voters more at risk of potentially deadly infection. Victor businesswoman Marie Newman exulted, “I am bursting with pride and gratitude for the amazing coalition that helped bring about much needed change in our district.”
What is truly amazing is the extraordinary effort to which people who call themselves progressive went to remove a Democrat whose membership in the caucus already ensured control of Congress by pro-abortion activists. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL, cited the result as a “culmination of years of work to unseat an entrenched incumbent.”
That understates the scale of the crusade. Reported Politico:
Newman, who came within 2,200 votes of ousting Lipinski in 2018, crafted a formidable and well-funded campaign operation the rematch. Her turnout operation knocked over 100,000 doors and she nabbed early endorsements from nearly every high-profile progressive, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
That support helped Newman tap a groundswell of grassroots donors from around the country. She raised upwards of $1.6 million and was outspending Lipinski by a two-to-one margin on the air.
A coalition of women’s groups, including EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice, funneled $1 million into TV ads to help Newman, but Lipinski was left to fend for himself on the airwaves, a dynamic that made his team nervous heading into the election.
The surprise might be that he lost only narrowly.
In the not-too-distant past, both parties were divided on the issue. There always were a few score congressional Democrats who opposed unrestricted abortion. Only with their support could Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde push through, in 1976, the amendment cutting off federal funding that became perhaps his most important legislative achievement in a long and distinguished career. Many national Democratic leaders began at least as moderates on the issue — Richard Gephardt, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore, among others — only to abandon those positions to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.
We’ve seen the same phenomenon with the Democrats’ goofy uncle. A Catholic, Biden began as a radical — a social conservative. He announced that “When it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid, I’m about as liberal as your grandmother.” (No word yet if he’s changed his position on amnesty and acid!) He once backed a constitutional amendment to allow states to overrule Roe v. Wade, opposed excepting victims of rape and incest from abortion prohibitions, and criticized partial-birth abortion.
He even wrote his own spending restriction, the Biden Amendment, in 1981: “None of the funds made available to carry out this part may be used to pay for any biomedical research which relates, in whole or in part, to methods of, or the performance of, abortions or involuntary sterilization as a means of family planning.” This provision survives today in relevant appropriations acts.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Biden’s pro-life positions changed over time. Yet even as he abandoned one stance after another, he continued to support the Hyde Amendment. Forbidding funding for abortion is a straightforward position. Someone might not want the government to prevent people from having the procedure but also not want the government to force those with moral scruples to fund a process they view as akin to murder. Having a legal right to do something does not mean having a legal right to make other people pay for you to do it. If that was the case, we could force Uncle Sam to buy us a newspaper or TV station so we can exercise free speech.
The original Joe at least would have prevented Uncle Sam from making you complicit by paying for other people’s abortions. The new and not-so-improved Joe will push abortion in every way at every stage at any cost.
But last year Biden was under fire from abortion absolutists. So he caved, announcing in a speech to the Democratic National Committee: “I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and the ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right.” He sought to tie the procedure, which in most cases is not a medical treatment as most people understand, to health care, tweeting, “Women’s rights and health care are under assault in a way that seeks to roll back every step of progress we’ve made over the last 50 years. If I believe health care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code.”
The polarization of the abortion debate by party adds clarity. But it also creates political risks, since social and economic opinions do not necessarily coincide. There long have been fiscally conservative and socially liberal Republicans, and fiscally liberal and socially conservative Democrats. Since there appear to be more single-issue socially conservative voters, this probably helped the GOP. It’s the obvious reason that, until recently, anyway, Democrats gave up campaigning against gun ownership.
Biden’s flip, buttressed by left-wing celebrations over Lipinski’s defeat, is likely to aid Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. The former vice president probably believed that he had to pander to win the nomination. He wanted to appear centrist but not actually be centrist, at least on issues important to the hard Left. It turns out, however, he would have won without switching. Extreme progressives can win individual races but not conquer the party. So desperate were the bulk of Democrats to avoid anointing the USSR-vacationing, Fidel-respecting candidate that they voted en masse for the aging liberal who flopped in the states that got to know him best and spent virtually no time or effort seeking votes anywhere else. They also would have done so had he preserved his political manhood by retaining this one remnant of his pro-life past.
Now any vaguely pro-life Democrat knows that he or she must decide which issues are most important. The original Joe at least would have prevented Uncle Sam from making you complicit by paying for other people’s abortions. The new and not-so-improved Joe will push abortion in every way at every stage at any cost. No one will be exempt. There will be no compromise. Which means this election, like 2016, will be Armageddon for pro-lifers.
Abortion is an issue regarding which, for me, at least, the extremes are dissatisfying. Balancing life and liberty will never be easy, and no compromise between the two sides seems adequate. Nevertheless, the uncompromising pro-abortion position is unsustainable for the simple reason that life is at stake. As such, every abortion must be weighed, especially since, except in the case of rape, the decision to have sex, the act that creates life, is consensual. That freedom implies later responsibility for any unwanted consequences. The developing human being, merely months away from birth, and “viable” even before that, should not be tossed aside as trash.
At least Old Joe respected that opinion in others. He nodded toward the existence of life and its role in the abortion debate. New Joe has abandoned that small concession. And that’s more evidence that his current image of moderation is more sham than reality.
Dan Lipinski deserves a round of political applause for fighting to preserve an ever-shrinking niche in the Democratic Party. The brave band will probably diminish further in the future. Our political debate is losing something profound when virtually no one on the left, which speaks so often about human rights, is unwilling to stand for the unborn, who are truly “the least of these” in America today.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and the author of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington and The Politics of Envy: Statism as Theology.