Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2008 / 22 Elul 5768
Anti-abortion Democrats and global-warming Republicans are becoming increasingly important
By Jonathan V. Last
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A few weeks ago, at the Democratic National Convention, I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by the anti-abortion group Democrats for Life.
Fifty-six people packed into a small hotel meeting room for the event. Five of them were speakers; at least a dozen others were journalists. Another reporter saw me counting and asked how many anti-abortion Democrats were in attendance.
"All of them," I replied.
It's a droll little joke, but the recent conventions actually highlighted two interesting and important minority positions: anti-abortion Democrats and global-warming Republicans.
These two minorities don't get much respect, either from their own parties or from their ideological kin on the other side of the aisle. Yet both are on the march and deserve to be taken seriously.
Opposition to abortion has gained a foothold within the Democratic Party. But it's important not to exaggerate reality: The Democratic Party is still very much the party of abortion rights.
Sixteen years ago, Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr. was denied a speaking slot at the Democratic convention simply because he opposed abortion. Yet, as president, Bill Clinton reached out, positing that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" - with the emphasis on the last.
Three years ago, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton walked further down the road, calling abortion "a sad, even tragic choice" and saying the party's goal should be that "the choice guaranteed under our Constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances."
At this year's convention, Casey's anti-abortion son, Sen. Bob Casey, was given a prime-time speaking slot and even permitted to acknowledge his disagreement with Sen. Barack Obama on the subject.
Clearly, there's been a slow opening of space within the party, and in it have flowered a handful of anti-abortion politicians, such as Casey and North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler, who have bright national futures.
Mind you, anti-abortion Democrats don't talk the same way as their Republican counterparts. At the Democrats for Life event, for instance, nobody contemplated an overturning of Roe v. Wade, let alone a ban on abortion. Instead, anti-abortion Democrats envisioned more near-term goals: reducing the number of abortions through education and adoption and providing assistance for mothers and children, with constitutional fights far out on the horizon.
For purists, of course, such half-measures aren't enough. Many antiabortion Republicans look down on antiabortion Democrats as sellouts or squishes. But this is a terrible mistake.
If your goal is to end abortion - and not simply to elect people on your team - then a solid national consensus has to be forged on the subject. The only way a consensus will be reached is if Democrats are converted from within their party.
Interestingly, this debate is mirrored in the GOP by Republicans who are invested in the environmentalist side of the climate-change debate. The Republican default position is very much on the skeptical side of global warming, but the party has managed to put two climate-change defenders on its presidential ticket.
Sen. John McCain has rankled Republicans by making climate change a priority. "Suppose we're wrong, and there's no such thing as greenhouse-gas emissions, and we adopt green technologies," he says. "All we've done is give our kids a better planet. But suppose we're right, and do nothing?"
To be sure, hard-core environmentalists find a great many faults with McCain. For instance, he wants to open offshore oil drilling. But this misses the larger point: If you're an environmentalist Democrat gravely concerned about global warming, then McCain represents a rare opportunity.
Obama's views might more closely resemble your own, but should he win in November, the climate-change debate will remain essentially static. If McCain wins, the official Republican position transforms, shifting the entire framework of the discussion toward the environmentalist side. If you actually believe global warming is one of the great threats facing America, it's hard to see why you wouldn't vote for McCain.
Of course, in the real world, calculations aren't made so rationally. To paraphrase the great journalist Midge Decter, at the end of the day you have to join the side you're on.
Meaning that, come November, Democrats will vote for Democrats and Republicans for Republicans. But for those who claim to really care about the issues, it shouldn't be so easy.
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Jonathan V. Last is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.
09/09/08 On both sides, this year's political gatherings marked the start of changed strategies that have transformed the race
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