Monday, February 6, 2012

Democrats, Republicans, and Abortion

I found this article on my computer today. I had downloaded it in .pdf format a few years ago, but never got around to reading it, since I was hard at work on my doctoral dissertation. It's long, but an essential read for anyone who's ever wondered how the party that once championed the downtrodden (which was also the party of Catholics: as the old joke goes, two Irish ladies are gossiping, and one says to the other, “Did you hear that Timmy Breen became a Republican?” “Can’t be,” says the other, “I just saw him at Mass on Sunday”) came to embrace abortion, while the party of elite, moneyed interests and liberal Protestantism became the default defenders of the unborn.  An excerpt: 

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? . . . “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. . . . 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 vulnerable, those in the earliest and the final stages of life, the elderly, the weak, and the handicapped. Now, all the Democrats have to do is insert ‘unborn children’ into that list and they can beat up the 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 . . .’” 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?”

14 comments:

Kimberlie said...

Ironic isn't it? I'll have to read the whole article. Thanks for posting it.

Maureen said...

And so you would call the current GOP a pro life party? When they sneered at Obama as a food stamp president? A political party who opposes any meaningful gun control? When did they ever support raising the minimum wage? What sort of support has the GOP given health care reform? How about affordable health care? How about housing and the millions who have lost their homes as a result of lending practices supported by the GOP? The GOP is and has been the most powerful party in this country since Nixon was president. They controlled most of the nation's wealth, most of the bation's media. If they were truly opposed to legalized elective abortion, they could have made it illegal or restricted it. They did not. Instead they successfully used it as a divisive issue.

Pentimento said...

No, I would not call the GOP sincerely pro-life as a whole, though I'm sure that there are sincerely pro-life people in it. The Democrats lost a big opportunity to become that, which is tragic. As the article suggests, the pro-life plank was much more of a piece with the rest of their platform.

As for me personally, as the USCCB is described in the article after abortion rights were added to the Democratic Party platform in 1980, I stand with the Republicans on abortion, and with the Democrats on virtually everything else, which means in practical terms that there have been many elections in which I haven't voted.

Maureen said...

That is so sad.

Pentimento said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

Political divisions aside (and I stand with you, Pentimento, as being at odds with both parties in ways so fundamental that I usually can't vote), I think none of this has addressed a position that I find many people hold - myself included. I'm not a friend of abortion, I'm not pro-abortion. But I find that this issue has one aspect that distinguishes it from all others, and which I can't ignore. I can't bring myself to demand (or support a law that demands) that a woman use her own body to grow another human being when she does not want to do so. Laws that embody that belief are not comparable to any other in that they apply only to women, and that they would allow the state to determine conditions inside the woman's own body. I simply can't step over that line, and find I must leave it to the woman's own conscience. I've known many women who were sorry later that they'd had an abortion, and I've also known many (I have worked in social services) who would not have continued their pregnancies no matter what the risk or punishment and who have never regretted that decision. This kind of law is just too intrusive for me to justify, and I can see no way around that.

Maureen said...

Bravo, anonymous!

J Dave G said...

I can only rarely visit you here Pentimento, but it is always a wonderful thing.

J Dave G said...

What a great article! Oh my, does it ring with me. Thank you.

Pentimento said...

Thanks for the kind words, J Dave G. I agree, great article.

Tertium Quid said...

Nice post. Both parties are run by crony capitalists who occasionally throw bones to constituents who vote their convictions. Catholics are stuck in the middle and poll both ways at every election. The pioneer Democrat at ignoring the abortion gorilla was Fr. Bob Drinan, who showed Ted Kennedy and Mario Cuomo how to push Catholics under the pro-choice bus.

Anonymous said...

I think that I read that article in First Things a few years ago by a Professor Kennedy? Interesting piece. It should be read by many including those conservative Catholics who have lost the distinction between their Catholic faith and the GOP. They are not one in the same. Neither party shares the goals and outlook of the Catholic Church.

As to Pro-Life, the Dems in the main are the party that supports abortion and the R's despite the chatter of many simply don't care about the issue. Judge them by what they DO not what they SAY. I believe Karl Rove said in a moment of unguarded candor that they would not want the issue to be solved or go away. It simply rallies to many Catholics & fundamentalists who would otherwise not vote for or share an interest with the GOP.

Sean O

Pentimento said...

I agree, Sean. These are the reasons I rarely vote, which is depressing for me personally, since my grandmother and cousin went to Mississippi to register voters during Freedom Summer. I'm quite sure that the GOP has no desire to seriously restrict abortion, because they would lose their biggest wedge/fundraising issue. And certainly the Dems have no desire to restrict it, either, though more because of an ideological adherence to a worldview in which they believe abortion has to participate in some fundamental way. For these reasons, there's no way I can see that Santorum could ever seriously be a viable candidate. The GOP power brokers don't want him, but they don't know how to steamroll over him gracefully yet. We shall see.

Anonymous said...

Santorum has plenty of problems too. He is a major hawk. He has never met a war or invasion scenario he hasn't been gung ho for. I am so sick and tired of Chickenhawks running a ruinous foreign policy on the backs of our armed service people that achieves nothing and costs a fortune, not to mention all the destroyed and disrupted lives.

On abortion, when it was party or principle, Santorum jettison his Pro-Life values and supported hardline abortion supporter Arlen Spector who was Republican over a Pro-Life Dem Pat Toomey in a PA senate race a while back. He was told to do so by Bush & Cheney and like a good little boy he did what he was told. Principles sminciples. Again show me what he DOES not what he SAYS.

Outside of that I get the feeling that Rick would be a pretty run of the mill Republican jealously guarding the interests of the corporations.

Bring back former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel. That was a thoughtful, decent man of principle. Of course the powers that be worked to get rid of him quickly as the decorated Vietnam veteran was soft on the war. Veterans are never as "tough" as the gung ho Chickenhawks who studiously kept their own asses out of harms way when they were of service age.

Sean O