What if Trump Were a Democrat?

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks in Janesville

George Marsden teaches us all an important lesson in historical empathy.  Here is a taste of his guest post at The Anxious Bench:

For those who are (as I am) puzzled and sometimes troubled by how so many fellow believers support and even celebrate Donald Trump and so seem to be ready to subordinate some of their religious and moral convictions to political expediency, I suggest a thought experiment:

Let’s suppose that in some slightly altered historical circumstances, Trump, or someone a lot like Trump, had decided he had a better chance playing the role of a populist Democrat.

Then, by promising everything to almost everyone, he had unexpectedly been elected.

Even if the Democratic Trump would have had to hide his racism, he would have been the same in his essential dishonesty, his constant attacks on the line between fact and fiction, his narcissism, his background of corruption, his record of exploitation of women (despite the Democratic Trump claiming to champion of equality and male accountability), his lack of discernible principle, his disdain for the Constitution and the rule of law, his intimations that his critics in the press should be suppressed, his vilification of his enemies, and his ignorance combined with reckless and ungenerous “America first” ventures in foreign policy.

At first, we can imagine, many principled Democrats would have deeply opposed his nomination and some would have declared themselves to be in the “NeverTrump” camp. But the rank and file would have been energized and many of the working classes would have been brought back to the party.

And then let’s say that the Democratic Trump administration would have succeeded in establishing a single-payer health-care system, tightened environmental regulations, instituted sensible gun-control laws, and appointed several Supreme Court justices who would ensure protections of progressive views for the next generation.

Read the rest here.

Why Do Rural Whites Vote GOP?

Rural

Daniel K. Williams of the University of West Georgia explains why rural white voters, once a stronghold of the Democratic Party, started voting Republican.  Here is a taste of his piece at History News Network:

If there was one demographic group that blunted the force of the “blue wave” in this month’s midterm elections, it was rural white voters. Even as Republicans lost control of the suburban areas that had been their strongholds in the 1980s and 1990s, Republicans extended their hold over rural America. The GOP is now on the verge of uniting nearly all rural white voters into a single party – which has never happened before. 

For most of the Republican Party’s history, the notion that the GOP would become the party of rural whites was unimaginable. Rural whites were the last voter group in the South to leave the Democratic Party; they did not begin consistently voting Republican until the 1990s, nearly a generation after suburban white southerners entered the GOP. But now rural whites in both North and South are the stronghold of the GOP and the key to the party’s future. 

Why have rural whites throughout the country started voting Republican? And why have Democrats been unable to win them back, despite making an effort to do so in 2018? 

Read the rest here.

Patriotic Socialism?

LBJ

As Duke Univeristy law professor Jedidiah Purdy reminds us, socialism is as American as baseball, apple-pie, and Chevrolet.  “Much of today’s socialism,” he argues, “was once the bread and butter of the Democratic Party.”  Here is a taste of his piece at Politico:

Recent elections are bringing the largest crop of self-described socialist candidates in nearly a century, not just in New York and on the Left Coast, but in places like Virginia and Pennsylvania. For critics, this represents a futile and dangerous radicalism; for some who welcome it, it’s nothing more than a youthful resurgence of Ted Kennedy-style liberalism.

The reality is more interesting. The new socialism is both thoroughly American and pretty damned radical. Much of today’s “socialism,” like Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, has deep roots; it’s basically the left wing of New Deal and Great Society liberalism, promising free higher education and universal health care, stronger unions and more support for affordable housing. These were once the bread and butter of the Democratic Party. But the new socialism is also genuinely radical—and not just because the country has moved so far away from the goals of widely shared wealth and leisure of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

Read the rest here.

One of the best books I read in graduate school was Nick Salvatore‘s Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist.  Salvatore argued that Debs’s socialism was rooted in the republican and democratic traditions at the heart of the American experience.  I highly recommend it.

A Right-Wing Pundit Gets a History Lesson

Reagan and Thurmond

I know a lot of you have been following Kevin Kruse‘s twitter take-down of right-wing pundit Dinesh D’Souza.  Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton University, is challenging D’Souza’s claim that today’s Democratic Party is the party of racism because it had championed racism in the past.

Any undergraduate history major knows that political parties change over time.  On matters of race, the Democratic Party of the 1950s and early 1960s is not the Democratic Party of today.

Jeet Heer calls attention to the Twitter debate at The New Republic:

D’Souza has made a specialty of highlighting the undeniable racism of the 1960s Democratic Party as a way to tar the current party. His arguments ignore the way the two political parties switch positions on Civil Rights in the 1960s, with the Democrats embracing Civil Rights and Republicans, under the guidance of national leaders like Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon, exploiting racist backlash.

Read Heer’s entire post, including some of the tweets between Kruse and D’Souza.

Finally, don’t forget to listen to our interview with Kevin Kruse at The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  The interview focuses on Kruse’s use of Twitter to bring good history to the public.

The Faith of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled off a major upset in yesterday’s Democratic primary race in New York’s 14th District.  She defeated Joe Crowley, the 10-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives who many believed would be the heir-apparent to Nancy Pelosi as the House Minority Leader.  Ocasio-Cortez is a 28-year-old Democratic Socialist who ran on universal health care and the abolition of ICE.  She is also a Catholic.

On the day after her victory Ocasio-Cortez started writing, but not for The New York Times or The Progressive or The Nation or Jacobin or In These Times.  Nope. She turned to the web pages of the Jesuit magazine America.

Here is a taste of her piece, published today:

Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Solutions are already beginning to take shape, which include unraveling the War on Drugs, reconsidering mandatory minimum sentencing and embracing a growing private prison abolition movement that urges us to reconsider the levels at which the United States pursues mass incarceration. No matter where these proposals take us, we should pursue such conversations with an openness to change and an aim to rehabilitate our brothers and sisters wherever possible and wherever necessary. By nature, a society that forgives and rehabilitates its people is a society that forgives and transforms itself. That takes a radical kind of love, a secret of which is given in the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And let us not forget the guiding principle of “the least among us” found in Matthew: that we are compelled to care for the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick and, yes—the imprisoned.

Read the entire piece here.  She apparently disagrees with her church, however, on abortion and marriage.

It’s Trump Adviser Stephen Miller, Not the Democrats, Who Want Family Separation at the Mexican Border

miller

This story is just breaking.

I have no doubt that Miller wrote the press release I blogged about earlier.  How does this square with Trump’s claim that he has nothing to do with the policy of separation families at the border?

And where are most of the court evangelicals?  Why aren’t they speaking out about this with a sense of outrage?  Where is their moral courage?

Kevin Kruse Breaks Twitter Again

thurmond-states-rights

Thurmond eventually joined the GOP

Princeton historian Kevin Kruse is sick and tired of Trump supporters claiming that the Democrats are the party of racism and white supremacy today because they were the party of racism and white supremacy 100+ years ago.  This twitter thread is a masterful lesson in change over time.

By the way, if you want to learn more about Kruse and the way he has used twitter to teach us how the past informs the present, listen to our interview with him in Episode 34 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Read the thread here.   A taste:

Since @kanyewest‘s tweets have apparently made this topic unavoidable, some thoughts on the history of the parties’ switch on civil rights.

First, it’s important to note that, yes, the Democrats were indeed the party of slavery and, in the early 20th century, the party of segregation, too.

(There are some pundits who claim this is some secret they’ve uncovered, but it’s long been front & center in any US history.)

Indeed, as @rauchway once noted, one could argue that *the* central story of twentieth-century American political history is basically the evolution of the Democratic Party from the party of Jim Crow to the party of civil rights.

At the start of the 20th century, the Democrats — dominated by white southern conservatives — were clearly the party of segregationists.

President Woodrow Wilson, for instance, instituted segregation in Washington and across the federal government. (See @EricSYellin‘s work.)

That said, both parties in this period had their share of racists in their ranks.

When the second KKK rose to power in the 1920s, it had a strong Democratic ties in some states; strong GOP ones elsewhere.

Read the rest here.

Should Conservatives Abandon the GOP and Vote for a “Straight Democratic Ticket?”

 

Republican U.S. presidential candidates Carson and Trump talk during a break at the second official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley

Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes think that they should.  Here is their recent piece in The Atlantic:

We have both spent our professional careers strenuously avoiding partisanship in our writing and thinking. We have both done work that is, in different ways, ideologically eclectic, and that has—over a long period of time—cast us as not merely nonpartisans but antipartisans. Temperamentally, we agree with the late Christopher Hitchens: Partisanship makes you stupid. We are the kind of voters who political scientists say barely exist—true independents who scour candidates’ records in order to base our votes on individual merit, not party brand.

This, then, is the article we thought we would never write: a frank statement that a certain form of partisanship is now a moral necessity. The Republican Party, as an institution, has become a danger to the rule of law and the integrity of our democracy. The problem is not just Donald Trump; it’s the larger political apparatus that made a conscious decision to enable him. In a two-party system, nonpartisanship works only if both parties are consistent democratic actors. If one of them is not predictably so, the space for nonpartisans evaporates. We’re thus driven to believe that the best hope of defending the country from Trump’s Republican enablers, and of saving the Republican Party from itself, is to do as Toren Beasley did: vote mindlessly and mechanically against Republicans at every opportunity, until the party either rights itself or implodes (very preferably the former).

Of course, lots of people vote a straight ticket. Some do so because they are partisan. Others do so because of a particular policy position: Many pro-lifers, for example, will not vote for Democrats, even pro-life Democrats, because they see the Democratic Party as institutionally committed to the slaughter of babies.

We’re proposing something different. We’re suggesting that in today’s situation, people should vote a straight Democratic ticket even if they are not partisan, and despite their policy views. They should vote against Republicans in a spirit that is, if you will, prepartisan and prepolitical. Their attitude should be: The rule of law is a threshold value in American politics, and a party that endangers this value disqualifies itself, period. In other words, under certain peculiar and deeply regrettable circumstances, sophisticated, independent-minded voters need to act as if they were dumb-ass partisans.

Read the rest here.

 

Three Cheers for Bob Casey Jr. and His Vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

Casey

Today I am proud of my Senator, Robert Casey Jr.

I have long argued that a pro-life position on abortion should be embraced by any political party that cares about the weakest and most vulnerable human beings. (See my criticism of Bernie Sanders on this front in the September 9, 2015 edition of USA Today).

Last night the Senate failed to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.  The bill reads:

This bill amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for any person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion if the probable post-fertilization age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.

A violator is subject to criminal penalties—a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

The bill provides exceptions for an abortion: (1) that is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, or (2) when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. A physician who performs or attempts to perform an abortion under an exception must comply with specified requirements.

A woman who undergoes a prohibited abortion may not be prosecuted for violating or conspiring to violate the provisions of this bill.

The bill never reached a final floor vote.  Bob Casey Jr joined two other pro-life Democratic Senators–Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana–in support of the bill.  If understand it correctly, the bill was based on scientific evidence showing that fetuses have the capacity to feel pain beginning at 20-weeks.

I am with Karen Swallow Prior on this one:

I appreciate Bob Casey Jr.’s moral courage on this vote.

For some great historical context on the pro-life movement check out our interview with Daniel K. Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Williams is the author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.

What Trump Followers Believe:

Donald_Trump_supporters_(30618448036)

Anthropologist Robert Leonard listened to Trump’s speech at the recent Values Voter’s Summit.  Here his take on Trump voters:

Trump began by saying we are a nation of believers and that “together we are strengthened and sustained by the power of prayer.” Democrats want prayer out of the public sphere.

Trump called the Las Vegas shooting a “horrific mass murder” and an “act of pure evil.” Democrats blame the guns and want to take yours away.

Trump honored the heroes of Las Vegas, including the police officers and other first responders. Democrats elevate thugs and view our protectors in blue with disdain.

Trump quotes scripture. Democrats ridicule those who do.

Trump stresses unity. Democrats divide American society into victims and oppressors.

Trump says, “We love our country.” Obama went on an international apology tour.

Trump says, “We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life.” Democrats murder babies.

Trump says, “We believe in strong families.” Democratic policies pull them apart.

Trump says, “We are proud of our history.” Democrats tear down monuments.

Trump says, “We respect our great American flag.” Democrats take a knee.

I could go on. There’s much, much more in Trump’s speech that’s fodder for conservative thought.

The first instinct among Democrats, moderate Republicans and other anti-Trumpers will be to point out that many of these statements are wrong.  But does that really matter?  This is what Trumpers believe. The more you condemn these beliefs, the more they will be ensconced among the Trump faithful.  The real question is whether or not it is possible to change a few hearts and minds on at least some of these issues.

Read Leonard’s entire piece in the Kansas City Star

Ranking the Top 2020 Democratic Nominees for POTUS

Jerry_Brown_2

Will California governor Jerry Brown for POTUS in 2020?  He will be 82-years-old.

Aaron Blake of The Washington Post gives us his top 15:

15.  Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)

14.  Eric Garcetti (Mayor of Los Angeles)

13.  Tim Kaine (Virginia Senator)

12. Deval Patrick (former governor of Massachusetts)

11. Oprah Winfrey/Mark Cuban/Howard Schultz/Bob Iger/Sheryl Sandberg

10.  Sherrod Brown (Ohio Senator)

9.   Andrew Cuomo (Governor of New York)

8.  Cory Booker (New Jersey Senator)

7.  Kamala Harris (California Senator)

6.  Kirsten Gillibrand (New York Senator)

5.  Jerry Brown (Governor of California)

Who are the top 5?  Click here and find out.

 

This Irresponsible Historical Thinking Has to Stop!

Read Jennifer Kerns‘s recent piece on politics and Charlottesville at The Washington Examiner.  Kerns is a GOP communications strategist who has worked for the California Republican Party and Fox News.

Here is a taste:

In the aftermath of Charlottesville, an awful lot of awful things have been said about Republicans and race relations.

However, the Left’s accusations of racism couldn’t be further from the truth that has played out in the halls of Congress over the last 150 years.

It is shocking that as talk of statues and historical racism is being bandied about, no one has mentioned the Democrats’ utterly shameful treatment of African Americans throughout history.

Over the last 100 years, Republicans have stood up for African Americans while Democrats not only stood on the sidelines, but in fact served as obstructionists to civil liberties.

Here are at least 12 examples in which Democrats voted against African Americans, and Republicans voted to free them:

Democrats voted against every piece of civil rights legislation in Congress from 1866 to 1966 – a whopping 100 years. That is a dismal record for today’s Democrats who would like you to believe that history has been on their side on this issue.

It hasn’t.

Democrats voted to keep Africans Americans in slavery, opposing the 13th Amendment which officially freed the slaves. Only four Democrats voted for it.

Republicans also passed the 14th Amendment which granted slaves U.S. citizenship; Democrats voted against it.

Republicans also passed the 15th Amendment which gave slaves the right to vote. Not a single one of the 56 Democrats in Congress voted for it.

Shame on them.

Furthermore, Republicans passed all of the Civil Rights laws of the 1860s — including the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Reconstruction Act of 1867 following the Civil War.

And it goes on

I thought we were done with this kind of stuff after CNN fired Jeffrey Lord.

As any of my liberal or conservative students will tell you, one of the key components of historical thinking is change over time.  In the case of Kern’s article, let’s remember that political parties change over time.  They are not frozen in time, as she suggests.  The Democratic Party of the 19th century is not the Democratic Party of the 21st century.  The Republican Party of the 19th century is not the Republican Party of the 21st century. Things changed in the 20th century, particularly as each of these parties addressed the questions of race in America.  A political realignment took place.

The facts of Kern’s piece seem generally fine, (although I have not checked them thoroughly).  If they are accurate, they might make for a nice Wikipedia entry. But when you are trying to make the past speak to the present, as Kern does here, there are a set of historical thinking skills–such as change over time–that must be considered. Kern is not writing history here.  She is using the past irresponsibly to make a political point.

I think I will use this piece in my Introduction to History course this semester at Messiah College.

Want to learn more about historical thinking?  Try this. You can read it along with my students this semester.

Or watch this for starters:

 

 

 

The Ball Is In The GOP’s Court

capitol-hill-washington-dc

Let’s face it.  No one cares what the Democrats in Congress and elsewhere think right now.  That is because we all know that the Democrats condemn Trump’s refusal to distinguish white supremacists from those protesting against them.

But we should all care about what Republicans in Congress and elsewhere are saying. They are the only ones with the power to rebuke the POTUS.  This is not a political issue. Any Republican who fails to speak out strongly against Trump right now either shares his views on moral equivalency or is more concerned about politics than the moral state of the country they serve.  If there is another option I would like to know about it.

Here are some of the Republicans who have spoken out after Trump’s remarks on Tuesday.  Notice that only a few of them name the office of the POTUS by name.  I think that’s significant.

Progressive Values, Secular Values, Religious Values

Coons

Over at The Atlantic, Delaware Senator Chris Coons is the latest Democrat to urge his party to embrace religion.

Here is a taste:

A pro-life church can still work with progressive groups to defend and welcome immigrants. An environmental organization that wants to fight climate change can team up with a faith-based organization that shares that goal, even if their members disagree on other issues. Jews, Muslims, and Christians can unite with Americans who practice no faith to march against a discriminatory ban on refugees.

The Democratic Party has to recognize that progressive values can’t be just secular values. It needs to see that we can only solve our nation’s most urgent problems and shape a more equitable America if we trust each other, listen to each other, and engage with those who are traveling along secular and scriptural paths.

Democrats welcome and celebrate our differences. Whether it’s race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation, we are fighting for a country that is open, tolerant, and accepting—and we shouldn’t yield an inch in that fight.

But we also need to recognize when we aren’t living up to our own admirable standard. We need to acknowledge when our own disagreements or beliefs keep us from engaging and working with those who might see the world differently.

Social progress is not a zero-sum game. Democrats can open our arms to new allies even if we don’t share all of their views. If we do, I suspect we won’t just move our party closer toward achieving our policy goals—we’ll move our nation closer to the promised land of civility, compromise, and progress.

Read the entire piece here.

Democratic Party Will Fund Pro-Life Candidates

williamsIt makes perfect sense.  The Democrats have long been the party of the weak and vulnerable.  For most of the twentieth century it was the anti-abortion party.  Is the Party’s decision to reject a pro-choice litmus test a return to its roots?  I highly doubt it.  This is a strategy for winning back Congress.  Whatever the case, I applaud the move.

 

Kate Shellnut reports at Christianity Today:

Representative Ben Ray Luján, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said yesterday that the party has “no litmus test” on abortion and won’t withhold financial backing from pro-life candidates in the 2018 mid-term elections, The Hill reported.

His remarks came a week after the party released a new set of policy plans and goals that push economic concerns and don’t mention abortion at all.

As Luján looks to a “broad coalition” to shift control of the US House of Representatives away from the Republican Party, core supporters within his own party are questioning the move away from a firm pro-choice stance.

Will the potential of luring voters who have avoided the party over the issue of abortion be worth the backlash from the Democratic base, including outspoken abortion-rights advocates?

Read the entire piece here.

I am reminded of this passage from Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas:

Take for instance the political issue of abortion, which some Christians cited as their reason for voting for candidate Trump. When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

Interested in the history of the pro-life movement?  Check out our interview with historian Daniel K. Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Are Democrats Rethinking “Abortion Orthodoxy?”

 

Charles Camosy, a theologian at Fordham University, thinks we could see some change on this front.

Here is a taste of his piece at Crux:

Stories about how badly the Democratic Party has performed in recent years have been so prevalent they hardly bear mentioning.

The coalition put together by Franklin Roosevelt appears to be on its last legs, hemorrhaging an astonishing 1000 legislative seats since 2008. There are now only four U.S. states with a Democratic governor and legislature. Remarkably, the party has approval ratings comparable to that of Donald Trump.

The explanation for this sorry state of affairs is complex, but a big part of it comes from the enforcement of a coastal moral and political orthodoxy that has dramatically shrunk the party in the Midwest and South. This has been particularly true when it comes to abortion policy.

Indeed, when Democrats had a big tent on the most divisive issue of our time, welcoming the one-in-three members of the party who identify as pro-life, it turns out that they actually won majorities. In 2005, for example, then-DNC chair Governor Howard Dean beautifully executed a 50-state strategy in which the party supported pro-life Democrats who could beat Republicans in battleground districts.

This strategy netted, among other things, the seats necessary to pass the Affordable Care Act, the most important piece of Democratic legislation passed in two generations. Let’s be clear about this remarkable and under-reported fact: without pro-life Democrats, the legislation that has forever changed how American culture thinks about its duty to the most vulnerable would not have passed.

In 2009, however, the 50-state strategy went away, replaced with the simplistic abortion orthodoxy of coastal elites. And with it went the Democratic majority. Tellingly, 88 percent of seats formerly occupied by the pro-life Democrats who supported the ACA are now in Republican hands.

Trump’s stunning victories in formerly blue states in the Midwest, subsequent losses in special elections, and the real threat of losing the ACA have caused some rethinking of abortion orthodoxy in the party.

Democrat James Thompson, for instance, ran for a special election seat in Kansas this past April. He cut Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton by 75 percent, but was unable to get over the hump. In a Think Progress interview, Thompson blamed his loss on pro-life activists who were able to tie him to the current Democratic platform which insists that abortion for any reason-including sex-selection-should not only be legal, but paid for by pro-lifers with their tax dollars.

Read the rest here.  The Atlantic covers this issue here.

As I argued here, a pro-life position on abortion is perfectly compatible with the historic Democratic Party’s commitment to the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.

Watch Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr. of the Church of God in Christ, the largest African American denomination in the country, connects the Pro-Life movement to Black Lives Matter:

 

Jimmy Carter: I Voted for Bernie

Bernie

This is not very surprising, but it is worth pointing out.

Here is a taste of a piece at Salon:

In an interview an hour prior to his discussion with Sanders, Carter told AJC that the longest-serving independent senator was a perfect representation for what Carter Center’s forum stands for.

“I think during the last election in America, Bernie Sanders represented the best of all the candidates what this conference is about,” Carter said. “When you lose your opportunity to have some reasonable chance of a decent income, you lose a lot of other things as well. One of the key things people feel is that they’ve lost a voice in their own government.”

Carter, 92, listed ideals that the American people need to continue to fight for. “Basic human rights, income, status in society, health care, education, justice,” he said. “The things in which we used to have complete faith have now been distorted by rich people getting richer.”

Read the entire piece here.

Some Historical Context on the Democratic Party’s Debate on Abortion

WilliamsThe articles on the Democratic Party’s abortion problem continue to appear.  Check out Graham Vyse’s “Why Democrats Are Debating Abortion Yet Again.”  I also recommend Clare Foran’s “Is There Any Room in the ‘Big Tent’ for Pro-Life Democrats?

Once again, if you want some historical context I encourage you to read Daniel K. Williams, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.  (Or listen to our interview with Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).

Here is a pertinent passage (p.247-249) from Williams’s Epilogue

Many pro-lifers were reluctant to leave the party of Franklin Roosevelt, but a larger cultural shift in both the party and the nation made it impossible for them to remain loyal Democrats.  Until the 1960s, both parties had championed the male-headed, two-parent family as a social ideal, and that idea had undergirded Catholics’ loyalty to the Democratic Party.  For three decades following the creation of the New Deal, most liberal Democrats had grounded their calls for social welfare programs and economic uplift in the principle of helping the male-headed household–a concept closely accorded with the Catholic Church’s teaching that the family unit was the foundation of society.  But in the late 1960s and 1970s, liberal Democrats exchanged this family-centered ideal for a new rights-based ethic grounded in individual autonomy and social equality, thus alienating many theologically conservative Catholics, including the pro-lifers who viewed the defense of fetal rights as a liberal campaign and who had hoped to ally with Democrats…

At first, pro-lifers tried to meet liberals on their own ground by defending the rights of the fetus in language that seemed indistinguishable from the constitutional rights claims that women, gays and African Americans were making, while eschewing references to the larger ethic of sexual responsibility and the family-centered ideal that might have branded their campaign as a throwback to an earlier era.  Yet in the end, despite their approbation of rights-based liberalism, their campaign failed to win the support of liberals who realized that fetal rights were incompatible with the values of bodily autonomy and gender equality.

Once autonomy and equality became liberal Democrats’ primary concerns, it was only a matter of time before many devout Catholic pro-lifers who had long been loyal Democrats faced a stark choice.  Would they swallow their reservations about the Democratic Party’s position on abortion in order to further other goals?  Or would they abandon their other political convictions and work with the Republicans?…

While most pro-life activists decided that they could not countenance the national Democratic Party’s stance on abortion, many were nevertheless happy to work with individual Democratic politicians who embraced the pro-life label and were willing to endorse the HLA [Human Life Amendment]. This was an especially popular strategy for pro-life liberals in the mid-1980s, when they still thought they had a chance to regain influence in the party.  Democrats for Life refused to endorse the Democrats’ presidential tickets (since those always featured pro-choice candidates), but nevertheless worked for pro-life Democratic candidates at the local level and attempt to elect pro-life delegates to the Democratic National Convention.  Yet the chilly reception that these conventions gave to Democratic politicians who refused to toe the party line on abortion rights only served to confirm pro-lifers’ growing suspicions of the party.  When the organizers of the 1992 Democratic National Convention refused to Pennsylvania’s Catholic Democratic governor Bob Casey a speaking slot to present a defense of his pro-life views, the snub confirmed many pro-lifers’ belief that the Democratic Party wanted nothing to do with their cause…