Thursday, December 23, 2004

Move On

I caught a wiff of this earlier on in the day via Yahoo News and have now stumbled across it again over at Balkinization, via The Los Angeles Times. Apparently, and in an attempt to appeal to a larger swath of the electorate, the Dems may be on the precipice of a civil war over abortion. According to the article,
After long defining itself as an undisputed defender of abortion rights, the Democratic Party is suddenly locked in an internal struggle over whether to redefine its position to appeal to a broader array of voters.

The fight is a central theme of the contest to head the Democratic National Committee (news - web sites), particularly between two leading candidates: former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (news - web sites), who supports abortion rights, and former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer, an abortion foe who argues that the party cannot rebound from its losses in the November election unless it shows more tolerance on one of society's most emotional conflicts.
Firstly, I find it incredibly counter-productive that Dean is even being considered as a viable replacement for Terry McAuliffe. Here’s why: As the insurgent candidate during the Democratic primaries he, if unintentionally, pushed the current of the debate further to the left than was necessary. Yes he ignited the liberal base of the party; and, yes he did draw youthful participation to the electoral process; but, ultimately, only %17 of people between the ages of 18-29 actually came out to vote.

Don’t get me wrong: I too was swooning over the prospect of a Dean presidency, until I had the chance to hear him speak outside of the universe of the sound-bite. He’s stiff, diminutive and churlish—an impression I got months before the Iowa meltdown, and the preceding series of gaffes that would prove fatal for his candidacy.

Kerry’s tendency for nuance notwithstanding, Dean, by pushing so stridently for the removal of US troops from Iraq, placed Kerry in a tight and contradictory position which unfortunately led to the inconsistency of voting for the war-- or rather the authorization for the use of force--and voting against the $87 billion supplemental for Iraq. What followed was inevitable:Kerry was pilloried for his inconsistency towards the threat that faces America.

Whether one agrees with the threat or not, and whether one considers it a political construction, it exists as a reality for the American electoral—this is evidenced by the fact that International Affairs (The War on Terror and The War in Iraq) were more of a concern for voters, 2/3 of them, than were “values” . Therefore, the Dems will find themselves hard pressed to convey a robust and articulate message on defense policy if their next National Chairman was the “Anti-war Candidate”.

That being said, Dean’s position on abortion doesn’t run contrary to my very own epistemic inclinations. Roemer, on the other hand, is a pro-lifer who by dint of his Red State credentials believes that democrats have to 'fight for 50 rather than 20 states' in 2006 and 2008.

Further, on the specifics such as whether late term abortions are legally permissible—barring dire health complications that endanger the mother’s life, I feel they shouldn’t be legally permissible; from my own moral understanding of the variables, of course—whether State governments fund these procedure, and whether medical counsel be mandatory, the Democrats have room to moderate their rough edges. The article goes on to say:

Party leaders say their support for preserving the landmark ruling will not change. But they are looking at ways to soften the hard line, such as promoting adoption and embracing parental notification requirements for minors and bans on late-term abortions. Their thinking reflects a sense among strategists that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and the party's congressional candidates lost votes because the GOP conveyed a more compelling message on social issues

This seems reasonable if and only if the fundamental principles that underlie there support for abortion aren’t vitiated, principles like equality and freedom of choice. On this score, Jack Balkin offers a cogent assessment:

Abortion rights are a matter of sex equality. They are a matter of sex equality because laws against abortion compel women to become mothers against their will, with all the duties and responsibilities that go with parenthood. Given that women will most likely bear most of the responsibility for child care (particularly if the father is absent) laws against abortion put women in a very different position than men; they require them to devote substantial portions of their lives to raising children, forgo opportunities in the public world of work, and undermine their equal citizenship with men.

If, despite this, one feels it important to restrict abortion because of the overwhelming interest in potential human life, one must attempt to remedy the problem of sex inequality in another way. Pro-life Democrats can work to lessen the stigma of surrendering a child for adoption, but that stigma is unlikely to fade soon no matter how earnest the effort. Far more important is support for social programs that help working women with the burdens of child care and with the costs of raising children, including nutrition programs, educational programs, subsidized health insurance for mother and child, and subsidized child care. A child's life does not stop after it leaves the womb; and if one really wants to be a "pro-life" Democrat, one should be pounding the table for protecting born children as well as unborn ones, as well as protecting the equality and equal opportunity of the women who gave birth to them.

Therefore, the debate over abortion, as with the debate over 'values', rests on a few assumptions Conservatives and Republicans rarely recognize. The economics of facilitating a generous social system for these unborn, and soon to be born, children requires a far more redistributive mode of government. Likewise, issues like poverty, homelessness, and income inequality are all, I think, indicative of the value and respect we hold for human life, and demand, again, a far more redistributive mode of government.

As suspect as one must remain at the thought of unnecessary governmental intrusion, self-reliance as the sole life strategy (Conservatism) operates as a theory only: History has shown its practice wanting. We are a social animal, and politics is the art of compromise.


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