CHOOSING TO LOSE….Watching last week as news began to trickle out about which senators would vote which way on Roberts, I was struck by the fact that the pro-life Harry Reid was voting “no” while the pro-choice Lincoln Chafee was, perhaps unsurprisingly, voting “yes.” Choice groups–who strongly oppose Roberts–are pleased by Reid’s decision. And yet if they had their way, he’s exactly the type of Democrat they’d like to see defeated and replaced with a Lincoln Chafee clone.
So I wrote this quick piece for the Boston Globe, questioning the wisdom of the choice groups’ political strategy from a pro-choice perspective.
Following defeats at the polls in last year’s elections, leading Democrats started to say publicly what many had suggested in private for years: The party needed to make an effort to welcome pro-life voters.
You’ll remember that, in quick succession during the winter, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Howard Dean all suggested that Democrats might benefit from welcoming more pro-life candidates.
But the final straw came when Senate Democrats acted on this advice and recruited pro-life Democrat Bob Casey to run against Rick Santorum for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat in 2006.
Pro-choice advocates lashed out. National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy called out Kerry and Dean by name, and declared: ”If that’s what it means to have a big tent, if it means abandoning the core principles of our party, if it means throwing women’s rights overboard like so much ballast…then I say let’s keep the skunk out of the tent.”….The word soon went out that Casey would get no support from women’s groups, and powerful donors were encouraged to refrain from giving to his campaign. The race appears to have become a test case for many in the pro-choice community. They would rather see Casey lose than defeat Santorum, perhaps the Senate’s most vociferous abortion opponent.
As if to underline their point, NARAL took the unusual step of endorsing Senator Lincoln Chafee, Republican of Rhode Island, a full year and a half before the 2006 election. The message was clear: a pro-choice Republican is always preferable to a pro-life Democrat. It didn’t take long for NARAL to regret the move. Less than three weeks later, Chafee voted to support the nomination of radically conservative judge Janice Rogers Brown. NARAL issued an angry press release, warning Chafee that they would be ”watching closely his future votes on judicial nominees, including…those for the Supreme Court.” Now, of course, Chafee has announced he will vote in support of Roberts.
Now, no one expects pro-choice groups to endorse or fund pro-life candidates. That wouldn’t make sense. But–and this is my point–they could just be neutral. That’s what they’ve done in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign. Because if you care about choice, five Harry Reids (or Bob Caseys) are worth more than five Lincoln Chafees for the simple reason that a Harry Reid-led Senate wouldn’t push anti-abortion legislation and a Bill Frist-led Senate does.
This is not a difficult calculation. And yet it gets lost in all of the yelling about “giving up our principles” and only wanting “the right kind of Democrats.” I think I’m going to scream if one more person tells me that if Casey loses, it will prove to the Democratic Party that it can’t get away with running pro-life candidates because: a) their beliefs will cost them votes; and b) they’ll lose traditional liberal sources of money and support.
The impulse to engage in ideological cleansing is understandable and it is dangerously stupid. It is folly to pretend that pro-choice Dems stand an even or better chance against Republicans in some races. And it takes the eye off the ball. There is pro-life and then there is pro-life. Deciding between the “wrong” kind of Democrat and someone who thinks “that victims of rape and incest should be allowed abortions only if they report the crime within seven days” is an easy choice.