Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Monday, July 04, 2005
With one hand tied behind their back
On this Independence Day, some Democrats seem to be having second thoughts about that "gang of 14" deal that averted a nuclear showdown in the Senate (in fact, some DUers are still fuming over the deal. One quote from today's boards: "The so called 'Deal' was nothing more than a way for the spineless democrats to hide from confrontation. Some were feeling the heat so they wanted to give in but needed something to cover their spineless asses and the 'Deal' was just that, democrats gave in -- again --- as they will keep on doing until we elect some democrats with spines that are willing to fight for America. ")

The trouble for Dems is, if they keep to the deal, can they successfully filibuster a Bush Supreme Court pick, and if so, under what "extreme circumstances"? And what if they can't keep another Scalia clone off the court? And what if, in NOW's worst nightmare, Bush packs the court with evangelical activists, and Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned (not anytime soon, since Bush would need two more resignations in addition to O'Connor to get an anti-Roe majority, but in theory, it could happen before he quacks out in 2008...) Would it be the end of women's rights as we know them, as liberal activists are frantically predicting in urgent emails?

Would total victory make the GOP unstoppable, or, would it simpoly plunge the party into civil war, as state after state is forced to wrestle with the abortion question? Where would Republican women stand, in, say West Virginia or Mississippi or Florida? Would wealthy GOP doyennes stand for having their daughters locked out of family planning (or forced to flee to Canada or Europe to "get it done") just so they can close the abortion clinics and deal the opposition a death blow? And how long with the libertarian wing of the party stand with the religious activists on the "life" issue when it really comes to roost, right in their backyards?

The trouble with Roe is that it has become a theoretical exercise for most people. It's "bad law" if you're a Republican, but it's not bad law you have to deal with, until it's gone. In other words, liberal groups may not want to acknowledge it, for fundraising and base-motivating reasons, but the abortion debate is potentially far more lethal for Republicans than it is for Democrats. Here's Peter Wallsten (a terrific writer who left sunny South Florida not too long ago for the L.A. Times):

...the political irony that few on either side readily acknowledge — but many are pondering — is that Roe's demise could transform American elections by crippling the conservative political majority that opposes abortion and by giving new life to hobbled liberals who support the ruling's preservation.


... the prospect of progress toward overturning Roe — and the realization that President Bush could have at least two chances to make transformative appointments to the court — has exposed a disagreement between conservatives who want abortion criminalized and pragmatic Republicans concerned that shifting the issue from the courts to the ballot box would lead to massive GOP losses. Of particular concern is the party's fate in closely contested battlegrounds such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan, where the resurgence of the abortion issue could alienate moderate voters who have helped Republicans make gains on all levels.


"Smart strategists inside the party don't want the status quo changed," said Tony Fabrizio, chief pollster for the 1996 Republican presidential campaign of Bob Dole. "This may cause Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger — who are strongly committed to being pro-choice — to flip or to push for a third-party movement," he added. "If they did outlaw it, it would ultimately turn the Republican Party into a theocratic-based party rather than an ideological party, and the party would necessarily start shedding people."


Strategists worry that overturning Roe would make abortion a top-tier political issue again, galvanizing liberals and moderates who have long assumed the issue was settled. At the same time, it would eliminate a major organizing principle of the evangelical movement that gained prominence in last year's elections. And Republican candidates, who have long sidestepped the issue by assuring moderate voters that judges had the final say on abortion, would suddenly be forced to say how they would vote on a woman's right to choose."A candidate could no longer say, 'I'm running for state representative, not the Supreme Court,' " said David Johnson, former director of the Republican Party of Florida, who has advised GOP campaigns, including that of John Thune, who last year defeated the Senate's top Democrat, Tom Daschle, in South Dakota. "That response would no longer be valid because their vote would matter."


So far, the evangelical base of the GOP is pushing forward without much regard to these considerations (while the leadership, including people like Tony Perkins, are being conspicuously cautious). The abortion debate is the glue that unites certain factions of the party, including the Pat Buchanan anti-Iraq war wing, the militant pro-Bush Freeper wing and the evangelicals. But what about the interventionist neoconservatives? Reviving the abortion debate would surely crowd out their ambitious globalist agenda for the party, and let's not forget, the neocons care almost exclusively about invading the Middle East. They're relatively moderate - to -libertarian on social issues. As for moderate Republicans, libertarians, corporate Republicans and fiscal conservatives? As usual, they're left completely in the cold on this issue, as on so many others. Losing electoral ground, and turning the GOP into the "party of abortion abolition" would harm GOP efforts to curb immigration, reign in the federal government, eliminate education spending, privatize Social Security and more. The question becomes, does the GOP really want to plunge America back into the abortion debate? And at what cost...?

Maybe the best thing that could come out of an end to Roe would be the emergence of a moderate Republican-Democrat coalition, not to mention the fact that it would force the theocrats on the right to test their convictions at the ballot box, state by state, rather than just in grandstanding culture clashes like the Terri Schiavo circus.

There's also the issue of George W. Bush himself. The president, who is a Methodist -- hardly the most fire breathing of the Protestant denominations, and one whose UK wing recently agreed to bless same-sex unions -- has never explicitly called for overturning Roe. More Wallsten:
Bush told Danish television last week that although he believed abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape and incest or when a mother's life was at risk, he understood that the nation was not ready for Roe to go away. "I'm a realist as well," Bush said. "I mean, this is an issue that has polarized the American political society. And in order to get good policy in place that protects the life of a child, we're going to have to change hearts."

Which brings up the question of just how fervently Bush really believes in the evangelical political cause, and to what extent he and his advisors have simply used the movement to win elections...

two more clips:
"Bush is in a real dilemma," said John Seery, a professor of politics at Pomona College, who has written about the politics of abortion. "The true-believer, pro-life person wants Roe v. Wade to be overturned, and the politics are secondary. But to political strategists who are concerned about the future of the Republican Party, this would be almost devastating."

...

Kenneth L. Connor, a former head of the Family Research Council who helped
engineer congressional efforts this year to intervene in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case, said overturning Roe would create political shockwaves that might force both sides to reach a consensus.But Connor, a former candidate for governor in Florida, said many Republican politicians had no desire to see Roe go away."The current situation allows them to furrow their brow, ring their hands, gnash their teeth but not do a dadgum thing about it," he said. "If the court were to put the decision in their hands, they would be mortified."

Indeed.
posted by JReid @ 11:55 AM  
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