Sunday, December 07, 2008


On the op-ed page of today's New York Times, Ross Douthat attacks a straw man -- the argument that abortion politics doomed the GOP in the 2008 election.

Although Douthat (selectively) quotes several Republicans to make it seem as if this is what they believe, does any rational person really think the anti-abortion position in isolation was the Republican Party's biggest problem this year? Beyond that, Douthat goes further: he argues that abortion opponents have been the soul of moderation in recent years, so what's the big deal?

Here's Douthat's opening passage:

AN iron law of recent American politics dictates that any Republican setback at the polls will be quickly pinned on the pro-life movement. You might think that the Republican Party's 2008 debacle would be an exception to this rule.

I might because this is a drastic oversimplification, as well as a misstatement of what the people Douthat quotes actually believe.

Yes, Christie Whitman said the problem was that "the party was taken hostage by 'social fundamentalists,' the people who base their votes on such social issues as abortion," and Kathleen Parker blamed "[t]he evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the G.O.P." But abortion is just a small part of what even these critics are singling out. But the "social fundamentalists" aren't just anti-abortion. They're anti-gay. They're anti-Darwin. They don't believe human beings are causing climate change. They don't consider non-Christians to be fully American. And, more broadly, they seem to despise those of us who work in offices or don't hunt or don't listen to country music.

On the specific subject of abortion, Douthat thinks antis are just misunderstood:

Compromise, rather than absolutism, has been the watchword of anti-abortion efforts for some time now. Since the early 1990s, advocates have focused on pushing largely modest state-level restrictions, from parental notification laws to waiting periods to bans on what we see as the grisliest forms of abortion.

The culture of (sometimes violent) protest that once defined the movement is largely a thing of the past: Pay a visit to any locus of anti-abortion sentiment -- an evangelical megachurch, say, or a conservative Catholic parish -- and you'll find that the bulk of pro-life energy is being channeled into grassroots efforts, from crisis pregnancy centers to post-abortion counseling, that seek to reduce the abortion rate one woman and one child at a time.

Yeah -- pay no attention to laws like the South Dakota law that requires doctors to tell women seeking abortions that the procedure "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being" and, falsely, that "abortion increases the risk of suicide ideation and suicide" (and pay no attention to the fact that an attempt was made to ban all abortions in South Dakota by referendum two years ago, and nearly all this year). And ignore the fact that the "crisis pregnancy centers" and "post-abortion counseling" Douthat cites are largely propaganda efforts of the same kind.

Disregard the anti-birth-control movement, which is seen as mainstream on the right and was influential in the Bush appointment process. Overlook the push for medical "conscience clauses." All of that is either irrelevant or reasonable, according to Douthat.

None of this decided the 2008 election -- but a general sense that the Republican Party is the party of (in addition to fat cats and war lovers) right-wing zealots with an extraordinarily narrow definition of who qualifies as a decent American citizen hurt a lot.

No comments: