Democrats were quick to impute Torquemada-like attributes to the effort by social and other conservatives (neo- and paleo-conservatives) to back the candidacy of Doug Hoffman in the special election in an upstate congressional race over that of the more moderate Dede Scozzafava who had been selected by the local Republican Party officials. This concern for conservative orthodoxy, accompanied by a vicious campaign against Scozzafava, showed a party that is deeply divided. And, it showed something else: a party incapable of winning. The seat in NY-23 had not been held by a Democrat since the mid-nineteenth century, but last week, Democrat Bill Owens took his seat in Congress just in time to vote for the health care bill.
The new Republican orthodoxy is not rooted exclusively in social issues, although for some on the right Scozzafava’s support of gay rights was a deal-breaker. The Club for Growth, however, imposes its charges of heresy against those who do not sign irresponsible pledges to never raise taxes, despite the fact that taxes are today at historic lows as a share of GDP compared to most of the post-World War II era They are now leading the charge against Florida’s popular Governor Charlie Crist in his effort to win the GOP nomination for a Senate seat against the new conservative darling, Marco Rubio. The split in the GOP makes it possible for Democrats to pick up a Senate seat that otherwise would likely stay in the GOP column if Crist and Rubio were not engaged in a civil war. Electorally, the Club for Growth is only a club for moderate Democratic growth.
But, how is this different from the threats by pro-choice advocates to withhold support from Democrats who vote for a final health care bill that includes the restrictions on abortion coverage passed by the House last week? All this week, they have been suggesting, without saying, that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was asleep at the wheel when she signed on to permit a vote on the Stupak Amendment. Given the fact that this was the most important piece of legislation Pelosi has ever confronted, they must think she is either dumb or evil to have been so "hoodwinked." In fact, Speaker Pelosi did what good Speakers do: she counted votes and did what it took to get the bill past 218.
Yesterday, an op-ed in the New York Times by Kate Michelman and Frances Kissling said that they had long opposed the efforts, begun by then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel, to draft moderate candidates to run in more conservative districts. "They mistakenly believed that giving leadership roles to a small minority of anti-abortion Democrats would solve the party’s image problems with ‘values voters’ and answer critics who claimed Democrats were hostile to religion." Actually, I think the idea was to elect Democrats who reflected the values of more conservative parts of the country. A pro-choice Democrat doesn’t stand a chance in NC-14 or MI-1. Pelosi is Speaker because Dems now hold such conservative districts. And, yes, people like Michelman and Kissling have given the Dems a bad rap as the party that is hostile to religion. Just look at some of the anti-Catholic bigotry spewing from the pro-choice groups this past week.
Michelman and Kissling write: "If Democrats do not commit themselves to defeating the [Stupak] amendment, then they will face an uncompromising effort by Democratic women to defeat them, regardless of the cost to the party’s precious majority." Again, how is this different from the Torquemada stance of the Club for Growth? And the addition of the adjective "precious" shows the sense of moral superiority that makes one-issue advocates of all stripes so insufferable. Yes, majorities are precious because without them it is very hard to achieve anything for the people who sent you to Washington in the first place. Without a Democratic majority in both houses, we would not even be discussing health care reform still less close to passing a bill that will help many women in countless ways.
Pro-life Democrats are essential to the Democratic coalition. We heard President Obama’s call for health care reform to be neutral on abortion by precluding federal funding for abortion, a goal that Michelman and Kissling oppose. But, the Stupak Amendment, like the Hyde Amendment, reflects the deep ambivalence of most Americans about abortion. Most Americans may want abortion to be legal because they remember the days when it was not, but they really do not want to encourage it with federal subsidies either. Democrats in safe districts may be more worried about a primary challenge than about a general election opponent, so they do not need to take cognizance of where the center of the electorate is. President Obama and Speaker Pelosi do need to take such cognizance. The Democrats are either going to be a Big Tent party or not, but if you want us pro-lifers in the tent, you can’t steamroll on an issue of profound importance to us. If Michelman and Kissling want to "Scozzafava" pro-life Democrats, they will only succeed in electing pro-life Republicans. They are entitled to their opinions. They are not entitled to kill health care reform.