The great Protestant thinker Reinhold Niebuhr taught that we can be pure or responsible but not both. One must choose. And so I, a seamless garment pro-lifer, will not again sit out a presidential primary as an unsullied independent while each party’s base voters potentially sow ruin for harvest in the fall. Before the close of this article, I will pause and flip a coin to determine whether I will register as a Democrat or a Republican.
For a long time, I was an ardent Democrat. During my early adulthood, this affiliation kept with my views on racial and distributive justice, gender equality and military restraint. Meanwhile, I counted on my fellow Democrats to come round eventually on abortion. After all, in principle, the party stood with society’s vulnerable. A lack of prenatal viability, it seemed to me, provided reason to protect, not permission to discard. I held out hope that this moral logic would ultimately prevail to the unborn child’s benefit. Then I watched the Democratic Party harden into the Pro-Choice Party.
I, a seamless garment pro-lifer, will not again sit out a presidential primary as an unsullied independent while each party’s base voters potentially sow ruin for harvest in the fall.
In 1995, I had to re-register to vote as I returned to my native New York from five years of representing death row inmates and capital defendants in Alabama. Not registering with a party made some sense because I was to head a controversial state law office created to represent capital-crime defendants. But I also recalled 1992, when Robert P. Casey, then the pro-life Democratic governor of Pennsylvania (and father of the current U.S. Senator Bob Casey Jr.), was denied a chance to address the Democratic National Convention. That tipped the scale. I shed my Democratic identity.
For years, I had few regrets, even though, under New York’s system, I had to watch primaries from the sidelines. Then came the 2016 presidential election. Would we get the overt racist and misogynist, the solipsistic man-boy who promised waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse” and advocated killing the families of terrorists? Or would it be the candidate who, pantsuit aside, resembled the smart, secretive, calculating Richard Nixon—the candidate whose stance on abortion resembled the uncompromising pro-choice slogan “abortion on demand and without apology” more than it resembled her position in 2007 that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare, and by rare, I mean rare”? Some choice.
And now we all white-knuckle through an accidental presidency unprecedented in its incoherency, debasement and danger.
Shame on us, all of us, for those choices and calamitous outcome. Shame on me, the primary season bystander.
Looking ahead, whether my coin lands heads for Republican or tails for Democrat, I will not become a party zealot. I will recognize good ideas regardless of red or blue origins.
I will still think that Hillary Clinton showed foresight when she advocated a moonshot approach to Alzheimer’s research; compassion demands it, but so do health care cost projections as lifespans lengthen. I will still think that Rick Santorum correctly argued that our tax code should encourage larger families; America’s aging population both needs and threatens our entitlement programs. I will still think that Bernie Sanders was not simply indulging his faux socialism when condemning private prisons; no person is a commodity to be warehoused for profit. And I will still think that Carly Fiorina put children first by advocating for parental choice through vouchers and charter schools where public schools are failing.
I will still take greatest satisfaction in good hearts and good minds rising above party lines: War hero John McCain stood for decency when he denounced as “dishonest and dishonorable” the cynical “swift boat” attempt to discredit John Kerry’s record of valor under fire. Both Mr. McCain and Mr. Kerry stood for decency when they condemned waterboarding. Democrat Madeleine Albright and Republican Robert Gates offer an alternative to a balkanized United States by promoting the expectation of universal national service, whether military or civilian, by every young person.
I will not become a party zealot. I will recognize good ideas regardless of red or blue origins.
Whether as a newly minted Republican or a Democratic retread, I will put thorny questions to my party mates. To my fellow Republicans:
- Is The Wall Street Journal right when it claims that the only military the United States cannot afford is “one that is too small”? Aren’t a crumbling infrastructure and ever-less-healthy youth, among other things, national security concerns and funding priorities?
- Just how will we persuade as the pro-life party when we do not even aim for universal health care? And given the availability of abortifacients and interstate travel, just how much will state prohibitions reduce the number of abortions?
To my fellow Democrats:
- Let’s take pride in marriage equality, but does a pluralistic society need to punish the conscientious objector who refuses to bake a wedding cake for two lads or two lasses getting married? Why mimic the intolerance of those who would even today criminalize homosexual acts?
- More important, are we really champions of the weak when we perpetuate the moral fiction of a magical birth canal? Does the brief passage from in utero to ex utero really bestow personhood?
O.K. I have a quarter in hand. One flip, not two out of three. No do-overs. Heads, I revert to the Democratic Party; tails, I register Republican. Here goes....
Huh. Hmm. Gee.
So what was I saying? Oh yeah, was that F.D.R. a godsend or what?