Let me say it at the start and get it out of the way. I'm a registered Democrat who pretty much despaired of his party years ago. Abortion did it. As many others have said, so say I: I didn't walk away from the party, the party walked away from me.
I mention this now because of all the talk about the Democratic Party taking a new look at itself. That's no surprise. Political parties that lose badly in national elections, as the Democrats did last November, can reasonably draw the conclusion that changes are needed. But will the Democrats change?
Start with the fact that the party has saddled itself with a primary system that places its presidential nomination in the hands of a small number of liberal activists in a small number of states. Candidates naturally cater to these folks. By the time a winner emerges from the early primaries, the prospective nominee is likely to be someone who resonates with people like Barbra Streisand and Michael Moore but not many others.
Practically speaking, the upcoming choice of a new chairman of the Democratic National Committee will provide a test of the party's capacity and willingness to change. Among the several candidates, including former presidential contender Howard Dean, one — former congressman Tim Roemer — is described as pro-life.
But Roemer has said that if he gets the job, he won't try to change the party's pro-abortion platform. Even so, he was trashed by Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt for expressing his personal opposition to late-term abortions and partial-birth abortions. The abortion lobby plainly means to hold the Democrats' feet to the fire on its issue.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, however, I note that Ken Mehlman, new chairman of the Republican National Committee, reportedly has tapped Joann Davidson, pro-choice former speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, as co-chair. The Republicans, you'll recall, are supposed to be the pro-life party.
Getting back to the Democrats, a lot of the talk about change was touched off by remarks attributed to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), last year's defeated presidential candidate, at a closed-door session of Democratic cadres. Kerry reportedly said among other things that, while supporting legal abortion, Democrats should make it clear they don't like abortions and should welcome more pro-life candidates into the party.
That's similar to some remarks earlier this month by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). Like Bill Clinton, Kennedy recommended making abortion “rare” by reducing economic pressures on women — but he insisted the party stand by the principle that women can get abortions if they want.
Pro-lifers agree that economic pressure on women should be reduced — both to cut down on abortions and for its own sake. But that still would leave hundreds of thousands of abortions yearly for reasons that amount to convenience. Until the party confronts that scandal, the great divide between it and the pro-life movement will remain.
As for welcoming pro-lifers, the question is: To do what? Serve as window dressing? Provide a cosmetic face-lift for the Democrats' image on abortion? If the Democrats mean to welcome pro-lifers, they will need to give them a genuine role in doing what the Kennedys and Kerrys apparently oppose — namely, making substantive changes in the party's pro-abortion stance.
I wish my fellow Democrats well in turning the party around on abortion and much else. Just as I wish the GOP well in demonstrating that its commitment to life is authentic and unwavering. And I have a message for both parties: Show me.
Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at RShaw10290@aol.com.