There’s a great deal of buzz in certain circles about the “new” Democratic platform language on abortion. The new, new language calls for reducing the need for abortions. So is that new? That’s the very same formulation used by Governor Jimmy Carter to sway Evangelicals, Catholics, and Lutherans in the Iowa Caucuses in January, 1976.
It worked then. That year, President Gerald Ford let his outspokenly pro-abortion wife Betty address the issue for him. Mrs. Ford would later boast in her memoirs that Jerry was “smart” to let her do all the talking on abortion. Voters could be forgiven for never knowing that the Republican-party platform that year was pro-life. Mrs. Ford’s quotable pro-abortion remarks helped ease her husband out of the White House in `76.
As for Jimmy Carter, journalist Elizabeth Drew in her book, American Journal: The Events of 1976, commended him for wrapping a liberal policy stance in conservative rhetoric. The Democrats of 2008 have not even done that.
So what does this new, new language mean? It means we will continue to have abortion-on-demand. It means that a father has the right to pay child support for 18 years, but not the right even to be informed that his unborn child will be killed. It means parents have the right to pay for their minor daughter’s health care, but not the right to know she is about to make a decision for abortion. It means abortion to the ninth month will be included in a nationalized health-care plan. It means we will all have the right to pay for abortions with our taxes. It means that the Hyde Amendment and all other protective legislation will be repealed. And we have the right to believe that we will have fewer abortions when they are free. That’s what Democrats mean by “abortion rights.”
Let’s compare this to another nettlesome question that bedeviled Democrats for half a century: lynching. In 1924, the Democratic convention came within one delegate vote of condemning the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was, believe it or not, a major force in the Democratic party. The Klan terrorized by means of lynching.
Friends of New York Governor Al Smith tried to put the party on record against the immigrant-bashing, black- Catholic- and Jew-baiting Klan. It didn’t work. The forces backing William Gibbs McAdoo, a rival of Al Smith’s for the presidential nomination and a son-in-law of Woodrow Wilson, prevailed by a floor vote of 543-542. The Klan was not condemned. Lynching continued.
Then, as now, the Democratic party was proud of avoiding “moralizing” language in its platform. Then, as now, Democrats refused to go on record affirming a fundamental principle. Equal justice under law then. Equal right to life now. Lynching was the issue of the day. Thousands of people, mostly black men, were lynched in those days.
Republican congressmen introduced the first federal anti-lynching law in 1922. Year after year, it was reintroduced, only to be defeated by Democrats’ filibusters in the U.S. Senate. Not until 1957, with Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in the White House, was a federal anti-lynching law finally passed.
But anti-lynching Democrats missed the boat. They should have been arguing those 35 years for a platform plank that would “reduce the need for lynching.” Then, they would have credulous Christians climb on board their platform. Don’t actually stop lynching; don’t brand lynching morally wrong, avoid moralizing language, but eliminate the need for lynching. It could have been their winning formula.
Eliminating the need for abortions could be their winning formula today — if we’re not wary. It worked for Jimmy Carter. That was 32 years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago. Or perhaps 48 million lifetimes ago.
– Chet Arthur is a nom de cyber for a Washington, D.C. political veteran.