The Corner

Politics & Policy

Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi Are Right

They’re the moderates in a debate among Democrats about how their party should treat candidates who are not in complete agreement with the abortion lobby. I write about the controversy–which centers on Sanders’s endorsement of Heath Mello, a Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, who has a mixed record on abortion–at Bloomberg View today.

A few additional points:

First: Some of the coverage of this controversy is obscuring the status quo ante. Even this column by Bill Scher, which gently cautions abortion-rights activists to make a little more space for dissenting Democrats, says that Sanders “re-opened old wounds” by endorsing Mello and that it’s understandable that activists would “speak up when their agenda is at risk of being downgraded.” But Sanders’s endorsement of a Democrat who is not down-the-line with NARAL followed a longstanding practice among Democrats–as this article by D.D. Guttenplan in The Nation makes plain. What’s new is the assertion by Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez that all Democratic candidates have to side with NARAL. It’s pro-life and abortion-ambivalent Democrats who are being downgraded.

Second: As that Guttenplan article also makes clear, misunderstandings of Mello’s position and record that made him appear more anti-abortion than he is fueled the controversy. But Perez has taken a position that goes beyond the particulars of this case.

Third: I note in my Bloomberg article that a Pew poll last year found that 28 percent of Democrats think abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Also worth mentioning: A Marist poll for the Knights of Columbus after the election found that 34 percent of Democrats think abortion should be illegal with exceptions, at most, for cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s life. An additional 24 percent of Democrats think abortion should be available only within the first three months of pregnancy. That’s a majority of Democratic voters with views to the right of the ones that have gotten Mello into trouble.

Fourth: In Perez’s statement that all Democratic candidates should support “the Democratic Party’s position on women’s fundamental rights,” he also says that he “fundamentally disagrees” with Mello’s “personal” opposition to abortion. The statement can, however, be read to indicate tolerance for people who think abortion is wrong but don’t want the law to follow the implications of its wrongness. In Gallup’s most recent poll on the subject, from last year, 47 percent of Americans say abortion is not morally acceptable and 43 percent say it is.

Fifth: There remain limits to how aggressive even Perez is willing to be in support of abortion. His statement steers clear of actually using the word.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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