Obama, Pro-Lifers and FOCA

Intemperate broadsides against Douglas Kmiec aside, I'll have more to say early next week, hopefully, about pro-lifers in the age of Obama. For now, let me quote Damon Linker, who notes that the Democrats didn't make much headway among the most religious - and by extension, most pro-life - Americans, and then offers the following advice to the Democrats:

Rejoicing in their victory, many liberals will be inclined to say good riddance to such voters. And this may make electoral sense. Perhaps the combination of long-term demographic trends and the incompetence of Republican governance over the past eight years have forged a center-left electoral coalition that will persist for years to come. Maybe the theoconservative base of the Republican Party will wither away on its own, now that it's been deprived of the oxygen of direct political influence. Perhaps the GOP will purge itself of its religious faction in the violent recriminations that have already begun, leaving devout Catholics and evangelicals to wander in the wilderness without a political home, much as Protestant fundamentalists did during the four decades following the humiliation of the Scopes Trial of 1925.

Maybe, but I wouldn't bet on it. As long as the Democratic Party continues to take its cues on social policy from those who refuse any compromise on abortion, it will give the Republicans the gift that keeps on giving: a large, stable, immensely loyal bloc of voters passionately committed to protecting (as they see it) innocent human life from lethal violence and those who champion the right to inflict it ...

It wouldn't take much to undermine the morale of a significant number of these ideological combatants, and perhaps even to inspire them to defect to the Democratic side of the aisle. For starters, President Obama could privately urge congressional Democrats not to take up the Freedom of Choice Act--a piece of legislation that, if passed, would instantaneously erase the (quite modest) legislative accomplishments of the pro-life movement over the past two decades and thus provoke it more effectively than anything since the Supreme Court's Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision of 1992 ...

Beyond that, Obama could follow the lead of Bill Clinton in combining a stalwart defense of the right to choose with an acknowledgement that the decision to have an abortion is a choice that troubles the consciences of many millions of Americans--including many millions who steadfastly support abortion rights. Clinton's "safe, legal, and rare" served him well in this regard, but surely an orator as gifted as Obama could forge an even finer phrase or passage of prose to capture the often tragic moral complexities surrounding this most divisive of issues.

To actually win more than a handful of committed pro-life voters, I think Obama would need to go a lot further than showing restraint on FOCA and forging some fine turns of phrase about the tragedy of abortion. But if all he wants to do is keep pro-lifers disheartened and demobilized, then following Linker's advice and reining in the pro-choice side's more maximalist ambitions seems like by far the wisest way to approach the issue.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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