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Why the Democrats are Blue

posted by awelborn

One of the accusations tossed against the political end of the anti-abortion movement relates to its relationship with particular political parties.
“When,” it is asked in various forms, “are you all going to understand that the GOP is just using you? When are you going to figure this out and divest yourself of the fantasy that the GOP is your savior? The cultural warriors are all about making abortion a wedge issue for the GOP and nothing more.”
Again…get that straw out of my face!
There’s a lot to be said about the relationship of the anti-abortion movement to the GOP, past and present. Attitudes of those involved in the former to the latter are scattered all around the map, ranging from die-hard party loyalty (rare, IMHO) to a weary sigh, prompted by political necessity.  Of course the GOP leadership has a conflicted relationship with the anti-abortion movement, as well. They know they need the boots on the ground that the movement provides, but much of the GOP leadership is uncomfortable, too say the least,  with the issue and the people devoted to the issue as well. Many of them wish it – and they – would just go away. Some, of course, are supportive of abortion rights to varying degrees. No one needs lessons in the nature of the GOP in, say, California and New York, and what the way those state parties skew on the issue.
The assumption behind the questions about anti-abortion activity and the GOP is often strained and incorrect, though, because the assumption is that, absent a 3rd-party option, that the anti-abortion movement actually has a choice regarding its frequent alignment with the GOP. That the Democrats are just, you know, waiting to welcome them with open arms, but the stubborn, unthinking, loyalists just won’t budge. Because it’s really not about abortion for them – it’s about the Republican party. Which they love, blind to the possibilities of the Dems.
Forgetting the inconvenient truth that in 1972, the Democratic party embraced the abortion rights cause as its own, and hasn’t let go since.
Mark Stricherz tells the story – which is about more than abortion – in his excellent book Why the Democrats Are Blue. Stricherz, who’s written for a number of publications and has been a Get Religion blogger as well, explores how the Democratic party was transformed into one dedicated to the primarily economic concerns of working class people to one dedicated to the full spectrum of liberal causes.
He begins by discussing the shape of the northern and midwestern segment of the Democratic party from the 30′s on, taking a close look at party bosses in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia and explaining what, exactly it meant to be a “party boss,” what kind of power they had, particularly in regard to selecting nominees and delegate selection.
The conflicts were visible before the 60′s, of course, particularly in the Stevenson nominations. The Vietnam War and student activism of the 60′s pushed the issue and alerted those dissatisfied with the old system to the possibilities and shape of change.
There’s a lot of discussion of arcane machinations, but it’s necessary because that is the place where those things we vaguely call “changes” and “transformation” take place – in the issue of who gets to be delegates, how those delegates are selected…and who chooses who’s going to be on the commissions and committees to decide who makes the changes. It’s politics, and that’s the level where power is ceded, lost and seized, where numbers and procedures are manipulated with the specific purpose of getting an anti-war candidate at the top of the ticket.
It all came to a head in 1972, as most of us know, but even if you do know, Stricherz’s account of the 1972 convention is helpful and even riveting at times. What’s most interesting to me is that the abortion issue more or less came out of the blue. It was only the feminists who wanted it and McGovern’s people were actually rather frantic that it not become a part of the platform, knowing full well what it would do to the traditional party base.
It really is quite amazing to consider the transformation in the priorities of the Democratic party in just those few years – who in 1964 could have imagined that gay rights and abortion rights would become such a focus just a decade later.
As interesting as that was, I’ll tell you that the segment of the book that interested me the most was the material dealing with Carter in 1976. Only three years after Roe was decided, abortion was an ever bigger issue than it had been four years previously and a Human Life Amendment of some sort was a matter of serious discussion as a realistic possibility in many quarters.
Carter played both sides, but the party platform remained clearly in support of abortion rights, with a stated opposition to a constitutional amendment overturning Roe – a fact that prompted many bishops to make extremely strong statements, including – and this might surprise some – Cardinal Bernardin:

Archbishop Joseph Bernardin of Cincinnati, the head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, blasted the party platform as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘morally offensive in the extreme.’ On the eve of the Democratic convention, ten thousand people rallied under a blazing sun in Central Park and marched to Madison Square Garden to urge the party to oppose the abortion plank….The priest chosen to give the closing benediction at the convention backed out, citing Carter and the party’s stand on abortion.

It was soon realized that Carter had a “Catholic problem,” one not alleviated even by the efforts of staffers hired to specifically address it. On August 31, he met with six bishops in DC, including Bernardin:

At the August 31 meeting, [Bernardin] left no doubt about the importance he assigned to the rights of unborn infants. Reading from a prepared statement, the archbishop stressed the prelates’ insistence on a constitutional amendment that ‘will give the maximum protection possible to the unborn.” As Bernardin explained, “If there is agreement that aobriotn is a moral evil because it violated a person’s most basic right, then the only logical conclusion is that something must be done to correct the evil; and the only remedy is a constitutional amendment….Indeed without such a remedy, the effort to promote other human life causes for individual and social betterment, about which we are concerned, is seirously weakened.”

Carter continued to finesse, being vage about some things, expressing his personal opposition to abortion at times, and pleasing pro-lifers and infuriating pro-abortion feminists by signing the Hyde Amendment in 1977.
In 1980, Carter and his supporters worked against pro-gay rights and pro-abortion rights planks in the platform but were handily defeated, on the latter, by a margin of 2-1 voting in support of planks supporting unrestricted abortion and taxpayer-funded abortion, the vote achieved in great part by maneuverings and decisions made over the previous years to enact a quota requiring a 50-50 female-male split on delegates.
And then came Reagan.
Gee. I wonder why the pro-life activists starting doubting the Democratic party was open to their concerns?
There’s much more to appreciate in the book than what I’ve managed to cite here. If you’re interested in politics, religion and the juncture of the two, you’ll appreciate what Stricherz has done here.
Here’s the website for the book.
Here’s Mark’s blog.
He’s also blogging at America magazine’s election blog.
And here’s the text of a talk he gave last month for the Archdiocese of Denver’s “Bob Casey Lecture:”"Three Catholic Democrats Against Secularism (and for Christian Humanism)”
So there’s the past. What about the future?



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Mike English

posted October 29, 2008 at 12:52 am


As a Catholic voting for the first time in this election, I’m trying to get myself up to speed on all of the issues and the variety of political approaches used to champion those issues. What most puzzles me is the overall commitment to the two-party system. When there are third party candidates with clearly stated pro-life views, why do so many continue to support the status-quo? Maybe it’s naive to think things could work differently, but in my experience, optimism and “outside of the box” thinking are well received by my generation. (Look for example at the charismatic effect of the Obama campaign’s vague optimism. How much more would an articulated and principled optimism resound with young voters?)



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Wolf Paul

posted October 29, 2008 at 3:37 am


@Mike English: I am not sure there is as much a commitment to the two-party system but rather an aversion to risking one’s vote on an outsider perceived to have little chance to win and thus make a difference.
In my country there isn’t the unlimited abortion license you have in the US but all the major parties (including the so-called Christian Democrats and the rather nationalist and xenophobic right wing party) here are fully committed to what is called the “trimester solution”: abortion is legal during the first trimester of pregnancy, and only then. For any politician (aspiring or established) to question this comittment is political suicide. So some Christians (mostly Catholic, but with a mix of mainline Protestant, Evangelical and Charismatic) set up their own party and managed to get enough signatures to run in our national parliamentary election last month. The press paints them as fundamentalists, and in the end they garnered less than one percent of the vote. Anyone voting for them (including yours truly) may have voted their conscience, but from a pragmatic perspective, in terms of making a political difference, these were wasted votes.
I think that many pro-life voters in the US see themselves in a similar quandary when faced with an independent pro-life candidate. Experience has shown such candidates to be non-viable, and votes for them are wasted votes, in practical terms.
Things might be different if there were an extremely personable candidate who started to campaign long before the normal campaign season started, and by the time of the normal campaign had build up enough momentum for folks to believe that he or she had a fighting chance. Such a candidate would have to have very deep pockets or a lot of folks behind him/her to beat the established party machines. Or else they would have to have an unshakeable faith that God had called them to do this, and if it doesn’t work for the first election, keep going relentlessly for the next one, and the next one, etc, until momentum has built to bring victory into reach.
We can certainly pray for that, because it’s not very likely, humanly speaking!



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Wolf Paul

posted October 29, 2008 at 3:53 am


Sorry to be taking up so much space but I think this quote from John L. Allen (linked to in one of Amy’s next posts) is pertinent to the question about why people seem wedded to the two-party system:
For what it’s worth, my own reading is that it’s no use trying an end-run around the two-party system. If a holistic Catholic sensibility is ever going to cut ice in American politics, it will have to come from one of the two parties being hijacked from within — the way Reagan moved the goalposts for the Republicans, or Clinton for the Democrats. (Or, if you prefer an overseas example, the way that Blair built “New Labour.”)
In that light, it would be an interesting experiment if a network of Catholic policy groups, activists, and intellectuals were to take shape once election season is over, devoted to laying the groundwork for influencing both parties from within. I’m talking not just about making compelling arguments, but doing the hard nuts-and-bolts work of political organizing, including identifying potential candidates and making them battle-ready.
All that would, of course, require time, money, and expertise, and I’m not sure where any of it might come from. In the absence of such an effort, however, many of the best and brightest in American Catholicism are doomed to feel perpetually alienated, forever choosing between the lesser of two evils.
(John L. Allen in his Oct. 24, 2008 NCR blog piece entitled “Serious Catholics wind up ‘politically homeless’ in America”)



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Kate

posted October 29, 2008 at 5:05 am


Unfortunately, In recent years, the GOP has seemed to suffer from a real crisis in the quality of its leadership.
Bush, Cheney, the McCain of ’08, Palin, Rove…what have they done for us…what will they do?
Yes, the anti-abortion plank is in the GOP platform.
However, McCain says he has “no litmus test” for court nominees. So…where does that go? Who knows?
Meanwhile, our country’s problems, and the world’s, grow worse.
What’s a voter to do? If one of the factors that has caused the GOP to produce leaders of such apparently poor quality is the belief of some party leaders that “one issue” anti-abortion voters could be relied upon to support for president and vice president “just about anybody” who
seemed to them to wear the anti-abortion mantle, then maybe it’s time for all those voters to take a much closer look at what’s going on in the inner sanctums of GOP leadership and to work hard to try to insure that the party is able to produce and support some really outstanding candidates in the future.
Whether you like him or not, it’s clear that Obama is a competent candidate with an exceptionally well-run campaign. On the GOP side…maybe not so much…



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Shaun G

posted October 29, 2008 at 5:39 am


You know, for a long time, I used to think, “If only there were a third-party option that took the best of each party’s social platforms (the GOP’s stance on abortion and family, the Dems’ stance on capital punishment and concern for the poor) — in other words, a Catholic-friendly party — then the old two-party system would see an exodus. There just needs to be a way for people to rally around a third-party option.”
Then along came the Internet, a tool that ostensibly made it possible for people seeking such a party to find it and rally around it without the need for gazillions in spending.
But the more time goes on, the more I’m starting to worry that people aren’t flocking to such an option because when it comes down to it, people actually tend to be solid Republicans or solid Democrats … albeit each with a solid Libertarian streak.
And so it pains me to predict that the only way there will ever be massive support for a third party is if one of the original two parties deviates from its platform.



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Jim

posted October 29, 2008 at 6:52 am


My take on the GOP for Catholics is that the Republicans are not serious about the abortion issue. I seriously doubt that Reagan, Bush I or McCain really share the Catholic position. Bush II might have, but he didn’t care as much about it as he did about his wars. So, after GOP presidents in 20 of 28 years, where have they taken the abortion issue? Well, it’s still an effective wedge issue for them. They have gotten a few more justices on the USSCt, but even they are unlikely to throw aside the principle of stare decisis. At best, they are willing to nibble around the edges. But the wedge issue remains.
So backing McCain is just about taking the bait again.
The Democratic Party does not back the Catholic position on abortion……no doubt or deception about it.
So, if there were a viable third party choice, it would get my vote.
But I’m not about to take the bait.



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John G.

posted October 29, 2008 at 7:53 am


“My take on the GOP for Catholics is that the Republicans are not serious about the abortion issue. I seriously doubt that Reagan, Bush I or McCain really share the Catholic position. Bush II might have, but he didn’t care as much about it as he did about his wars.”
For a little perspective…
http://www.ontheissues.org/celeb/George_W__Bush_Abortion.htm



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Don Boyle

posted October 29, 2008 at 8:15 am


Fr. Neuhaus had an excellent article on this topic in the Jan. 2007 First Things:
http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=5395
which itself was based on an article by George McKenna, “Criss-Cross: Democrats, Republicans, and Abortion,” in the Human Life Review, which I have not read, but is available here:
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3798/is_200607/ai_n17179105
Today’s news has items showing an expected large shift in the Catholic vote to the Democrats next week. Perhaps not coincidentally, a new survey out shows that Catholic weekly Mass attendance is at 23 percent. So maybe it’s not surprising that Catholics’ politics are not so different from the country at large. The studies on politics that note that Catholics often vote for the winner in presidential elections may be explained by the fact that Catholics are no different from the rest of the country.



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Dennis Martin

posted October 29, 2008 at 8:41 am


For Wolf Paul and others: One of the reasons we have a two-party system is that we do not have a parliamentary system. I don’t think it helps to hold up the multi-party systems of Europe or even Canada as models for the US as long as we have Constitution that has an executive separated from the legislature in a manner greater than that in the parliamentary system.
(Obama has more or less announced that he thinks the Constitution is fundamentally flawed, so how much longer we will have a Constitution, is anyone’s guess. In some ways, we haven’t obeyed the constitution since we changed it to permit direct election of senators 100 years ago. That move actually gave us elements of the parliamentary system glommed onto the original structure, which is worse than a full parliamentary system. Obama also believes, announced in the 3rd debate, that judges should rule from their reservoir of empathy for justice rather than strictly from the law itself–instead of leaving the modification of laws to the legislature where it belongs. Both of these reasons alone, quite apart from the abortion issue, should make people think long and hard about voting for him.)
I too jused to think that a third-party was the only way to force the other parties to take us pro-lifers seriously. But I’ve changed my mind about that, partly as a result of learning from people who have been in the ground game, tirelessly putting their lives on the line for pro-life causes since 1972. We have a two-party system and it has advantages and disadvantages. It’s not going to change. Instead of hoping for what will not happen, we need to take a deep breath and do what some very courageous Catohlics (the Evangelicals were not yet aboard, but joined in the late 1970s) did in the early ’70s carve out an indispensable role for our cause within one of the two parties. The Democrats could have had the prolife block if they had wanted it. They didn’t The Republicans welcomed it.
Ever since that time there’s been condescension and animosity toward pro-life Republicans from various streams of fiscal-focused or country-club old Republicans. It seemed for a while in this cycle that they were winning the upper hand.
Then came Palin. Or rather, then came the realization that without us pro-lifers, they were doomed in this election. McCain chose Palin, not merely because she is pro-life, though that was part of it. He chose her because she was her own person, courageous, effective, willing to take on entrenched but deadened power blocs.
In so doing, he jumpstarteda repeat of 1972-1980 when the anti-life or merely nominally pro-life and politically mushy Establishment Republicans (Ford) were routed by the upstart movement conservatives, for whom pro-life was a major but not the only issue. Politics is about coalitions of this sort. With Jindal and Palin on the horizon and the obvious failure of the weak-kneed “reach out to the moderates and liberals” wing of the party (many of whom are now jumping ship, showing their true colors, as they think McCain is doomed–which may happen but is not yet absolutely certain), the stage is set for a shifting of the party back toward the conservative and pro-life wing.
Palin is the only thing that’s keeping McCain in this race. Smart politicians know that. She and other like her will be forces to be reckoned with. Will the anti-life Republicans yield the party ship without a fight? No. But that’s why (1) for pro-life Catholics there’s still only one game in town and (2) they will have to fight for a dominant role in the party. It won’t be handed to them without a struggle.
But that’s all the more reason not for tut-tutting about how all parties are tainted and wrong and abstractly dreaming of a 3rd party solution but rather for rolling up sleeves and fighting for one of the two parties, as was done between 1972 and 1980 and without which Roe v Wade would have gone unchallenged and pro-lifers would have been boxed into a corner and eventually shunted off to prison as crackpots.
Finally, to return to Wolf Paul’s advocacy of a parliamentary multi-party system. What people don’t seem to grasp is that we have a multi-party system of coalition building and compromising to get things done, but we do it within each of the two parties, not among three or ten parties.
The Democrats since 1972 have been pushing one huge segment of their original coalition out the door. Ironically, Hillary Clinton, herself a Saul Alinsky radical, was backed by the remnants of that segment (Catholic, blue-collar etc.), who now feel excluded by the Soros-funded MoveOn types. So the Democrats are becoming a dinosaur because they are destroying their internal coalition structure. (If Obama wins, especially with a 60-vote Senate, they won’t have to worry so much about being a dinosaur in traditional party politics terms; the stage will be set for the end of American constitutional politics altogether, for the final triump of the one-party bureaucratic state.) The Republicans still have an internal coalition, creaking along, confused, beaten down in many ways. But it’s still there and can be rejuvenated if McCain wins. And if he wins, if the MoveOn dominance leads the Democrats to defeat, perhaps they two can rejevenate their coalition. Perhaps not.
But for prolife Christians, right now, the Republicans, for all their flaws, are the only game in town. Choosing Palin was an acknowledgement that their pro-life base is in fact indispensable and that even those not part of that base know it is indispensable.
Therefore, to all those who say, the Republicans are merely using the prolifers, I say, no, not MERELY using them. They have a recognizably indispensable place within the party. It’s up to them, using the human, this-worldly wisdom of political struggle, to make the most of that place within the coalition instead of turning up their noses at the whole structure.
I did not always think about it this way.



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Dennis Martin

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:06 am


A clarification to my earlier comment: Obama announced at the third debate that he believes justices should rule (and be chosen) in part at least according to empathy for suffering and poverty. I wrote “empathy for justice,” which was poor choice of words.
Empathy for strict justice would be a good thing. Now, by all means, a judge should have empathy for suffering and poverty as a human being, for sure. But her legal rulings need to be made according to the law itself if we are not to descend into subjectivist tyranny. Robert Bolt’s Thomas More comes to mind, when Cromwell insists that More’s silence implies his consent to the Act of Supremacy and thus More’s silence should be “construed” as consent, More says, “the court must construe according to The Law.”
Insisting that “empathy” trumps strict constructionist interpretation lies at the root of many of our problems, including Roe v. Wade. Or perhaps, more accurately, poorly defined empathy. A judge needs to have empathy for the victims of injustice as defined by the law, not as defined in penumbras of the law. The problem is that courts by their nature are adjudicating between conflicted claims of injustice/justice. Both sides might inspire empathy. Empathy alone cannot resolve the conflict; that’s what the law is there for–to resolve such conflicts short of resort to violence and vigilanteeism. Empathy is good–but in the case of R v W, empathy for the unborn child is in conflict with empathy for the conflicted mother who does not (for whatever reason) want to be pregnant. If judges are to be chosen for their empathy for the suffering and downtrodden, whose empathy wins out?



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TSO

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:06 am


What’s so painful is that in the aftermath of the ’04 presidential election, for the first time I can ever recall, some Democrats were wondering whether they were giving up too much for the sacrament of abortion. I think it was Jonathan Alter who wrote a piece for Newsweek suggesting that maybe Dems should shed the doctrinaire pro-abort stance in exhange for universal health care, etc… It was a heresy that was presumably quickly beaten down, but even Hillary back in, what, January of ’07, said something against abortion that made headlines. Ah, those were the days. A momentary tiny fissure in the heretofore primary plank of the Democrat party.
That moment passed completely with Obama’s nomination of course, given his fanatical allegiance to the abortion lobby. Now there would seem to be no reason for Democrats to move on the issue.
But something I just started thinking about was how gun control has completely come off the table. Now it’s almost a non-starter in the Democrat party. I wonder how to replicate the NRA’s success.



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JohnE

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:14 am


Who would you rather be your brain surgeon?:
(1) A bumbling surgeon who for a pricey fee says he’lll get you rewired correctly, but has botched the job on other patients many times in the past?
Or (2) a skilled, competent, honest surgeon who tells you straight up that he’s going to remove your brain for free?
It seems that many would choose (or indeed have already taken the bait and chosen) surgeon number 2.



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MCG

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:27 am


About the events of 1972, you say “It really is quite amazing to consider the transformation in the priorities of the Democratic party in just those few years – who in 1964 could have imagined that gay rights and abortion rights would become such a focus just a decade later.”
The civil-rights, gay-rights, women’s-rights movements have transformed the country. When I entered law school in 1971, my class was the first in my law school with ten per cent women, and law firms still resisted hiring any women at all. Who in 1971 could have imagined that 30-some years later, half of all new law firm hires would be women?
MCG



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Dennis Martin

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:39 am


I’ll try to be brief this time. I wanted to explain concretely what fighting with worldly prudence within the party might look like in a Palin-Jindal-rejuvenated party.
In past election cycles, after the presidency was secured with the indispensable help of the social-conservative prolife wing, the moderates or whatever you want to call them, for the most part, put social conservative issues on the backburner and privileged fiscal conservative issues (sometimes didn’t even stick with fiscal conservativism). They told the social conservatives, “we have to start here, rather than with your issues, because it’s best tactically.”
Being the “gentle as doves” fair-minded, patient Christian folk that they are, the social conservatives tended to say, “okay, we’re uneasy about that but we’ll trust you.” Were they then truly abandoned and merely used? Well, used, to be sure; merely used–it depends. In some instances the party leaders did put social conservative and prolife issues into play in Congress but were stymied by unconstitutional filibustering by the minority Democrat (appointments to the federal judiciary).
Okay, in the future, being as wise a serpents means that the social conservative, pro-life Republicans need to play more hardball in these circumstances. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. They can point to Palin having saved McCain’s rear-end (or, even if he loses, to have kept him far closer than he would have been otherwise) and use that in fair but tenacious political struggle to insist on a share of power within the party that corresponds their actual power at the ballot box.
Will it be easy? No. But there is no better alternative at present.



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Thomas

posted October 29, 2008 at 9:53 am


Insightful comment, Dennis, which also explains various reactions to Palin within the Republican party, to a large extent.



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Memphis Aggie

posted October 29, 2008 at 10:29 am


Love the analogy JohnE.



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M.Z. Forrest

posted October 29, 2008 at 11:20 am


There is value to understanding how those against abortion were shown the door by the Democratic Party. What is a mistake is to confuse advocacy with coalition building. With advocacy, it is okay not to win every particular moment. Coalitions must win or they break apart. Presently there is more concern over whether losing pro-life influence in the Republican coalition will mean that pro-life concerns simply won’t be heard. I think it is a reasonable concern, but I don’t believe it will ultimately pan out since at least 30% of the electorate declares that ending abortion is very important. Among the areas that are achievable are protecting the conscience rights of physicians and Catholic organizations. If we are going to achieve this, we are going to need to vote for Democrats that oppose these areas but may support abortion rights. (I’m here speaking of local elections.) I think these items are more valuable than whether a candidate says they are against abortion totally or they subscribe to the three exceptions. Democrats will not habitually accomodate those people that will never vote for them. Republicans will not be pushed to implement difficult abortion legislation unless they believe failing to do so will have consequences.



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Julia

posted October 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm


Dennis Martin:
That’s the best explanation of what’s going on with the GOP that I have read. [BTW I was at the rally for Sarah right after her debate and I am proud to report the large numbers of young women there - late teens, college age and 20s. Lots of them, along with moms who brought along their young daughters. And a fair number of Downs folks - both young and old. No terrible things were shouted out, but lots of enthusiasm]
Especially good was the discussion of empathy and what Obama wants to do to the S Court. I think he sees the S Court as having the responsibility to watch out for out-groups who don’t have much clout when legislation is determined by majorities. There’s no objective criteria when you turn over high level judicial decisions to unelected life-tenure judges who can act on their personal druthers rather than uphold the Constitution and interpret laws PASSED BY THE ELECTED LEGISLATURE.
One of the arguments for a parliamentary system is that a party has to build coalitions – thus insuring that minorities get some clout. But that can be a negative, too. That need for coalition building is how the far-right in Israel causes problems for getting things done there.
Also, Obama comes down on the side of government providing equality over ensuring liberty. It seems to me that that kind of thinking in Europe is the result of the French Revolution against a fantastically wealthy nobility that didn’t earn its place in society. We don’t have that history of a noble class in the US – freedom is more important to us with some help provided to those who fall through the cracks.
However, the Democrats don’t have the European attitude toward abortion.
In law school our family law professor was well versed in European law and involved in putting together the international compacts that now govern child kidnapping cooperation and the like. Not a pro-lifer, he nonetheless repeatedly pointed out that Europe generally has the trimester system a commenter mentioned – a) one month to find out your are pregnant, b) one month to decide what to do about it, and c) one month to get it done. We have about the most liberal abortion laws, in practice, of anywhere in the world.
Politics is about obtaining the possible, and trying again another day for the rest of it. Let’s not give up.



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Kevin J Jones

posted October 29, 2008 at 12:37 pm


As far as politics goes, energy put into quixotic third party efforts might be better directed into near-quixotic attempts to rebuild a pro-life faction in the Democratic Party.



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Dan

posted October 29, 2008 at 12:41 pm


It is hard to be optimistic about the political prospects for the pro-life movement. The social forces against us are snowballing: gay marriage seems inevitable and it is very hard to see how the country can be turned around on abortion so long as our elites are wedded to utilitarian and atheistic philosophies. I am not saying give up the battle — not in the least. The battle is our duty, and as Mother Theresa famously put it, we are called to be faithful not successful. But as a practical matter, given long standing social trends it is hard to see how the pro-life movement can be politically successful.
If the country is ever to be moved away from legalized abortion, I believe it will take an exogenous shock to the system to do it — a major economic collapse, a major foreign war, or some other calamity that sobers the country up. It is possible that that shock would also be associated with the end, or the beginning of the end, of our civilization.
In the meantime, the model that we are looking at, I think, is the “creative minority” model that Cardinal Ratzinger has spoken of. Already to be a Christian in America feels very much like I immagine it felt like to be a Christian in Roman times before Constantine, apart from the active persecution. The difference is that then Christianity was young and the wave of the future; today it is the remnant. Thanks be to God that we have Christ’s promise to stay with us.
One caveat to the foregoing is that history has a unique capacity to surprise. Today’s trends are not tomorrow’s trends. That is another reason that pro-lifers should keep going and pray for the best.



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Richard A

posted October 29, 2008 at 12:59 pm


Dennis Martin, your insights are very valuable, but your citation of “Man for All Seasons” is mistaken. Cromwell, the king’s prosecutor, argues that More is guilty of treason and that his silence regarding the loyalty oath is evidence of that treason; indeed all the world knows that More’s refusal to take the oath is due to his unwillingness to affirm the king as head of the Church of England. It is More who asserts the legal principle of “silence gives consent”; regardless of what the world may “know”, English law obliges judges to assume he consents to the law in the absence of any statement from him on the subject. And indeed, More was convicted of treason not by a subversion of the legal principle, but by (perjured) testimony that More had not remained silent.



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Mark R

posted October 29, 2008 at 1:11 pm


Wolf Paul:
I don’t think there is any reason why we couldn’t have a multi-party system since, if I remember correctly, there is no mention of parties in our Constitution.



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Dennis Martin

posted October 29, 2008 at 2:02 pm


Richard A., I don’t think I misapplied the Bolt dialogue (I know it by heart). More used that particular reply (“the court must construe according to the law” to set up what you cite–the law itself stipulates (does not leave to empathy or imagination) that silence means consent. Cromwell had appealed to empathy, to affect as he tried to convince the court that, since the world’s opinion was that More opposed the Act. Perhaps I should have quoted the preceding line: “The world may construe as it wishes” (I know it by heart but not verbatim, so it may be a slightly different wording) “but the court must construe according to the law.” In appealing to what the “whole world knows” More thinks, Cromwell was appealing to sentiments and assumptions and sympathies outside the law itself. I think it is a good, very good, analogy to those who find a right to murder the innocent or to “marry” a member of the same sex in a penumbra of the Constitution (acknowledging it is not present in the words of the law).
I’m fully aware that More was convicted, in Bolt’s version (which may be borne out in fact, though our knowledge of what really happened at the real trial is quite fragmentary), by Richard Rich’s perjury. That has little bearing on my point, except that, in Bolt’s version, the very reason Cromwell had to resort to perjury was More’s successful parrying of Cromwell’s “public opinion construal” of the Law.
In other words, had More’s trial occurred today, his enemies might not have had to resort to perjury because the court would have agreed with Cromwell that courts need not construe strictly according to United States law but may introduce their sense of what the “international law” thinks or what public opinion thinks or what years of stare decisis has induced people to rely upon in their thinking–anything but strict construction of the Law.
More was a strict constructionist; Cromwell was a judicial activist. Cromwell failed in his judicial activism in a world where strict construction still held sway but succeeded by the more thuggish strategm of perjury (all, of course, according to Bolt’s version).



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Dennis Martin

posted October 29, 2008 at 2:14 pm


Mark R., I don’t think we can have a parliamentary system without changing the constitution because there’s no provision for a parliament-elected prime minister who functions as the central executive officer combined with a head of state of some sort (either monarch or elected president). Our president belongs solely to the executive branch; a prime minister does not.
True, there’s no mention of parties in the Constitution. But that wasn’t the issue. Parliamentary governments also have parties. Whether or not there are parties is not in doubt. Whether only two major parties or more than that is the question. There’s no way in the Constitution for people to spread their votes over four or five parties and then two or three of those parties combine their results to choose the President. We have had more than 2 candidates running for president. In our Constitutional system, unless one of them dominates the other three or four and gets an Electoral College simple majority, it throws the election into the legislature. At that point it might be becoming something like a parliament electing a prime minister, but after trying this early in our history, we seem to have concluded that we do not want Congress making the final decision every four years, so things coalesced around two major parties. If one of them becomes truly attenuated, it’s possible for a third party to replace it, but not in a three-party system, rather as the new second party while the previous second party fades into oblivion.
Our system is an outgrowth of the way the Constitution was written–a fairly direct election of the president with Congress deciding only as a last resort. I don’t see this changing anytime soon. True, the two party system is not specified in the Constitution–it developed, however, out of pragmatic experience as we lived with and obeyed the Constitution. We decided we did not like four-candidate elections decided in Congress–and for good reasons–separation of powers.
I’m no political scientist and if others can point out flaws in my analysis, I’m willing to be corrected, but this seems to me to be the way it came about.



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Kevin Cary

posted October 29, 2008 at 2:26 pm


I have yet to see someone articulate why the Democratic platform of today is, aside from abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage, more Catholic than the Republican platform. It seems that there is a great deal of inertia behind the thought that the Democratic party is the party of Catholics (minus the big three above). However, both parties have evolved significantly, as has the country, since the early 20th century, and so I think that it is time for someone to take the actual party platforms, as well as the current social programs in place in our country, and re-make the argument that the Democratic party is still the Catholic-friendly party, if in fact it is. The fact that people seem to accept this, without questioning it, is troubling to say the least. It has simply been stated and re-stated so many times that everyone seems to buy into it.



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Kevin Cary

posted October 29, 2008 at 2:29 pm


JohnE – your analogy assumes that if you pick surgeon #2 then he will, in fact, be your surgeon.



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Rick S.

posted October 29, 2008 at 2:46 pm


Very interesting post and very interesting comments especially those by Dennis Martin. I feel they contain alot of wisdom from people who have lived through or read alot about the early days of Roe. I was born post-Roe so I never knew the in depth history behind the abortion issue until I read this post. Thanks.



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Bill Kurtz

posted October 29, 2008 at 4:29 pm


I would only add one thing to Dennis Martin’s largely accurate posts. Dick Cheney himself summed up where even some conservative Republicans (he’s hardly a country club moderate) put pro-lifers and other social conservatives.
When Paul O’Neil, Bush’s first treasury secretary, voiced concern about a second tax cut, in view of deficits and the impending Iraq War, Cheney waved him off.
“Deficits don’t matter,” he said. “Reagan proved that.” Besides, Cheney added, the Republicans had just won the 2002 off-year elections, and “this is a reward for our base.”
As Martin said, social conservatives are Republicans’ “boots on the ground.” I doubt they were pounding the pavements for another tax cut for rich people.



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Dennis Martin

posted October 29, 2008 at 5:03 pm


For Kevin Cary,
The common claim that the Democrat platform is, “apart from abortion” “more Catholic” than the Republican platform depends on some unexamined assumptions, namely, that concern for the poor and weak among us is most effectively expressed via “social programs” of the Great Society type.
This of course, is a Democrat talking point. It might be true, but just because Democrats say it is doesn’t make it true. That so many Catholics believe it is true reflects the decades-long association of Catholic with Democrat that Stricherz’s book shows unraveling.
I get just a tad tired of the assumption that Repblicans are the party of the rich and Democrats the party of the poor and little guy, which Bill Kurtz repeats. (Notice that the Cheny quote says “reward for our base” but Kurtz ends his comment with “tax cuts for the rich.” The latter is simply Democrat talking point.) Countless studies show that the mega-rich have become overwhelmingly Democrat over the past several decades, in part ecause they tend to be pro-contraception, pro-abortion, sexually libertine, but also because the mega-rich can gladly hand over 50 or 70 percent of their wealth to the government so that the government can do their charity for them.
The backbone of the Republican party is the middle, including small business. That’s the base Cheny was talking about. For them tax cuts matter as an engine of business and job creation.
Now, perhaps the Republicans are wrong in the ways they believe that those in need are best taken care of. Fine. Argue the merits of the two parties’ differing philosophies about social programs (school vouchers, job-creation, welfare systems, health-care etc.). But I do wish that the unexamined assumption that only one party’s “social programs” accord with Catholic teaching. If it is indeed true that the Great Society programs undermined the black family and created a government-dependent class, then those programs are anti-Catholic. The issue is whether and to what degree that did or did not happen. Honest Catholics can even disagree about that, but they must argue the merits, not mouth liberal talking points.
But the knee-jerk assumption that conservative social and economic approaches are based on greedy rich folks’ desire to stiffarm the poor is an ad hominem that seeks to win an argument by declaring one’s opponent to be misanthropic, of bad character, greedy, uncaring, instead of asking which policies, advocated by honest people on both sides in good faith, will produce the best Catholic-social-teaching results.



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JohnE

posted October 29, 2008 at 6:23 pm


“JohnE – your analogy assumes that if you pick surgeon #2 then he will, in fact, be your surgeon.”
So pick him anyway and hope he doesn’t accept, or that he changes his mind as you’re being rolled into the surgery room?
I think I’m just going to rest my case.



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Jess G.

posted October 29, 2008 at 10:14 pm


Since no one has mentioned them yet:
http://www.democratsforlife.org/



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Anne

posted October 29, 2008 at 11:33 pm


Like TSO upthread, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the success of the NRA. I haven’t followed the issue closely, but from my casual vantage point it seems that in the 90′s Democrats were falling all over themselves to see who could be the most anti-gun and Republicans were trying to triangulate and avoid being seen with the movement in public (sound familiar?). And then Al Gore lost Tennessee, and BAM, suddenly all presidential aspirants of all parties must be photographed hunting.
I suppose part of the change is the fall in crime through the 90′s. And the Charlton Heston PR makeover surely helped, too. But there’s got to be something generalizable there for pro-lifers to learn.
For starters, AFAIK, third parties were not part of their solution.



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Thomas

posted October 30, 2008 at 8:43 am


In the WSJ, Daniel Henninger writes on the historic nature of this election’s choice:

Push past the historic candidacy, however, and one sees something even larger at stake in this vote. One sees what Joe (The Plumber) Wurzelbacher saw. The real “change” being put to a vote for the American people in 2008 is not simply a break from the economic policies of “the past eight years” but with the American economic philosophy of the past 200 years. This election is about a long-term change in America’s idea of itself.

The goal of Sen. Obama and the modern, “progressive” Democratic Party is to move the U.S. in the direction of Western Europe, the so-called German model and its “social market economy.” Under this notion, business is highly regulated, as it would be in the next Congress under Democratic House committee chairmen Markey, Frank and Waxman. Business is allowed to create “wealth” so long as its utility is not primarily to create new jobs or economic growth but to support a deep welfare system.

Many voters — progressive Democrats, the asset-safe rich, academics and college students — regard this as where America should go. They explicitly want America’s great natural energies transferred away from unwieldy economic competition and toward social construction. They want the U.S. to reduce its “footprint” in the world. Monies saved by stepping down from superpower status can be reprogrammed into “investments” (a favorite Obama word) in a vast Euro-style hammock of social protection programs



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Bill Kurtz

posted October 30, 2008 at 9:35 am


I wasn’t looking to argue the political views of the ultra-rich, or the comparative merits of Democratic and Republican approaches toward poverty-related issues. I merely wanted to show a concrete example of how social issues are used by Republicans to motivate social conservatives before elections, but get shuffled to the bottom of the GOP priority list afterwards, behind tax cuts, foreign policy, etc.



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Augustine

posted October 30, 2008 at 10:18 am


As I am a conservative, not a Republican, it’s I who am using the GOP for the pro-life cause.
But, yes, once abortion is banned from this land, we’ll have more political choices. So, there, I’m pro-choice. :-)
May Our lady of Victory pray for us.



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Terri

posted October 30, 2008 at 12:57 pm


Fr. John Corapi has released this 30 min web-video:
http://www.fathercorapi.com/election.aspx



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marie

posted October 30, 2008 at 1:56 pm


Richard Stith over at the Mirror of Justice Blog reminds us again why this election matters:
Elections and the shocking objective truth
Those who ask whether a Republican administration makes a difference for life or reason should read the left-hand front-page column in today’s (Oct. 29) NY Times, expressing deep concern that Bush’s judges have moved the federal appeals courts to the right. The lead evidence offered by the Times is this: “This past June, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit voted 7 to 4 … that it is objectively true that human life begins at conception, and that the state can force doctors to say so. Mr. Bush had appointed six of the seven judges in the conservative majority.”
To recognize this objective truth regarding the nature of abortion is highly important — not only for the future protection of human equality and dignity, but for public reason itself.
If the most fundamental of all issues—who belongs to the human community—is to be settled by Roe’s unreasoned doubt that actual human life exists before birth, it’s no wonder people stop talking to each other about lesser matters. If we can’t agree that a child of human parents who is active in the womb is human and alive and a member of our community, how can we trust each other’s good faith concerning less obvious and important truths?
In line with Roe v. Wade, many today aver that factual as well as value judgments are just stipulations and so need not be checked against reality. This is an excuse for indifference to others’ views. As a result, conversation comes to seem hopeless. Many become discouraged with logical, clarifying discourse and lapse into apathy. If Roe has not by itself caused this breakdown of public reason, it certainly has contributed mightily to the decline of civil debate in our nation—and not just on abortion. Our Catholic tradition, to the contrary, insists upon reason as an essential foundation for the rule of law.



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Randy

posted October 30, 2008 at 3:40 pm


The goal of Sen. Obama and the modern, “progressive” Democratic Party is to move the U.S. in the direction of Western Europe, the so-called German model and its “social market economy.”
I don’t think this is true. I think Obama’s goals are much more modest than that. Still, if they were true I think it would not only be a very good thing but a very Catholic thing. I don’t see the Wall Street Journal philosophy as being very Catholic at all.



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Vox Climantis

posted October 30, 2008 at 5:02 pm


Randy, you say:
“Still, if they were true I think it would not only be a very good thing but a very Catholic thing. I don’t see the Wall Street Journal philosophy as being very Catholic at all.”
I hear this assertion but it’s rarely defended. Why do you believe a Euro system of central planning by bureaucrats with far more stringent controls on free enterprise is preferable to our own from a Catholic perspective? Have you considered the downside–sustained economic stagnation and all that goes with it? What do you think the “Wall Street Journal” philosophy is for that matter?



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aylok

posted October 30, 2008 at 9:33 pm


Nothing about either the Republicans or the Democrats, but a few quick words about Western Europe. From a few remarks it seems that people here think that Western Europe although more egalitarian is considerably less free than the US. Not so. Western European countries are very free. In some respects freer than the US, in other respects less free. All in all, though, they are very free countries: vigorous democracies with a free press. Many of Western Europe’s freedoms were inspired (and influenced) by the US, and in some respects (but not others) even surpassed the US. Moreover, as recent studies have shown, some Western Europeans countries have MORE upward mobility than the US. It was not always so, but that’s how things are now. It may change again in the future. History, although seemingly slow, is quite dynamic.



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Rick S.

posted October 31, 2008 at 8:54 am


Just a question: If Western Europe is so “catholic” in its economic philosophy then why is the faith almost dead there? I guess I wonder how economics influences faith and vice versa.
I’ve always thought that having the government bail you out of any problems in your life takes your faith away from God and onto the government as the source and summit. In my somewhat limited personal experience, I’ve always come to rely more on God when I am flat broke.



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Jordanes

posted November 1, 2008 at 12:55 am


“Still, if they were true I think it would not only be a very good thing but a very Catholic thing.”
Well, I suppose . . . except for the principle of Catholic social doctrine known as subsidiarity, and the fact that the Church categorically rejects socialism as erroneous.



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Karen LH

posted November 1, 2008 at 7:31 am


Amy, thanks for raising these issues.
I would really love to see more of a discussion of economic matters from a Catholic point of view.
Personally, I have decided to switch my registration from independent to Republican, and I have been reading the Wall Street Journal and finding that it seems to make good sense. And I think that Obama’s economic approach might very well have the effect of prolonging the current downturn.
However, I’m not completely sure how to integrate this turning in myself towards Republican economic thinking with Catholic social teaching. Solidarity and subsidiarity fit well, yes … but what about the idea that work is about the worker, not the consumer (I think I’ve got that right)? Or that property is a contingent, not an absolute, right?
How does the obligation to care for the poor fit in? While I think that private (especially faith-based) charities are more effective than government programs, is it really the case historically that the poor have been better off when charity has been left entirely to the discretion of the private sector?
Also, I find myself attracted to the distributist, “small is beautiful” ideas of Chesterton et al. I think that having many small businesses is better than having a few huge corporations. But the free market seems to favor the latter, because of economy of scale. There also seems to be a tendency in large companies to treat employees like interchangeable parts, to focus on measurable efficiencies at the expense of intangibles.
And, while the stock market seems to be an effective way to raise revenues for businesses and feed economic growth (periodic “corrections” notwithstanding), does it also encourage short-term thinking? It seems like many business decisions are made with the next quarter’s profits in mind, rather than the long-term health of the company.
Anyway, while I don’t know how many others would be interested, I would really find it helpful to see more discussion of these sorts of topics within a Catholic context.



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Richard

posted November 1, 2008 at 11:19 am


Why must we have a two party system?
Some have asked…
It’s not because the United States does not have a parliamentary system – although that is more conducive to multiple parties than our Madisonian presidential system.
More directly helpful, however, is the kind of electoral system you have. And ours is what is termed a single member plurality system (SMP) – that is, voters are divided up into discrete constituencies (districts, states) and whoever gets the most votes wins, period. And that kind of system relentlessly disincentivizes more parties – the incentive is to build as big a coalition as you can manage to get the most votes.
The alternative is a proportional representation system, which assigns seats by the percentage of votes won in aggregate across the entire system. Obviously, coupled with a parliamentary system, that permits a greater number of parties, since you don’t need the most votes to get a seat, just some minimum percentage, say 5%. And then the coalition buildinghappens once the representatives are elected, rather than before, as parties try to come together to build a governing coalition.
To change any of that, we would need to amend the Constitution, which means it’s very unlikely to happen. I am afraid we are stuck with working in a two party matrix, with a center left and a center right party. Although that can continue to evolve in many ways and even along different axes.
But the thing is: A great deal of the population is personally vested in the sexual liberties won in the sexual revolution, and the repository and defender of those freedoms now is the Democratic Party, like it or not. And abortion is a necessary final guarantor of those liberties. And I’m afraid that’s the enormous hurdle we must surmount to win the war against the culture of death.
The best we may be able to hope for is – assuming that the federal courts continue to move in a direction of greater federalism and localism – is to work in areas where the greatest hope for culture of life is possible, and hope that these areas thrive and grow. Those who don’t like it end up moving to “blue” cities,which adopt much more laissez faire rules about such behaviors. Maybe that’s a kind of large scale modification of Rod Dreher’s “Benedct Option,” where we vote with our feet. But if the country is really lurching left, even that may be difficult to achieve.
I do think Stricherz is right that the identification of religious conservatives with the GOP was a reaction to what happened in the Democratic party in the ate 60′s and 70′s, rather than something which happened on its own initiative.



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Allison

posted November 2, 2008 at 2:37 pm


The big picture is that the Culture War is being lost here by the Judeo-Christians. It didn’t look that way 8 years ago, but I think the truth of our losing has become clear in the last few weeks.
Al Qaeda attacked us, and the Judeo Christian ideology and philosophy started tofight That war, the war against militant Islam. but it was hamstrung in a lot of ways. Politically, the GOP backed that war without naming it such, and tried to put the rest of the culture war on teh back burner, and didn’t really even admit to the culture war with militant Islam. And somehow, becuause they were busy fighting that war, they, the GOP folks, and the most of the rest of those espousing the Judeo Christian worldview failed to notice that the Secular Left was still at war, and that they were under attack on two fronts, not one.
They were too busy with the war on militant Islam to fight another, or too shocked that the political Left was really on the other side, beign their enemy, or they were just not all that interested in admitting there was a war wit hthe Secular Left in the first place. But the Secular left saw its opportunity, and attacked. They took over the Democratic Party lock stock and barrel, and then they attacked on the second front, while the GOP, and their supporters, and the Americans who supported the war on mlitant islam were distracted by Iraq–which, the Secular Left made sure became a problem by undermining our fight of it, and then telling us repeatedly what a problem it was, etc.
So where is the future? The Dems are on the other side of our culture divide. It’s not just abortion, it’s the cuolture of death in all its forms, and the death of the fmaily, too. They will stay there. The GOP will sooner or later realize that the core of its support has come from people who like Sarah Palin’s pro life, pro family message. But it will not matter, because they will be out of the power structure for a long while.
What should we do? Learn how not to be blindsided by the Secular Left ever again, and organize to protect the family from things like Proposition 8 in CA becoming the way forward in the rest of our states.
Now, re: the GOP shuffling the social conservatives to the bottom: like all politicans, they wanted to stay in power, and they dont’ want to be DISLIKED. They didnt’ want to be called bigots they didn’t want to stand up for truth–that abortion is murder, that marriage is between a man and a woman, that children should have exactly one father and one mother–because they wanted everyone to get along. And too many MEMBERS and VOTERS of the GOIP felt the same way, or prop 8 wouldn’t be in the position it’s in anyway.



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Headless Unicorn Guy

posted November 3, 2008 at 1:54 pm


I keep remembering US military map symbology:
Blue is the color code for US and friendly forces.
Red is the color code for The Enemy.
P.S. By “Europe”, do you mean the future Islamic Republic of Eurabia?



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