The Democrats, apres le deluge de 2004, are tinkering with a new approach to abortion rhetoric. This is to be distinguished, of course, from a new approach to abortion.
Is it repentance or repackaging when Howard Dean (the Party's new chairman) starts saying things like "I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats"? Is it substance or semantics when Sen. Hillary Clinton says abortions should occur "only in rare circumstances"? Is it from the heart or pandering to the heartland when a defeated John Kerry tells a pro-choice gathering in D.C. after Thanksgiving that they'd better let Americans know they don't like abortion? Is it love-or loss of 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in the country-that moves them? Is this all a new wrinkle on the Psalmist's age-old dictum, "With our tongue we will prevail" (Psalm 12:4)?
It isn't funny, but all I could think of were jokes when I first got wind of the development: "What the world wants today is sincerity-if you can fake that, you've got it made." Or this one: (Cruella DeVille to her lackey in 101 Dalmations): "What kind of sycophant are you?" (Lacky to Ms. DeVille): "What kind of sycophant would you like me to be?"
But Susan Blustain, a pro-choice Democrat writing for The American Prospect, seems to wince genuinely at the "defiant" and "sometimes even celebratory" tone that turned off the red states. (These are the voters pro-choicers overlooked in the presidential election when minting such endearing slogans as "Against Abortion? Then Don't Have One" and "Just Say No to Sex with Pro-Lifers.")
I'm puzzled. At one moment Ms. Blustain sounds like the two jokes in paragraph three: "So the question is, how can Democrats soften their rhetoric while maintaining their support for safe, accessible abortion?" (Huh?) At other moments, she sounds like a spokesman for the National Pro-Life Federation: "Have you ever talked to a woman who has had an abortion? Even a married, intentionally pregnant woman who has had a 'D & C' for a dying or dead embryo? . . . I promise you, such a woman does not talk about exercising the 'right to choose'. . . she will tell you how sad she is. . . . She is more likely depressed than defiant."
The cause for this double-mindedness is not difficult to discern. The Dems are stuck between a rock and a hard place: The "rock" is that if they keep their Caligula image, they forfeit the real estate between the two seaboards. The "hard place" is that if they cop the Clintonian phrase that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare," they risk raising an obvious question of conscience: Why should abortion be "rare"? "Rare" suggests something unseemly. No one proclaims that good things be made "rare." Who says traveling should be "safe, legal, and rare"? Or voting privileges? Or college education? Or strawberries?
The Democratic Party as a whole, no less bi-polar, talks inclusion but picks Howard Dean to chair the Democratic National Committee over the pro-life aspirant, Tim Roemer, a former Indiana Congressman-and this despite Mr. Roemer's support by his (pro-choice) colleagues Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
But Republicans, be not proud! The 165-member Republican National Committee has elected Ken Mehlmen as its counterpart to the DNC's Dean-and this despite his selection of pro-choice JoAnn Davidson as co-chair. (She had helped Bush win Ohio. This pay-back time is reminiscent of the 2002 RNC election of a pro-choice New Jersey fundraiser to appease the Party's wealthy donors. Both occurred over vocal pro-life protest.)
The best-kept little secret in the country is that there are high-placed pro-life Democrats (Phil Puckett of Virginia, campaigning for lieutenant governor; Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska; Tony Hall, former Ohio representative). And these, it seems to me, must be lonely and courageous creatures.
And likewise there are Republicans who take strong rhetorical stands on "life" but wink at orthodoxy when push comes to shove. (Remember Pennsylvania's pro-life Toomey twisting in the wind as President Bush held victory hands with pro-choice Arlen Specter? Toomey who, right?)
What shall we say then? Who loves you, pro-lifer? Be wise as a serpent, for the times they are confusing. And you, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place.