The earsplitting 2016 GOP presidential calamity is veiling another, slower-moving political meltdown that’s only made the back pages of a few news outlets. It seems the Democratic Party is shriveling. A few voices point out that the emperor has no clothes and call the party to shake hands with former constituencies – liberal pro-life voters and roll-up-their-sleeves workers. They have yet to be heard.
The facts are somber: While there are still more registered Democrats than Republicans, three quarters of state legislatures and two thirds of all governorships are in GOP hands. Those are the lowest figures since the Hoover Administration.
Democratic leaders like to think demographics are on their side. They’ll just bide their time and watch the swelling ranks of Latinos and African Americans and Asians grab the electoral helm and bring back the happy days of House and Senate dominance. Their confidence is misplaced. First, minorities often hold more conservative views on marriage and other so-called “family values;” second, they’re often more religious; and, third, they’re often pro-life. And they couldn’t care less about vegan recipes and other trendy items on the white progressive agenda. Who’s to say they’ll stay in the fold – especially if the Republicans recover their moderate-to-liberal wing?
Surely it is time for the Democratic National Committee to take off its blinders and see how it is alienating huge swaths of its former constituency and key parts of the Roosevelt coalition. Kristen Day, executive director for Democrats For Life of America, cited Hillary Clinton’s recent motif and posed a question: “Her theme for the last few days has been to make sure everyone is treated with respect, and no one is dismissed.” For starters, she could hold out an olive branch to one stream in that coalition: “How about the preborn and those in the Democratic Party who support life from womb to tomb?” She tossed in even more sobering statistics to enforce her point: “As the Democratic Party has calcified its position in support of abortion, the party continues to lose races. Democrats have lost 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers, and 11 governorships.”
Stephen Schneck points out that the former Roosevelt coalition has dissolved:
The biggest problem for the future of the party is the current issue profile. That profile has shifted in our time from one about the working class and the economically disadvantaged to one that emphasizes the professional classes and the special interests of identity politics. Over the last decade, that shift has proven to be a devastating liability for the party everywhere except in the bluest of blue Democratic districts. As a result, increasingly the party’s electoral prospects are relegated to the Northeast and the West Coast.
Schneck asks: “So what should be done?” He answers: “The way forward lies partly in the party’s past and partly in America’s looming future. The way forward also depends in becoming the party of pragmatic governance.”
Dusting off the welcome mat for liberal prolife voters – Catholics embracing their church’s social teaching, for example – could be the entry onto the path toward the coalition’s renewal. Daniel K. Williams wrote about the prolife movement’s forgotten roots inDefenders of the Unborn: The Prolife Movement Before Roe v. Wade. Liberal Democrats often vigorously opposed abortion because they, after all, defended the defenseless (and who can be more defenseless than the unborn child?).
Organizations such as Democrats For Life of America are not so naïve as to think their party will suddenly leap out of the pro-choice camp; they have, however, repeatedly offered platform language that reaches out to the American majority who are queasy about both abortion and criminalizing it. They’re proposing the same language again. Here it is:
We respect the conscience of each American and recognize that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing positions on issues of personal conscience, such as abortion and the death penalty. We recognize the diversity of views as a source of strength, and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who may hold differing positions on these and other issues.
However, we can find common ground. We believe that we can reduce the number of abortions because we are united in our support for policies that assist families who find themselves in crisis or unplanned pregnancies. We believe that women deserve to have a breadth of options available during pregnancy, including the support and resources needed for a successful pregnancy and subsequent adoption or parenthood; access to education, healthcare, and childcare; and appropriate child support. We envision a new day without financial or societal barriers to bringing a planned or unplanned pregnancy to term.
Such language does not call for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which would be a Pyrrhic victory anyway because such a decision would not end legal abortions (abortion was a state issue before the ruling). Rather, it seeks to assist pregnant mothers so they can bring their pregnancies to term. That’s perfectly in line with Democratic thinking – or, at least, it once was.
Adopting such language would show the world the Democrats take their billing seriously: They’re the “Big Tent” party, the litmus-test free party, the party not just of NARAL and Planned Parenthood but of Robert Kennedy, Eunice Shriver, Thomas Eagleton, and Hubert Humphrey – all Democratic icons who were pro-life.
Such a move could be the first step is retrieving the party from single interests and placing it back in the hands of the “forgotten person,” which is what the Roosevelt coalition was all about.