The Case for a Big Tent Democratic Party

Democrats for Life of America recently hosted a conference on the need for a bigger, more inclusive Democratic Party. Millennial editor Robert Christian, our 2017 Millennial of the Year Michael Wear, and millennial Catholic Anna Keating spoke at the conference. Here are some highlights of the conference:

Pro-life Democrats Deliver Whole Life Message in Philadelphia

Via CNS:

At a time when the official party platform advocates for removing current legislative restrictions on obtaining abortions, pro-life Democrats came to Philadelphia with a counter message: You can’t win big without us.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has called for repealing the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funding for most abortions and continues to be included in many federal appropriations bills for abortions. Her stance has been endorsed in the party platform, which also calls for eliminating the Helms Amendment, which prohibits U.S. foreign aid from being used to fund abortion-related activities.

But Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, notes that since 2008, when President Barack Obama launched his first term, the party has lost 11 governorships, 30 state chambers, 69 house seats, 13 seats in the U.S. Senate and 912 seats in state legislatures….

At a reception honoring Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Catholic, who is the only Democratic governor in the South, for his support of the pro-life cause, Day underlined that idea from the podium: “We choose the mother. We choose the child. We choose both.”…

Day and honoree Edwards, who said that his Catholic Christian faith informs his views, both argued that pro-life beliefs aren’t limited to abortion.

“There is a difference between being anti-abortion and pro-life,” said Edwards in accepting the Governor Casey Whole Life Leadership Award.

via Kate Scanlon:

Edwards said pro-life Democrats must make their voices heard because “it’s hard to be a big tent party if you’ve got a very small platform.”

He argued that pro-life Democrats “can be successful” but “it’s going to be increasingly difficult to navigate these waters if the party doesn’t moderate on this issue.”

Edwards said he’s proud of the 100 percent pro-life voting record he earned as a legislator, but he added that he believes a truly pro-life position not only includes opposition to abortion but also fighting for access to health care, housing and nutrition.

“You can’t simply say you’re pro-life,” he said. “It’s got to be demonstrated.”

The Pro-life Movement’s Make-or-Break Moment

SCOTUSbuilding_1st_Street_SEA critical opening now exists on the Supreme Court. The typical formula in such scenarios would be for the Democratic president to nominate someone who is a moderate on economic issues and reliably pro-choice on abortion in order to garner enough support from both Democrats and Republicans, something that is likely to happen any day now. This, along with “a broad pro-business consensus within the upper ranks of the legal profession,” is why the Court is so strongly pro-business by historical standards.

But Republicans are threatening to block any nominee President Obama puts forward. Some may wish to continue this blockade if Hillary Clinton is elected president but Republicans retain the Senate. A vacancy of many years or multiple vacancies would raise questions about the durability of our constitutional system (and the norms that allow it to function) in an era of bitter partisanship, hyperpolarization, and political dysfunction, where divided government is not at all uncommon. The critical role of the Court as a countermajoritarian protector of minority rights, insulated to a certain degree from fleeting democratic passions and excesses, may be lost entirely—something we should perhaps be acutely inclined to preserve when a demagogue like Donald Trump keeps pilling up primary wins that seemed highly unlikely just a year ago.

If having another pro-choice justice on the Court and a radical change in the norms of American democracy are both seen as unacceptable, what can the pro-life movement do? Pledge to support President Obama if he agrees to nominate a pro-life progressive.

The pro-life movement can show that it is not a pawn used by the Republican Party to protect corporate interests. It can show that it truly values the lives of unborn children above all else. By pledging to unite behind a nominee who would allow for the advance of social and economic justice (while recognizing the legal rights of unborn children), the movement would give President Obama and Democratic elites a stark choice: put forward a nominee who would uphold action to defend the poor, weak, and vulnerable, while undermining plutocracy, or reveal that a commitment to abortion-on-demand is the preeminent value of Democratic elites—more important than universal healthcare, gun control, voting rights, campaign finance reform, union organizing, and every other issue.

If the pro-life movement puts their collective pressure to bear on Republicans and they refuse to support a pro-life nominee, the movement will realize that they are being used to serve other interests. If the GOP supports the pro-life movement’s plan, but President Obama refuses to nominate a pro-life progressive, the president would be the one responsible for the dangerous gridlock and complete politicization of the Court.

This is a make-or-break moment for the pro-life movement. It’s time for the movement to unite and deliver a truly pro-life justice.

Millennials, the Whole Life Approach, and the Democratic Party

On Monday, I spoke at the 2015 Democratic Revival at the National Press Club. Here are my prepared remarks:

My position on abortion is progressive not conservative. I believe in robust government action to protect the lives of unborn children, as I refuse to draw a distinction between humans and persons. All humans are persons. To depersonalize or dehumanize others is the first step to stripping them of their innate dignity and worth in order to take away their fundamental human rights. The gravest injustices of history follow this script, and social justice is achieved by resisting these efforts and defending the vulnerable—the poor, the disabled, the sick, the enslaved, the disenfranchised, the repressed, and those who have not yet been born.

The solution to abortion, as expressed in the #chooseboth campaign, is a comprehensive approach that secures legal protection for unborn life, while addressing the root causes of abortion, particularly the economic vulnerability faced by many pregnant women and families struggling to make ends meet who feel unable to choose life. Only a pro-woman, pro-child approach, which addresses crucial issues like healthcare, prenatal care, a living wage, childcare, and family leave can lead to the abolition of abortion. Restrictions on abortion are necessary and just, but they will never be enough. We need a communitarian approach that reflects a progressive commitment to government action and social justice if we want to build a successful culture of life. Read More

Jim Oberstar: A Congressman Who Fought For the Common Good

Former Congressman Jim Oberstar died on Saturday morning. In the days since, many who had the pleasure of knowing or working with him reflected on his personal character and commitment to the protection of human life and social justice.

Tom Berg, the James L. Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of St. Thomas, described the Congressman’s commitment to the common good:

Jim Oberstar believed in the capacity of government to increase people’s opportunities to realize their dreams. Raised on the Iron Range as a miner’s son, he knew the help that public works, labor unions, and other features of the New Deal had brought to average Americans. In strongly affirming government’s positive role, he strongly disagreed with many of his fellow legislators. But in these conflicts, he was one of those members, on both sides of the aisle, who viewed public policy as a serious matter—as a means to seek the common good, not simply partisan advantage.

In addition, Oberstar showed a strong commitment to authentic pro-life principles:

Last but certainly not least, Oberstar represented the pro-life position within the Democratic Party. He ran for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor nomination for Senate in 1984 and was defeated in part because he would not adopt the pro-choice position that was becoming increasingly dominant within the party. In a 2005 address at the St. Thomas law school (available here), he cited Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s metaphor of the “seamless garment of life” and stated that “it is not sufficient to be opposed to abortion: we must also support pre- and post-natal care of mother and child; we must advocate for education, health care, jobs with a livable wage, housing and food for the needy; oppose the death penalty; and resist unjust war.” For Jim Oberstar, protecting the unborn was of one piece with protecting the vulnerable in other aspects of life: an essential component of the common good. We desperately need to strengthen that voice today, calling Democrats back to apply to the unborn their concern for “the least of these,” and calling all of us to an ethic of care supporting all those in need and reducing the situations that drive women to feel they need abortions.

Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, sums up the type of man and public servant Congressman Oberstar was:

Jim Oberstar epitomized what a Catholic should be in public life – patriotic, caring, pro-union, champion of the poor, protector of the environment, brave warrior for social justice, and a passionate advocate for a “seamless garment” prolife ethic. Jim’s many years of public service amply testify to his conviction that politics and government must be ordained to the common good, and that the measure of that common good should be the life and dignity of our sisters and brothers most in need. I shall miss his conviction, his integrity, his humility, his compassion, and his wisdom. May angels welcome him into paradise.

Democrats for Life Make Pro-Life Case against the Shutdown—Will Others Join?

On Monday, I highlighted a statement that many prominent Christian leaders had released, calling for an end to the shutdown. Meghan and Nichole have highlighted the brutal costs the shutdown will have on poor women and children. Every Christian, everyone who is pro-life, and every person with even a partial commitment to the common good should be able to see how dangerous and foolish this attempted extortion by right-wing extremists is. America has called this group of House Republicans the “suicide caucus.”

This isn’t just some partisan issue. Well-respected political scientists like Thomas Mann, who has long been critical of both parties, have condemned the shutdown in the strongest possible terms, and numerous Republicans and conservatives have come out strongly against these tactics. They recognize the obvious—both sides are not equally responsible for the shutdown. This is a manufactured crisis created by those who claim to be pro-life, but whose actions are a grave threat to human life and dignity.

And where are pro-life groups in this fight? Are they willing to challenge anti-abortion Republicans who refuse to end the hostage-taking? Will they protect poor and vulnerable women and children from this pathological approach to politics? You simply cannot be pro-life if you ignore poor women and children.

Democrats for Life of America, a pro-life Democratic organization (where my husband Robert is a fellow), has taken a firm stand in calling for Congress to end to the shutdown. Here is their statement, “The Pro-Life Case for Ending the Shutdown”:

As individuals who support and endorse a whole life philosophy, we strongly urge the Republicans in the House – particularly those who share our commitment to the unborn – to end the budget showdown over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and work toward a budget that protects the sanctity of life at all levels.

Democrats for Life of America applauds the implementation of the (ACA).  Under the ACA, people with debilitating diseases-once considered uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions-can now receive life-saving health coverage.  Pregnant women are receiving essential care. And those who could not afford insurance are now eligible for preventive care that once was out of reach.

At the same time, we must point out that the ongoing shutdown of the federal government deprives many pregnant women of the WIC vouchers that ensure they get enough milk, protein, vegetables, and fruit to ensure the health of their unborn children.  And cancer patients-many of whom are children-have been blocked from receiving time-sensitive and potentially life-saving care at National Institutes of Health facilities.

We deplore the ongoing shutdown of the federal government, which is the result of one chamber’s unilateral attempt to accomplish through the budget process a feat for which the Constitution prescribes only legislation passed by both houses and approved by the President: the repeal of a duly passed law.

It is irresponsible for members of Congress to put the health of mothers and children at risk in this way. It is unconscionable for pro-life members of Congress to do so.

We can only hope that other pro-life leaders are paying attention and will join Democrats for Life in pressuring Congress before it is too late and irreplaceable lives are lost.


Pro-life Progressives: Still Not a Myth

In the New York Times, Ross Douthat has pointed out the need for pro-life liberalism, which he described as a “once-commonplace, now-mythical persuasion.”  While he is right about the need for non-conservative pro-lifers, he is mistaken that pro-life liberalism is mythical.

If we use liberalism broadly to encompass all those progressives left of center, there are millions of pro-life liberals in the United States.  Yes, they are grossly underrepresented in Congress (as are pro-choice libertarians, their ideological opposites). Yes, they are underrepresented among those in academia, the media, and other elite circles. And yes, they have become more dispersed as the Democratic Party increasingly embraced social libertarianism.

But around a third of the Democratic Party remains pro-life. That’s over 20 million registered voters alone.  Throw in the Independents and single-issue voting Republicans who are too repulsed by the Democratic Party’s recent commitment to abortion-on-demand to remain Democrats and the number of pro-life progressives grows larger.

To his credit, Douthat gets a lot right in his article.  In particular, he notes the need to do more than just prohibit or restrict access to abortion:

“Now it’s also true that Ireland, like most of Europe, is to the left of Texas on many economic issues. All the abortion restrictions described above coexist with universal health care, which Rick Perry’s state conspicuously lacks.

So perhaps, it might be argued, abortion can be safely limited only when the government does more to cover women’s costs in other ways — in which case Texas might still be flirting with disaster.

But note that this is a better argument for liberalism than for abortion.

It suggests, for instance, that liberal donors and activists should be spending more time rallying against Perry’s refusal to take federal Medicaid financing than around Wendy Davis’s famous filibuster.

It implies that the quest to ‘turn Texas blue’ should make economic policy rather than late-term abortion its defining issue.”

A critic of Douthat, Scott Lemieux, a professor at The College of Saint Rose goes further, arguing that pro-life liberalism is impossible:

It’s possible for someone to believe in gender and economic egalitarianism while also thinking abortion is immoral. It’s impossible to square gender and economic egalitarianism with policies that make safe abortions inaccessible for the women who are most burdened by carrying unwanted pregnancies to term. It’s not a coincidence that American opposition to legal abortion has lodged itself almost exclusively in the party of Paul Ryan.

If by “liberalism” he is referring to the bourgeois liberalism of the left, which is rooted in materialism and animated by the quest for economic egalitarianism and gender equality, defined by equal autonomy, wealth, power, and liberty (detached from duties), then he may be on to something.  I’ll leave it to pro-life liberals of that particular orientation to contest such claims if they are untrue.

Of course, if we use the broader definition of the term, as Douthat appears to do, it’s a different story.  For millions of progressives, particularly those of a communitarian and personalist bent, opposition to abortion is entirely compatible with their commitment to equality.

Pro-life progressivism that is rooted in a commitment to community and human dignity sees liberty detached from duties as license and rejects supposed “rights” to engage in activity that is entirely incompatible with human flourishing, particularly those that rely on the dehumanization of the vulnerable. There is no “right” to murder any innocent human beings.  Those denied this “right” are not unequal, even if others avert the law, since there is a duty to not kill one’s own innocent child. Their flourishing is in no way diminished, even if the killing of one’s children would bring economic benefits.

For progressives who embrace this approach, the goal of politics is not primarily about the safeguarding of enlightened self-interest but the promotion of human flourishing and creating conditions that allow each person to reach their full potential as a person.  There is an acute need to promote the development of the disadvantaged and vulnerable, as all people are of equal worth and dignity.  Government exists to ensure that these conditions exist for all.

This understanding of equality contrasts with a leftist bourgeois understanding of equality, which is rooted in materialism and individualism.  In this worldview, political morality is shaped by contractual agreements that exist for the enlightened self-interest of all individuals who are subject to these mutual agreements.  A commitment to a certain type of equality among those party to such implicit agreements then emerges as a goal.

Yet this conception of economic and gender egalitarianism can allow for terrible crimes when “the other” is excluded from the political community and seen as outside the mutual obligations that exist for the benefit of each member.  And bourgeois liberalism’s track record contains some ugly examples of this exclusion.

Economic liberalism has paired with racism and sexism in the past, deeming non-whites and women unfit for full inclusion in the political community.  Bourgeois liberals of the left would be quick to point out that these days are long gone, that they are now the leading proponents of justice for racial minorities and women.

But not for unborn children.  They might support universal healthcare because no one knows who will one day need coverage in the face of a catastrophic accident or illness.   They might support unemployment insurance because they could one day lose their job or because it helps the economy, which gives them increased job security. They might support anti-poverty programs because they want less crime and more social stability or because they feel an obligation to another member of the political community.  The unborn child, however, can be eliminated without any such considerations.

Another future poor kid? They can kill him or her now before they become members of the political community—before they have to worry about them possibly committing crimes, relying on food stamps, or struggling to get by because they lacked quality educational opportunities. They can kill the child now and avoid the sacrifices they imagine they would have to make for such a child to live in a civilized, liberal society where their interests are safeguarded.

It is obviously a bigoted view of unborn children.  But it also reeks with class prejudice.  Implicit in this materialism is the unspoken notion that it is better for some children to be killed than for them or their family members to fail to become members of the bourgeoisie. It is better for poor women to kill their children than to possibly sacrifice a move up into the middle-class.  In their eyes, killing a child who can’t live a bourgeois childhood may be the humanitarian thing to do.

It is not a coincidence that as more elite, upper-middle class (and rich) white voters have shifted from the GOP to the Democratic party that the Democratic party has increasingly embraced bourgeois liberalism and gone from being the more pro-life party to the more pro-choice party.  Many working-class white voters have left the party in this time, while Latino and black Democrats have often been stuck voting for candidates that do not share their values and who have failed to stop the growth of plutocracy in American politics.

And for Catholics, this attack on pro-life progressivism is particularly offensive.  It is a brazen, outrageous attack on the many Catholics who embrace the Church’s consistent life ethic.  It is an attack on the legitimacy of Catholic Social Teaching, the Catholic understanding of human dignity and equality, and the Church’s commitment to life and social justice.