I’ve got a strong pulse for somebody who’s supposed to be extinct.
I am battered, chipped, stained and cracked in a few places. But extinct? Nope. I am a pro-life Democrat, and according to a recent Weekly Standard article, I am a living ghost of times past.
Is that true? Am I one of the last of my kind, the final dinosaur stumbling to the end of its species? Well … maybe. Maybe I am.
The Standard article makes a good case for the notion that even if there are a few pro-life Democrats rattling around, they are so compromised that they have no significance. Democrats for Life of America is a case in point. This gutsy little band of warriors keeps hanging on in the despised fringes of the larger Democratic party, doing their best to be the voice of life in the party of abortion.
I had great hopes for Democrats for Life of America. I still hope for them. I have spoken at their national convention, and was for a while one of their two state directors in Oklahoma. But as the Standard article makes clear, their presence at the Democratic National Convention this week was a sad affair marked primarily by the absence of anyone paying them the least little bit of attention. Not a single current Democratic office holder bothered to show up at their event.
They did have a smattering of former Democratic office holders. They were mostly people who either gave up or lost their office as a result of the fight to put pro life language into the Affordable Health Care Act. Pro-life Democrats took a beating in the last election, which explains the total lack of interest from those currently in power.
In my opinion the reason why pro life Democrats took such a drubbing at the polls in 2010 is simple. They compromised on the Affordable Health Care Act. There was a moment in time when pro-life Democrats held the aspirations of pro life people in their hands. They were the ones who had the power to force the President to accept language that would have blocked using federal money to pay for abortions. This language could have staved off attacks on religious liberty such as the HHS Mandate.
For a while they held tough. I remember how proud I was of them. Then, they blinked. I understand the enormity of the pressures they were under. I’ve read that at least one of them was threatened with the closure of military bases in his district. This would have cost thousands of his constituents their jobs. That’s not a small thing to an elected official. Your constituents trust you and rely on you to take care of them. When these power throw-downs come along, you are often all they’ve got. Protecting them becomes a reflex, similar to the reflexive way we jump to protect our children.
President Obama placed these Democratic office holders in the terrible position of either endangering the livelihoods of thousands of the people they were supposed to protect, or caving on the pro life amendments to the Affordable Health Care Act. That is the sort of threat that would make any decent office holder quake.
When he offered them empty promises as a sop, a way out, they jumped on those promises. The rest is history. The ink was barely dry on the Affordable Health Care Act when the President began to renege on the promises he made to pass it. We have now reached the point that he has turned it into a direct attack on religious freedom with the HHS Mandate.
But even before the HHS Mandate, the whole pro-life Democrat house of cards had come tumbling down.
Pro life people, rightly outraged, vowed to never support another Democrat. Those pro-life Democrats who had failed to fight to the death over the Affordable Health Care Act were mostly either defeated at the polls or simply decided not to run for re-election. What we got as a result was a Democratic Party that was even more fixedly pro abortion (as opposed to pro choice) and nihilistic than ever before. This distillation of the party also resulted in the loss of the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. The party that was left was leaner, meaner and narrower in focus than ever before.
All this raises two questions, both of them very serious to the pro life cause and the future of our nation. The first question is simple and straightforward: Is it possible for anyone except an exception to be a pro life Democrat?
Odd as this may sound, I say yes, it is possible. But the person who undertakes this has to be tougher than the pro-life Democrats we’ve had before. It is not possible to be a pro-life Democrat and be well-liked or supported by your party. The pressures other Democrats put on pro life Democrats to compromise their beliefs are enough to squeeze a lump of coal into a diamond. Unfortunately what happens in practice is that they far too often manage to squeeze the diamond of a pro life Democrat into a lump of compromising coal.
I know something of these pressures. I’ve been attacked by my party for so long, in so many ways because I am pro life that I honestly have lost count and memory of a lot of it. After all, who wants to reminisce about the bad times? I’ve had other Democratic House members yell at me and tell me to get out of the party, not just once in a while, but almost every working day. I’ve been through the threats, slanders, pickets, censure votes and shunning. I’ve eaten lunch alone and sat by myself in meetings time after time and day after day. All because I am pro life.
I’m not going to go into the details, because the details don’t matter. What matters is that these pressures were always an attempt to get me to compromise. Not, mind you, to switch to pro choice, but to compromise. A lot of times what they wanted me to do was far more politically savvy than what I actually did do. They were willing to let me hide in plain sight and say I was pro life, just so long as I would compromise.
But I can’t reason my way past the tripping-up truths of the pro life cause to find a compromise that doesn’t involve either killing people or helping someone else kill people. I’m too unsophisticated and basic in the way I look at things to be confused by the obfuscations and serpentine reasoning that most people fall for.
I look past all that with my simple little Okie brain and think, I’m not gonna kill anybody. And I won’t help anyone else do it, either.
So, the answer is yes, you can be a pro life Democrat and do it right. But you’ve got to be willing to be a little bit politically stupid in the clinches. You can’t let yourself be fooled by the tomfoolery that will come at you. And you have to look ’em in the eye when they threaten you and not blink.
How do you do this? You pray the Rosary every day. Go to daily mass. Go to confession frequently. Read the Bible. And spend lots of time with your family and real friends — you know, the people who aren’t impressed with you but who love you even when you’re in disgrace.
The answer, in short, is that you’ve got to stay grounded; grounded in Christ, grounded in the real relationships of your life
The second question is a little bit more complex. Does it matter if there are pro life Democrats?
After all, the pro life movement runs strong on the Republican side of the fence. Why not just keep investing where you get the best returns?
I won’t go into this too deeply since I’m going to talk about it a lot on this blog. But I will say that yes, it does matter. It matters because we can not ever build a culture of life with half the people. It matters because to a large extent the official Republican Party (as opposed to the rank and file) is flimflamming us with their vows of pro life fealty. It matters because our country cannot survive if it continues with this polarized win-at-all-costs-even-if-it-harms-the-country hyper partisan governance.
Are pro-life Democrats being hunted to extinction by their own party? Yes. We are.
Does it matter to this country and to the pro life movement if they are? Yes. It does.
If pro-life Democrats want to have a voice in the party, they’ve got to stop compromising their pro-life principles for the party. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but I believe it’s a fact. However the real reason for not compromising is not to affect the party. It’s that you don’t and shouldn’t compromise about core values. Not killing people (to put it in my simplistic terms) is the core value. If human beings don’t respect human life, we descend rather quickly to a world where the biggest and meanest get to make all the rules.
The right to life is the basic human right. Nothing anyone can say has the power to change that. If we compromise there, then we’re not on a slippery slope, we’re in a chute, going straight down.