There are other problems with Jeffrey Hart’s latest. He observes that a majority opposes repealing Roe, but then most of these people do not know what Roe required and what it allows. Ross is correct that so long as Roe is the law, compromise is out of the question simply as a practical matter, because the ruling does not permit any meaningful compromise. Indeed, to speak of compromise under the current regime leads pro-lifers to assume that any and all calls for compromise are nothing more than demands for capitulation. One can almost understand why pro-choice people would make these demands–they have the high ground, so to speak, and they believe they have pro-lifers outnumbered, so you can see their point in a Borg-declaring-”resistance is futile” way. Part of it is also the self-understanding that pro-choicers have that they are actually very reasonable, thoughtful people, unlike the theocrats and “fanatics” (Hart’s term) on the other side. “Look at all these compromise deals we keep offering you people–why can’t you be reasonable?” they say, comfortably situated behind the walls of full government support. Of course, defenders of Roe are no less universalist than their opponents, and perhaps may be even more so, as they take it as a given that they are defending a constitutional right that cannot be treated differently in different states. Even though a federalist and democratic compromise, which would entail the repeal of Roe, commands much broader support, and a narrow majority favors some or many restrictions on the availability of abortion, we are supposed to take the uninformed majority support for Roe to be decisive. Frankly, that doesn’t make any sense.
The argument that opposition to abortion in particular is somehow a drag on the GOP is one that doesn’t seem persuasive even at first glance, and it becomes less so the more one engages it. In state after state, somewhere between a quarter and a third of Democrats right now say that they are pro-life, but for a variety of reasons they remain in the Democratic Party because they find its positions on economic policy, social services and the like to be preferable. The ever-elusive 60-70% of the Hispanic vote that keeps going to Democrats, despite the alleged “natural” Republicanism of this community (a “natural” Republicanism defined by claims of socially conservative attitudes), remains elusive because of other policies endorsed by the GOP. That doesn’t mean that these voters would move into the GOP column even if Republicans altered their views (i.e., moved to the left) on a number of other issues, but it almost certainly does mean that it is not pro-life planks in the party platform that are driving them away. As I mentioned earlier this month, the rising generation is neither more nor less pro-life than its elders, so you cannot blame the loss of young voters on this, either.
The GOP is losing younger voters, but it is not particularly because of its abortion stance. Part of the shift is structural: non-Christians, non-whites and singles are much less likely to be Republican voters, and there are a lot more non-Christians, non-whites and singles among Millennials than in the past. What is notable about this for our purposes here is that despite significant demographic and cultural changes–Millennials are less religious and more ethnically diverse–young voters’ attitudes on abortion are essentially no different from older generations that tend to be more religious and more white. Another is simply backlash against the Bush administration–most Millennials became politically conscious at the beginning of or during the Bush Era, and like all other groups in the country they have soured on the GOP as a result. An important part of this is what happened in Iraq between 2004 and today. Kerry still won 18-29 year olds in 2004, but not by the large margins that Obama did this year. It is partly the case that Bush made most of the 9/11 generation into Democratic voters primarily through his national security and foreign policy decisions, which his other prominent policies did little or nothing to counteract, but these just exacerbated the party’s problem with younger voters that has its roots in demographic and cultural changes.
Now Mr. Hart opposes the war in Iraq, and this is very good, and I think he also understands the damage this has done to the party’s credibility on national security. Why then does he seem to make a habit of treating the GOP’s pro-life position into the main albatross around its neck? Doesn’t it seem obvious that foreign and economic policies, in which the GOP is widely viewed as having failed, have much more to do with the woes of the party than pro-life views? These would be the policies that the administration put into action, as opposed to its pro-life rhetoric, which has more or less changed nothing. Changing those foreign and economic policies would also alienate some voters, but it would alienate far fewer and probably gain many more than junking pro-life positions would. Of course, we all know that there is a far better chance that the GOP establishment would weaken the party’s pro-life stance before it would ever consider altering its foreign and economic policy views, which should tell us something about who is really in charge of the party and why all of these exercises in lamenting the power of religious conservatives are pointless.