Let’s say for the sake of argument Roe vs Wade never happened and abortion was still a state and local issue as it was before 1973. What would Bart Stupak’s vote on the healthcare bill be? The same or different? I would argue Mr. Stupak would have been an enthusiastic supporter of nationalized health care as would have all those pro-life Democrats who held back their votes and held up the bill for a year until they felt they got what they wanted from the White House.  In fact the whole health care debate shows how much abortion has skewered American politics into a bizarre Alice in Wonderland landscape.

Jim Antle wrote it best in his recent column on this questions:

What made the Stupak Dozen a swing vote was the fact that they were not only pro-life Democrats, but mostly pro-life liberals. But that is precisely what made depending on them so risky — most of them, including Stupak himself, did not oppose the health care bill in principle. They had all been willing to back the public option when it was voted on in the House. Hailing from union-heavy, fundamentally Democratic districts, they were all going to have a hard time voting against a vision of health care reform with which they substantially agreed.”

Mostly pro-life liberals? How about nearly all of them.  It’s a political misnomer to consider every pro-life Democrat a “conservative” the way the national media does when nearly all but a few exceptions are nothing of the sort. Indeed, what were the commentators after Jim’s story so upset about? That Stupak betrayed them in some way to give us “socialism”? Stupak has been voting for socialism his entire career. No one should kid themselves about this vote in the House.  Had Roe v. Wade never happened this bill would have passed last year. In fact, Roe may very well have delayed nationalized health care by over 40 years since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid because the contentiousness of the issue tore apart both parties, particularly the Democrats, and prevented such plans from getting through Congress until now. So how should a “conservative” feel about this?

Is Rush Limbaugh is right that Stupak voted his party over whatever his personal feelings were on abortion?  Certainly being fingered as the one who brought down the health care bill probably is not what he wants to campaign on this fall (primary challengers do have a way of making politicians ponder their actions).  But given the fact the National Right to Life Committee and other pro-life groups have pretty much thrown their lot in with the GOP (even though the party has done nothing to stop abortion in order to make sure the issue exists to divide the Democrats), even if Stupak voted “no” what would they have done to help him out in his primary against a pro-abortion challenger? If, as Antle says, the NRLC throws in other issues that have nothing to do with abortion in their congressional scorecards, then why should Stupak believe sticking his neck out with a “no” and leading others to vote no be of any benefit to him? If AIPAC and the NRA has no problems accommodating Democrats who agree with them on their main issues (which coincidentally makes them the most powerful lobbies in the nation) why can’t NRLC be as accommodating to pro-life liberals like Stupak and company? After all, they didn’t mind endorsing pro-abortion Fred Thompson for president.

That Thompson even got this endorsement is a measure of how abortion has upturned U.S. politics. Without Roe, Thompson and Mitt Romney would have stayed true to their pro-abortion inclinations. Without Roe, Rudy Guliani may have won the GOP nomination and not John McCain (whose more or less consistent pro-life position gave him a leg up over other would-be establishment suitors). Without Roe, Joe Lieberman would have been McCain’s vice-presidential nominee and Sarah Palin would still be Governor of Alaska. Conversely, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton might still believe abortion is  a Margaret Sanger- racial eugenicist plan for black genocide, the Democrats would still be the majority party in the South (and the GOP really edging towards extinction), Dennis Kucinich and other pro-life Democrats would not have election-year conversions and Mario Cuomo might have been president.

Pro-abortion Republicanism, a seemingly staple of “moderate” Republicanism, has died out along with it because it does not benefit one to be pro-abortion in the GOP (as Charlie Crist is finding out) anymore. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, can tolerate having pro-lifers in their mist because the understand they are a key reason why they hold power in Congress. The Democratic Party has always been more diverse in its views and broader in its composition than its counterpart major political party whether its the Federalists, National Republicans, Whigs or just plain old Republicans. This is both its strength and its curse.  It takes incredible leadership both in the legislative and executive branches to hold the party together in order to govern. This is why the Dems have a reputation for party infighting. But this  is also why Nancy Pelosi and Barak Obama are riding high right now because they were able to keep this motley crew together to pass the bill.  Holding on to said power and being able to govern (at least from their point of view) is what more than likely took a bill that was considered dead only a month ago and got it passed. Indeed, Stupak has pulled off the neat trick of enraging both sides of the ideological divide against him for both nakedly exercising his power within the unruly party and for cutting the deal so the bill could pass.  He acted like the politician that he is and the ideologues hate him for it. But he was only acting in the grand tradition of the Democratic Party, which began as a non-ideological party, an alliance of Jeffersonians and Tammany Hall, for the sole sake of winning an election. Right now in the Democratic Party, the pro-lifers have the upper hand. You can say what you want about Stupak and company, but I don’t see NARAL or NOW doing cartwheels over the passage of healthcare. Unless she’s they’re doing their best Brer Rabbit impersonations, both Kate Michelman and Louise Slaughter are mad not just because Obama signed an executive order forbidding federal funds for abortions (whatever good that does),  but because their political power of the pro-abortion lobby is at a low ebb and they know it. They were on the outside looking in this whole debate and their threats hollow. Because they put the pro-abortion cause into the upper class, white feminist ghetto, they’ve cut themselves from all potential support in a post-feminist society.

One thing we must remember, and I think Jim is right about this as well, neither Stupak nor other pro-life Democrats are hardcore opponents of abortion. They are neither traditionalist, pre-Vatican II Catholics nor are they fundamentalists.  They are seduced by arguments about “common ground” if only to keep the pot they are in from boiling over. They are drawn to arguments about the Catholic tradition of  “social justice” and Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. Seen in this context, then Stupak’s vote and those of other Catholic Democrats of his faction makes perfect sense. Once abortion was removed from the equation to his liking (and it may well have been a low bar to reach) he had no problem voting for nationalized health care.

But as Thomas Fleming points out, nowhere in Rerum Novarum does the phrase “social justice” appear. If one goes by strict definition, then social justice is both a set of principles of how  a human being is to behave rightly towards others and the virtue that informs such conduct.” But does “social” means one comradeship in one’s profession, family, village or society as a whole? as Fleming puts the question. If one believes the latter then it’s not surprising that, as Dostoevesky put it, “do-gooding propensities of the Church would one day lead Catholics to embrace socialism.” It certainly did in Fidel Castro’s case or in the “liberation theology” of 1970s Latin America. Perhaps the biggest boost the health care bill received during the debate, the one that may have very well put it over the top was the support it received from the Catholic Health Association. One perceives the Left in the U.S. finds the Catholic Church useful only in the sense that it can move the policy debate amongst its politicians in their direction (just read a month’s worth of the Washington Monthly for a good example of this thinking.)

It’s sad to watch the Catholic Church in the U.S. devolve into a mini-version of the House of Representatives. Once upon a time there was a political movement, that Catholics (and many Protestants) were a part of  that called for the betterment of one fellow man without having to take away his property or his prosperity.  It even had an apt name “The Union for Social Justice.” Fr. Coughlin believed “men can work and still be free” or at least not be forced to buy health care insurance.  While the Union may have fizzled out as a political party in the U.S., in Canada, the Social Credit movement was part of the political scene from the mid-1930s to the 1980s and was an alliance of populist Albertan Protestant farmers and Catholic Quebecers in the Ralliement créditiste du Québec, or its Quebec wing. It would be neat thing if Catholics contemplating politics once again rediscover the distributism within the Church’s own tradition instead being the puppets of the major parties, their center socialist ideologies and their phony abortion “debate.”