Dems: Because They Can?

Cynthia L. Cooper

In a moment of morn­ing-after mad­ness, politi­cos with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty are tak­ing three giant steps back­ward from a woman’s right to choose. The results could be dis­as­trous for pro­gres­sive women’s polit­i­cal base. 

Kerry told a group of progressives that Democrats should be permitted more latitude in supporting the anti-abortion line.

Much of the dra­ma is emerg­ing around the nor­mal­ly staid con­test for the chair of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (DNC), which will be decid­ed by 447 elec­tors on Feb­ru­ary 12 at a DNC vote in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. All of the can­di­dates for the posi­tion now held by Clin­ton-ally Ter­ry McAu­li­ffe are men, a large num­ber of whom who are using Lincoln’s birth­day as the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­tance them­selves from repro­duc­tive free­dom. This comes at the time of great­est per­il, when one or two anti-abor­tion appoint­ments to the Supreme Court could upend the right to pri­va­cy pro­tect­ed by Roe v. Wade. 

What are we,” asks Eleanor Smeal, pres­i­dent and founder of the Fem­i­nist Major­i­ty Foun­da­tion, fair weath­er friends?” Appar­ent­ly so.

We fought like mad to beat back the Repub­li­cans,” blogged Karen M. White, nation­al polit­i­cal direc­tor for EMILY’s List, a pro-choice Demo­c­ra­t­ic fundrais­ing machine. Lit­tle did we know that we would have just as much to fear from some with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty who seem to be using choice as a scape­goat for our top-of-the-tick­et losses.” 

One of the favored can­di­dates for the DNC chair is for­mer Indi­ana Rep. Tim­o­thy Roe­mer, who has nev­er found an anti-abor­tion mea­sure that he didn’t like. In his cam­paign for the posi­tion, he called Glo­ria Feldt, pres­i­dent of the Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­ca, to sweet-talk her, argu­ing that because he was vic­to­ri­ous in a red” state, he’d be a great leader for the Dems. The impli­ca­tion is par­ty first, women sec­ond. Feldt didn’t buy it. She called upon Democ­rats to uphold a com­mit­ment to women’s rights and health.” NAR­AL Pro-Choice Amer­i­ca also announced a nation­al cam­paign to defeat Roemer. 

But Roe­mer is not with­out fans in high places. They include Rep. Nan­cy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia, the pro-choice leader of Democ­rats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. And her enthu­si­asm is shared by her new­ly select­ed Sen­ate coun­ter­part, the anti-abor­tion Sen. Har­ry Reid of Nevada.

But the cru­elest cut may be clos­er to the heart. Pro-choice for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Howard Dean is also a con­tender for the DNC chair. He alarmed pro-choice activists by stat­ing that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty need­ed to be more inclu­sive” of pro-lifers. 

Oth­er less­er-knowns are in the mix. For a short while Kate Michel­man, the for­mer pres­i­dent of NAR­AL Pro-Choice Amer­i­ca, flirt­ed with run­ning for DNC chair. Also aspir­ing to the posi­tion are for­mer Texas Rep. Mar­tin Frost, for­mer Ohio Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty chair­man David Leland, par­ty activist Don­nie Fowler, for­mer Den­ver may­or Welling­ton Webb, and Simon Rosen­berg, founder of the New Demo­c­rat Net­work. Rosen­berg also declared that he is open to pro-lif­ers,” accord­ing to an arti­cle in The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor.

The irony is that pro-choice vot­ers are a pow­er­ful base in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. More women (51 per­cent to 48 per­cent) vot­ed for Ker­ry over Bush, accord­ing to polling by Lake, Snell, Per­ry and Asso­ciates. And despite the oft-repeat­ed dec­la­ra­tion that moral val­ues” swayed vot­ers, fur­ther analy­sis shows that Iraq, ter­ror and the econ­o­my were the dri­ving issues for over 70 percent. 

In the post-elec­tion atmos­phere, every­one is posi­tion­ing. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D‑Mass.) called for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty to hold fast to a woman’s right to choose. But Sen. Hillary Clin­ton (D‑N.Y.) took a sur­pris­ing turn, prais­ing chasti­ty edu­ca­tion, assert­ing that abor­tion rep­re­sents a sad, even trag­ic, choice,” call­ing for com­mon ground” with pro-lifers. 

The top gun him­self may have start­ed the ram­page. Dur­ing the elec­tion, Sen. John Ker­ry did such a lousy job of artic­u­lat­ing his posi­tion that even cam­paign vol­un­teers didn’t know he was pro-choice. Soon after he lost, Ker­ry told a group of pro­gres­sives that Democ­rats should be per­mit­ted more lat­i­tude in sup­port­ing the anti-abor­tion line. 

It seems as though these guys don’t want to take the rap for their loss­es — a famil­iar sce­nario to mul­ti­tudes of women: A guy los­es a fight in a bar, bum­bles home and decides to take it out on his girl­friend instead.

Democ­rats are count­ing on the notion that women have nowhere else to go. The Greens are woo­ing women, and even pro-choice Repub­li­cans stuck with a hos­tile anti-abor­tion plat­form are gloat­ing, argu­ing that pro-choice gals who left might as well come back. Fond mem­o­ries are float­ed of the suf­frag­ists’ Nation­al Women’s Par­ty. But there are few shel­ters for this type of domes­tic polit­i­cal violence. 

Activists know the rad­i­cal right isn’t inter­est­ed in com­mon ground,” but rather the oblit­er­a­tion of sex­u­al and indi­vid­ual lib­er­ties. If any­thing were to brand Democ­rats as losers, the post-elec­tion behav­ior toward women’s rights just might do it.

Cyn­thia L. Coop­er is a New York-based jour­nal­ist. She is the author of sev­er­al non-fic­tion books and has writ­ten more than 30 plays, includ­ing Women Heroes: Six Plays from the Wom­en’s Project.
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