Today I attended the annual luncheon of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA)
. It was an encouraging gathering.
There were three speakers. The first was Ray Flynn, former Mayor of Boston and Ambassador to the Vatican. I think he should be regarded as the elder statesman of the Democratic pro-life movement since the death of Governor Casey. In what was the theme for all the speakers, he talked about sticking to one's convictions and not letting the opposition within the Party to our position to silence us. He said he attended every March for Life for all 31 years, even flying back from Italy for it when he was Ambassador.
The second speaker was James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute and a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee. This was his "coming out" as pro-life, being the first public speech he has made on the issue. He reported his experience in working other controversial issues within the Party, stressing the need to make our points calmly and respectfully, listening to those with different perspectives. The Party is known for its inclusiveness, yet has not been inclusive on this issue, even though Party members are pretty evenly divided on it. He also stressed the need to speak out publicly, as our speaking out encourages others and helps the issue come into public dialogue. Zogby is a very articulate and reasonable person, but also with strong convictions.
The third speaker was Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), who has been in the Congress for 30 years. A progressive Democrat, he has been public and firm in his pro-life views since the beginning of his political career. When he first ran, the Party would not support him because of his pro-life position, but he got grassroots support and won anyway. He was a co-founder of the House Pro-Life Caucus, and was instrumental in drafting and getting enacted the "Hyde Amendment" barring Federal funding for abortions. It is called the Hyde Amendment rather than the Oberstar Amendment because it was drafted when there was a Republican President, so Oberstar felt it was better that it be presented as an initiative of a Republican. Oberstar has faced much disrespect from within the Party due to his principled stance, but encouraged us all to stick to our convictions and not let opposition get to us. It was certainly very encouraging to hear from a member of Congress who does not waiver from principle in order to win political advantage.
Oberstar served as something of a mentor for Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich came into the House as a strong pro-lifer, eager to forward the cause. Oberstar reported his disappointment when Kucinich abandoned his pro-life convictions when he decided to run for President. Like most others in the room, Oberstar therefore has refused to support Kucinich although he would have backed him had he held to his principles.
It is my belief that Kucinich's 180 degree turnabout on abortion destroyed his Presidential campaign. Kucinich was notable as a consistent life ethic spokesperson, strong on peace, social justice, opposition to the death penalty, and opposition to abortion. It even extended to his diet, as he is a vegan. He has in the past been willing to stand up for unpopular causes. By selling out on a key issue, he lost his claim to be a person of convictions rather than political opportunism, and he lost the chance to be the only candidate appealing to the 43% (according to a recent poll) of Democrats who are pro-life. Consequently, his campaign never caught fire and he lacks any significant support.
The Democrats are turning away people who are their natural voters, and they wonder why they are not doing better! Rep. Oberstar told a story of a Democratic caucus in his state, where someone stood up to offer a pro-life resolution for consideration. She was told they don't consider things like that there, and to go to the Republican Party. So she walked out and went down to the Republican caucus, and has been active in the Republican Party ever since.
Someone who was with the DFLA donkey they brought to the March for Life reported on the comments she got about it. Many people commented that they used to be Democrats. So many pro-lifers care about the kind of social issues that the Democrats have championed. Why is the Party so unwelcoming?
[See also Weekend Perspective: A Democratic disconnect by Mischa Gelman
and Interview with Maryland Deputy Majority Whip Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr.