Watch the conscience clause: GOP ready for pro-choice era?

While I hesitate to jump-start the no-way-to-win debate about abortion opinion polls, I owe it to people on both sides of that stat fight to pass along a Newsweek article by Karen Fragala entitled "A Fight for the GOP's 'Heart and Soul.' " It includes this amazing summary: The GOP's largest pro-choice advocacy group, the Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), was a chief proponent of the new language in the platform preamble and regards the change as a small step in the right direction. Far from viewing itself as a renegade faction, the RMC touts a recent American Viewpoint poll that found that 73 percent of Republicans claim to be pro-choice. The organization says it is an outspoken minority that has overwhelmed those voices and established the party's agenda.

This a fascinating statement, but ultimately meaningless -- because it does not include the language of the poll question these Republicans were answering. Does "pro-choice" mean that they do not favor overthrowing Roe? Does it mean that they do not want a total ban, but support restrictions after viability? Stripped of this language, the figure is meaningless -- except to say that the GOP is not a party united in its defense of the unborn.

So this would mean that 27 percent or so of God's Own Party is "pro-life," contrasted with what percentage of the Democrats? You might recall the fairly recent Zogby International poll indicating that 43 percent of Democrats agreed with the statement that abortion "destroys a human life and is manslaughter." And 78 percent of Hispanics agreed that abortions should be outlawed. These numbers are hard to deal with, but much better than the totally vague Newsweek number.

So 43 percent of Democrats are pro-life, but only 27 percent of Republicans? Whatever. As I wrote a week or so ago, this just shows you the degree to which the great middle of American voters are defined by the questions they are asked, as much or more than the answers they give. Journalists must give us the information to know how to judge these statistics.

Meanwhile, there are interesting developments in the two party platforms. You may recall that the Democrats' 2000 platform said their party is "a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party." Then the 2004 platform replaces this conscience clause with a statement that Democrats "stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine" abortion rights.

Now, the Republican Majority for Choice lobby is hailing a change in the 2004 GOP platform preamble, which now calls on Republicans to "accept and respect" each other's divergent views on social issues. Thus, that Newsweek Q&A with RMC executive director Kellie Rose Ferguson gladly proclaims:

The pro-choice position is certainly the Republican position. Our core beliefs are limited government, personal responsibility and individual freedom. That's the Republican base. The party has strayed a bit from that, and we're doing everything we can to bring it back.

Do you envision a shift in the next few years toward a more libertarian stance in the Republican Party regarding social issues?

We certainly hope so. The party leadership is understanding that moderates are a key voting bloc and that to win elections, you need to turn out the moderate base, specifically in key states. We respect the president's personal views on these issues, but we don't think his personal views should be turned into policy issues for the country.

So the question is whether the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudolph Giuliani, Andrew Sullivan party will continue to rise with the tide of mass media and the splintering of mainline and even evangelical Protestantism. This is a political stance that even plays well in prime time on Fox News.

Meanwhile, President Bush did include what some might call a "James Dobson" passage in his acceptance speech. But note the lack of specifics in this text:

Because family and work are sources of stability and dignity, I support welfare reform that strengthens family and requires work. Because a caring society will value its weakest members, we must make a place for the unborn child. Because religious charities provide a safety net of mercy and compassion, our government must never discriminate against them. Because the union of a man and woman deserves an honored place in our society, I support the protection of marriage against activist judges. ...

My opponent recently announced that he is the candidate of "conservative values," which must have come as a surprise to a lot of his supporters. Now, there are some problems with this claim. If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I'm afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values. If you voted against the bipartisan Defense of Marriage Act, which President Clinton signed, you are not the candidate of conservative values. If you gave a speech, as my opponent did, calling the Reagan presidency eight years of "moral darkness," then you may be a lot of things, but the candidate of conservative values is not one of them.

Thus, the leader of the far, far right -- to read the "moderates" who favor abortion on demand -- is now vague on abortion and somewhat specific on the definition of marriage. Perhaps that is a poll-data thing. Nevertheless, this language was still too much for Sullivan, as a "moderate."

I CANNOT SUPPORT HIM IN NOVEMBER: I will add one thing more. And that is the personal sadness I feel that this president who praises freedom wishes to take it away from a whole group of Americans who might otherwise support many parts of his agenda. To see the second family tableau with one family member missing because of her sexual orientation pains me to the core. And the president made it clear that discriminating against gay people, keeping them from full civic dignity and equality, is now a core value for him and his party. The opposite is a core value for me. Some things you can trade away. Some things you can compromise on. Some things you can give any politician a pass on. But there are other values -- of basic human dignity and equality -- that cannot be sacrificed without losing your integrity itself. That's why, despite my deep admiration for some of what this president has done to defeat terror, and my affection for him as a human being, I cannot support his candidacy. Not only would I be abandoning the small government conservatism I hold dear, and the hope of freedom at home as well as abroad, I would be betraying the people I love. And that I won't do.

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