I have had a number of readers ask me for my reaction to the recent remarks by former President Jimmy Carter in which he addressed both his party's dogmatic stance in favor of abortion and its growing estrangement from traditional religious believers. The remarks are not all that surprising, if you know Carter's history as a moderate or progressive Southern Baptist. It is also not surprising that the remarks made headlines in The Washington Times. I was somewhat surprised -- given the recent MSM interest in the Democratic Party's efforts to rally the religious left -- that few other media outlets picked up the story. A follow story produced by the Associated Press did run in many newspapers and broadcast websites.
Times reporter Ralph Z. Hallow placed Carter's remarks in the context of behind-the-scenes debates among Democrats over the wisdom of filibustering the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court, largely because they fear he may be opposed to abortion. Carter proclaimed:
"I never have felt that any abortion should be committed -- I think each abortion is the result of a series of errors," he told reporters over breakfast at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, while across town Senate Democrats deliberated whether to filibuster the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. because he may share President Bush and Mr. Carter's abhorrence of abortion.
"These things impact other issues on which [Mr. Bush] and I basically agree," the Georgia Democrat said. "I've never been convinced, if you let me inject my Christianity into it, that Jesus Christ would approve abortion."
I have interviewed Carter on this topic and his compromise stance essentially boiled down to this: Abortion is a church-state issue. While clear on his own beliefs, he maintained that the state had to stay out of an issue that, for so many, pivoted on religious questions. Thus, he said government money would not be used to fund or to oppose abortion. This infuriated conservatives, but also created rage in the left wing of the Democratic Party.
Those who said Carter's recent remarks were "astonishing" have not paid attention to what the man has -- for better or for worse -- said through the years. I once saw him, facing an audience of Lutheran teens in the mid-1980s, begin crying when asked to describe his toughest moment as president. He said it was when he made the political decision that he would not be able to do more to actively oppose abortion.
The most provocative passage in Hallow's report came at the end:
Mr. Carter said his party lost the 2004 presidential elections and lost House and Senate seats because Democratic leaders failed "to demonstrate a compatibility with the deeply religious people in this country. I think that absence hurt a lot."
Democrats must "let the deeply religious people and the moderates on social issues like abortion feel that the Democratic party cares about them and understands them," he said, adding that many Democrats, like him, "have some concern about, say, late-term abortions, where you kill a baby as it's emerging from its mother's womb."
I am surprised that the Democrats for Life website did not do more with this quote.