The New York Times floated a story with an interesting headline on Tuesday: “Is it Possible to be an Anti-Abortion Democrat? One Woman Tried to Find Out.”
It is the story of a 77-year-old politician who, figuring that she didn’t have a whole lot to lose at this point, got a plank added to the state Democratic Party platform that welcomed pro-lifers.
The response wasn’t what she expected.
We (well, mostly tmatt) have written about pro-life Dems before and how they’ve been made homeless in the past two decades. This Times report shows us that nothing’s going to change any time soon.
By the way: There’s a religion ghost in this story and it’s a pretty obvious one.
ST. LOUIS — Joan Barry has been a member of the Missouri Democratic Party for 53 years. As a state legislator, she voted regularly for workers’ rights, health care and programs for the poor.
So when the party began writing a new platform after its crushing losses in 2016, Ms. Barry, a member of its state committee, did not think it was too much to ask for a plank that welcomed people like her — Democrats who oppose abortion.
At first the party agreed and added it. Missouri’s Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, even called Ms. Barry to praise her.
But within days, Ms. Barry began receiving angry emails and Facebook messages. People called her a dinosaur, a has-been and worse. Her children started to worry.
Missouri, the story added, used to be the nation’s bellwether state. That stopped when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and since then, much of the state has drifted to the right. At this point, its Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, is one of the more vulnerable officeholders up for election next month. The video atop this blog post lays out what’s at stake.
Simply put, both political parties are fighting tooth and nail for this Senate seat. What Barry was trying to do is try to think of some way the Dems could win in the current political climate in her state.
Her solution: Try to show some diversity and, thus, appeal to conservative Democrats for whom abortion is a deal breaker and, thus, might vote for Republicans.
As the Times explains, after the 2016 election where Donald Trump trounced Hillary Clinton in Missouri:
… the party decided that the only way forward was to start from scratch, so a group of 15 party members, including Ms. Barry, began traveling the state on a listening tour. They talked to residents in community centers, libraries and union halls about what the party should stand for.
Ms. Barry thought her plank might help the party reclaim some districts that seemed hopelessly lost to Republicans.
She worried that the Democratic Party had moved too far left on abortion. Gone were the days when the party, under President Bill Clinton, called for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.” She also noticed fellow Democrats showing contempt for her when they learned her stance on abortion.
A group of liberal Democrats began organizing against Barry even though:
. . . progressives discovered that Ms. Barry had taken the language (for the plank) from a national anti-abortion group, Democrats for Life of America. Ms. Barry acknowledged she had, but said the words expressed exactly what she wanted to say. The wording was also similar to language in the 1996 national Democratic Party platform. On Aug. 11, the Democratic State Committee voted to take the plank out.
I thought the article was very even-handed and adroitly used Missouri as an example of liberal politics writing its own obituary by refusing to be flexible. Clearly, abortion is a non-negotiable with this group.
“Is this is the hill you want to die on?” asked one person in the comments section. “Because you just might.”
I did wonder if any religious beliefs informed Barry’s actions. I looked around and learned that she’s an RN who’s worked in obstetrics at a local hospital. Could her anti-abortion views have anything to do with the fact that she delivered babies for a living?
This link says she went to Notre Dame High School in St. Louis, which made me wonder if she is Catholic. This link explicitly says that she’s Catholic. So are her pro-life beliefs informed by her church? It would have been nice to have known that in this story.
When the platform was first adopted, the Missourian suggested that Democrats have sent themselves into irrelevancy in Missouri.
As others have noted, no state represents the exodus of once-reliably Democratic voters better than Missouri. White working class voters have left the party in droves. That’s not solely because of the abortion issue, but it is a factor, especially in places like Franklin County with large Catholic populations.
As the Democratic Party has moved further to the left nationally, it has lost support in places like middle Missouri. The reality is that there is no lane for socially conservative Democratic candidates to run in anymore.
Franklin County is just west of St. Louis and the Missourian publishes out of there.
At least the locals know that religion is a factor in those parts. For example, St. Louis hosts the headquarters of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which opposes abortion. The city has had a Catholic presence since the mid-18th century. We’re in the devout Midwest here.
Here’s the big question, in terms of Journalism 101: Why couldn’t the Times have included this basic and rather logical piece of factual information?
Instead we have, once again, a story that is fine on every other count but it’s blind side when it comes to religion.
It’s not hard to look up this kind of information. So why didn’t Times editors do that?