I recently participated in a telephone Blogger Briefing put on by the Family Research Council (FRC). The event was organized by Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost, who works at FRC. His idea is to help pro-life/socially conservative bloggers connect with figures in Washington (lawmakers, think tank types, commentators) who thus far haven't been as available to the pro-life part of the blogosphere.
I think the briefing is a great idea, and I want to publicly thank Joe and the FRC for it and wish them the best of success.
For the initial installment of the briefing, the guest was Ramesh Ponnuru (pictured), senior editor and commentator for National Review and the author of the book The Party of Death (BTW, Ramesh, I still owe you a review of the book; my apologies!).
The conversation began with Ramesh summarizing the recent history of abortion in American politics and what he thinks is likely to happen with it in the future.
In covering this ground, he addressed one of the questions that I have been fascinated by for a long time. It's no secret that the Democratic Party used to be the more conservative party and the Republicans the more liberal party. That clearly was the case, for example, at the time of the Civil War, and much, much more recently as well.
The Republicans are still the more liberal party economically, which to say that they are the more free-market party (i.e., they are more supportive of classical liberal economic policies, as opposed to more conservative, protectionist ones). But on social issues, the parties have changed places.
The timing and the mechanics of how that happened are things I'm quite interested in.
In the blogger briefing, Ramesh cited 1972 as a key year in the social transformation of the two parties. In his book, I'm sure he goes into the background that the late 1960s played in setting up the events of 1972, but he cites the campaign of George McGovern in that year as the point at which the elite of the Democratic Party was taken over by socially liberal secular activists. The rank and file of the party still had a lot of socially conservative working-class Catholics, Evangelicals, and Southerners, but that was when the elite switched sides.
Two things then happened: The rank and file Democrats--being socially conservative--started to find Republican candidates more attractive, and social liberals in the Republican Party started finding Democratic candidates more attractive. A period thus followed in which members of each party found themselves being more attracted by and voting for candidates of the opposite party, and eventually a general realignment of the two took place. The Democrats became a smaller, more liberal party, with more of the most wealthy supporting it, while the Republicans ceased to be the party of the affluent and became larger and more conservative socially.
Democratic politicians also found that, even though they might represent pro-life districts and had historically been pro-life themselves, with the party elite in the control of secularists they had to switch and become pro-aborts if they wanted to make headway nationally in the party.
For a time, Ramesh said, it was not obvious to either Democrats or Republicans whether this strategy was a wise one politically. For a time it seemed that American support for abortion was growing, but eventually it became clear to Democrats that the strategy wasn't working, and pro-lifers began to gain ground. Many Democrats (particularly Catholic ones) tried to say, "I'm personally opposed, but . . . " yet this strategy did not prove effective in the long run.
The point we are at now, he suggested, is one in which the leadership of the Democratic Party recognizes that the fact they have been wedded to abortion is hurting them more than it is helping them, and this explains why some Democrats, such as Hillary Clinton, have tried other forms of "window dressing," such as saying "I'm very interested in finding common ground between the two positions" and simply hoping that they will not be called on the fact that their voting record is solidly pro-abort (something the MSM is quite willing to not call attention to).
It also explains why Democrats were willing to run pro-life or nominally pro-life candidates in some races in the 2006 elections, and why Democrats were able to pick up as many seats as they were.
This was a bad year for pro-lifers as well as Republicans, but there was a difference between the two. If I caught the numbers Ramesh cited correctly, Republicans lost about thirty seats, while pro-life candidates only lost twenty seats, depending on how they are counted.
What this shift in the approach Democrats are taking will mean in the future is something that also came up in the call, and it'll be the subject of my next blog post.
In the meantime, I want to thank Ramesh for taking the time to discuss matters with us, and my apologies if I have mischaracterized anything he said. Also,
CHECK OUT HIS BOOK.