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Do Pro-Life Democrats Have an Important Role to Play in President Biden's Political Strategy?

  • John Quinn

Thomas Edsall writes a weekly column for the New York Times on strategic and demographic trends in American politics. His March 17 column discussed President Biden's grand political strategy. In the column, Mr. Edsall has nothing to say about prolife Democrats. But I think his analysis has important implications for those of us who take seriously the concerns of the many Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents whose passion for justice and equality extends to all humans from conception to natural death.

According to Mr. Edsall, the President's fundamental political strategy has two major elements: deliver the economic goods, and ignore the culture wars. The obvious example of the first part is the extremely popular (even among Republican voters) American Recovery Plan Act. The second part is less obvious because it boils down to keeping quiet. President Biden realizes that: (1) the whole culture-war thing works a lot better for Republicans than for Democrats; and (2) it takes two to fight a culture war ‒ if one side simply refuses to participate, there's no war. So the President just ignores the provocations of conservative cultural warriors and thus takes away their steam.

Here's where prolife Democrats come in. Mr. Edsall notes that culture wars work politically by creating affective polarization. This happens when the population is sorted into opposing camps and the people in each camp hold uniform views on a variety of issues, even when their views on one issue are inconsistent with their views on others. A good example of this would be Democrats who are neither libertarians nor economic conservatives but insist that you can't be a Democrat unless you embrace the libertarianism of a strict pro-choice ideology and close your eyes to the fact that the reduction of abortion is a feature, not a bug, of the party's economic policies.

The best antidote to affective political sorting is cross-cutting. Cross cutters are folks who adhere to positions that, in our polarized politics, are seen as contradictory, even if they are more logically consistent than the rigid positions of either of the opposing camps. We prolife Democrats are classic cross cutters: to many of our fellow Democrats, we sound like conservatives when we strive to protect and enhance the lives of children who are still in their mothers' wombs; but conservatives can't stomach our opposition to capital punishment and our support for programs that use the power of government to reduce poverty and improve the lives of the majority of Americans, those who are already born as well as those still in the womb. What's more, there are a lot of us. Prolife Democrats, together with others who share our convictions but do not think there is a place for them in the Democratic Party, may be the largest cross-cutting group in the nation.

So what sorts of opportunities does this present for prolife Democrats, both to help advance the President's program and to achieve greater understanding of prolife concerns within the Democratic party? I'm just starting to think about those questions, and I'd be interested in your thoughts. Take a look at Mr. Edsall's column, and share your insights in a comment below.

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