This last week I had the privilege of joining a blogger's conference call with Ramesh Ponnoru, a smart guy who writes over at The Corner and has written The Party of Death. The call was hosted by the Family Research Council's very own Joe Carter, who came up with the idea of connecting Washington insiders with (ostensibly) normal outsiders such as me. The call was not only tons of fun, but informative and engaging as well. Thanks to Ramesh, FRC and Joe for their kindness and work in making it happen.
Ponnoru began with a quick survey of the issues surrounding abortion, etc. in the last century or so. He identified 1972 with the Mcgovern nomination as a key moment in the debate about abortion (this is all in his book). It changed the dynamics of both parties, as socially conservative, working class Democrats started to leave for the Republican party. As a result, the Democratic party shrank while the Republicans grew. Democrats with national ambitions began to switch their positions on the issue of abortion in order to appeal to their socially liberal base, as there were fewer social conservatives in the party.
It's become more clear that this strategy has been a loser for the Democrats. They've lost more people than they gained. This was manifest in this year's elections as pro-lifers only lost about 20 seats in the house while Republicans lost 31. This happened because many Democrats are starting to see that being pro-abortion has been bad politically for them.
Then Ponnoru began prognosticating. In the next few years, Democrats will probably try to get federal funding for organizations that provide abortions overseas, abortion on military bases. Of course, they'll do this with Hilary Clinton's strategy, which is to claim you want "common ground" while voting a straight pro-choice ticket. He thinks this a hopeful moment to be a pro-lifer, we just have to stay a few steps ahead
Then the questions began. I didn't catch everyone's names, or their questions. When a blogger (Patrick?) asked Ponnoru where he thought things would go in the future, Ponnoru replied, "Immortality is going to go well. That's the snake oil that the party of death is going to sell people." It's a fitting analogy.
Ponnoru sees internal debate among Democrats on how to handle stem cell issues, patenting human embryoes, etc. In 2008, Democrats won't lead with the ethical issues becuase of the conservative Democrats in their midst, but they probably won't be able to keep the liberal wing of the party bottled up. In the last election, there wasn't a lot for the values voters to vote on--there wasn't a whole lot of gloom, so they voted on other issues. But that might not obtain in 2008, especially if Democrats try to push through their issues. The next two years may help conservatives rally the base.
Interestingly, Ponnoru also made a strong appeal to social conservatives to demand pro-life representation in the White House in 08. His basic point was that we have made significant ground the last few years, so we shouldn't give it up by putting someone who is not staunchly pro-life in office.
His final point was also provocative (and one unknown to me). In arguing that conservatives need to have a reform agenda that meets the needs that middle class Americans feel, he pointed out that the tax burden on single and childless people hasn't changed the last thirty years, but it has increased significantly on families with children. Even though conservatives are pro-life in position, we haven't integrated that philosophy with our position on taxes. It is a part of the pro-life cause to push for tax reform that massively expands child tax credits, thus making it easier to raise children.
This summary is, of course, tendentious. I can only type so fast. You can compare with Jimmy Akin's two greatposts on the call. It's good food for thought for social conservatives who care about these issues--there is no "silver bullet" strategy for pro-life issues, as the taxes issue demonstrates. There is only diligence, awareness, and activity on the part of justice for all. Whether we have that or not is an open question, I fear.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.