By Robert Hay
In the past month, two high-profile incidents have shown how powerful a hold the pro-choice movement has on the Democratic Party, and its hope to “expand the playing field” and win more elective victories is imperiled as a result.
The first incident involved DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an unabashed pro-choice politician and one of the architects of the “war on women” campaign strategy. In a Q&A with The New York Times, the Chair when asked about abortion rights said, “Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.” The quote could have been a moment to examine within the Democratic Party its unwavering opposition to any abortion opposition, or at least a soul-searching about whether she was right, and the reason record numbers of abortion restrictions were being passed was because younger Americans didn’t know what life was like without unrestricted abortion.
Instead, the pro-choice machine went into full court press, going to the media declaring that Wasserman Schultz was wrong and that the younger generation was the most passionate and most open in their caring about this issue. This despite the fact polls show the Millennial generation just as divided about abortion as previous ones. Wasserman Schultz, faced with pressure, immediately back tracked from her comments and the party lost a chance to think deeply about itself and abortion.
The second incident involved Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Senator that despite being a self-professed socialist was inexplicably competitive with front-runner and assumed candidate Hillary Clinton. One of the big reasons for his success was his anti-establishment credo: he was the candidate that fought for progressive issues and stood up to the moneyed interest running the Democratic Party. Possibly afraid that a candidate not as beholden to them as others could gain momentum, Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups announced their endorsement and campaign support of Hillary Clinton. Sanders’ response was on message – he railed on the party establishment and lumped Planned Parenthood and other big-name Democratic groups together with the establishment he railed against.
Bernie Sanders has always been abashedly pro-choice and did not hide this fact. However, the attack on the Democratic cash cow that is Planned Parenthood could not be ignored, with establishment Democrats and pro-choice groups lashing out against Sanders for his characterization of them. The backlash was so bad, Sanders has not only backtracked his comments but bent over backwards to so how incredibly pro-choice he is, even saying Planned Parenthood funding should be increased. The man who made his campaign taking on the establishment and winning couldn’t take on this rail of the party.
As the Democratic Party loses ground and elections throughout the country, and as party identification slips, the pro-choice movements grows even more intertwined with the party. If Democrats allowed themselves to think seriously about their extreme position on this one issue and opened the big tent, then the climb back to electoral success outside the presidency could finally begin.