Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why I (Even Now) Am Not a Democrat

The following is a guest post by my friend Mr. R.

Many thanks to Lindsey for inviting me to write this. Please bear in mind that my opinions are not necessarily hers. That is an important caveat, for I am writing bluntly and personally -- and I am writing for my own benefit as much as anybody else's.

To start with, I resent the current Republican Party. I suspect its leadership of corruption and incipient authoritarianism. I suspect its functionaries of Machiavellianism. I suspect its supporters of reactionism. I suspect its ideologues of betraying their own best principles. I suspect its Christian supporters of suppressing the better angels of their nature. (However, I do not mean to discount the integrity and good intentions of most members of the party. I see the overwhelming majority as misguided, not malicious. They include the people I love most in the world.)

It took me some time to reach this position. Once, I was a fervent supporter of the GOP. I campaigned for Republican candidates and volunteered with the local chapter of the party. That was only natural, for I belonged to a conservative evangelical family. But I made conservatism more or less my own. I often disagreed with the consensus on particular issues. And then, in the months before the Iraq War, I concluded -- independently of anyone else I knew -- that invading Iraq would be a terrible mistake. It would be a mistake from the standpoint of counterterrorism, from the standpoint of just war theory, and from the standpoint of conservative positions regarding limited government and national sovereignty. So I opposed the war, albeit reluctantly.

By the middle of 2003, it was clear that opposition to the Iraq War would not be tolerated within the GOP. The more the situation in Iraq deteriorated, the shriller and more vituperative the Right became. True, I was able to convince more and more conservative friends to join me in opposition to Bush policy. But more and more, and to my consternation, that entailed our distancing ourselves from the entire conservative movement. This, in turn, caused most of us to reevaluate our positions on other issues as well. Not necessarily because we were now more reasonable, as much as I would like to imagine so, but certainly because we found liberal thinking in general easier to understand and sympathize with than we had before.

So I now disagree with the Republican Party on many issues other than Iraq and national security. I stopped thinking of myself as a Republican years ago. But I still cannot support the Democratic Party.

In part, I refuse to consider myself a Democrat because I never lost my healthy skepticism of that party's smugness, corruption, tendency to centralize power, and tendency to threaten many of the same civil liberties that the Republicans threaten. But I could get over that sort of thing. Cynicism might keep me from investing heavily in party politics, but it would not keep me from voting for particular Democratic candidates.

No, the main problem is abortion.

I do not have the slightest desire to see the government control women's bodies, prevent contraception, stifle sexuality, or do whatever else pro-choicers think pro-lifers are up to. (Some pro-lifers probably do have that sort of agenda. I do not. Yay for condoms and yay for the Pill, as far as I'm concerned. They help prevent abortions.) And certainly, I want exceptions in the law to protect the life of the mother. But here's the problem as I see it.

If the fetus is a human individual at any stage of development, then at that stage of development, it/he/she should be protected by law. Not because of religion. Not because of sexual morality. Not because of patriarchy. Simply because of human rights. If nothing else, governments exist to protect the lives of innocent people living under their control. And the right not to be killed overrides all competing rights.

Granted, I am not convinced that the fetus counts as a human individual at all stages of development. Not believing in an incorporeal soul, I mostly look to brain function for evidence of humanness. I'm not sure when humanness emerges in the fetus. But I have never been able to escape the impression that past a certain point, the fetus in the womb is indistinguishable from the prematurely born infant outside of it. The fact that killing one is an acceptable choice, while killing the other is infanticide, seems odd. I find it hard to accept that the fetus suddenly becomes a living human by taking his or her first breath. In fact, that wouldn't even be my second choice for a threshold of aliveness or humanness.

If I ever change my mind about the humanity of the fetus, then I will have changed my mind about legal abolition in that instant. But so far, that has not happened.

So how am I supposed to reconcile myself to a candidate who wants to keep the killing legal? Especially when I'm choosing a president, who may determine (via the Supreme Court) whether the states are allowed even to regulate abortion at any stage? It would be -- and I don't believe the analogy is forced -- like voting for a candidate who wanted to keep slavery legal. There were great arguments in favor of legal slavery, too. Like the arguments I hear most often in favor of legal abortion, they skirted the question of the rights of the victim. And it's awfully hard to find a remotely pro-life Democrat to vote for.

I could keep qualifying my position all day, of course. I recognize that banning any kind of abortion would cause hardship to countless women. I realize that abortions would keep occurring thanks to courageous doctors and nurses, both at home and abroad, as well as to home remedies, back-alley butchers, and, in all likelihood, exasperated police officials and nullifying juries. And I recognize that a truly effective solution to the problem of abortion will require both a cultural change and a social safety net, not just a legal change. But all of that would be analogous to the situation in the South after slavery was technically outlawed. It does not change the government's obligation to try to protect the lives of the innocent.

My life would be more pleasant if I could get over my abortion hangup. It would make politics look a lot less tragic and a lot more fun, of course. It would allow me to support Amnesty International again, which I would love to do. It would also help me fit in a bit more in my present social circumstances. These days, the peer pressure -- which is very strong right now -- is almost all coming from the Democratic side of the aisle. But I cannot, in good conscience, vote for any consistently pro-choice candidate to fill an office to which that view matters.


harry b said...

Ok, so I'm an anti-poverty voter. I have to choose between two parties, neither of which has any intention at all of eliminating poverty (I regard them as pro-poverty parties). And even if they did have that intention the realities of politics would stop them from doing so. And eliminating poverty, while vitally important, is not the only important thing. So I grit my teeth and vote for the party which is slightly more likely to do slightly more good on one of the other issues that matter.

The reason this is relevant is that I don't think that serious politicians in either party really believes that abortion will be prohibited. Some Republicans make a big deal of it, to win voters like you, but it is not something they will, or could, do very much about (except, perhaps, reducing poverty and introducing legislation to make companies more tolerant of workers who want to spend time actually raising their families). And most Democrats know this -- a few scaremonger about anti-abortion forces, but mostly because its good for raising money.

So, I understand your feelings about pro-choice Democrats, but given that neither party really intends to, or will, do anything serious about curbing abortion, I think you should be like me and support the party that will do the most good all things considered.

R. said...

The thought has occurred to me, actually. It's a highly attractive idea in some ways.

But this kind of reverse political psychology doesn't work for me when I consider the Democrats' actual record. The Democratic Party has fought (at every level) to keep abortion (at every period) legal. Not merely by opposing legislation to restrict abortion, but also by insisting that such legislation is unconstitutional as a genre, anywhere in the United States. Furthermore, many Democratic politicians have tried to lower even private barriers to abortion by, e.g., proposing that taxpayers cover the cost of abortion in some cases. Even moderate Democrats routinely oppose the mildest restrictions on abortion.

Meanwhile, Republicans have passed law after law on the state level, and quite a few at the federal level, and have appointed some judges who try to uphold those laws. I have no idea what George W. Bush really thinks about abortion, but I know the passion of the people I worked with at the state and local levels in the GOP. I've seen their anguish when Democrats blocked them, year after year, in legislatures and in courthouses. Doe v. Bolton won't be overturned this year or next, but there are hundreds of state abortion bills that would have gone into effect decades ago if it hadn't been for Democratic politicians and judges. And Republican supremacy in the last three decades has allowed some of those laws to come into effect at last; far more would have done so if the Supreme Court(s) had had more conservative members sooner.

Even given all that ... I would be open to changing my mind if I found out definitively that Republican economic and educational policies were actually keeping the abortion rate high. I do know that Clinton supporters are fond of saying that the number of US abortions went down during Bill's presidency. I'm willing to listen to that argument. But according to the Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate has continued to fall during the GOP supremacy. There were 100,000 fewer abortions in 2005 than in 2000.*

In any case, given that the whole reason for my little essay here is to express my desire for both Democrats and Republicans to start paying attention to people like me, I think it would be unwise for me to give my vote away that easily. Why bother at all, if the DNC could count on me anyway?