Time: Can McCain Dupe Pro-choice Voters?

Can those rascally Republicans once again dupe otherwise well-educated, smart pro-choice women into sacrificing their womb on the altar of Republican presidential power?!

That's the sentiment you might expect from deep within the bowels of NARAL Pro-Choice America or Planned Parenthood, but it was essentially the question that Time's Amy Sullivan posed in her June 23 article, "Will Pro-Choice Women Back McCain?"

Sullivan's thesis boiled down to this: pro-life Republican candidates do as well as they do with some pro-choice voters because they throw out some bones trot out their pro-choice spouses and pro-choice feature speakers at Republican conventions to throw pro-choice Republicans and independents a bone, while Democrats are ham-handed in their efforts to downplay their pro-choice policies (emphasis mine):

From Pat Nixon, who declared "I believe abortion is a personal choice," to Betty Ford, who praised the Supreme Court's judgment in Roe as "a great, great decision" to Laura Bush, who on the eve of her husband's inauguration said she did not think he would appoint justices who would overturn Roe, pro-choice wives have long tried to signal to voters that this particular Republican President would not focus on abortion.

Those same Republican candidates have also traditionally benefited from the Democratic handling of the abortion issue. In 2004, the Republican National Convention featured keynote speeches by pro-choice politicians on three out of the four nights. By contrast, Democrats kept a pro-life minister off their stage and most Democratic speakers voiced their commitment to a woman's right to choose, while uttering not a word about supporting policies that would prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

In essence, while the GOP has largely tried to keep its base quietly comforted, Democrats have seemed compelled to make public shows of allegiance to pro-choice activists. The result is that pro-choice voters hear little from Republican candidates to upset them, even as pro-life voters have their differences with the Democratic Party's abortion stance highlighted for all to see. Not surprisingly, the two approaches show up at the ballot box: in 2000, 38% of Bush's voters were pro-choice while only 22% of Gore's were pro-life. Those percentages closed in 2004, but only slightly.

But wait, doesn't all of that speak to the problem lying with the Democratic Party being unable to convince enough pro-life voters that it's not a radically left-wing party on the issue of abortion? It would appear that way, as Sullivan herself admits that "Democrats have seemed compelled to make public shows of allegiance" to abortion activists.

Nah, the Democrats' poor electoral fortunes in presidential races can't be due to the rabid radicalism of its pro-choice activist base. It has to be because Republicans can dupe gullible women into voting for them! Surely there's no better explanation, such as pro-choice Republican voters casting their ballots on a whole range of issues with which they, shockingly enough as Republicans, agree with the GOP (tax cuts, national defense, judicial restraint).

And so Sullivan dutifully closed her article by parroting what is bound to be NARAL's mantra on McCain this election year: he's no maverick from his party on abortion (emphasis mine):

That's why NARAL and other groups are gearing up this year to target pro-choice women who fall outside of their universe of members and activists, a strategy they tested in the 2006 mid-term elections. "We identify the Republican women; we get out the information about candidates' positions," says Keenan. "We call them, we knock on doors, and once we've persuaded them, we get them to the polls." It worked in 2006, and this year she sees "enormous potential to move those women into the Obama column." But in order to do that, Keenan and her allies will have to find some way to drive home the point that when it comes to the Republican presidential tradition of obscuring strong pro-life views with moderate rhetoric, John McCain is anything but a maverick.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.