W hy do media moguls think we are interested in Ashleigh Banfield? Why do they believe that we couldn’t wait to be afflicted with Phil Donahue again? Why do they imagine that we are concerned about Rosie’s magazine? Why do they think that Ann Coulter would be a media fixture if she were a rational brunette? Why do they think we like to hear Chris Matthews constantly interrupting?
Stunned by my recent spate of questioning the incomprehensible, I turned the laser sharp inquiry on myself. Why am I still a registered Democrat? At least that’s what I think I am by default, even though over the last decades I have voted for a spectrum of candidates ranging from Carter and Dole to Nader.
So I don’t think I belong anymore. I still would like to identify myself with the great Democratic Party tradition of civil rights legislation, protection of laborers and fairer distribution of wealth, but it all seems to have disappeared. And while the Democrats have on almost every issue but abortion and taxes become Republicans, I am not drawn to the Grand Old Party either. I just cannot develop a knee-jerk categorical imperative to reduce taxes for corporations and the super-rich.
The Democrats are afraid to challenge seriously the war-mongering of the president. They colluded on Nafta and Clinton’s Republicanized notion of welfare reform. They are terrified by a full-blown investigation into corporate fraud, since their own hands were in the till.
One thing the Democrats really stand for, however, is abortion—abortion on demand, abortion without restraint, abortion paid for by all of us, abortion for the poor of the earth. I am not a one-issue voter, but they have become a one-issue party.
The latest proof of the Democrat’s lockstep uniformity on abortion was the failed nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. All 10 Democratic senators voted against her—the first time in history that a nominee ranked “well qualified” (highest rating) by the American Bar Association was defeated in committee. There was one reason for the rejection: abortion.
Judge Owen’s great failing, which won her accusations of being rabidly against women’s rights, was her ruling in favor of parental rights when the performing of abortion on minors was involved. Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, found the vote against Judge Owen “difficult,” since it was the first time she had opposed a female nominee. Judge Owen’s reservations about under-age women procuring abortions without parental knowledge “troubled” the honorable senator.
What really troubles Senator Feinstein and all the abortion absolutists is that Judge Owen is a woman who believes there can be moderate restraints on the killing of unborn human beings. If her nomination were ever brought to the full Senate, two things would become painfully clear.
First, not all women are for abortion on demand. One of the great frauds perpetrated on the American public is that the “women’s vote” goes to the most “pro-choice” candidate. That is a disservice to millions of women who are against abortion and a simplistic reading of the diversity of thought among women. Women are not as monomaniacal as the Democratic Party.
Second, it would become clear that extremists on abortion have captured the imagination of most Democrats. It is no secret that a strong majority of citizens are in favor of some restriction on abortion, but this is rarely admitted by the ideologists. You have a better chance of getting a bill through Congress protecting laboratory rats than one that would protect viable human beings (or should we call it tissue?).
And so a moral alternative struck me as I was ruminating about all the contrived hypedom of our culture. Instead of trying to change a party from within, why not try changing it from without?
If those Republicans who are alienated from party policies favoring corporations and the end of capital gains and so-called “death” taxes would become registered Independent voters, might not the politicians listen to them more attentively?
And if traditional Democrats who are disillusioned with the selling out of the working poor and the unborn simply became registered Independent voters, would not more attention be paid?
It seems fairly clear that a third party movement cannot get off the ground, largely because the two parties have set the rules to protect themselves. But an independent voter movement could make a difference. If enough Democrats and Republicans unregistered themselves to reduce each party to the level of 20 percent of eligible voters, those 60 percent independent voters would find themselves in a new political arena. No longer could the pols count on automatic votes. Issues would have to be engaged. Debates between candidates would no longer be a matter of how much a nominee could hide. And in that matter of abortion, we might finally have a true discussion of what it actually is and of the moral costs it has exacted from us by repressing the facts and squelching the debate.
As for the Democrats, it seems that they will finally be shamed into confirming one of Bush’s nominees for the circuit court. The conservative University of Utah law professor Michael McConnell is being handled with kid gloves as the hearings begin. After all, a number of law school deans, 300 law professors and even liberals like Laurence Tribe of Harvard are supporting him.
Best of all, he is not an embarrassing woman with a mind of her own.
John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., is a professor of philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.