The Editor’s View: Assessing the Damage

The Republicans took a beat­ing on November 7. No need to belabor the reasons. Suffice it to say that the unfortunate combination of Iraq, recent congres­sional scandals, and a general feeling of governmental arrogance all played their parts.

Regardless of our own place on the political spectrum, we must admit that election night was hard on the pro-life cause. Yes, I know that a num­ber of the Democrats who won are pro-life—Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylva­nia and Heath Shuler in North Caro­lina are two oft-mentioned examples. But the losses were undeniable: Rick Santorum, Jim Talent, Mike Dewine, George Allen—and that’s just in the Senate. Furthermore, parental consent bills failed to pass in California and Oregon, and South Dakotans tragical­ly rejected their own state legislature’s almost complete ban on abortion.

So while the pro-life cause may have gained some support among elect­ed Democrats—a very good thing—it has lost several public leaders. And that’s to say nothing about prospects for a new Roe-critical Supreme Court nominee in the next two years. What­ever one’s criticisms of the adminis­tration may be, it’s hard to complain about Justices John Roberts and Samu­el Alito. The chance of having another like them has diminished considerably. With majorities in the House and Sen­ate, Democrats are in fine position to block any promising candidates.

Of course, there’s always 2008, and some pro-life leaders are confident that their momentum will return for the next cycle. I’m not so sure. Consid­er the situation: The next election—a presidential election, no less—is two years away. The actual campaigns will start much earlier (some have already begun). To repair the damage of 2006, the pro-life movement must:

Counteract the notion that this election represented a rebuke to voters of faith (the most actively pro-life seg­ment of the Republican constituency). The fact is, much of the damage of No­vember 7 could have been avoided if the Republican Party hadn’t so angered its base (not just the religious, but gen­eral conservatives as well). Considering the decisive importance of the faithful religious vote in 2000 and 2004, one hopes party leaders will remember that and act accordingly. If they don’t, we’ll likely see a 2008 Republican can­didate who fails to create the enthu­siasm he or she will need to win.

Identify a candidate. While the Democrats appear to be on the road to Clinton 2008 (excepting a surprise detour to Barack Obama-ville), Re­publicans have no clear representative. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani will be running, but neither engages well with religious voters. So who should it be? Sam Brownback would be won­derful, but is he well-known enough to win? Without a clear candidate, pro-life primary votes will be scattered across a potentially large field.

Hope for a shift in the national mood. At this moment, Americans are angry with what they consider “conservative failures.” While much of what they criticize actually repre­sents a departure from conservatism, the general anti-Right feeling remains. Is there enough time to convince Ameri­ca that traditional-values conservatism is actually the solution to so many of their concerns? Politics is fast moving, but national perceptions are not.

The fact is, it takes time and cir­cumstance to shift a public percep­tion. Two years may not be enough. That’s especially true if circumstances continue as they are: bad news in Iraq, economic anxiety (despite the fact of a strong economy), scandals, Capitol Hill bickering, and so on. We’re go­ing to need some good news, effec­tive leadership . . . and a little luck. Barring that, it’s entirely possible that we could look back on the election of 2006 as the beginning of a dark night for the pro-life movement.

Brian Saint-Paul

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Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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