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Why the Republican Party Loves the Abortion Issue

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Andrew Schmookler     Permalink
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[This piece ran this past week in two newspapers in my conservative Virginia District.]

How many Americans fit this profile?

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1) They are inclined to view politics in moral terms, and it is important to them to be one of the good people and not one of the bad people.

2) Their understanding of the workings of the larger systems in their world - e.g. the US government, and the American and world economies - is limited.

3) Having neither the time, interest, nor background to develop a complex picture of American politics, they welcome a simple way to exercise their duties as citizens. Finding a single issue that can define their political choices serves this purpose.

Millions, I would guess.

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To lock in the support of such people, the issue of abortion is perfect.

Protecting the defenseless unborn can easily be cast as a high moral purpose. The issue arises on the human scale, no complex systems involved. It concerns family relationships, and also involves the consequences of sexual behavior, on which cultural traditions have had much to say.

The abortion issue creates the opportunity for a savvy political force to capture and hold those millions of single-issue voters. The Republican Party has seized that opportunity for decades, convincing those millions that they are the moral party and their opponents are immoral.

While Americans as a whole are not comfortable about abortion, it is only a minority who think it should be illegal in all circumstances. The Democratic Party has inevitably settled into representing the feelings of the American majority that does not want abortion banned outright.

Although the position the Democrats take on abortion -"safe, legal, and rare" -- reflects the majority opinion in America, very few in that majority vote on that single issue. But, by targeting voters who meet the above profile, the Republican Party has been able over the decades to cultivate an important block of single-issue anti-abortion voting.

That's why the abortion issue has been a gold-mine for the Republicans. That's why as soon as the Republicans captured state governments in the 2010 elections, even though the nation was still in a deep economic recession, and the people were clamoring for programs to create jobs, in state after state the Republicans diverted attention away from the urgent economic issues and re-kindled the political battles over abortion.

The Republicans have encouraged those single-issue millions to see abortion as defining political morality -- a pure case of good vs. evil, with no moral ambiguities. With the Democrats locked into a non-absolutist position - regrettable but not prohibited -- the idea can be established in people's minds, as I have heard on the campaign trail, that "one cannot be both a Christian and a Democrat."

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But what makes this single-issue voting block a gold mine for Republicans also makes it a danger to the country.

When a political party can get millions of voters, who care about moral values, locked into seeing it as the defender of morality, it frees itself to engage in immoral conduct of all sorts without fear of losing those voters' support. And that is what has happened.

In America today, a great many immoral and unjust acts that have nothing to do with abortion are being carried out in our political arena -- the preponderance of them by the same political force that has gained the permanent support of one-issue anti-abortion voters.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)

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