Inside the numbers: back to the future

Posted: Aug 05, 2003 12:00 AM

A recent national survey shows Americans evenly split between people who consider themselves "more pro-life or more pro-choice." Each side claimed 44 percent of those responding. The results indicate that using abortion as a litmus test for the appointment of federal judgeships isn't a smart idea. One wonders if Washington politicians understand this. The survey also raises questions about the future of the Democratic Party.

Currently, several Bush nominees to the federal bench are being blocked by Senate Democrats, who have been able to muster the necessary votes to filibuster against the nominated judges. These otherwise qualified judicial candidates are being denied their appointments because of their real or supposed past support for the pro-life movement.

In reality, abortion -- once the hot-button issue for politicians across America -- has faded as a major motivating factor for voters. State and federal officeholders who have time and again run on pro-choice or pro-life platforms have found few opportunities to significantly impact the overall effects of Roe v. Wade. Most Americans now expect little to change on abortion policy, either from lawmaking bodies or the courts. Many pro-life conservatives have been disillusioned by some of the court appointees made by Republican presidents.

That brings us back to the Democrats and their efforts to block the Bush nominations. If ever there were an example of silly "insider" politics, this is it. Support for the filibustering senators is justified by the argument that it's the Senate's duty to "advise and consent" on nominations to the federal bench. But that phrase in the Constitution refers to the duty to determine competence to serve, not to pass judgment on the personal, political or social philosophies of each and every nominee.

The Democrats may realize this when they see the nearly total lack of political traction these antics will likely bring them back home with voters. Most who support this strategic extremism are probably already going to vote Democratic anyway. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party may be drifting further from the mainstream of American political thought. That's not to say most Americans are pro-life; indeed, most polls reveal that one of the biggest blocs of pro-choice votes comes from moderate GOP women. What it does say is that many hard-core Democrats believe that opposing pro-life judicial nominees is worth all the fuss, regardless of the consequences.

More and more, the Democrats look like a party mired in yesterday's debates. The Dems may be drifting toward the nomination of a fringe, ideologue candidate for president, a la the disastrous George McGovern in 1972. Add to this judicial tampering the howling about the so-far lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and it's suddenly not hard to visualize the dramatic emergence of someone like Howard Dean as the party's nominee next summer.

How ironic it would be for tired, old Democratic Washington party hacks to fall back on dated political ideas, just as Howard Dean uses the Internet to out-fundraise his Democratic opposition with cutting-edge methods of collecting campaign money from a new and broad base of contributors. That has to be a scary thought for the Democratic establishment, who may be out of touch, but definitely not out of their collective mind.

Dean, with an anti-war appeal to young Democrats that is reminiscent of Eugene McCarthy in early 1968 and McGovern in 1972, has just enough workable style to capture the heart of a lost political party, only to destroy its chances at the ballot box against President Bush.

One would think that names like McCarthy and labels like pro-choice or pro-life would be irrelevant to politics in the 21st century. But with the Democrats reduced to blocking judicial nominations because of abortion, it may well be they are hell-bent on dragging their party "back to the future."