Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman doesn't mind telling you that he sees the pro-life cause as a moral and political winner for his party.
When I asked Mehlman (during an interview he did last week with Human Events) whether the pro-life issue was good for Republicans, his response was instantaneous. "Absolutely," he said.
As proof, he pointed to the 2002 Senate races in Missouri and Minnesota. In Missouri, pro-life Republican former Rep. Jim Talent defeated pro-abortion Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan. In Minnesota, pro-life Republican former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman defeated pro-abortion former Democratic Vice President Fritz Mondale. In both races, abortion helped the Republican.
Mehlman insists, however, that the GOP should advance the pro-life cause "because it is morally right," not because it is politically advantageous.
"Those people that say we should abandon our pro-life platform, I believe, are wrong from a political perspective, and I think are wrong from the perspective of what's right for this party," he said.
Mehlman's analysis can explain the self-contradictory behavior Democrats often exhibit on abortion. But it cannot explain similar behavior by Republicans. Democrats find themselves caught between the demands of commonsense and good morality on the one hand and a core constituency adamant about preserving legalized abortion on the other. They forsake commonsense and morality to appease their base.
But why are Republicans so timid about advancing a cause where they occupy the moral and political high ground?
Consider one of the few things President Bush, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist, House Republican Leader John Boehner and Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, have in common: They all say human life begins at conception.
In a 2001 interview with ABC News, Bush said, "I think life begins at conception."
On MSNBC's "Hardball" in 2001, host Chris Matthews asked Frist. "When do you believe life begins?" Frist answered, "Conception, when that sperm meets the egg, at that point in time."
In a January letter to fellow House Republicans, Boehner said, "I believe, and have always believed, that life begins at conception."
And Kerry told the Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph Herald in 2004, "I believe life does begin at conception."
What Bush, Frist and Boehner said was hardly treated as news. But Kerry's statement earned a front-page headline in The Boston Globe: "Life Begins at Conception, Kerry Says."
That ought to have about the same ring as: "Earth is Round, Kerry Says."
Unlike, say, Al Gore's claims about global warming, Kerry's claim that life begins at conception did not spark scientific controversy. Enraged embryologists didn't rush forward to claim life begins at some other point. Kerry's statement attracted attention precisely because by stating the obvious he put himself in an obviously untenable position: If life begins at conception, Senator, how can you justify taking life in an abortion?
The Bush campaign pounded Kerry from this precise angle: "His rhetoric is at odds with a long record of opposing common-sense measures like the ban on partial-birth abortion," a campaign spokesman told The New York Times.
But if it makes "common-sense" to ban partial-birth abortions because life begins at conception, doesn't it make even more sense to ban all abortions?
The Republican Party's pro-life platform -- which Mehlman argues is right for the party -- offers a solution to abortion commensurate with the Bush-Frist-Boehner affirmation that life begins at conception. It endorses "legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."
In this Congress, Rep. Duncan Hunter, the California Republican, introduced H.R. 552, the Right to Life Act, which follows through on the platform by defining as a "person" for 14th Amendment purposes "all stages of life, including but not limited to the moment of fertilization or cloning."
It recognizes in law what Bush, Frist, Boehner and Kerry already recognize in fact.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 42 million babies were aborted in the United States between 1973 and 2002. Each subsequent year adds about 1.3 million more.
Today, we are having a great national debate, driven by a president at odds with the base of his own party, over how many immigrants we should allow into our country and by what means -- so we can fill a shortage in workers. What if we had a great national debate driven by a president, in unison with the base of his own party, over how many babies we can save?
South Dakota had that debate this year, and the pro-lifers won. The state banned all abortions, only exempting normal medical actions taken by a doctor to preserve the life of a pregnant mother.
What South Dakota proved is that truth is persuasive. All you need are politicians who will fight for it.