Five years ago, we were in the throes of impeaching a president. I was fascinated at the time at how quickly the left lined up behind the president.
After all we’d heard about sexual harassment, about "power relationships" and about glass ceilings, I was shocked to find not one member of President Clinton’s Cabinet resigned, and that virtually every left-leaning feminist group stood beside him.
I became convinced then the American left exists for one reason and one reason only: to protect abortion rights. Opposition to war, egalitarianism, feminism, big government -- one can fall on the "wrong" side of any of these issues and still be at home on the left. All of these issues are negotiable. But abortion isn’t. That’s why we heard not a peep from feminists about President Clinton. He was firmly in the pro-choice camp. So they gave him a pass on sexual assault.
I bring all of this up because I had the unfortunate opportunity to watch Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Meet the Press this weekend. Rep. Kucinich is the rarest of species -- he is a "pro-life" Democrat.
Or at least he was.
Rep. Kucinich has a 90 percent lifetime rating from the National Right to Life Committee. He has a 0 percent lifetime rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League. He has steadfastly stood by his principles, despite the fact his party has made quite clear there’s no room for dissent on this particular issue.
Or at least he did.
The problem is that Rep. Kucinich wants to run for president. As a Democrat, you are permitted to support the war with Iraq (see Sens. Edwards and Kerry). You may support school choice (see Sen. Lieberman and former Gov. Howard Dean). You can even diverge from the party line on gun control (see Gov. Dean). But if you want to be president, you simply can’t stray from the idea that abortion should be available on demand.
That’s why Kucinich flipped. He sold his soul. Right there on national television.
Because he wants to be president.
The good congressman not only vowed to uphold Roe, he further promised to uphold a woman’s right to partial-birth, late-term abortion – a practice even pro-choice credentialed Daniel Patrick Moynihan has said is morally indistinguishable from infanticide.
It was a shameless, cynical display of political opportunism. But Rep. Kucinich knows that if he is to be president, he had no other "choice." Ironic, isn’t it? The pro-choice party leaves no room for choice.
Think back to the 2000 national conventions. Republicans brought at least six pro-choice speakers to the podium -- three of them in prime time. Democrats invited zero pro-life speakers. In fact, the party banned the late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey from speaking at the 1992 convention, precisely because he was pro-life.
I don’t really hold a stake in either party. As a libertarian, I tend to vote Republican, but only by default. I consider myself pro-life, but I’d gladly vote for a pro-choice candidate with whom I felt comfortable on other issues (I hope to do just that, when Condoleezza Rice runs for president in 2008).
But I find it odd that while I can name several pro-choice Republicans off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single pro-life Democrat (though I’m sure there are a few). And yet it’s the Republicans for whom we regularly hear phrases like "closed-tent" and "litmus-test."
I think it’s the other way around. Sens. Snowe, Collins and Specter have proven that you can be a high-profile, influential Republican lawmaker and still diverge from the party on abortion. I challenge you to name one pro-life Democrat senator. Here’s a hint: There aren’t any.
The truth of the matter is that if the left truly valued "choice," they’d push for Roe to be overturned. Such a move would not, as many believe, outlaw abortion. Rather, it would take the issue away from the federal government and return it to states and municipalities, where it belongs.
Those for whom abortion is an important issue, then, could vote with their feet. Adamant pro-lifers could choose to live in communities where abortion is banned, and where there’s no danger of their tax dollars subsidizing it, while staunch pro-choicers could choose to live in communities where the procedure is readily available.
What’s sad about all of this is that Rep. Kucinich could have made points like these in forums where they most need to be heard -- at debates and campaign events attended by leftists (or "progressives," as they like to be called).
As a pro-life, anti-war Democrat, Rep. Kucinich could have distinguished himself from his competitors. He might have been the most fascinating, provocative presidential candidate in decades. He’d have found unique moral ground from which to criticize both President Bush and his own party. Yes, he would have lost. But he’s going to lose anyway.
Instead, Rep. Kucinich turned his back on a career of pro-life advocacy in an eyeblink, and all for a far-fetched, underdog shot at the White House.
Instead of emerging as an interesting, principled public servant, Rep. Kucinich proved to be just another politician.
Radley Balko is a writer living in Arlington, Va. He also maintains a weblog at www.theagitator.com.