Kilgore's posts sanely sum up the state of things from a pro-abortion [rights] point of view. And he understands, correctly, that abortion is the fly in the ointment that prevents any stable truce from being established any time soon. The broader culture will adjust more quickly to civil liberties for gays and lesbians, and church/state separation principles, in my view, are not in jeopardy. But abortion is different. Something more fundamental is at stake here, and it's not the kind of thing people get over.
Roe was a mistake; abortion policy should be something local communities or states decide. It should be a bottom up decision, not a top-down one. An issue as ambiguous as this one should never have become enshrined as a constitutional right. The Feds should have stayed out of it, and now that they're in it, they should get out of it. Let the people vote on a state-by-state basis, and when they do, abortion policy will be more liberal in blue states and strict in red. It's a little Missouri Compromise-ish, but it would be better than what we have now.
But Kilgore retorts to arguments to deconstitutionalize abortion policy this way:
Some Americans believe that an abortion is an act of lethal violence against an innocent human being whose rights (like everyone else's) should be protected by the state. Other Americans believe that the only legally relevant moral considerations in an abortion are the wishes of the pregnant woman -- which of course presumes that the fetus is not a human being in need of protection against lethal violence. These are contrary and incompatible metaphysical assumptions about matters of life and death and human dignity.
I understand his point, and it's valid. But let's bracket the question about whether a truce is possible in the culture war--it's probably not--and focus instead on whether the national Democratic party should take sides in it. It would not have to if abortion policy was handled on the state rather than the federal level.
This is complex and messy, but my argument on this blog has been that the long-term solution for the recovery of political health is to separate out as much as possible issues that are proper to the cultural sphere from issues that are proper to the political and economic. Divisive issues rooted in cultural values conflicts should be handled where possible only on the local level so long as fundamental rights are protected. The right to an abortion is not fundamental; the right to life of the fetus is ambiguous.
A huge problem for Democrats since the seventies is its having been pulled out of what should have remained a neutral position on the matter. It has since, because of abortion and some other issues, been branded as the party of anything-goes cultural liberalism, which is not a worldview most people on Main Street feel comfortable with. So far many more of them than should vote Republican, even if on particular issues they approve Democratic policy positions. People vote on tribal-identity lines except in emergencies, and as Tom Frank has pointed out, the people who should be natural Democrats--the so-called Reagan Democrats--are no longer solidly Democrats because Reagan symbolized something Americans identified with on a tribal-values level, even if his policies were destructive of their political and economic interests.
I would argue that the Democrats' long-term health depends on its becoming more neutral on divisive cultural values issues. It should retrieve the Capraesque mythos it enjoyed in the New Deal years. The Dems then were the party of the George Baileys, John Does, and Longfellow Deeds--it was the party of the ordinary decent fellow, the party that understood and embraced values like dignity, neighborly generosity, and tolerance held by ordinary decent Americans.
The Dems let Reagan steal the Capra mythos from them in the 80s, even though he was the ally of the Mr. Potters and D.B. Nortons. I think a guy like Obama can take it back, and I hope he does, but here's the thing: abortion is a rather large fly in the ointment, and both Obama and the Democratic Party are too identified with it. NARAL's aggressive pro-abortion rights positions don't align well with that Capraesque Main-Street sense of what is normal and decent, and because the national Democratic Party and Obama are perceived as aligning more with NARAL than with Main Street, lots of Main Streeters will continue to have a hard time feeling comfortable in the Democratic Party, even though that's where they belong.
The abortion issue is the gift that keeps giving to the right-wing elements in our political culture. They will continue to exploit it as a wedge so long as it remains so closely identified with the Democratic Party. Guys like Kilgore are right in arguing that the John Brown extremists in the pro-life camp will never be assuaged, the people who think
Moral absolutists are almost always wrong, but we need them to bring into high relief the moral seriousness of the issues we are dealing with. We need them as we needed people like Daniel Berrigan to awaken us to the moral seriousness of the nation's drift into militarism. But these absolutists do not define policy. I believe most Americans who live within the Capra centrist mythos are more flexible. What they don't like is the idea that abortion-on-demand is normative. I think that if policy was decided on a state-by state basis, most of the sympathy felt on Main Street for the view of abortion described in the quote above would be dissipated. Laws tailored to local sensibilities would allow for more flexibility and common sense. Right now with abortion enshrined as a constitutional right, there is no room for flexibility, experiment, or fine tuning. Let this be worked out democratically in the state houses.
But here's the bottom-line political point. The Dems on the national level should not take sides on abortion. The culture war might rage on, but let it be fought out in the state legislatures rather than in Washington. This should be perceived as neither a Dem nor a Republican issue. If abortion policy was determined on a state-by-state basis, it would make it easier for Democrats on the Federal level to elect legislators whose positions on the economic and civil liberties issues are more in line with Main Steet aspirations without abortion or other divisive cultural issues being a wedge issue or distraction.
It's not clear how this culture war would play out on the state level. My guess is that on the pro-choice side Libertarians who usually vote Republican will align with cultural-left types who usally vote Democratic, while on the pro-life side Bush Republicans, Reagan Democrats, and otherwise left-leaning Catholics will argue the pro-life side. And maybe in some states the sane Capraesque center will mediate a policy solution that appeals to the the common sense and moral seriousness that characterize Main Street Americans at their best.