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Talking From The Poles

In today's New York Times, Adam Nagourney writes that the Democrats at the convention plan to highlight (among other things) "Mr. McCain's opposition to abortion rights." For their sake, I hope they don't.

A small number of pro-life activists want to overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortion outright. Most Americans reject this position. Why shouldn't Democrats point out the decision of the Republican Party to align itself with the activists? Because every time they do so, they highlight their own absolutism on the issue. Within the past week, Americans have learned that as an Illinois legislator Obama voted against a bill that would have banned infanticide. (The bill was a pro-life trap, true, but nevertheless one that snared him.) Then there is the Democratic Party platform, which, despite claims to the contrary, shifted several steps to the left on abortion this election cycle. All language stating or implying that abortion might be a bad thing (like the brilliant Clintonian formulation affirming that abortion ought to be "safe, legal, and rare") has been stripped. In its place is the statement that the party support for Roe v. Wade (that is, abortion-on-demand through all trimesters) is "unequivocal."

The facts are these: Just below 20 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all cases and circumstances. A slightly smaller number believe it should be illegal in all cases and circumstances. The rest (roughly 60 percent) think it should "usually" be legal or "usually" illegal, showing that the views of a solid majority of Americans confound the purists on both sides of the spectrum. And yet both parties insist on sticking to their extreme positions. Given the current configuration of interest groups in American political life, it might be impossible for either party to moderate its official line on abortion. But given political reality, you'd think that self-interest would lead each one to keep its voice down when discussing its position on the issue.