Abortion and political candidates

Excellent column on abortion politics from EJ Dionne today in the Post

“Why is it that abortion, a subject on which political candidates often
claim to be expressing their most deeply held moral convictions, is
often the issue on which they seem especially opportunistic and
unprincipled?”

Dionne points out the politically opportunistic changes on abortion for many prominent politicians (including Mitt Romney, who announced for president today).  The problem, he argues, is that politicians do not believe they can be honest on this issue.  In truth (you'd never know it from the media), the American public is profoundly ambivalent on abortion.  Alas, we simply do not allow the same from our politicians.  Instead, we force upon them a commitment and surety that most Americans do not share:

But there is something systematic about the willingness of
politicians to adapt their views on abortion to suit the preferences of
whatever electorate they are facing at any given time. The reason: Our
political system has created strong incentives for candidates to be
less than candid about what they really think.

To begin with,
candidates are rarely willing to say outright what's true for so many
of them: that they do not consider abortion the most important issue in
politics and that it is not the reason they entered public life…

Yet politicians who acknowledged that abortion was not one of their
driving concerns would be denounced, oddly enough, as unprincipled…

Finally, we don't make it easy for politicians to admit, as most voters
do, that abortion is an agonizing question. It's not hard to share the
concern of right-to-lifers for the value of human life from the moment
of conception. It's not hard to share the concern of abortion rights
advocates that a legal ban could endanger the health and the lives of
women by driving abortions underground without much reducing their
number.

I honestly think that politics in this country would be much better off if every Democrat with national aspirations did not have to pledge fealty to abortion rights groups and every nationally-ambitious Republican did not likewise have to prove themselves to the pro-life movement. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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