The National Catholic Review
In 1992, Bill Clinton demonstrated a self-critical stance towards an important constituency, or a craven but brilliant capacity for political calculus, when he denounced a hate-filled remark by the black singer Sister Souljah while addressing Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. Clinton’s aim was to enflesh his "New Democrat" image, to show he was not so deferential to his base as to be incapable of independent judgment. The incident was so effective that to this day, a "Sister Souljah moment" has come to represent any attempt by any politician to achieve a similar critical stance towards their own most vocal supporters. The last thing Hillary Clinton needs to do is denounce a black singer! But, it has gone largely unremarked in analysis of the upcoming Pennsylvania primary that Clinton does have one group of political activists to whom she is especially indebted. Pro-choice groups like NARAL, NOW and Emily’s List have been the base of her fundraising and organizational support. They have sent emails and placed phone calls to voters in key primary states questioning Obama’s commitment to Roe v. Wade. And, the generational cleavage among women – older women tend to support Clinton by significantly large margins than younger women – is also related to the abortion issue. For older women, Roe was part of their emergence on the national political stage, a process that they see coming to fruition in Clinton’s bid for the White House. In heavily Catholic Pennsylvania, it is curious that so little attention has been paid to Clinton’s dependence on these groups. Her campaign is built largely upon her experience during her husband’s tenure in office, and few pro-life voters will forget that it was Bill Clinton who vetoed the Partial Birth abortion bill. Did she advise him to do so? Clinton should find an audience in Pennsylvania where she can distance herself from some of the more extreme pro-abortion arguments. She could say that the Democrats need to move beyond simply defending Roe and find alternatives to abortion or new ways of preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place. She could repeat her husband’s mantra that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare" and point to ways that might make it more rare. The effort would cost her nothing. The older women who are Clinton’s base know where she stands on the issue, and they are never going to abandon her. But, she could usefully position herself as a more moderate candidate for the general election, and strengthen what remains as her most credible claim to the nomination: the ability to attract moderate swing voters, many of whom are Catholic and many of whom have continued to deliver large majorities for pro-life Democrats in Pennsylvania. Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 3/29/2008 - 6:22pm
Apparently, Clinton doesn't need to sweep her views under the rug in PA, where she has a strong lead, even with a large Catholic population. Maybe the Church should take note. Maybe Catholics are less anti-choice than the Church thinks. I don't see where Clinton's arguments are "extreme," either. They sound perfectly rational and ethical to me: wanting to reduce unwanted pregnancies by preventing them in the first place through increased access to contraceptives, while also recognizing that those same contraceptives are not 100% effective, so there will always be a need for safe, legal abortion because it is better than the unsafe, illegal abortion that preceded it. Does the Catholic Church really want to return to illegal, unsafe abortion? Really, where is your compassion? And where is your sense of social responsibility? Has the Church called for the fathers of unwanted children to step forth to raise them and devote their lives to them? Or does the Church instead work to make adoption the "viable alternative" to the woman raising the child? It takes two to make a child, after all.
Anonymous | 3/25/2008 - 3:14pm
This makes me wonder if NARAL is talking out of both sides of their mouth in this election. In January, when Clinton questioned Obama's pro-choice record, NARAL responded with the following statement: "We are fortunate to have such strong pro-choice candidates like Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as well as former Sen. John Edwards and Gov. Bill Richardson, running for president. All of these candidates have strongly communicated their pro-choice values. We are confident that any one of these candidates would protect and defend a woman's right to choose, if elected president." That statement suggests a neutrality that would be very much compromised if NARAL were actively campaigning for Hillary Clinton.