Commentary Magazine


Abortion Politics

Remember how Barack Obama was going to use abortion to pry women voters away from John McCain’s grasp? During the primary he swore up and down that he, rather than Hillary Clinton, was the one to best preserve abortion rights. He even got NARAL to endorse him over Clinton (to the great dismay of many) before the primary race was even over.

That was then. Now the gambit is to be mum on abortion. Some activists are not amused:

For some reason, they” — meaning the Obama campaign — “don’t emphasize [abortion]. They emphasize other issues. Basically this issue is very strongly held by Republican suburban women,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Everyone keeps talking about shaving margins by reaching out to evangelicals. What about the suburban women who do want for themselves and daughters this fundamental right?”

(The umpteenth example of Democrats’ recognition that we have a right-of-center electorate is duly noted.)

On this issue, Obama’s change in emphasis is a low-risk strategy. Despite the earlier bold talk, the Obama camp must know that emphasizing Roe v. Wade isn’t going to help Obama with those values voters in key swing states. (Hence, he made the rather awkward and ultimately botched attempt to shade his abortion stance earlier this month.) Where are the single issue pro-choice voters going to go? Pro-life McCain isn’t going to win them over. Besides, there is a certain wink-wink quality to this pantomime between Obama and pro-choice voters, since Obama has made known his preference in judges – the single most important factor in abortion politics.

So is there any downside for Obama in shushing talk of abortion rights? The only risk is that those highly idealistic voters and former Hillary Clinton fans might lose faith in and decide they had rather not work for, or vote for, the Great Deceiver. (They can get in line with the disillusioned civil libertarians and the campaign reform/good government crowds, who aren’t getting what they bargained for, either.) The real danger for Obama, then, is the accumulation of the disenchanted activists. If you are banking on an army of faithful followers and small donors, there is only so much you can do to frustrate them before you feel a pinch.