The Democrats Have a “Principled” Contingent, Too


Ever since “The One” was elected, the Democrats have seemed to represent a relatively coherent ideology. Its New Left contingent was quiescent with the express and implied promises of a decisive leftward move. And the Establishment was proud of itself for having elected the first black* president.  As a result, Democrats have been able to avoid internal ideological debates and cast themselves as The Pragmatic Party (good), while their internally debating opposition is cast as The Principled Party (bad).  So far as it goes, that’s a dichotomy that helps the Democrats not a little.

But the Democrats have a big problem:  If Obama’s popularity (now in steady decline) is personal as it appears to be, that means the Democrats’ identity must be forged anew in 2016.  What will its next nominee offer the New Left?  What will it offer its Establishment?  And, most importantly, what will it offer that most coveted and wily of prizes, the Independent Voter?  To forge that identity, the Democrats will, once again, have to acknowledge that they represent, horror of horrors, principles.

The pro-abortion-rights wing presents a useful case study.  This Democratic contingent clearly espouses principles, and as deeply and fervently as any right-of-center group.  Behold, Amanda Marcotte, in a blaze of principles:

The reality is that abortion isn’t just about abortion. For both sides, “abortion” stands in for a general worldview of what a woman’s place in the world is and how much right she has to decide that for herself. The anti-choice movement is rooted in a belief that a woman’s role is very narrowly written and that any rejection of a rigid, submissive gender role makes someone a “slut” or some other kind of “bad” woman. (There are a few conservative women such as Ann Coulter who elide this, but mostly by selling women out: They are given a pass for their own personal choices because they sell the idea that other women shouldn’t have freedom.)

That’s why relentless attempts by Republicans to paint pro-choice politics as a “single issue” that is beneath “whole” voters is missing the point entirely. Support for abortion rights is linked to a larger worldview, a worldview that takes a broad view of what freedom means: economic security, access to health care, right to self-determination, and a belief that a person’s goodness is determined by how that person treats others and less about how closely that person adheres to narrowly written social roles. Even if the abortion issue disappeared tomorrow, women would still lean more left than men as a group, because women are more likely to buy into the overall worldview more—and no wonder, as it’s one that’s more likely to see women as people and less as broad, ugly stereotypes.

On display are not only leftist principles, but a “worldview,” and an implied slippery slope argument that curtailing abortion “rights” leads to “a rigid, submissive gender role” for women.  Recall that slippery slopes are routinely and derisively rejected out of hand by respectable liberals. So what do they plan to do with their own left-wing firebrands?  Will the media furnish us with a “teabagger”-equivalent counter-epithet?

Recall that candidate Obama earned the trust of this deeply principled group of left-wingers on the basis that, as Illinois state senator, he opposed partial birth abortion bill and successfully killed it. Like his principled brethren, he understood the damage the principle would do.  However, candidate Obama suffered unusually little political downside given the media’s fundamental lack of curiosity into The Historic Candidate’s background – not as if poking around in The One’s voting record would have exceeded even the most spartan of research budgets.

On this particular issue at least, it is unlikely the next Democratic nominee will repeat the neat trick Obama managed.


* Or, per the lessons taught by the Trayvon Martin story, is he the first white-black president?

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Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. He also blogs at Ordinary Times. You can follow Tim via Facebook or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at