In recent speeches, Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) adopted a conciliatory attitude toward the pro-life position. “I believe we can all recognize that abortion, in many ways, represents a sad, even tragic, choice to many, many women,” she said.
Clinton also said that she respected “those who believe with all their hearts and conscience that there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be available.” She has even praised organized religion for promoting abstinence among teens, saying that most teens abstain because of religious convictions.
But, pro-lifers may ask, do her words represent a genuine desire to work to limit abortion? Or are they just another manifestation of democratic panic in lieu of the last presidential election, in which many voters said that they voted based on moral issues, with abortion and gay marriage topping the list?
It is very possible to think that she is merely playing politics and changing her rhetoric to reach out to social conservatives in preparation for a 2008 presidential run.
If so, her new approach will do her little good if recent history is any barometer.
In reality, her words are no different from those of John Kerry. Kerry continually affirmed during the debates that he respected pro-lifers and even that he personally opposed abortion as a matter of faith (a step that Clinton has not taken) and was still summarily rejected by pro-life voters because he would not take that belief into the public arena.
Reaching pro-life voters will be very important in coming elections, but if Clinton does run she will have to do better to reach them.
No matter how much a politician respects a voter’s position, it will not normally change the way that person votes.
For instance, if George W. Bush had continually said during the last election that he deeply respected a woman’s right to choose, he would not have swayed many voters since his record shows that he is strongly committed to combating the availability of abortion and many pro-choicers fear that given the right circumstances he could appoint the Supreme Court justices that will overturn Roe v. Wade.
Such words would seem patronizing to pro-choice voters, and Clinton should realize that in the same way, her new tone could rub pro-lifers the wrong way.
Clinton’s new change of heart also falls into a trap that severely hurt Kerry. Kerry was criticized by many for being a “flip-flopper” when he changed his stance or tried to sit on the fence in regard to certain issues to win more votes.
Considering the problems Bush was having with the war, the large number of people who were merely voting against Bush instead of for Kerry and the overall closeness of the election, a stronger democratic candidate could have easily won. If Kerry would have taken a firmer stance on issues like the war, he might have done better.
As it stood, many perceived him as just another politician who would say anything to get elected. Whether one agreed or disagreed with Bush, one could not say he was inconsistent and this played a large part in his victory.
If Clinton wants to run for president, it will be in her best interests to stick to her guns instead of trying to please people who she cannot possibly honestly represent.
I am not going to say that Clinton is merely being self-serving or hypocritical by attempting to show respect and admiration for the pro-life cause. It is an admirable thing to try to understand those who hold an opposing position and I am glad she is doing so.
But, she will not make any headway with pro-life voters unless she backs up her words with actions.
To this point, she has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record and no serious pro-lifer would ever vote for someone with a record like that.
Unless her voting habits change in the coming years, her pro-life rhetoric will sound hollow and will do little to win over conservative and even moderate voters.
Worse still, she may even lose votes if voters at large view her as lacking integrity.