Whatever else one might think about the “Trumpen Proletariat” and the “Bernie Brigades,” it is clear that this is an election cycle in which prospective voters are looking to shake things up.
A year from now, the political establishment may be back in charge, but right now voters seem to be thinking outside the (ballot) box.
Two small signs that this kind of electoral iconoclasm goes further than simply posturing about where to build a wall can be found in voting blocs that until now have been pretty much taken for granted: African-Americans and pro-lifers.
The first came earlier this year when a well-known African-American pastor in Chicago launched a broadside against the Democratic Party. “African-Americans have been loyal to the Democratic Party, but there is a group of African-Americans that feel like the Democratic Party has not been loyal to us.” That was what Pastor Corey Brooks told
The Daily Beast last June.
The Rev. Brooks has made a point of inviting Republican presidential candidates to visit his struggling neighborhood. He said that the poverty rates and prison rates are up, while “the educational system has totally failed. All of this primarily has been under Democratic regimes in our neighborhoods, so the question for me becomes, How can our neighborhoods be doing so awful and so bad when we’re so loyal to this party who is in power? It is a matter of them taking complete advantage of our vote.”
Whether Brooks’ argument causes other African-Americans to think about what their loyalty has gotten them remains to be seen, but some pro-lifers feel his pain.
In the Republican Party, pro-lifers are the GOP’s equivalent of the Democrats’ predictable black vote. But there are signs that a new generation of pro-lifers is getting restless with this status quo.
Symbolic votes, such as the recent House action to defund Planned Parenthood, may set the stage for a funding fight and a possible government shutdown, but the Senate leadership is opposed to such dramatic action.
Meanwhile, a GOP-sponsored bill, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — which would ban abortion beyond 20 weeks except in cases of rape or when the life of the mother is at risk — also looks to be a merely symbolic vote as well.
Some pro-lifers have had it with the symbolism. In a scathing column
in The Week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote that the GOP elites despise the pro-lifers, but use them to help win elections.
“The GOP has a built-in interest in taking pro-lifers for granted,” Gobry writes. “In a democracy, the person who decides elections is the median voter. That's who the parties serve (at least on top-of-the-ticket issues; on less visible issues, they serve big donors and elite constituencies — a fact, which, again, doesn't favor the pro-life movement). Because pro-lifers overwhelmingly vote GOP, the GOP can take us for granted.”
Charles Camosy, author of "Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation," argues that pro-lifers need a third way, finding legislative combinations that address issues that moderate pro-choicers would care about, such as paid family leave.
in the Los Angeles Times, Camosy keyed on a proposal by the Democrats for Life (yes, there is such a group) that would add “an amendment to the legislation or a separate bill that would provide social support for women in the form of mandatory paid family leave.”
The pro-life establishment is against such an addition, saying it would kill the bill, but Camosy notes that the bill is dead anyway if nothing is done to attract a broader coalition to support it.
Camosy thinks this may be part of the plan: “Consider that each time such popular legislation fails Republicans get a windfall in pro-life money, votes and ground game for the next election cycle. They get a ready-made way to attack the other party. In a word, they get anger. The kind of anger that can fire up their base during campaign season.”
Establishment pro-lifers are as wedded to the Republican Party as African-American leaders are to the Democrats, but Gobry, Camosy and Brooks represent a next generation that is increasingly impatient with a polarized and paralyzed status quo.
“Hard-core pro-lifers — people who are more interested in changing abortion laws than maintaining political wedge issues — are beginning to realize they've gained precious little from supporting national Republican candidates over the last four decades,” Camosy says.
Brooks says about the Democrats: “They have a failing plan. A business owner wouldn’t allow the person who runs it to remain in charge for 50 years, constantly running it into the ground.”
As America braces for the arrival of Pope Francis, who is not easily categorized by political labels, perhaps he will inspire all of us — African-Americans, Hispanics, pro-lifers, social justice advocates — to look beyond the frozen polarities of American politics and start talking with each other about what real change might look like and how it might be achieved.
Gregory R. Erlandson is publisher of the Publishing Division for Our Sunday Visitor, one of the largest Catholic publishing companies in the United States. Erlandson is also an adviser on the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee, and has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Read more reports from him — Click Here Now.
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