As Barack Obama gets closer to his last days in office, Democrats continue their post-election reflections. That includes one of Obama’s own staffers, who is claiming that the party is too rigid and extreme on abortion and too antagonistic towards religious Americans… and, he says, this needs to change.
Wear served as Obama’s faith director, and spearheaded his faith outreach efforts. He is also pro-life, making him a dying breed in the Democratic Party. Wear has a new book, Reclaiming Hope, and he gave an interview with The Atlantic, discussing the party’s issues with religion and abortion.
Part of the problem, Wear claims, is that Democrats have become so obsessed with abortion, that they can’t reach out to religious Americans. “They think, in some ways wrongly, but in other ways rightly, that it would put constraints around their policy agenda,” he explained. “So, for instance: You could make a case to evangelicals while trying to repeal the Hyde Amendment [which prohibits federal funding for abortion in most circumstances], but that’s really difficult. Reaching out to evangelicals doesn’t mean you have to become pro-life. It just means you have to not be so in love with how pro-choice you are, and so opposed to how pro-life we are.”
He was asked why it is that the party has become so extreme on abortion, making it nearly impossible to be a pro-life Democrat, and Wear believes there is one organization that is overwhelmingly to blame: Planned Parenthood. “The spending that women’s groups have done is profound. 2012 was a year of historic investment from Planned Parenthood, and the campaign in 2016 topped it,” he said. “Number two, we’re seeing party disaffiliation as a way of signaling moral discomfort. A lot of pro-life Democrats were formerly saying, ‘My presence here doesn’t mean I agree with everything—I’m going to be an internal force that acts as a constraint or a voice of opposition on abortion.’ Those people have mostly left the party.”
The problem isn’t just with Democrats, though; Wear believes that the pro-life movement could be more welcoming when Democrats do reach out to them. “I think Democrats felt like their outreach wouldn’t be rewarded,” he explained. “For example: The president went to Notre Dame in May of 2009 and gave a speech about reducing the number of women seeking abortions. It was literally met by protests from the pro-life community. Now, there are reasons for this—I don’t mean to say that Obama gave a great speech and the pro-life community should have [acknowledged that]. But I think there was an expectation by Obama and the White House team that there would be more eagerness to find common ground.”
Still, there’s a reason that pro-lifers have become so hostile towards Democrats. “The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party,” Wear said, adding:
We are now so far from that, it’s insane. This debate, for both sides, is not just about the abortion rate; it’s not just about the legality of it. It’s a symbolic debate. It’s symbolic on the pro-choice side about the autonomy of women and their freedom to do what they want with their bodies. On the pro-life side, they care not just about the regulations around abortion, but whether there’s a cultural affirmation of life.
Even the symbolic olive branches have become less acceptable.
If Democrats continue to be hostile towards religious and pro-life Americans, then they do so at their own risk. “America is still a profoundly religious nation.” Wear argued. “That’s a huge portion of the electorate to throw out. So if the civic motivation doesn’t get you, let me make the practical argument: It doesn’t help you win elections if you’re openly disdainful toward the driving force in many Americans’ lives.”
Wear is not the only Democrat sounding warning bells about the party’s extremism on abortion. Earlier this month, pro-abortion Democrat Stephen Markley argued that the party needs to be more welcoming of pro-lifers if they are going to be competitive in elections. Pro-life Democrats have also spoken out about the hostility in their party towards them, and have fought the party’s new and extreme positions on abortion.
But will the party learn from its mistakes, and stop letting Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry dictate the party platform? All politicians need to remember that they serve the American people, not Planned Parenthood. And Americans don’t want this kind of extremism when it comes to abortion.