Very little in this visitor’s diminishing recollections of the Republican Convention survives so vividly as one moment of quarrel between Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times and a colleague still fixed in the Clintonian persuasion. Scheer had given the Clinton administration no end of slack before at last recoiling when the President consented to accept the Republican version of welfare reform.
By now the wrath of Scheer the old radical had cooled to the resignation of Scheer the philosopher and he closed his case by saying, “The whole point of it all is that Clinton can approve the welfare bill and sign the Defense of Marriage Act, and the liberals will cling to him just so long as they can count on him to veto a ban on late-term abortions.”
But, of course. The Christian Coalition has won the debate. It has contrived to make abortion the litmus test for soft liberal Democrats that it had already become for hard conservative Republicans.
We cannot fairly say that the symbiosis of the two parties is by now so close to fulfillment that their views on abortion constitute the only visible distinction between them. There is the no small matter of assault guns and, to vaguer degrees, the issue of affirmative action. Differences in approach to deficit abatement also became manifest when Robert Dole fell off his horse on a road whose destination was less likely Damascus than Waterloo and arose converted to the supply-side creed that had until then been his heart’s abhorrence.
But then Dole is as awkward as the President is supple; and the best proof of the sovereignty of this advantage is the habits that seem unvaryingly to land Clinton on the right side of the public opinion polls and Dole on the wrong.
The two parties are otherwise almost as undisguisedly alike as they were when Grover Cleveland was alternating with Benjamin Harrison. This phenomenon explains a politics more and more inert and an electorate so more and more volatile that Newt Gingrich bloomed two years ago just for not being Bill Clinton and Bill Clinton now blossoms anew just for not being Newt Gingrich. We have entered upon an era when candidates lighten the sullen hearts of the majority of us not for who they are but for who they aren’t.
Whatever remnants of difference separate them, the Republicans and the Democrats are knit together in the shared shame of their zeal for the comforts of affluent gaffers like myself and their indifference to the welfare of poor children.
It is a familiar complaint of the right-to-choicers that the right-to-lifers have more concern for the unborn than they have ever shown for the already born. That charge seems peculiarly unjust to the Catholic Church, which is equally staunch in condemning abortion and the afflictions visited upon the welfare class by the Democrats and the Republicans.
The right-to-choice camp includes many who concede the right—often reluctantly—and a few who embrace it with the passion that inspires movements. There is little evidence that the choice movement cares as much as the Church or even at all about those already born in need. But then, when we permit our rhetoric to reduce the challenge between accepting or denying the claims of the unborn to a mere choice between convenience and inconvenience, we come close to thinking of children as the inconveniences that the Congress and the President obviously take all those shiftless little welfare leeches to be.
Our politics was once redeemed by the illusions of a liberalism that spoke of “Us and above all Us.” Now we have arrived at the liberalism that can only say, “Me and above all Me.” It is perhaps gratifying to see the right to choose so well established; but it would be distinctly more rewarding if we were left with worthier choices.
October 3, 1996