Abortion rights leader picked as Republican co-chair

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This news is about a week old, but it escaped my notice at the time; perhaps you missed it, too. It reinforces my sense that the Republican Party's leaders at the national level fail to understand the source of their strength and electoral success, and that there is a structural basis to this failure that needs correction.

During a conversation this morning at church, I received the disappointing news that an abortion advocate has been elected by the Republican National Committee as its new co-chairman. JoAnn Davidson of Ohio was nominated to the post by new RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who had been the chairman of Bush's re-election campaign and was nominated by Bush to replace Ed Gillespie as head of the committee. Davidson has been a board member of Republicans for Choice, the pro-abortion pressure group within the GOP, since that organization's founding in 1990.

Davidson's nomination received opposition from pro-life members of the RNC. In order to gain the desired unanimous approval, she promised committee members privately not to speak at organizing or fundraising events for pro-abortion groups and to back the President's agenda publicly. In other words, she'll keep quiet about her abortion views and focus on political nuts-and-bolts, for which she's reputed to have some talent. From news reports I learned that her predecessor was also a supporter of abortion rights, news to me -- so it certainly is possible for someone to serve in that position and be a good team player by keeping quiet on matters of disagreement with the mainstream of the party.

Her colleagues at Republicans for Choice have higher ambitions for her tenure as RNC co-chairman. Their home page declares: "We look forward to working with her to help make sure the concerns of pro-choice and moderate Republicans are heard within the Republican National Committee Headquarters..."

(More about Davidson, and why this move is wrong on principle and wrong politically, after the jump.)

Her conservative critics in her home state say that there's more not to like about JoAnn Davidson than her position on abortion. As Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, Davidson supported adding sexual orientation to hate crimes laws and had "defense of marriage" legislation killed in committee, calling such legislation unnecessary, according to a press release from the Pro-Family Network of Ohio. While Davidson is credited with Bush's crucial win in Ohio, conservative activists say that it was the presence on the ballot of Issue One, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, that motivated conservative activists to work as hard as they did and motivated conservative voters to show up at the polls and vote for the amendment and for the President's re-election.

I understand that a major political party is necessarily a coalition, and that there has to be room for some diversity of views in order to build a majority to govern. I regularly work here on the local level with political activists who totally disagree with my positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, but share my concerns on issues of urban planning and government integrity. Still, I can't see the sense in taking someone who has actively worked for 15 years to undermine one of the party's core values (values which have the added attraction of being politically successful) and rewarding her with an important party position.

Support for the sanctity of human life is at the very core of the Republican message. It proceeds from an understanding, the distinctly Judeo-Christian understanding of the inherent dignity of every human as the bearer of the image of God. It is that same understanding that impelled Ronald Reagan to identify communism as the evil that it is and to stand before the Berlin Wall and call for the liberation of those enslaved by communism. That same understanding motivates Republican support for the right to life of the disabled and elderly, for opposition to human cloning and experimentation on human embryos, even for nation-building efforts in the Middle East. To take a pro-abortion position is to be willfully ignorant of what we now know about life in the womb in its earliest stages. It requires acceptance of the blasphemous notion that a human being has only the value we choose to assign to him, and therefore we may destroy him for any reason whatsoever.

The purpose of Republicans for Choice is to help pro-abortion Republicans win primaries and to end the Republican Party's strong stance in support of the sanctity of human life. The group lobbies within the Republican campaign committees to steer financial support and endorsements away from pro-life candidates. Far from being "big tent" Republicans, they liked the party better when it was a mere pup tent. Their chairman, Ann Stone, regards the pro-life, grassroots activists who have led the party to one victory after another "a band of dedicated and vocal anti-choice fanatics" who "hijacked" the party in 1980.

Back in the '70s, the golden age in the minds of pro-abortion Republicans, the party was an impotent and weak echo of the Democrats on nearly every issue. On social issues, the Republican Party fell in line with the mushy mainstream consensus in favor of moral relativism and for tearing down traditional moral restraints. (There wasn't any bold leadership in the party on fiscal issues or foreign policy matters, either.)

There's some truth in Stone's "hijack" comment. The party's structure, particularly in the Sunbelt states, was open to change from the grass roots. Social conservatives, frustrated by their exclusion from the political system, found a champion in Ronald Reagan, and they flocked to the Republican Party in 1976 to try to help him win nomination. They learned a lot of lessons that year, and in 1980, social conservatives were better prepared to work through the party organization to win control of state parties, to send like-minded delegates to the national convention, and to help get like-minded candidates nominated and elected to public office.

Since 1980, Republicans have done best when the party has spoken clearly in support of the sanctity of human life and traditional moral values. The "hijackers" have been the worker bees that have given Republicans control of the Congress and the presidency and an increasing number of state capitols.

So, given this "hijacking," how is it possible for someone so out of step with the grassroots on such an important issue to be elected to a position of leadership? It has to do with the structure of the Republican National Committee, which is made up of three members (chairman, national committeman and national committeewoman) from each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and four territories. Every state party, no matter how large or small the state, no matter how successful or unsuccessful in winning elections, has equal representation, amplifying the influence of states where structures and rules which are hostile to grassroots influence have been used to lock social conservatives out of the state party hierarchy.

I wrote about this same phenomenon as it applied in the committee sessions leading up to the Republican National Convention. (See also this response in Gawker's profile of me.) New York blogger Scott Sala is active in local Republican circles and has written from time to time (e.g. here) about the tendency of party leaders to throw a wet blanket on grassroots involvement (whether or not social conservatism is involved). It seems they'd rather have power than political success.

That structural problem is how the Republican National Committee ends up making decisions that seem out of character with the values of the activists and candidates who brought the party to power. Can anything be done about it? Nothing until 2008, when the Republican National Convention approves party rules for the following four years. That would be an opportunity to change the composition of the RNC to reward state parties that have had political success.

The structure of the Oklahoma Republican State Committee suggests one way to do that -- to the current RNC membership, add every Republican Senator and Congressman, every Republican Governor, and the head of every Republican-led legislative chamber. Alternatively, those Republican officials could designate RNC members to serve in their stead, with the approval of the Republican state committee. One more option: Use a formula similar to the delegate allocation formula to grant bonus seats on the RNC to successful state parties; a state's additional committee members would be elected by its state convention.

Such changes won't get through the 2008 Rules Committee for the same structural reasons. It will require the election of national delegates who are willing to modify the rules on the floor of the convention, and that will involve grassroots efforts at every district and state convention. It's a big task, but that's what it will take to ensure that the highest reaches of the Republican hierarchy are in sync with the values of the party's grassroots.

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» mmm... More Bush Selling Out from Save The GOP

For those of you who said that President Bush was going to keep his election promises, I hope you are right, but here is more discouraging news that he is far from a true conservative. The President allowed the RNC to select Jo Ann Davidson of Ohio... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 30, 2005 2:10 PM.

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