More on Melinda Henneberger


At the request of Robert Reid and the permission of William Collier: some comments on Henneberger's op-ed piece



Posted by William Collier

on June 22, 2007, 2:59 pm

Im not trying to hijack this thread about Juan Coles prescription for Hillary on Iraq, but Peggy did mention the Melinda Henneberger NYTs op-ed piece, too. The op-ed is titled Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats.

In gathering info for her new book (If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear), Ms. Henneberger states that she traveled to 20 states, over an 18-month period, listening to a wide cross-section of women comment on the issues they care about for the 2008 presidential election. According to Ms. Henneberger, first-time defectors in the 2004 election, i.e., Democratic women who voted Republican, did so most often not because they were soccer moms who saw Bush as better able than Kerry to deliver on fighting terrorism, but because they were turned off by the Democratic Partys unwillingness to tolerate a diversity of views on the issue of abortion.In Ms. Hennebergers own words:Many of them, Catholic women in particular, are liberal, deep-in-their-heart Democrats who support social spending, who opposed the war from the start and who cross their arms over their chests reflexively when they say the word 'Republican.' Some could fairly be described as desperate to find a way home. And if the party theyd prefer doesnt send a car for them, with a really polite driver, it will have only itself to blame.What would it take to win them back? Respect, for starters and not only on the night of the candidate forum on faith. As it turns out, you cannot call people extremists and expect them to vote for you. But real respect would require an understanding that what supporters of abortion rights genuinely see as a hard-earned freedom, opponents genuinely see as a self-inflicted wound and though I can feel some of you tensing as you read this a human rights issue comparable to slavery.Again and again, these voters said Democrats are too unwilling to tolerate dissent on abortion. It is a point of orthodoxy no more open to debate within the party than the ordination of women is in Rome.She also makes good points about the Democratic Party hierarchys overreaction to the recent Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on partial-birth abortions.IMO the op-ed provides sage practical advice for the Democratic presidential hopefuls on the abortion issue. Ms. Henneberger warns that the abortion issue has been very, very good to the Republican Party and that if the Democratic candidates hope to reconnect with the first-time defectors, they will have to moderate their pro-choice statements and construct a bigger tent on the abortion issue.

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels is a former editor of Commonweal. 

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