That sound you hear, beneath the loud reveling at the President’s precedent-shattering nomination of a woman to the Supreme Court, is the cracking apart of Ronald Reagan’s Great Coalition.
The White House boys have just made the most basic mistake you can make in politics: They have comprised the vital interests of the President’s most ardent followers, to score brownie points with their political enemies. A frivolous campaign promise has been kept, and a solemn written commitment violated. Political adultery.
Eighteen months ago, in the Iowa caucuses, the right-to-life movement saved Ronald Reagan from a carefully prepared ambush by his now-vice President – a defeat which could have made Ronald Reagan a footnote in the history books. A month later, in New Hampshire, the right-to-lifers provided a significant share of that astonishing margin of victory, which gave candidate Reagan irresistible momentum through the early, conclusive primaries.
In return, the movement asked Mr. Reagan for a surprisingly small return. Only that Reagan support their Human Life Amendment and its progeny; that his Supreme Court nominees – be they black, white, yellow, brown, red, male or female – share the President’s internalized belief that the unborn child has the God-given that the unborn child has the God-given right to live. As politics goes, this was a simple, inexpensive bargain. The candidate would get the volunteer labors of thousands, the allegiance of millions, in return for remaining true to his stated convictions.
The right-to-lifers more than kept the bargain. When the White House asked that they place their agenda at the end of the line, while the President’s vast economic vessel transited the Congress, they accepted.
Their reward: to be ridiculed as a pack of “extremists” by some chowderhead editorial writer on the New York Times – bulletin board of the Abzugian wing of the Feminist party – which is chortling in print over the President’s nomination to the High Court of Arizona co-sponsor of legislation to legalize abortion of demand.
Why? What will the White House receive, that is tangible and enduring, to compensate for breaking the hearts of the President’s most faithful followers?
This is not to demean Ms. Sandra Day O’Connor, the President’s nominee. Her academic, political, and judicial records are, at least, cum laude; even her critics in Arizona admit her brilliance. Had she been elevated to the Cabinet, she might have gone unopposed.
But this is the United States Supreme Court – the court that will decide, when the new medical evidence is reviewed, whether it made a historic blunder in Roe v. Wade, the court which will pass on all congressional restrictions upon its jurisdiction, the court which will have final word on legislation moving through Congress that sets the movement when, constitutionally, life begins, the unborn child becomes a “person,” and his or her right to life must be protected by the state.
In nominating Ms. O’Connor, the White House has left the right-to-life movement no choice but to oppose her with all its resource, no choice but to depart, temporarily and perhaps permanently, from the President’s coalition, no choice but to put the heat on senators like Orrin Hatch – up for re-election in 1982.
“We feel betrayed by the President,” said Paul Brown of the Life Amendment Political action Committee. “We’ve been sold out.
That kind of politics is so alien to what is know of Ronald Reagan, the question must be raised. Was the President misled about Ms. O’Connor’s record? Misled by the Department of Justice, by the White House Staff, or by Judge O’Connor herself?
According to the acting press secretary, Larry Speakes, Ms. O’Connor told the President she was “personally opposed” to abortion, found it “personally abhorrent.” Yet, according to the right-to-life movement, she not only co-sponsored and supported legislation legalizing abortions he opposed a resolution urging Congress to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the abortion decision.
(What would we say of an individual who said he found racial segregation “personally abhorrent,” then voted to overturn the Civil Rights Act of 1964?)
The abortion issue is not just a social issue; it is the overriding social issue that split the FDR coalition and sent millions of Southern evangelical Christians and Northern Catholics into the camp of a Republican President with who they may disagree on a dozen other issues. Their demoralization is a political tragedy of the first order – and so damned unnecessary.
Chicago Tribune –N.Y. News Syndicate