The Independent Newsweekly
|January 20, 2005||
Vol. 2, No. 3
"I hope that we can talk about this divisive abortion issue in different ways in this country in the 21st century. President Bush campaigned all over the country with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who doesn't agree with him on the issue. Why can't the Democratic Party include both views at high levels?"
Democratic Party leadership post may hinge on abortion
By Joe Feuerherd
Former six-term representative Tim Roemer of Indiana is, on some levels, central casting's answer to what ails the Democratic Party. The articulate 48-year-old former Notre Dame graduate student (he got his master's and Ph.D. in South Bend) had a moderate to liberal voting record (Americans for Democratic Action gave him a 61 percent lifetime rating) while representing a conservative "Red State" district during 12 years in the House. He supported increases in the minimum wage, backed the 1996 welfare bill signed by President Clinton, and, most recently, served on the 9-11 Commission.
But he also supported measures that put him at odds with the party's influential pro-abortion-rights constituency - such as a ban on late term abortions, "parental consent" for minors, a ban on cloning, and the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act." Thus his desire to head the Democratic National Committee -- he's the only pro-life candidate among the six seeking the post -- has become a flash point as the party debates its future in the wake of the 2004 election results.
"I don't think a single issue or interest should dictate where this party goes in the future," Roemer told NCR. Some powerful pro-choice Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, agree. Pelosi is among those who urged Roemer to make the run. Sen. Ted Kennedy, meanwhile, says that Roemer's pro-life position should not be a barrier to him holding the job.
Others, however, balk at the notion of having an anti-abortion Democrat at the helm of the nation's pro-choice party and have mounted an aggressive campaign to derail Roemer's bid. Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Phil Johnston, for example, says the party can't be led by someone on the other side of a core Democratic issue. "Abortion issue roils DNC race," reads the page one Jan. 19 headline of The Hill, the Capitol Hill newspaper.
Roemer acknowledges that the party is essentially pro-choice on abortion-rights and has said he wouldn't use the DNC chairmanship to advocate an overturn of Roe v. Wade. Nonetheless he would like to see a new emphasis. "I've never met a woman who wanted to have an abortion or who didn't respect life," says Roemer.
Democrats should focus on reducing the demand for abortion, as they did with some success during the Clinton presidency, and reaching out to voters who don't share a hard line stance on the issue, he says. "The debate has moved nowhere over the past 30 years."
Roemer got into politics (he's a former aide to Rep. John Brademas and Sen. Dennis DeConcini), he says, as a form of service. A great aunt, a nun, chided him early to consider politics or the priesthood, both areas, she told him, where he could help people.
"The quality of life for our children is a values issue; caring for the poor is a social justice issue. These are the least of our brethren." Of additional concern, says Roemer, are "the values of national security, job security and Social Security."
"The Democratic Party tries in effective ways to help the homeless, to help the poor and to give people economic opportunities. That's why I'm in public service."
Among his competitors for the post is Howard Dean, the solidly pro-choice former Vermont governor whose energy and organizational skill excites party activists but whose aversion to religious themes worry those who say such rhetoric is necessary to revive the moribund party in middle America.
The Democratic National Committee will select its new chairman during it annual meeting in Washington, Feb. 10-12.
The e-mail address for Joe Feuerherd is
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