In the 1990s, Bill Clinton used the phrase “safe, legal, and rare” to articulate the Democratic position on abortion. The 2006 Democratic takeover of the House was empowered in part by pro-life Democrats. Now there’s an active debate as to whether pro-life Democrats even fit within the party’s “big tent,” and the question of party support for a moderately pro-choice mayoral candidate in Omaha, Neb., sparked bitter infighting.
Safe, legal, and rare? Now some activists want women to “shout” their abortion. By some counts, the number of pro-life Democrats in the House has gone from more than 100 to fewer than five.
The transformation on gay marriage has been faster and even more decisive. Not long ago Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made religious and cultural arguments about the definition of marriage that would be considered bigoted today. To say they “evolved” on the issue is an understatement. Evaluating the records of both Clinton and Obama, PolitiFact judged both to be “full flops.”
What do these issues have in common? Identity politics. Immigration (race), abortion (gender), and gay marriage (sexual orientation) activate key portions of an increasingly identity-driven Democratic coalition, and the activist base doesn’t just nudge the party to the left, it shoves as hard as it can. While it shoves, it also shouts about all the “isms” and “phobias” that slander the opposition and silence dissent.