Former President Ronald Reagan is hands down the most electorally successful American politician of the post-World War II era. As the outsider nominee of the nation's then-decidedly minority party, nobody has ever come close to matching his back-to-back 44-state and 49-state landslide White House victories. Acknowledged as a conviction conservative, Reagan succeeded in forging alliances, as governor and as president, by practicing what he preached: "Remember, the fellow who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is your friend and ally, not 20 percent traitor."
The Gipper understood completely: A wining political party is not an exclusive private club with its own admission and litmus tests that a person must first pass to join. No, a successful party, by definition, is a coalition of many different people who come together to support policies on which they mostly agree. But liberals and many Democrats (whose party is now weaker in the Washington minority and state capitols than at any time since 1928) insist that unless someone is an uncritical supporter and endorser of legal abortion, he or she cannot be a Democrat in good standing.
Forget that when the Gallup Poll asked, as it does each year, whether people "personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong" to have an abortion, 49 percent of Americans answered "morally wrong" — almost identical to the 2008 response, the year Barack Obama won the presidency. The reality is that after dramatic changes in the public acceptance of same-sex marriage and gay rights, Americans' conflicted ambivalence on abortion continues to be simultaneously pro-choice and anti-abortion. Voters, sensitive to the painful decision a pregnant woman might make after consulting her conscience, her pastor and her physician, have no appetite for criminalizing the woman for her choice. But those same voters also know that an abortion is not a tonsillectomy, that what is involved here is either potential or actual life. Nobody is going to win a contested election in 2018 on a platform of "what this country needs is more abortions."
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski is a socially conservative union-friendly Chicago Democrat with the backing of the firefighters, steelworkers and Illinois AFL-CIO. He is being challenged in the March 20 Illinois primary for an eighth term by first-time candidate Marie Newman, a social entrepreneur and anti-bullying advocate who has strong endorsements from NARAL Pro Choice America and EMILY'S List, the latter of which backs pro-choice Democratic women candidates. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which, as a matter of course, backs Democratic House incumbents, is withholding any support from Lipinski, one of only a handful of pro-life congressional Democrats including U.S. Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who are both in tough re-election races this year.
One leading pro-choice Democrat has broken ranks and endorsed Lipinski — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, the only woman House Speaker in U.S. history and the only speaker ever able to get the House to pass national health care (which she did three separate times), who forcefully told the Washington Post's Karen Tumulty last year: "This is the Democratic Party. This is not a rubber-stamp party." She continued: "I grew up Nancy D'Alesandro in Baltimore, Maryland; in Little Italy; in a very devout Catholic family; fiercely patriotic. ... Most of those people — my family, my extended family — are not pro-choice. You think I'm kicking them out of the Democratic Party?" One wonders if in the silos of our politics some liberals have ever met any of the 46 percent of Americans who identify as "pro-life."
There you have it: Ronald Reagan and Nancy Pelosi, two political pros who grasped that politics is about addition, not subtraction, and about welcoming converts instead of hunting down and banishing heretics.
To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.