Who Are the Extremists?

Steven Hayward

February 1, 2000

Senator Bill Bradley professes to be shocked—shocked—to discover that Vice President Al Gore once had such a pro life voting record in the House of Representatives that the National Right to Life organization gave him an 84 percent approval rating. Yet the Vice President is equally shocked—shocked—at the idea that anyone should think him anything less than 100 percent pro-abortion, including supporting late-term, partial birth abortion. Meanwhile, many of the sophisticates in the news media think the Republicans seem too “extreme” because they keep dwelling on abortion in their candidate debates.

The real shock is that the Democratic Party has moved so far over to one cultural extreme, while the Republicans have scarcely changed their views at all. It is commonplace to suppose that the Democratic Party became the party of “acid, amnesty, and abortion” with the George McGovern campaign in 1972, but in fact McGovern kept the right to abortion out of the otherwise far left Democratic platform in 1972. There must be regulating legislation for abortion, McGovern told Time magazine in June 1972. “You can’t just let anybody walk in and request an abortion,” McGovern said. The whole matter, he thought, should be left up to the state legislatures to decide, which is the default Republican position today. (And don’t forget, McGovern’s first choice for a running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, was a staunch pro-life Catholic. Anyone think a pro-life person could be a running mate on a Democratic ticket today?)

McGovern was not the only liberal who felt queasy over abortion. “I am not for it,” Hubert Humphrey told audiences throughout the campaign of 1972. Sen. Edmund Muskie, the early Democratic front-runner, was even more direct in his opposition: “It compromises the sanctity of human life.” And then there was the prominent Democrat who said of abortion in 1973 that it is “too nice a word for something cold, like murder.” The author of these words was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Republican opposition to abortion is typically ascribed to the party’s captivity to the religious right, whom veteran political reporter Jack Germond described this week in New Hampshire as “yahoos.” But symmetry would seem to demand that the pundits would recognize that the reason the Democratic Party now supports unlimited abortion-on-demand is that it is in thrall to the feminists, who are clearly the “yahoos” of the Left.

The Democratic Party’s surrender to feminism was not an instantaneous affair. Again, in 1972 Muskie had Gloria Steinem thrown out of a press conference when she asked impertinent questions. “How did this girl get in here?”, Muskie bellowed. “Get her out of here!” Senator Gary Hart acquired a considerable reputation for his fondness for the fairer sex, but when he was McGovern’s campaign manager in 1972, he told a reporter: “Women don’t have the experience or ability to organize… Do you lower your standards in the midst of a campaign like in the midst of brain surgery and try to equalize social ills?”

Likewise, the fealty both Bradley and Gore are paying to gay rights, such as Gore’s promise of imposing a litmus test requiring the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support gays in the military, represents a major departure from the liberalism of old. Theodore White records in The Making of the President 1972 that when a group of gay right activists picketed Muskie’s campaign headquarters, Muskie angrily said: “Goddamn it, if I have to be nice to a bunch of sodomites to be elected President, then f— it.” And McGovern watered down a gay rights plank in the Democratic platform at the infamous Miami convention.

All of this is to suggest that it is not the Republicans who have a weakness for extremism, but the Democrats. The constancy of Republican opinions about major issues is one of the marvels of America. Don’t expect the media coverage of the campaign to reflect this, however. The major media, as repeated surveys have shown, are overwhelmingly in sympathy with the agenda of the cultural Left, which is why they are so often surprised and shocked on election day.

Steven Hayward is senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, and an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University.