Another One Bites the Dust
And then there were nine... so far. Former Illinois Senator Carolyn Mosley-Braun, Florida Senator Bob Graham and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich have jumped into the fray since the February issue of NRL News was printed. They, like six other pro-abortion Democrats, want the chance to run against pro-life President George W. Bush. (See story, page 6.)
All have strengths, all have weaknesses. Until recently, however, only Rep. Richard Gephardt (Missouri) was shackled by one particularly onerous burden. In l988, when he first ran for President, Gephardt flip-flopped on abortion. The others were true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, never-wavered-from-the-faith pro-abortionists.
Gephardt "enjoyed" that distinction until a few weeks ago. That's when Kucinich hopped in.
I was in the parking lot of our grocery store, coming from church, when I heard the replay of Kucinich's answer to Tim Russert's Meet the Press inquires on abortion. What was so refreshing that when Kucinich started to recycle his one-answer-fits-all-inquiries response, Russert refused to give him free rein to build up a head of steam. Russert instead kept cutting through the rhetorical fog, clarifying the real issue for his audience--Kucinich's reverse twist on abortion so severe no doubt it wrenched the congressman's back.
The inspiration for Kucinich's flip-flop? You know, from a 90%+ rating for his votes on abortion-related issues from NRLC--and zero from NARAL--to a guy who can't get close enough to Kate Michelman?
One answer, alluded to in an op-ed Kucinich wrote for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, is to shift the blame to the Republicans: the "devil made me do it" excuse.
"I have found that the abortion-related legislation being brought to the House floor no longer reflects my position," he wrote. But a few minutes' reflection tells us that this pettifoggery is transparently false.
Let's take just three of his 2002 flip-flop votes to see who changed: the GOP or Kucinich. Early last year, he voted for an unsuccessful motion to gut the Child Custody Protection Act. This was the same pro-abortion language he voted against in the previous Congress.
Later in 2002, Kucinich voted for the Sanchez Amendment to repeal the ban on performing abortions (except life of the mother, rape, or incest) in overseas military medical facilities. This reversed his pro-life vote on the same issue in 2001 and previous years.
Likewise, in July, during consideration of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Kucinich voted for a motion to add a completely unqualified "health" exception to the bill. If adopted, this amendment would have allowed a partial-birth abortion anytime a single abortionist asserted that it would protect "health" (not excluding emotional "health") and thus completely gutted the bill.
What had Kucinich done the last time the bill was up, in 2000? He voted against a motion to add a even more limited "health" exception.
Adding insult to injury, this time around, after the "health" amendment was defeated, Kucinich voted "present" on final passage of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. "Present" votes are very rare in the House. It basically means, "I'm here, but I'm not taking sides." No profile in courage here, thank you.
Clearly, the source of Kucinich's journey to the dark side was not the Republican Party. But surely it wasn't something as transparently cynical as his recent decision to run for his party's presidential nomination, right? To throw the children overboard for the chance to compete for the title of "Most-Pro-Choice-Democrat-running-for-President" would be crass and unprincipled and a betrayal of what he professed to have believed in for a long, long time.
To believe that you'd have to accept that the likes of Al Gore and Richard Gephardt would do likewise. (Whoops! Come to think of it, they somersaulted too, didn't they?)
But unfazed by a conclusion so obvious that even a child could not miss it, in an interview with the Plain Dealer Kucinich flatly denied that his turnabout was a matter of political calculation:
"This isn't a decision that I just made. I didn't just walk into an auditorium in Iowa [Iowa is where the first presidential primary takes place] and see three people holding placards and suddenly announce a position. I have been struggling with this very complex issue for some time."
Let's see what he told Russert. Maybe that will help us separate the wheat from the chaff.
Responding to Russert's characterization, Kucinich insisted he hadn't "changed [positions] on a dime. Last year, in the last Congress, there were votes where I experienced my concern about the direction that this debate has been going." (Oh, that's reassuring. His "struggle" seemed to have kicked in around early 2002.) Seen in that light, the 56-year-old Kucinich offered that what he had done was better understood as an "expansion" than a "reversal."
All right, he was asked, what about next time the partial-birth abortion ban comes up? After filibustering, Kucinich offered this:
"So what I feel is, we need to try to reconcile this country on this issue." This from the man whose gig it is that he is a "straight talker."
Which, of course, he no longer is, if he ever was. This was painfully obvious in the Plain Dealer interview in which Elizabeth Auster gently took him apart. Or, to be more accurate, Kucinich's did-I-say-that? answers did him in.
"Kucinich acknowledged that despite comments he made repeatedly last week suggesting he had never favored criminalizing abortion, he has in fact voted for bills in recent years that would impose criminal penalties in connection with abortion."
As noted, Kucinich voted for the Child Custody Protection Act, which would make it a federal offense to transport a minor to obtain an abortion from a state that has a parental involvement law to one that doesn't. (He refused to unambiguously say how he would vote when the legislation comes up again, but a fair reading of what he did say would be no.)
Likewise, as previously discussed, Kucinich voted in favor of the ban on partial-birth abortions the first time, legislation that would impose prison sentences of up to two years on abortionists performing partial-birth abortions. That's twice his actions belied his excuses.
Hmmm, what could he do? Reach for what Kucinich clearly believes is his ace in the hole:
"Asked if he would predict how he would vote on any of the abortion-related measures likely to come before Congress this year, he said only: 'You can safely predict that I will not participate in any effort to overturn the protections provided in Roe v. Wade.' "
"I'm for Roe," says Kucinich. But, unfortunately, Auster asked him a telling follow-up:
"Kucinich paused when asked if he always supported Roe v. Wade. Then he said: 'My voting record would probably reflect that I haven't, but I'm also saying that I have evolved on this issue.'"
Etc., etc., etc.
Like so many self-professed "straight shooters," when it comes to explaining a blatant example of political expediency, Kucinich is unable to pull the truth trigger. When his answers weren't "evolving," they were "expanding."
Maybe the best estimate of the possible immediate political fallout came in political scientist Larry Sabato's response to reporter David Enrich, in a piece that appeared on National Review online:
"Ultimately, the biggest impact of Kucinich's handling of the abortion issue could be self-destructive, undercutting his from-the-heart appeal. 'When he is forced to talk about [abortion], he's going to mouth the word "choice," ' Sabato says. 'He's going to try to fuzz it up and let the war [issue] satisfy the left wing. This fellow isn't exactly the straight-talker he says he is.'"
dave andrusko can be reached at email@example.com