Not touching the bases

One of the most curious aspects of the race for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations is that the respective front-runners hold views on the most crucial political and moral questions that one would think would make them unacceptable to the base of their parties.

Rudolph Giuliani does not merely support legalized abortion, he has taken the view that poor women have a constitutional right to have abortions paid for by the government. This is a far more radical position than even the most liberal members of the Supreme Court have ever advocated.

Recently, Giuliani has backed away from that stance, but he remains committed to legalized abortion. This ought to be rather astonishing, given the extent to which an anti-abortion position has been something close to an absolute litmus test for Republican candidates seeking national office, and indeed in all but a handful of states.

Writing in the influential conservative journal First Things, Amherst professor Hadley Arkes notes, quite rightly, that “the nomination and election of Giuliani would mark the end of the Republican Party as the pro-life party in our politics.”

If the GOP can throw the anti-abortion vote overboard in the coming presidential election and still win, the lesson, Arkes points out, will be impossible to misunderstand: Anti-abortion voters will have to content themselves with purely symbolic gestures from a party that, “for all practical purposes,” will have decided that “nearly any interest will trump the interests of the pro-life community.”

Arkes admits that if the alternative is an even more aggressively pro-abortion-rights and pro-gay-marriage Democrat, he may bite his lip and vote for Giuliani, in the hope he was choosing the lesser of two evils. “But,” he adds, “they would be the hopes of the supplicants. And they will be affected at every point by the awareness of just who has the upper hand, and just who, in this party newly reshaped, does not matter all that much.”

If anything, the situation in the Democratic Party is even stranger. To an extent that dwarfs even the intensity of anti-abortion fervor among the GOP base, the base of the Democratic Party is consumed with one issue: withdrawing American troops from what it sees as a war that was always immoral as a matter of principle, and is now an almost unmitigated and inconceivably expensive disaster.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has transformed herself from a “liberal” (in the very loosest sense of the term) hawk into a very equivocal semi-dove, but I don’t know a single Democratic Party activist who has the slightest confidence that she is committed to actually ending the war.

“If Hillary is elected,” one well-placed politico told me, “I fully expect we’ll still have 100,000 troops in Iraq four years from now.”

Conservatives such as Arkes, who are considering swallowing hard and voting for Giuliani, at least have the excuse that on the whole the president can’t do very much to affect the legality of abortion one way or another.

Liberals who support or are considering supporting Clinton have no such excuse. To an extent rare in politics, the decision about whether and when to disengage from Iraq really is in the hands of one person.

Under the circumstances, for an anti-war liberal to support Clinton, when several much-less-ambiguous anti-war candidates remain in contention for the Democratic nomination, is roughly equivalent to an anti-abortion conservative supporting Giuliani even if he had the power to eliminate legal abortions with the stroke of a pen.

Of course, both candidates are now making noises to try to appease their respective bases. Giuliani promises to appoint anti-abortion judges, and Clinton has said she wouldn’t have voted for the war if she knew then what she knows now.

“The most important quality an actor can have is sincerity,” Sam Goldwyn supposedly remarked. “Once you’ve learned to fake that, you’ve really got it made.”

(Paul F. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)