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Losing the Life of the Party

1/24/02

Earlier this week, TAC’s full staff joined pro-lifers from across the country marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with the annual March for Life. The crowd was smaller, the weather kinder than years past, but this gathering was different in other ways.

When Bill Clinton occupied the White House, the March took on a defiant tone -- still orderly and peaceful, but emboldened by the Administration’s resistance to reversing Roe. This year, the speakers were less fiery, the marchers more docile. National Right to Life had printed thousands of signs, “Thank You, President Bush” and the crowds carried them in tribute to a leader who, instead of stepping across the street, chose to spend the day preaching economic stimulus in coal country.

But Mr. Bush is not at fault. Candidate Bush never pretended that the pro-life cause would headline his agenda, and President Bush has kept his word. He said no litmus test, and there hasn’t been. He promised no legislative action and didn’t use the window when his party controlled Congress to reintroduce the partial birth ban. From the early days of his campaign, George W. Bush made clear that whatever his personal inclination, he would not ride to the rescue of America’s unborn. Evidence to the contrary, the pro-life community assigned him that role and told their ranks to line up behind.

He won with their support, but their issue has stayed low on his list. Last summer, when federal funding for stem cell research forced an answer, President Bush devised a compromise that won the noncommittal headline he wanted: “Bush OKs Limited Stem Cell Funding.” Rather than denouncing his decision, an overwhelming majority of pro-life groups, National Right to Life included, stood by their man, preferring to alter their issue rather than their endorsement.

No wonder the President had pressing business in West Virginia on lifers’ big day. The interest group that once dominated the GOP is now its subsidiary. He risks no offense by focusing elsewhere because this once powerful lobby now longer mandates accountability. Personnel don’t need their seal and policy doesn’t requires their approval because their issue no longer moves their party - or their President. By trading a place on the picket line for a seat in the Big Tent, pro-lifers have sold their influence, and each day 4,000 children pay.

This year, the March’s most poignant moment wasn’t a well-turned phrase from the podium or a particularly moving display. It came at the end, courtesy of a heckler with a typewritten placard. As thousands of pro-lifers packed the streets, she stood in front of the Supreme Court holding a small sign with a single quote spoken just four days before: “’No, I do not think [Roe v. Wade] should be overturned.’ --Laura Bush.” As the young protester stood quietly, countless marchers filed past still carrying “Thank You, President Bush” posters. Perhaps they didn’t notice her eloquent rebuttal. More likely they didn’t want to stop and wonder what will become of their cause as long as their movement says thanks for nothing.

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