THE BLOG
11/03/2014 08:40 pm ET Updated Jan 02, 2015

Why the Republicans Love the Abortion Issue

How many Americans fit this profile?

  1. They are inclined to view politics in moral terms, and it is important to them to be one of the good people and not one of the bad people.
  2. Their understanding of the workings of the larger systems in their world (e.g., the U.S. government and the American and world economies) is limited.
  3. Having neither the time nor the interest nor the background to develop a complex picture of American politics, they welcome a simple way to exercise their duties as citizens. Finding a single issue that can define their political choices serves this purpose.

Millions, I would guess.

To lock in the support of such people, the issue of abortion is perfect.

Protecting the defenseless unborn can easily be cast as a high moral purpose. The issue lies on the human scale, with no complex systems involved. It concerns family relationships and also involves the consequences of sexual behavior, on which cultural traditions have had much to say.

The abortion issue creates the opportunity for a savvy political force to capture and hold those millions of single-issue voters. The Republican Party has seized that opportunity for decades, convincing those millions that the GOP is the moral party and that their opponents are immoral.

While Americans as a whole are not comfortable with abortion, it is only a minority who think it should be illegal in all circumstances. The Democratic Party has inevitably settled into representing the feelings of the American majority that does not want abortion banned outright.

Although the position that the Democrats take on abortion -- "safe, legal, and rare" -- reflects the majority opinion in America, very few in that majority vote on that single issue. But by targeting voters who meet the above profile, the Republican Party has been able, over the decades, to cultivate an important bloc of single-issue anti-abortion voters.

That's why the abortion issue has been a goldmine for the Republicans. That's why, as soon as the Republicans captured state governments in the 2010 elections, even though the nation was still in a deep economic recession and the people were clamoring for programs to create jobs, in state after state, the Republicans diverted attention away from the urgent economic issues and rekindled the political battles over abortion.

The Republicans have encouraged those single-issue millions to see abortion as defining political morality -- a pure case of good vs. evil, with no moral ambiguities. With the Democrats locked into a non-absolutist position -- abortion is regrettable but not prohibited -- the idea can be established in people's minds, as I have heard on the campaign trail, that "one cannot be both a Christian and a Democrat."

But what makes this single-issue voting bloc a goldmine for Republicans also makes it a danger to the country.

When a political party can get millions of voters who care about moral values locked into seeing it as the defender of morality, it frees itself to engage in immoral conduct of all sorts without fear of losing those voters' support. And that is what has happened.

In America today, a great many immoral and unjust acts that have nothing to do with abortion are being carried out in our political arena, the preponderance of them by the same political force that has gained the permanent support of one-issue anti-abortion voters.

Abortion's special appeal for today's Republican Party lies in the fact that it is wholly disconnected from the quest for money and power that are the party's real purposes.

Those millions of single-issue pro-life voters are satisfied that they are supporting morality even though they vote for a political party that has been relentlessly transferring wealth and power from average Americans to the richest and mightiest few. With its right hand pointing to abortion, the Republican Party distracts attention from the large-scale acts of immorality being carried out by its left hand.

In the Bible, while relatively little is said about the status of the unborn, the passages are many in which the prophets call for protecting "widows and orphans" and for giving justice to the weak.

In a nation where the task of aligning power with the good and against the evil is far from simple, the simplification of the tasks of citizenship into a single test can play directly into the hands of the kind of evil power the prophets railed against.

This piece ran this past week in two newspapers in the author's conservative Virginia district.