This spring, I thrilled my newfound liberal readers by voting for Joe Biden in the Super Tuesday primary. Unfortunately, the honeymoon was short-lived. The praise ended almost immediately, when they read past the headline and discovered my plans to (again) abstain from voting in the general election.
With less than 100 days left, it’s probably time to more fully explain my rationale. Why is it that I, an outspoken Never Trump conservative well versed in Trump’s failings, am unwilling to pull the lever for Uncle Joe? Two significant reasons have stayed my hand: one is seen, and one is unseen—but both are related.
Let’s start with my visible (if only in an ultrasound) reason: the unborn child. Last year, Biden decided to drop his decades-long support of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger).
For me, Biden’s flip was a deal-breaker, and I said as much at the time.
If you believe (as I do) that the unborn child (call it a fetus if you like, but nobody calls it that if the baby is wanted) has the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as, say, a 1-year-old child does, then this is a weighty moral issue that cannot be easily brushed away or bargained over as a lesser-of-two-evils decision. It’s on par with Trump’s uncompassionate mistreatment of immigrants and refugees, his divisive rhetoric about race, and his willingness to sacrifice vulnerable Americans for the sake of the economy.
There are, of course, other, less incendiary, areas where I disagree with Biden. I’m a conservative, after all. But in the context of trying to replace a horrific president like Donald Trump, none of those other reasons would disqualify him. Let’s take, for instance, Biden’s opposition to fracking (which is complicated and nuanced) or his plans to raise taxes (more than $3 trillion over a decade). I might disagree with his plans in both areas, but they pale in comparison to Trump’s (past and current) atrocities.
Abortion, though, is a moral issue.
What makes this situation even worse is that, for much of Biden’s career, he agreed with me—or at least he did before the Democratic Party moved leftward.
In a 1974 interview, Biden said, “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far.” According to NBC News, in 1986, Biden told the Catholic Diocese newspaper that “abortion is wrong from the moment of conception.” And in a 1994 letter, Biden reminded a constituent that “on no fewer than 50 occasions,” he voted against federal funding for abortions, adding that, “Those of us who are opposed to abortions should not be compelled to pay for them.” Now, however, Biden thinks that those of us who are opposed to abortions should, in fact, be compelled to pay for them.
Why did he change his position on such a deep and fundamental issue? Because he wants to be president and was pressured by the left. It sounds harsh to say that about a guy who seems generally affable, but I don’t think it’s an unfair or unreasonable conclusion.
Consider this Fortune magazine headline from one day before Biden flip-flopped on abortion: “Joe Biden Still Supports the Hyde Amendment—and 2020 Democrats Pounce.” The article includes criticism from his rivals as well as from progressive activists. It must have done the trick. And fast.
This brings us to the other (unseen) reason Biden’s newfound abortion stance matters: the notion that Biden is susceptible to being pushed leftward.
This is what Trump has been opportunistically warning against, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Biden is a centrist only in the sense that he has “historically positioned himself in the center of the Democratic Party.” The thing is, the Democratic Party has shifted leftward on multiple issues, which means that (on paper, at least) Joe Biden would be (as Bernie Sanders said) “the most progressive president since FDR.”
Regardless, even the most energetic and competent of presidents will nominate countless judges, officials, and bureaucrats who will implement policy. Most of these nominees and hires, I suspect, will be younger and more progressive than Joe Biden. Just as there was immense pressure for Biden to flip on Hyde, he will face significant pressure from the likes of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and House Democrats to move leftward on everything else. But even if he doesn't move leftward, the people he will necessarily delegate responsibility to are already there.
Again, though, this is only a second-order concern that is related to his support of abortion.
As I have said hundreds of times, there is no way I could vote for Donald Trump. But now I hope you at least understand why I feel the same way about Joe Biden—who is admittedly a more decent human being.
And I suspect there are a fair number of like-minded people in America who simply cannot bring themselves to vote for a pro-choice politician. In 2016, many of them held their noses and voted for Trump. Will they do the same in 2020—or will they (like me) simply sit this one out, thus depriving Trump of votes a Republican should normally garner?
If the polls are to be believed, conscientious objectors like me won’t be decisive. This time. Unless the race tightens.
Regardless, if Democrats want to woo us into their coalition—if they want to corner the market on compassion for the vulnerable—they would do well to consider that there are millions of Americans who care so deeply about this issue. Indeed, it is a litmus test.