In my latest reading of Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (copyright 2006), James Carville and Paul Begala talk about how the post-2004 Democratic Party should address abortion, guns, and gay marriage.
Regarding abortion, Carville and Begala maintain that Democrats should stop trying to inhibit every single restriction on abortion, for polls indicate that many Americans would like at least some restrictions. For example, Carville and Begala say that the Democratic Party should not attempt to stop the ban on partial-birth abortion. Carville and Begala are also proponents of most abortions being safe, legal, and rare. They laud a pro-life initiative by the Democrats for Life that seeks to reduce the number of abortions and includes the following proposals: “making the adoption tax credit permanent”, “giving women with unplanned pregnancies counseling information on adoption”, expanding the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) program “which gives nutritional support to new moms and their babies”, requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives, and age-appropriate pregnancy-prevention programs in school (Carville and Begala’s words on page 45).
Regarding guns, Carville and Begala acknowledge that guns are a tradition passed down from fathers to sons in many areas of the country. They think that the Democratic Party should find common ground with the National Rifle Association, which has said that it supports enforcing the laws that are already on the books (though, as Carville and Begala point out, the NRA opposed many of those laws before they were on the books!). Carville and Begala are also critical of a proposal that would require background checks at gun shows, for that would inflame pro-gun voters, plus a “study by the Clinton Justice Department showed that just 1.7 percent of criminals who used guns in the commission of a crime obtained their guns from a gun show” (page 49). Moreover, Carville and Begala refer favorably to Howard Dean’s critique of new federal gun-control legislation, as Dean argued that it should be a state-by-state thing. For Dean, Montana and Vermont should not have the same stringent gun laws that are in New York and California, for “gun crime is not a big problem” in Montana and Vermont (Carville and Begala’s words on page 49).
I did not finish Carville and Begala’s discussion of gay marriage, but, in what I did read, they said that the Democrats should focus on an area where many Americans are in agreement with them: that employment-discrimination against homosexuals (i.e., people being fired for being gay) is wrong. They also said that Democrats should personalize the issue by referring to family members who are gay.
Carville and Begala denied earlier in the book that they want for the Democratic Party to become more centrist, but it does seem to me that, at least on abortion and gun control, they were advising the Democrats to become a little more centrist. Carville and Begala wrote this book after 2004, when John Kerry and other Democrats had lost, and one reason for that was that many voters believed that the Democrats were out-of-touch with their values. Would Carville and Begala’s analysis be relevant today, in 2012? In 2012, a number of Democrats (including President Barack Obama) won, not by running away from the abortion issue, but by boldly championing choice. In essence, many of the Democrats appealed to their base. I seriously wonder if the Democrats today even need to pursue a moderate position on abortion or guns in order to win, for they have their base and a growing number of minority voters who vote Democrat, even as the base of the Republicans appears to shrink.
I wouldn’t say that their analysis after 2004 is utterly irrelevant to 2012, however. The argument that abortion should be reduced through contraception, sex education, and a supportive social-safety net is still around. It’s ironic that the Democrats for Life advocated requiring insurance companies to cover contraception around the time that Carville and Begala’s book was written, for a number of pro-lifers today are critical of Obamacare for doing precisely that, and they note that there are birth control pills that can easily function as abortifacients, meaning that the line is sometimes pretty thin between contraception and abortion. I hope, though, that Obamacare can reduce the number of abortions, and that the Obama Administration would support adoption reform. There are some pro-life Democrats in Congress, and perhaps efforts can be made to reduce the number of abortions.
On guns, I have to admit that I’m not really part of the culture in which guns are passed down from fathers and sons, although there are people in my family who are a part of that culture. Moreover, I have a hard time sympathizing with people who vote Republican because they want to preserve their gun collection, for I tend to regard, say, health care as a more important issue than helping someone to keep up a hobby. I’ll also say that I’m a little bit leery about Howard Dean’s view that gun control (in certain areas) should be a state-by-state thing, for there have been shootings that have occurred in red states, such as the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. But I’m not sure what the best gun policy should be. I know I’m not for people carrying AK-47s!
Would Carville and Begala’s analysis be different in 2012? Perhaps it would, in areas. But my impression from my latest reading is that they weren’t just saying what they said to help the Democrats to win. Rather, they were expressing who they really were as people. They supported tolerance of different perspectives on abortion because they were Catholics and knew and loved their pro-life family and friends. They desired pragmatism on the gun issue because they themselves owned guns (plus they noted that John Kerry actually was a hunter, meaning that wasn’t something Kerry just did for a photo-op!). I think that understanding where people are coming from and respecting their culture and values is still good advice for 2012, even if the Democrats may not politically need certain white voters in the red states.