There is one central bet that underlies Joe Biden’s candidacy for the presidency. What he is wagering is that the majority of Democratic voters are far more moderate politically than Twitter and television talking heads would have us believe. Amazingly, he is the only major candidate pushing his chips over this platform, while the others compete to outwoke each other. This week, Biden further solidified his position as the race’s sole moderate, this time on the abortion issue.
Progressives were outraged when Biden announced that he still supports the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion. No other major candidate supports the law, which Hillary Clinton removed from the Democratic Platform in 2016. Immediately pundits began pondering whether this position will estrange Biden from the Democratic base, which for some reason they think is hyper-progressive in general, and especially regarding abortion.
But the numbers don’t actually back up this assessment. According to a Marist poll reported on by National Review back in February, reaction to New York state’s extreme “abortion until birth” law and attempts to pass such a law in Virginia pushed many Democrats into the pro-life camp.
According the poll, the “most striking data shows that the shift in public opinion on abortion is being driven primarily by Democrats, especially younger ones. In January, only 20 percent of all Democrats self-identified as pro-life; the new poll found that percentage has jumped to 34 percent.”
We have to look at this with a couple of reservations, as it’s only one poll, and the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” contain a multitude of attitudes and positions. But it does seem to indicate that a large number of Democrats share Biden’s positions that there should be reasonable limits on abortions. In fact, it is very likely that most Democratic voters share his moderate (at least for a Democrat) views on the issue.
But beyond the number crunching there is something else unique about Biden’s approach to abortion. In her 2014 book “Pro,” Katha Pollitt posits that abortion, far from being a tragedy that must sadly be allowed at times, is rather a “social good” to be celebrated. Pollitt writes, “It is an essential option for women—not just ones in dramatic, terrible, body-and-soul-destroying situations, but all women—and thus benefits society as a whole.”
This has become the dominant position among progressives, and one many in the media seem to believe is widely shared among Democratic voters, but is it? A poll of New Yorkers (a solidly blue state) taken after the state passed its abortion law found that 75 percent opposed abortion after 20 weeks. But why? That question gets to the heart of the abortion debate and of Biden’s strategy on the issue.
Presumably, so many people oppose abortion after 20 weeks because they know it means that a viable human being is being destroyed. It is a line, albeit a blurry one; after all, what exactly changes between 19 and 20 weeks, that allows those who believe in limited access to abortion to rationalize their support for something they know on some level is wrong?
Joe Biden is gambling that this is still the position of most Democrats, not Pollitt’s celebratory view of the practice. And he is almost certainly right. Furthermore, far-left progressives who share Pollitt’s view are probably unlikely to be Biden supporters anyway, since they tend to have more progressive views on other issues, as well.
Joe Biden is running a safe campaign—a luxury that being the frontrunner affords him. He is offering to take America home, back to a place before the discord and yelling and Twitter rants. This moderate, or compromising, position on abortion is of a piece with this overall approach. He is your parents’ Democrat and he’s not shy about it. This is why he is more “safe, legal, and rare,” than “shout your abortion.”
The great mystery of the 2020 Democratic primary is why Biden is all alone in the moderate lane. Perhaps politicians and the media simply became mesmerized by flashy progressive figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and forgot that she and her ilk did absolutely nothing to flip the House of Representatives—that work was done by moderates in swing districts who appeal to exactly the same voters as Biden.
On abortion, and on other issues, Biden is derided as being “middle of the road Joe.” But there’s something to remember about the middle of the road: It’s where most of the voters are.