Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Changing the Conversation: Obama Taps "Pro-Choice-Lifer" for DNC

(Originally written Monday, January 5th, 2009)

President-elect Barack Obama indicated his choice for Chairman Howard Dean's replacement at the DNC as Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine. Kaine, one of Obama's earliest endorsers and a serious contender for vice president on the Democratic ticket a few months ago, is a term limited governor (his first and only term as per Virginia law expires in 2010). Kaine won his gubernatorial race in a traditionally Republican stronghold in large part due to his frank and honest conversation about the role of his Roman Catholic faith in his life and how it influences his views on abortion and capital punishment, both of which he opposes. Politically, the latter position is in line with the majority of Kaine's party; the former however, is certainly not.

President-elect Obama's selection of Govenor Kaine as the head of operations of the Democratic Party is a brilliant one for many reasons. Kaine is a rising star in the party, representing the new, bold face of Democratic politics, living and breathing proof that Democrats can thrive in what are seen as traditionally "conservative" regions. The selection of Tim Kaine will ensure that the party builds upon its recent successes and make further inroads into its growing Hispanic constituency (as a Spanish speaker, Kaine is certainly no stranger when it comes to communicating to the Hispanic community).

This selection, while a strong one, is sure to draw ire from pro-choice groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood that form major constiuencies of the party. Many of my fellow Democrats will be quite riled to learn that on one of the core issues of the party, reproductive rights, the head of the Committee falls on the "wrong" side. However I believe this is the product of the President-elect's desire as well as a growing desire in the nation to change the conversation about abortion in America.

For far too long, the debate over abortion has fallen along two firmly entrenched positions: "pro-life" and "pro-choice." There is little deviation from these polar opposites (some pro-lifers make exceptions in special circumstances like rape, incest, or when the mother's life is threatened). However these two well-defined positions do little to advance any compromise on the issue and more so, they fail to make room for a growing number of Americans who view the act of abortion as contrary to their personal religious beliefs, but who refuse to impose this belief over every woman. For Americans such as myself and Governor Kaine who are informed by our personal beliefs to be "pro-life" but do not seek to strip fellow citizens of the right to choose through the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the usual lines of debate do not grant us a strong voice.

But as the generational battle over abortion rights wages into the twenty-first century, I forsee an increasingly large sentiment forming that will transform the nature of the battle. Through people like Governor Kaine, it is my hope that from the ranks of the two factions on both frontlines will emerge a new movement, one that supports the notion that while one's personal beliefs may oppose specific provisions of the law, they cannot, as dictated by the First Amendment, form the basis of organized opposition to those provisions. A woman has the right to choose in this country; this right is protected by law. And as long as the decision made in Roe v. Wade stands, our elected leaders must faithfully execute those laws (any method used of "sidestepping" the intended execution of the law must be done through Constitutional means; for example, the President or a governor can commute the sentence of a death row convict, as Governor Kaine has done in Virginia, through the powers granted to the chief executive by the federal and state constitutions). Let the brightest legal minds in the country (nine of whom I believe comprise the Supreme Court) debate the legality of this right not in the context of any religious doctrine but in the context of the Constitution. At the very least I think we can all agree that abortions should be safe, private, and more than anything, rare.

The President-elect's choice of Tim Kaine for the DNC chairmanship is bold and refreshing. Along with his choices for Cabinet positions and his choice of Rick Warren to give the Inaugural convocation, this choice reveals Obama's disdain of ideological grandstanding and demonstrates his willingness to surround himself, work with, and give a voice to people with whom he may have great differences in opinion. Obama is proving himself to be a true leader, one who has the courage of his own convictions and is unafraid of bucking party lines as opposed to one who scores easy points with the base through ideologically driven judgments. As someone such as myself at odds with most of his party on this issue, Governor Kaine, another bold leader, demonstrates how one can be a "pro-choice-lifer" without being a contradiction in terms.

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