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1984, All Over Again

Last week's NARAL dinner had shades of Walter Mondale's presidential run--and may come back to haunt one unlucky Democrat.

11:00 PM, Jan 26, 2003 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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SOMETIME SOON--say, around Spring 2004, when George W. Bush begins spending his money--whoever becomes the Democratic nominee may have second thoughts about his attendance at the NARAL dinner in Washington on January 21, 2003. Or at least he may wish that cameras hadn't been present, for the images that emerged were not helpful. There they stood, the six hopefuls, like spindly schoolboys, summoned into the principal's office to be brought into line: into the party line, which they spouted with reverence.

As Ryan Lizza wrote in the New Republic, there was never a hint of a Sister Souljah eruption. Dick Gephardt begged mercy for previous sins. After the six had delivered their speeches, they sat while Kate Michelman, who had summoned them, gave them their orders: She expects from them no less than a full-throttle filibuster every time George W. Bush names to the federal bench a judge that does not meet her strict standards of purity. Did any of the senators sitting there wince when she said this? Did they think that they might today be in the minority because they had refused to vote on Bush judges? Did they consider what the country might think if they tied up the Senate, perhaps in wartime, to thwart abortion restrictions that most voters favor? But what will happen if she snaps her fingers, and they do not come running? Will they be called once again to the principal's office? Will they be kept after school?

At this point, it might help us to wander down memory lane, and meet Walter Mondale. Not the aging Walter Mondale who was drafted to run for the Senate when Paul Wellstone was killed, but the Mondale who was 54 when he ran in 1984 against Ronald Reagan, and was ordered at his convention by organized feminists to pick a woman vice president, or else.

The NARAL of the time was the National Organization for Women; the Kate Michelman of the day was Judy Goldsmith, NOW's president; and the order to thwart all abortion restrictions was the demand that he pick a woman--any woman--as his running mate. Perhaps realizing he was likely to lose and might as well try to do something historic, he picked Geraldine Ferraro, a nice woman (and a brave one, who has shown nothing but class in her battle with cancer), but not really a plausible president.

"Run With a Woman, Win With a Woman?" Not quite. Mondale lost 49 states in a historic landslide, having pleased his base, but convinced the rest of the country he wasn't quite serious. He suffered from seeming to bow to an interest group whose obsessions weren't shared by the rest of the country. The same thing could happen again.

Among the pieces of good advice discarded by Mondale was this note from an adviser, dated January, 1983: "People simply don't want their president to be wholly owned by any group or special interest, and they inevitably react negatively to any candidate who is perceived to be so owned."

But if you're about to sell out, it should be to someone who can deliver, and NARAL's record on this score has been suspect. In the 2002 midterm elections, it, and its sister group, Emily's List, took a well-deserved drubbing, even in the most liberal states. Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, and the rest should ask Shannon O'Brien and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend how much NARAL helped them.

But the saddest thing is that there isn't much else for Democrats. Ann Coulter wasn't far off the mark when she referred to "the Abortion party, formerly known as the Democratic party," and as Peggy Noonan has noted, "Abortion is the glue that holds the Democratic party together. Without abortion to keep them together, the Democrats would fly apart." The party that held the country together through the depression, that created NATO, the Marshall Plan, the G.I. Bill of Rights, and the Civil Rights laws, now goes to the mat for late-term abortions. FDR stood up to Hitler, Truman stood up to Stalin, and JFK made the Russians blink first in Cuba, but Democrats won't stand up to Kate Michelman, who couldn't even help a Kennedy get elected in the country's most liberal state.

George W. Bush, too, is rather like Reagan, a man's man, who likes manly things. The defining image of Reagan in the 1984 election was his appearance in Normandy on June 6, where, surrounded by veterans, he commemorated the 40th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Europe. Bush's signature moment of the 2004 race will be his appearance at Ground Zero during the New York convention, where, surrounded by firemen, he will recall his performance of September 14, 2001, when he rallied a nation at war.

As 20 years earlier, the Democrats' image may be rather different: small puppets, on feminists' strings.

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.