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The week I left the Democratic Party



Timothy P. O'Malley - published on 07/29/16

An idea that there are expendables in our society, who happen to be human, doesn't deserve a raucous cheer

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Party conventions remind us that the art of politics are fundamentally about stories. If I listened to only the prime time speeches this week in Philadelphia, I would have been reminded why I’ve remained a Democrat (just like my grandfather and his grandfather before him) over the years despite increasing evidence that we pro-life citizens are an unwelcome group among the Dems.

In these prime time addresses, I’ve heard something of my own story. As a lower class kid growing up in East Tennessee, I know that sometimes we need government and Church assistance alike to pay the bills for a month or to have presents on Christmas morning. I know what it’s like to take free lunches at school. I know what it’s like to see my mother finally graduate from college with the assistance of federal funding. I know what it’s like to be the first graduate of a four-year college in my family, something that was only possible through governmental aid. I’m grateful for the ways that the government has intervened over the first thirty years of my life, making it possible for a low-income elementary school student to eventually get a doctorate and to teach at the University of Notre Dame.

This personal narrative has been the reason I’ve been able to belong to a political party that has over my lifetime become increasingly hostile toward its pro-life membership. In my conscience, I’ve seen the rise of pro-choice politics in the Democratic Party as an unreasonable aberration, a strange denial of the human dignity of the unborn in a party that at least purports to affirm the dignity of those on the margins (those who have been subject to drone attacks over the last eight years may disagree with this). I naively imagined that there was a place at the table for someone like me, formed in a Church that has affirmed the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. When it has come to national elections, I have often refused to vote for the Democrat’s nominee because of his (and now her) position on abortion. But I never did so with pride. I have hoped that the Democrats would one day make a space for a candidate, who would ascend above party’s limited vision and articulate the kind of coherent vision of human dignity that might capture the imaginations of Americans.

I had hoped for this. Until this week. Like many pro-life Democrats, I had been dispirited by the inclusion in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform of the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which has previously disallowed federal funds to pay for abortion except in the case of incest, rape, or the life of the mother. Here, a seemingly reasonable way of making space for us pro-life Democrats was being closed. Before the convention began, I was considering that it was time to leave the Democratic Party. To find an alternative way of building a politics of human dignity in my local community.

But remember, politics are about stories. And this week, I watched as Ms. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America stood before the convention assembly describing her own decision to have an abortion. She wanted a family but the child came at the wrong time. So she sought out an abortion. And she acknowledged that now she is the mother of two beautiful children.

I don’t know anything about Ms. Hogue’s biography that she didn’t tell us in the speech. I don’t know why she felt she wasn’t ready to have a child. That’s not my story to tell. It’s hers. What I know is that I listened as those on the convention floor lustily cheered her right to get an abortion because it was the wrong time to have a family.

I was reading the story online next to my three-year old son, who is adopted. I couldn’t help but put myself in his very small shoes and begin to wonder what he would have heard from this speech. Children who come at the wrong time are best disposed of. Only children who come into our lives when we want should be kept. It’s the beautiful children who are planned. In the midst of a speech that talked about unplanned pregnancies, no mention was made of adoption. The Democratic Party’s pro-choice politics have blinded it from the dignity of this little creature of mine, who though “unplanned,” has also transformed the life of every adult he’s met. No suggestion was made that instead of funding abortion, let’s make adoption part and parcel of our social culture—where every human person, no matter his or her size, has the opportunity for human flourishing. If anyone can be president, as this convention has said again and again, shouldn’t it also be the case that unplanned children may also occupy this office?

It was at this precise moment that I decided to leave the Democratic Party. I refuse to belong to a political party in which ideologies of death have become so central to the life of the party that a consistent approach to human dignity is deemed unwelcomed by party leaders. There will be no adoption talk, no prominent address by a pro-life Democratic, because it goes against the present death-dealing orthodoxy of the Democrats. This may change, and I’ll actively support the Democrats for Life of America to serve as the conscience of their party. But, I can’t remain. Not anymore.

Many of my best friends in the world would object to my protest against Democrats. They would note that it is the Democrats who are best positioned to decrease the number of abortions nation-wide through health care and increasing other social services. But remember, stories matter. And that’s not the story being told on a convention floor in Philadelphia. The story being told is that some lives matters more than others. The story being told is that there are expendable creatures in our society whom mothers and fathers may dispose of “if it’s not the right time.”

Some of my dearest Democratic friends will note that to care only about abortion is to reduce the sanctity of human life to the moment of birth itself. In some ways, I get this claim. I don’t understand how one can be pro-life and refuse to support additional funding for the health of pregnant women and for federally mandated paid maternity leave. I don’t understand how one can be pro-life and yet also demand the execution of criminals on death row; to refuse to express solidarity with the suffering of the African American community; or to call for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. I was equally nauseated by the tactics of fear-mongering that were employed at last week’s Republican convention, of the second amendment receiving a louder cheer than a pro-life platform.

But at this point, it is impossible to convince this adopting parent to vote for a political party in which the death of a child like my son is vigorously cheered upon the floor of a national convention. I don’t like Donald Trump. But, I’m not sure that the Democratic Party itself is too far removed from the rather thin vision of human dignity that Trump has been accused of throughout this miserable election season. A political party with a sense of human dignity, that doesn’t cheer for abortion or mass deportation of women and children into dangerous situations – that doesn’t throw people away so easily. Is that too much to ask?

I have left the Democratic Party this week. And the last gift this Party has bestowed upon me is a sense that the present political system is so broken, so obsessed with death that the rebuilding of the structures will not occur within the present structures of American political life.

Politics are about stories. And it’s time to tell a new one.

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