For the past 20 years, Dr. Matthew E. Bunson has been active in the area of Catholic social communications and education, including writing, editing, and teaching on a variety of topics related to Church history, the papacy, the saints and Catholic culture. He is faculty chair at Catholic Distance University, a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and the author or co-author of over 50 books including: The Encyclopedia of Catholic History, The Pope Encyclopedia, We Have a Pope! Benedict XVI, The Saints Encyclopedia and best-selling biographies of St. Damien of Molokai and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
Day Two at the Democratic National Convention was marked by a major push to bring the party together after an acrimonious first day. The supporters of Bernie Sanders wanted to be heard, especially after the revelations by Wikileaks of Democratic National Committee efforts to block his path to the nomination in favor of Hillary Clinton.
The roll call marked what the Clinton campaign clearly hoped would be a kind of catharsis for the thousand-plus Sanders delegates who have been so vocal since arriving in Philadelphia.
To change the tone and the mood, the Democrats brought out a star from the past: former President Bill Clinton. His speech sought to capture what for die-hard Democrats was the old magic that helped him and his party win two election in the 1990s. But Bill was not selling himself tonight, but a candidate who shares Donald Trump’s “record-breaking” low favorability ratings and who needs significant re-branding.
The rather nostalgic turn at the convention was intended to remind voters of the good times economically for the country during his presidency, but it also served a powerful contrast to where the Democratic Party was in the 1990s and where it stands today on a host of issues, both economic and social.
Two issues of great concern to Catholics, and all those who work to promote a Culture of Life, are abortion and gender ideology.
When Bill Clinton ran for re-election in 1996, the Democratic platform that was endorsed at the convention was radically different from the one just approved in 2016. Here is what the 1996 party platform said about abortion:
The Democratic Party stands behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of ability to pay. President Clinton took executive action to make sure that the right to make such decisions is protected for all Americans. Over the last four years, we have taken action to end the gag rule and ensure safety at family planning and women's health clinics. We believe it is a fundamental constitutional liberty that individual Americans—not government—can best take responsibility for making the most difficult and intensely personal decisions regarding reproduction.
The Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.
Our goal is to make abortion less necessary and more rare, not more difficult and more dangerous. We support contraceptive research, family planning, comprehensive family life education, and policies that support healthy childbearing. For four years in a row, we have increased support for family planning. The abortion rate is dropping. Now we must continue to support efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies, and we call on all Americans to take personal responsibility to meet this important goal.
The 1996 platform expressed a desire for abortions to be “rare” and less necessary. But even more noteworthy is that there is a clear statement of welcoming pro-life supporters into the party.
All of that is gone in 2016. The party today has abandoned the idea of abortions being rare. In fact, the platform calls for exactly the opposite. The platform mentions abortion and “reproductive health” or “reproductive health and justice” 19 times in 55 pages. It has this to say about abortion:
Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice. We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing. We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.
It becomes even more aggressive in the discussion of abortion as part of American diplomatic initiatives and priorities:
We will support sexual and reproductive health and rights around the globe. In addition to expanding the availability of affordable family planning information and contraceptive supplies, we believe that safe abortion must be part of comprehensive maternal and women’s health care and included as part of America’s global health programming. Therefore, we support the repeal of harmful restrictions that obstruct women’s access to health care information and services, including the “global gag rule” and the Helms Amendment that bars American assistance to provide safe, legal abortion throughout the developing world.
When it comes to gender ideology, the 1996 platform referred to gays and lesbians only once, declaring,
We support continued efforts, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians and further their full inclusion in the life of the nation. Over the last four years, President Clinton and the Democrats have worked aggressively to enforce the letter and spirit of civil rights law. The President and Vice President remain committed to an Administration that looks like America, and we are proud of the Administration's extraordinary judicial appointments—they are both more diverse and more qualified than any previous Administration.
As for the 2016 platform, there are 19 references to LGBT rights, including an entire section under the title “Guaranteeing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights”:
Democrats applaud last year’s decision by the Supreme Court that recognized that LGBT people—like other Americans—have the right to marry the person they love. But there is still much work to be done. LGBT kids continue to be bullied at school, restaurants can refuse to serve transgender people, and same-sex couples are at risk of being evicted from their homes. That is unacceptable and must change. Democrats will fight for the continued development of sex discrimination law to cover LGBT people. We will also fight for comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections for all LGBT Americans, to guarantee equal rights in areas such as housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, jury service, education, and federal funding. We will oppose all state efforts to discriminate against LGBT individuals, including legislation that restricts the right to access public spaces. We support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate. We will combat LGBT youth homelessness and improve school climates. We will support LGBT elders, ensure access to necessary health care, and protect LGBT people from violence—including ending the crisis of violence against transgender Americans. We will also promote LGBT human rights and ensure America’s foreign policy is inclusive of LGBT people around the world.
Note well the phrase, “We support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate.” To understand what that looks like in action, Catholics and other persons of conscience need only follow the HHS mandate and the treatment of defenders of traditional marriage in both the courts and the press.
The practical effect of the wholesale change by the Democrats over the last twenty years on just these two issues is to alienate millions of voters who were once welcome in Bill Clinton’s White House but who would be most unwelcome in Hillary’s, and loath to enter Trump’s.
For an analysis of both party platforms, be sure to read Jonathan Liedl’s article, “How Do the Parties’ Platforms Help or Hurt the Family in America and Beyond?”.