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One issue isn’t enough

Conor Durkin | Sunday, January 27, 2013

This past weekend. roughly half a million students, pro-life activists and other individuals flocked to Washington for the 40th annual March for Life, led by a delegation from our own University of Notre Dame. As most people probably know, the March for Life commemorates the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that led to the widespread legalization of abortion in the United States. For many, the day serves as a reminder of the importance of the sanctity of life, or, for those on the other side, of the importance of protecting fundamental freedoms of choice. To me, however, the day has always served as a reminder of the significance a single issue bears on our politics, and has also made me question whether this really makes sense given the realities of modern politics.
The dichotomy between pro-life and pro-choice has become one of the most significant splits in politics. If you’re a pro-choice Republican or a pro-life Democrat, you’ll never be president. Period. Furthermore, depending on which view you hold, you instantly lose a large bloc of voters on that issue and that issue alone. Can I be alone in finding this odd? Few other issues provide such a universal litmus test for our politicians. Not many people would base their vote solely on whether a candidate supports school vouchers or favors free trade. I don’t imagine many voters would decide their candidate of choice based solely on their views on climate change.  To be sure, views on these other issues would influence your overall beliefs about a candidate, but it is hard to find any issue that allows people to write off candidates as quickly as the pro-life/pro-choice debate does.
This is problematic. The world is a complex place, and the problems we face as a nation are significant. By basing our voting on anything short of a comprehensive overview of a candidate’s views is to do a disservice to our nation and to ourselves. Ruling out candidates because they hold one particular view on one particular issue is simply inconsistent with the world in which we live and the realities of our current situation. 
The challenges we face are truly daunting.  Our federal government is currently $16 trillion in debt, and in a few months we stand to once again reach the debt ceiling. More than 12 million people are unemployed nationwide. Income inequality has been growing over the past few decades, and social mobility has stagnated with it. Our education system does not educate students, and our healthcare system is still not fixed. Our immigration policies are remarkably broken, our entitlement spending threatens to bankrupt us and our political system itself is riddled with gridlock. With these problems in mind – not to mention the significance of issues like terrorism, civil liberties, energy, the environment, China, tax reform, gun violence, civil liberties or corruption – does it really make sense to base political judgments so heavily on someone’s views on one issue alone?
Back in 2010, then-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels took a lot of flak for advocating what he termed a sort of temporary social truce in our politics, with social issues like abortion taking a backseat as we handle the many issues with which we are currently faced.  As he put it, “If there were a weapon of mass destruction attack, death would come to straights and gays, pro-life and pro-choice. If the country goes broke, it would ruin the American dream for everyone. We are in this together. Whatever our honest disagreements on other questions, might we set them aside long enough to do some very difficult things without which we will be a different, lesser country?”
Daniels’ idea was right when he suggested it, and it holds true today. The challenges we are facing are simply too broad and too important for anything less than our full focus. Making decisions based off of one issue – or, even worse, making decisions based off of labels distilling one issue down to a phrase like “pro-life” or “pro-choice” – isn’t the kind of approach that will do us any good. The world is a complex place. It’s time the way we think about politics and public policy reflects that.

Conor Durkin is a sophomore studying economics and political science. He can be reached at cdurkin@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.