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Right-to-Lifers Endorse Thompson -- Cynically | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Right-to-Lifers Endorse Thompson -- Cynically

The most cynical group currently operating on the American political stage, the National Right to Life Committee has endorsed the most cynical man to seek the presidency in recent memory, Fred Thompson, for the Republican nomination.

It is a perfect match, although not one that can be said to have been "made in Heaven." After all, what brings the National Right to Life Committee and Fred Thompson together is the fact that both the interest group and the candidate have sold their souls to the highest bidder.

National Right to Life gave its blessing to Thompson despite the fact that he has been open during the course of the current campaign about the fact that he does not support what has historically been the highest stated priority of the organization: enactment of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

Thompson's an advocate for leaving the issue to the states, which would create a patchwork quilt model where some parts of the country would respect the right of women to make decisions regarding their own bodies while others would not. That's a dramatically more liberal stance than had been traditionally tolerated by anti-abortion activists, and that is supported by a number of Thompson's fellow contenders for the 2008 Republican nod.

This begs the question: Why Thompson?

It is true that the National Right to Life Committee was not going to endorse former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who historically has been every bit as pro-choice as Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. It is equally true that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, while he may now oppose abortion, used to be an even more articulate advocate for the pro-choice position than Giuliani or Clinton. And is surely true that, while Arizona Senator John McCain may have a 100-percent record of opposing abortion, has had his fights with the group over campaign-finance issues and electoral tactics.

But why didn't National Right to Life endorse former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a rising star in the Republican race who has been a consistent social conservative and who is actually running stronger than Thompson in a number of early primary and caucus states? After all, while Thompson rejects the constitutional amendment, Huckabee declares at the top of his campaign website: "I support and have always supported passage of a constitutional amendment to protect the right to life. My convictions regarding the sanctity of life have always been clear and consistent, without equivocation or wavering. I believe that Roe v. Wade should be over-turned."

There is an answer, but it has nothing to do with the abortion debate.

The National Right to Life Committee is no longer best known in Washington as a social-issue group. Rather, the committee is best known as an organization that is in the forefront of opposing campaign finance reform and other moves that might limit the its ability and the ability of organizations like it to use corporate special-interest money for political purposes -- and, of course, to maintain lavish offices in the tonier sections of Washington.

With aggressive lobbying on Capitol Hill, lawsuits at the federal and state levels and grassroots organizing around the country to oppose campaign finance reforms, the National Right to Life Committee has made itself the primary defender of corporate influence in politics.

As such, Mike Huckabee was unacceptable as a contender for the National Right to Life Committee endorsement.

Huckabee is a social conservative, but he's an economic populist. A relatively honest player who is sincere in his beliefs, the former governor of Arkansas argues that it is impossible to talk about "family values" without addressing the threat to American families posed by economic and trade policies that leave working people entirely at the mercy of multinational corporations.

While he's no Ralph Nader, Huckabee's arguments on behalf of corporate responsibility have earned him some surprising support. For instance, the Machinists union has endorsed his candidacy for the Republican nomination.

But it has also earned Huckabee some powerful enemies. The corporation-linked Club for Growth has been attacking the one Republican candidate who might reasonably be described as Reaganesque.

In contrast, Fred Thompson is taking no hits from business-linked interests.

While Thompson may have had lobbying ties to Planned Parenthood, which advocates for abortion rights and in some regions actually provides access to the procedure, the former senator from Tennessee is a 100 percenter when it comes to serving the interests of major corporations. And that's what concerns National Right to Life these days. The group is part of a Washington-based alliance to advance corporate interests by using social-issue appeals to convince working-class voters to oppose their economic interests.

Thus, Fred Thompson got the National Right to Life endorsement instead of the more consistently socially-conservative Mike Huckabee because Thompson is the more consistently pro-corporate candidate.

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