In 1995, 56 percent of American described themselves as “pro-choice.” At the time, Michael Kinsley on CNN’s Crossfire declared the debate over.
Then something strange happened. Americans started changing their minds. The pro-life movement whittled away at public opinion.
By May of this year, Gallup found “pro-choice” to be at an all-time low:
The 41% of Americans who now identify themselves as "pro-choice" is down from 47% last July and is one percentage point below the previous record low in Gallup trends, recorded in May 2009. Fifty percent now call themselves "pro-life," one point shy of the record high, also from May 2009.
I’m sure someone, somewhere mimicked Kinsley by declaring the debate over again.
Since May, the winds have shifted. In fact, those describing their views on abortion as “pro-choice” have returned near their record high at 54%.
Why this shift?
Well, it happened just after Todd Akin’s infamous “shut the whole thing down” comments in August. While I can’t say for sure that Akin’s comments triggered the shift, I can’t point to any other major abortion news that coincides with the shift.
[S]uddenly, in August of this year, the number jumps. Why? Well, what else happened in August this year? Right: Todd Akin opened his yapper about “legitimate rape” and women’s supposed biological defense mechanisms against it and that was the beginning of the end for Republican chances to take back the Senate. How big a deal was it? Weeks later, the NYT poll was seeing more support for the idea that abortion should be “generally available” than it had in over 15 years.”
Akin didn’t try to sabotage the pro-life movement, of course. He is sincerely and devoutly pro-life. He’s so pro-life, in fact, that he’s willing to say anything to advance his cause.
And that’s the problem.
Sometimes our greatest gift to the movement is to shut up or to give strategic answers.
No, that’s not lying. You tell the truth; you just tell in a way that doesn’t turn off the people who don’t yet see things exactly the way you do.
Why is this so important? Because if your statement turns people off, you lose your ability to influence minds. And influence, not being “right,” is the only weapon we have in public debate.
Not only did Akin’s ridiculous comment end his political career and hurt chances of flipping control of the Senate, he set back his beloved pro-life movement almost 20 years.
When I urge conservatives to think critically and act strategically, it’s not squishy; it’s the only path to victory.