TCS Daily

The Future Belongs to the Fecund

By James Pinkerton - September 1, 2004 12:00 AM

NEW YORK -- If you can't beat 'em, breed 'em. That's been the unstated logic of the Right to Life movement these past three decades, and that approach is starting to bear fruit -- of the womb. By contrast, the Pro-Choice movement isn't giving birth to as many potential recruits, so it must make conversions. Both strategies were on display this week at the Republican National Convention in New York City.

On Monday night, I had two choices: I could watch Rudy Giuliani and John McCain speak to the conventioneers in Madison Square Garden; or, I could travel to the Upper West Side to see the "Stand Up For Choice -- Big Tent Extravaganza," a benefit show for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Truth to tell, it wasn't a hard choice. One of the featured performers up at the Beacon Theater, 40 blocks uptown from the GOP conclave, was Lou Reed. Since I've long put him in the same I-can't-believe-he's-not-dead yet category as Iggy Pop and Keith Richards, I figured I'd better see him when I had the chance. After all, I can always catch the replay of Giuliani's or McCain's speech on C-SPAN one of these nights. And if I don't, well, the two men, both '08 hopefuls, will be making umpty-ump more speeches over the next few years; there'll be plenty of opportunities to catch them on C-SPAN's "Road to the White House" series.

But Lou Reed has a history, man, reaching back to the Velvet Underground, formed in 1965. It's said of the Undergrounders that they didn't sell that many records, but they did sell a record to everyone else who cut vinyl during that era. In other words, they helped define rock and roll. If that's not historic, what is?

I'm not being silly here. Nobody can understand America without understanding its popular culture, and US political culture exists within that popular culture.

Indeed, one way to start thinking about the split in the US, Republican vs. Democrat, Red State vs. Blue State, is to note the contrast in the entertainment in New York City this week. The Republicans have been entertained by the Gatlin Brothers, a country act, and Michael W. Smith, a Christian singer. And after that ... there's not much. Now that Charlton Heston has passed from the scene, the Bush Brigades are reduced to trotting out Bo Derek. And let's see, she was the star of that huge hit movie "10." And what year was that? 1980. I see. Rob Long, the only Republican living in Venice, Calif., had to concede that GOPers are pickin' slim, hipness-wise.

The Upper West Side is famous for its left-liberalism. In the past it was represented in Congress by Bella Abzug, she of the big hats and bigger government ideology. Today the area is represented by Jerry Nadler, who, in his own distinct way, is even bigger.

But the first thing I see out in front of the theater is a cluster of anti-abortion protestors. Politely penned up by watching cops, the peaceful and proper sign-holders weren't a bunch of little old ladies from Dubuque or Pasadena; they were mostly young, mostly female, mostly non-white. Amidst the familiar messages -- "Planned Parenthood Kills" and "It's a crime that a child must die, so you can live as you wish" -- were other signs that were in themselves a sign of the times: "Pro vida, sin excepciones." And in a perhaps ominous sign for some of the folks down the street seeking a future Republican nomination, on another placard were the words, "Down with Pro-Abort Leaders: Giuliani, Pataki, Governator."

I'm old enough to remember the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade, and I must admit I had no idea that the controversy would still be raging, more than three decades later. Back then, feminism and emancipation seemed like the wave of the future. And of course, the role of women in American society has changed dramatically in the last three decades.

Yet even so, today, the White House and both chambers of Congress are controlled by avowed pro-lifers. The basic freedoms guaranteed by Roe are still intact, to be sure, but as both sides in the debate argue, just one more anti-Roe justice on the Supreme Court could reverse that ruling.

So what happened? I think a lot of the answer can be found in birth-rate differentials -- demography is destiny. To put it bluntly, in the name of "empowerment," the Left has birth-controlled, aborted, and maybe also gay-libbed itself into a smaller role in American society. Yes, it was their personal-is-political choice, but others will benefit politically. We might consider, as just one example, what's happened to New York City. In 1973, the Big Apple had a population of about eight million; the population of the United States overall was 211 million. In 2004, the Apple was still at around eight million, but the country's population, in the meantime, had increased by nearly two-fifths. It's not automatically a bad thing for a population to stay stagnant -- unless, of course, the goal is to wield power through the ballot box.

What's shrinking New York and other yuppoid places is the paradoxical impact of prosperity upon fertility. Nationwide, some 44 percent of women aged 15-44 are childless; but those childlessness numbers skew above average in high-income states such as Massachusetts, Vermont, and Colorado. By contrast, the lowest percentages of childless women are in downscale states such as Alaska, Mississippi, and Wyoming. In other words, those who have the most capital -- financial, but also, often, intellectual and educational -- are the least likely to have children.

This phenomenon -- yuppie singles and couples walking down what is literally a demographic dead end -- is witnessed across the Western world. As gloomy authors such as the conservative Pat Buchanan and the liberal Phil Longman have observed, the fertility rate among women in most of Europe is well below the "replacement rate" of 2.1 children per woman. Italy, for example, faces demographic wipeout; its population today is 57 million, but if present trends continue, that number could fall to 41 million in 2050, and perhaps to 20 million in 2100.

So will these countries just be empty? Probably not. Most likely, the lands of Western Europe, having been depopulated through plunging birthrates, will be repopulated with immigrants from high-birthrate countries in the Middle East and Africa. Is this bad? Not if you're an upwardly mobile striver from Algeria or Nigeria. But of course, there's not much chance that Italian language and culture will survive such an ethnic occupation. And others might wonder about the fate of the Western alliance if Italy were ever to have a foreign minister first-named Mohammed.

One who saw all this coming was Charles Galton Darwin; his 1952 book, The Next Million Years, argued that human history is first and foremost the story of populations. As he wrote, "The fundamental quality pertaining to man is not that he should be good or bad, wise or stupid, but merely that he should be alive and not dead." That is, underneath all the concern about the pursuit of happiness and the promotion of the general welfare is one unyielding bottom line: either the population reproduces itself, or it doesn't.

Echoing the survival-of-the-fittest themes of his more famous grandfather, Darwin added, "Any country which limits its population becomes therefore less numerous than one which refuses to do so, and so the first will be sooner or later crowded out of existence by the second."

And so the more recent Darwin offered a grim prediction: the future of the world belongs to illiberal religions. Or, if you prefer, conservative religions, including not only Christianity, but also Islam and Hinduism. How come? Because those faiths that emphasize traditionalism, including traditional sex roles, are more likely to be procreative. In modern countries, feminists are free to be feminists, but if they don't have feminist children -- which is to say, boys and girls who sustain the "free to be . . . you and me" philosophy -- then the politics of the future will be shaped by those hands that do, in fact, rock the cradle -- after putting a baby inside.

And that's what's been happening. The right-to-life movement, and the social conservative movement overall, is more than holding its ground. As The Wall Street Journal observed in an August 30 news story, states that might have once been thought to be solidly Democratic for John Kerry are, instead, "in play." And why is that? Because the population-blossoming parts of the state are Republican. As the Journal explained, "Minnesota's Scott County outside the Twin Cities; St. Croix County outside Eau Claire, Wis.; and Deschutes County around Bend, Ore." are the places where the vote-ducks are to be found.

The idea that the Gopher, Badger, and Beaver states, and their 25 electoral votes, might be in play for a Texas Republican fighting a foreign war would seem absurd to the anti-war liberals and hippies who once dominated state politics. But maybe those lefty folks aren't around any more. Nearly four decades after the sit-ins of the 60s, ex-radicals are more likely to be staging die-offs -- their own. And oh yes, they forgot to have children. The future belongs to the fecund.

Standing in front of the theater before the show, I posed a Darwin-influenced question to Gloria Feldt, the president of Planned Parenthood -- a group once aided by the Bush family, back in the days when founding patriarch Prescott Bush (1895-1972) was a liberal Republican senator from Connecticut. I pointed out to her that as recently as 1968, New York state boasted 43 electoral votes, while Texas wielded just 24. Yet today, New York is down to 31, and Texas is up to 32. To be sure, much of the Lone Star State's increase is from immigration, but it's also true that the birthrate there has long been higher than the national average. So is it any wonder, I asked, that things are going better for Bush and for the pro-lifers?

Feldt had a game answer. "I was born in Texas," she told me. She didn't dispute the facts on population growth, but chose to put the numbers in a longitudinal perspective. "In a lifetime, each individual must make his or her own choice," she said, adding that she hoped that women would always be able to "make their own choices -- they should not be vessels for reproduction." That sounds great to me, but how does it sound to the American people?

On that question, the data are contradictory. One might look at, but also at

Indeed, the issue is so difficult that for the time being, both presidential candidates are playing the abortion issue cool. The country is not so pro-choice that John Kerry makes it an issue in his campaign, nor is the country so pro-life that George W. Bush makes it an issue in his. But if Bush wins -- and that seems like the better bet, at least right now -- then the Supreme Court will likely change in the next four years.

So what should pro-choice America do?

Answer: if you can't breed 'em, you gotta persuade 'em. That is, if the conservatives are cranking out kids, then the liberals have to gotta grab a certain percentage of them and adjust their thinking. And that often works. Andrew Warhola was born in Pittsburgh, but when he moved to New York City in the late 40s, he became Andy Warhol. And the rest is pop-cultural history. Yes, a lot of kids are born in the Bible/Sun Belt, but sometimes the big question becomes, How're you going to keep them down on the farm when they've seen New York, New York?

That's where the Beacon benefit comes in. The show included a pro-choice pep talk by Cynthia "Sex in the City" Nixon, who reminded her audience that she was a mother, but mostly, it was a helluva show, as comedians Patrice O'Neal and Lewis Black were joined by musicians including Joan Osborne, Moby, and Lou Reed.

I had a blast, I'll admit it.

And yet if the Beacon show was an attraction for some seeking a walk on the wild side -- gay, straight, other, whatever, they've got everything in New York -- the sort of culture it bespeaks is no doubt a repulsion to others. For example, both comedians, O'Neal and Black used the "f" word, oh, 100,000 times each in the course of their sets. That doesn't bother me, but I'm not everyone.

Moreover, Black in particular seemed eager to flaunt the free ways of New York. Speaking of the choice issue, he addressed himself to any right-to-lifer who might have been in the room: "It's not your body, asshole, shut the fuck up." That got a big laugh inside the room, but Black was just warming up. And so if there is a Holy Hell for blasphemers, he'll end up there after telling Christians not to take the Bible so seriously. "The Bible is not real," he yelled in his trademark neo-Kinisonian style. Nope, Black continued, it's not the Word of God at all: "It was written by my people, the Jews, as a distraction -- because there was no air conditioning in the desert."

I thought it was funny. Maybe you do, too. Or maybe you don't. But I'm sure, across this country, a lot of people don't think it's funny, not one bit. And I'll bet that most of them were already inclined toward Bush and the GOP. So while this one show -- even after it's been reported on in TCS -- isn't likely to change any votes, the blunt fact is that the culture-gulf between the Reds and the Blues is plenty wide. And, as we have seen, the Reds seem to be receiving more demographic reinforcements.

After the show, the Planned Parenthooders distributed a freebie book, The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back. Just as the show itself made pro-choice seem cool, the book will no doubt fire up some activists. And it might even make some converts from Red State refugees washing up in Manhattan, just like young Andrew Warhola a half-century ago. The Blue State folks had better hope so, because, after all, Andy Warhol left behind no children.

One last point: on the way out of the show, I noticed that the cop guarding the protestors, a Sgt. O'Donnell, was spending all her time talking to those same protestors, her back turned to the show-goers. The cop wasn't being hostile or trying to make a statement; it seemed to me that over the course of the evening, she had developed a rapport with the pro-lifers, and not with the pro-choicers.

One casual conversation does not make a trend; it certainly won't turn an election. But it's an indicator that if the pro-choice forces want to win their long struggle, they will have to find more outlets for their message of persuasion and inclusion. Otherwise, the pro-lifers will win, not only because they have their own power of persuasion, but also because they have the even greater power of numbers.


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