Talking Points

Civility is nice, but it will only take you so far on abortion

Colorado's Democratic governor, Jared Polis, has acquired a reputation as a bipartisan bridge-builder. He was the only Democrat ranked in the top 10 of governors by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council. He was praised for his relaxed attitude on COVID-19 regulations after the vaccines were widely available. He talks to conservative publications.

"He's done a great job as governor of Colorado, and I anticipate that he'll do really well going into the future," said Art Laffer, the famous supply-side economist from the days of Ronald Reagan who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Donald Trump.

And now Polis has signed one of the nation's most liberal abortion laws, effectively allowing the procedure for all nine months of pregnancy. As the Supreme Court prepares to take a case that could erode or overturn Roe v. Wade, red and blue states are increasingly sorting on abortion policy. 

But most of the red state governors signing restrictive abortion bills aren't trying to be perceived as people who can reach across the aisle to get things done. They want to be seen as leaders of the conservative movement or future Republican presidential nominees. Polis hasn't otherwise governed as someone looking to claim the mantle of most liberal chief executive, even though he was a committed progressive in Congress.

Colorado has become a very pro-choice state, which is one of the reasons it has gradually shifted from red to blue. But its abortion law illustrates how difficult bipartisanship is in a country where the two parties genuinely have fundamental disagreements about issues that matter to voters. Civility, a willingness to engage with ideological opponents, and a few tax cuts can only go so far in papering over differences over when human life begins or whether abortion is the unjust killing of a baby in the womb.

That's not to say it wouldn't be better if more politicians could disagree in a civil tone or find common ground where they can. But the reason our politics tends to reward office-seekers who don't do these things is that there are huge differences in values and beliefs in our country today, with millions of voters seeking leaders who will fight for their perspectives — especially on social and cultural issues. Good government types can't avoid these battles.