By Andy Schmookler
What's better for democracy? Focusing on issues that divide us, and likely always will divide us, or focusing on values and goals that we share?
Anyone who believes that we're better served by focusing on what we can accomplish together rather than on what makes us fight each other should be outraged at what the Republican Party does with the issue of abortion.
Even if one agrees with the policies that Republicans are pushing, one should recognize that the way they have used the abortion issue is destructive, and a disgrace.
During these years when our country faced its deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, abortion has been nowhere near the top of issues that Americans wanted their leaders to address. But here we are fiercely embattled over abortion in a number of states - Virginia, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and in a number of others.
What these states have in common is that they are now under the firm political control of Republicans.
We've got plenty of issues that could bring us together, plenty of goals that could unite us.
Millions remain out of work. The majority of American families have been losing ground economically. A whole generation is being denied entry into productive adulthood. Higher education is increasingly hard for ordinary Americans to afford. The United States used to be the best at giving its people the opportunity to advance. Now Americans are the most likely to be stuck at the economic level into which they're born.
Meanwhile, extreme weather is wreaking havoc across the land, and all evidence indicates that climate change will get worse.
All challenges that we might meet if we worked together. But the Republican Party has been making sure we can't.
Instead, the GOP has decided to focus our political attention on an issue on which disagreements have proved irreconcilable. We've fought out this issue for 40 years. As with most basically religious questions, we can either fight endlessly or agree to disagree.
America was founded by men who recognized that when it came to such disagreements, the way to a healthy society was to accept that we have differences and to focus on values that bring us together. The men who enshrined "freedom of religion" in the Constitution knew the history of the Old World, where Protestants and Catholics had fought for generations.
We Americans have learned to respect each other's right to follow our own paths on these deep matters, even when we believe that other people's beliefs are so wrong that they'll go to hell.
That's the American way on religious questions -- questions such as, "When does a developing life become entitled to the full human rights of 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?'"
Some years back, we reached a kind of truce on abortion. When Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, it was established that taxpayer dollars would not pay for anyone's abortion. For a while, the issue died down.
The political payoff for Republicans in fanning the flames of our most divisive issue is clear: Divide and conquer. So long as Americans fight each other, we can't make common cause to achieve common goals. That's terrible for most Americans, but just fine for the rich and powerful whom the Republicans are really serving.
That small elite has tripled its share of the nation's wealth in the past generation, creating the most inequality America has seen in living memory, the biggest gap between the richest and the rest among all the democracies. All of them.
As this wealth gap has widened, Republicans and their allies - with the Citizens United decision --have made it much easier for money to buy our government.
Getting the ninety-some percent of Americans, who have been losing ground, to fight among themselves has been a successful political strategy for these rich and powerful interests. The abortion issue is one key to that strategy.
For a generation or more, the Republicans have been ginning up the moral passions of many Americans who are not being well-served by the American power system and economy -- who are getting a bum deal and struggling to make ends meet -- goading them into fighting over an issue that will do nothing to improve the quality of their own or the children's lives.
Divide-and-conquer directed against the American people is immoral. The grassroots people who find abortion morally intolerable are doubtless sincere. But the political force that uses that issue to distract from the gross immorality of stealing wealth and power from hard-working people - a party that talks about the unborn but votes to take food away from already-born children -- does not share such moral passions. It is only exploiting them.
Andy Schmookler, recently the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District, is an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher. His books include "Debating the Good Society: A Quest to Bridge America's Moral Divide."