Last night, Ramesh Ponnuru made the interesting suggestion that Joseph Biden, the Democrats’ likely vice-presidential nominee, might never have been much of a pro-lifer.

Yes, the senator from Delaware done some flip-flopping on related issues: “Years after supporting an amendment that would allow states to protect the unborn, he supported a law to stop them from being able to do it.” But that doesn’t, by itself, mean that back when he opposed Roe v. Wade he was genuinely pro-life. “I’m persuaded that Biden’s support for the amendment did not make the label fit. He never said, as far as I know, that states should protect the unborn.”

It’s a thought. On Meet the Press ’ candidates series last year, Senator Biden was asked about why he changed some of his positions on abortion:

Q: When you came to the Senate, you believed that Roe v. Wade was not correctly decided and that you also believed the right of abortion was not secured by the Constitution. Why did you change your mind?
A: Well, I was 29 years old when I came to the US Senate, and I have learned a lot.

And there is a logical possibility that he could have held those anti- Roe views without actually being pro-life. But the more plausible reading is that he was, at least politically, opposed to abortion. Many were, in those days: politicians without much backbone, bending as the wind of popular opinion blew against the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision.

In this, of course, Biden is nothing new. He is, in fact, a throwback to the old days of the Democratic party. Write down the names of the figures who started out claiming to be pro-life and then became supporters of abortion, and you would have something like a roll call of the important Democrats of the 1980s and 1990s.

Richard Gephardt, and Tom Daschle, and Jesse Jackson, and Al Gore, and on, and on. That’s the context, I think, in which we need to view Senator Biden.

Articles by Joseph Bottum