In 2011, with Spain's economy struggling badly, conservatives offered a dramatically different course for the country, including some of the toughest abortion restrictions on the continent. When they won, the conservatives saw it as a mandate for their agenda.
Spain's government withdrew a bill that would have imposed some of Europe's strictest curbs on abortion, bowing to popular sentiment and dissent within the ruling conservative Popular Party. The decision Tuesday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on one of the most divisive social issues in this largely Roman Catholic country prompted sharp protests from some of his party's core supporters. His justice minister, the bill's chief advocate, resigned.
Polls in Spain showed opposition to the anti-abortion plan at about four to one. Faced with overwhelming popular sentiment, Rajoy will now pursue modest expansion of the country's parental-consent laws for minors seeking abortions.
Except, some political dynamics being universal, the conservatives' base isn't at all satisfied with the prime minister's scaled-back agenda.
A political party with close ties to religious conservatives wins a national election thanks to unhappiness with the ruling center-left party's economic and financial performance. Challenged to redeem its platform promising a major reversal of landmark laws making abortion generally legal, the conservative party promulgates a law banning the procedure, with exceptions for rape, incest, and threats to the physical and mental health of the mother. Protests appear and spread as women object to the turning back of the clock. Public opinion surveys show 70 to 80 percent opposition to the new law. And finally, the conservative party's prime minister relents, puts off implementation of the abortion ban on grounds that it would be reversed at the next change of party control, and instead proposes a face-saving measure providing for parental approval of abortions by minors. Anti-choicers and religious officials are very, very displeased and the governing party could be heading toward disarray.
Ed's point, of course, is to highlight the lessons of Spain as they could apply to the United States. Most notably, the Spanish abortion controversy could send a warning signal to Republicans in 2016 -- the public may not be satisfied with the nation's direction or the state of the status quo, but that's not necessarily an endorsement of the opposition party's agenda.
I think that's right, though we don't have to look to the near future for a parallel -- the recent past works just fine. In late 2010, Americans were in a sour mood about a tepid economic recovery; Congress was unpopular; and President Obama's support had waned. Republicans rode an enormous wave to electoral gains nationwide, including control of the U.S. House.
GOP leaders saw this as proof that the public was on board with a scorched-earth, right-wing agenda. The 2010 election results, Republicans assumed, had less to do with Americans' discontent in the wake of an economic crash, and more to do with the mainstream's love of conservative ideas and the GOP's no-compromise governing vision.
It's funny what politicians can believe about their own propaganda.
The difference, of course, is that Spain's conservatives, fearing a backlash, are changing course. American conservatives, confident that redistricting and Democratic apathy will shield them from voters' will, are content to stay the course indefinitely.