"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Art of the Possible and a New Abortion Platform for Republicans

Ed. - I'm leaving this post up somewhat against my better judgment.   I told the Regular Son on the way home about the gist of the idea -- that Republicans should beat a tactical retreat on abortion as a political issue, and fight the fight in the cultural sphere instead.   He basically convinced me that either we have a party that stands with unborn children, or else why have a political party at all.   Put differently, if we can't convince a majority of Americans that the pro-Life position is right and just and moral, then America as a country probably doesn't deserve to survive either.   The upshot is that you have to pick the hills you want to die on in politics.   Life is a hill that Republicans ought to be willing to die on.   If you won't fight for 54 million babies, and a million plus more every year, then what would you fight for?

Anyway, I'll leave it up as evidence of a moment of squishiness by the Regular Guy.


Politics is the art of the possible.   I've been thinking about this truism a lot lately, in connection with a lot of issues.   On immigration, for instance, we are simply not going to deport 10-15 million illegals currently living in America, for the simple reason that logistically we can't, at least not without Holocaust-style concentration camps and cattle trains.   So anything other than a gradual amnesty and naturalization seems to me to be impossible, and fruitless to argue.   On guns, similarly, we have something like 300 million guns in circulation.   We are not going to confiscate them, for the simple reason that we can't, at least not without massive armies of government agents willing to invade law-abiding citizens homes.   So acting like we can somehow get rid of all those "icky" guns -- essentially the liberal position -- is silly and fruitless.

In other words, don't spend time arguing about the impossible in politics.   It's a waste of time.   Meanwhile, things like changing policies to rebuild our manufacturing sector, or actually balancing the budget, are both possible and necessary.   Let's spend our energy on those.

I've been thinking about the possible and the impossible on the issue of abortion too.   Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.   It's a terrible decision that has ruined American politics for two generations.   But, even without the constitutional abomination of Roe, it is very likely that 15-20 hard blue states (New York, California, etc.) would essentially have abortion-on-demand today anyway, and 10-15 other purple states (Ohio, Wisconsin, etc.) would have legal abortion in some circumstances, and only 15-20 states (the hard red states of the South and the West) would make abortion illegal in most circumstances.   And I doubt whether any state would criminalize abortion as murder.   So arguing for Roe's reversal in some future case, while good as a matter of constitutional law hygiene (because the reasoning is so poor), won't really affect the availability of abortion much, and won't affect the number of aborted babies.   Which, after all, is the reason we care about abortion.

In other words, the range of what's possible in terms of legislating about abortion is, at least in the near term, pretty small.   So why are we wasting political energy and capital on it?   As conservatives, we ought to believe (as Edmund Burkeans) that the unwritten codes of behavior enforced by communities through tradition and morality and religion are more important than federal or state legislation anyway.   Let's concentrate on that cultural sphere instead.

For instance, why couldn't Republicans treat abortion -- and I know this is an imperfect analogy -- like smoking?   Smoking is legal, and no one is arguing that it should be illegal, but smoking has also been reduced through awareness of its health hazards, and also though a gradual cultural shift toward thinking smoking is icky and uncool.   Our philosophical desideratum is a world without abortion, but that isn't going to happen.   Shouldn't our practical goal be a world with many fewer abortions?   And can't we do that through moral suasion and cultural modeling better than through futile efforts at legislation or constitutional litigation?

Or consider... isn't there a good movie to be made out of something like this story I saw on NRO:
She was “small, bubbly, and joyful. She had a radiant smile . . . ” with a “sweet” face. She was young and Sound of Music–like.
And yet, she wept.
She was a nun — in full habit. Standing outside a Planned Parenthood clinic that Abby Johnson was running in Texas.
The first day Johnson and her staff saw her, they “gawked” through the clinic window. It was nearly 100 degrees, and there she was “in a heavy, dark brown habit that swept to the ground.” Johnson, in her new book, Unplanned, remembers: “Her head and hair were completely covered so that only her face showed, a face lifted toward heaven, eyes closed, clearly praying.”
And then a “client” left the clinic: a woman who had just had an abortion.
The religious sister “fell to her knees and wept with such grief . . . that I couldn’t help but think to myself, She feels something far deeper than I ever will . . . this grief at knowing that client had an abortion.” Sister Marie Bernadette would be back, every week, on the days the clinic performed abortions. And, Johnson writes, “We could continue to see that she was deeply and personally grieved by abortions.”
The weeping sister affected Johnson: “I tried to shake it off but couldn’t get past the fact that a nun was grieving over what was happening inside my clinic.” Johnson asked herself, “How many other people cry outside my workplace because of the work I am doing?”
Couldn't enterprising conservatives raise money and get like-minded producers, directors and actors to participate in making a really moving movie about this story?

And refocusing the GOP away from the politics of abortion and toward the morality of abortion could have the positive effect of making Republicans more palatable to more voters who they currently aren't getting.   Which means more Republicans can get elected.   Which means we would be closer to saving the country from the tidal wave of unfunded entitlements and debt that is heading our way.  

In other words, the politics of abortion won't matter if we don't solve the debt crisis.   I know that sounds callous -- millions of aborted babies have to be more important than economic issues, don't they?   I don't disagree.   I'm just saying that doing something about the debt (which we can and must) is more important than talking about abortion (which is all we can do at this point in history).   So let's concentrate on what is possible to do, rather than talking about doing the impossible.

If I were the czar of the Republican Party, I'd propose a new platform that said something like this:

The issue of abortion divides Americans.   Absent sea changes in the culture, which will take many generations, no political solution appears possible.   For this reason,
  • The Republican Party will no longer oppose legal abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, a position that is in full accordance with the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade.
  • The Republican Party will no longer oppose legal abortion in any case where the life of the mother is at significant risk.
  • The Republican Party will no longer oppose legal abortion in any case where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
The Republican Party nevertheless believes with American Catholics, Evangelicals and many other Christians and persons of other faiths that abortion is a grave moral wrong.   As an ideal and a goal, the Republican Party therefore desires a world without abortion.  As a practical matter, what that means is that a healthy society should have many fewer abortions.   As former President Bill Clinton said, abortion should be safe, legal and rare.  It is scandalous and immoral that 54 million abortions have occurred in America since the Roe decision.   The Republican Party challenges the Democratic Party to work in a bipartisan manner to create practical programs that would lead to abortion becoming more "rare" in America.   Toward that end,
  • The Republican Party will continue to oppose abortions in the second and third trimester where the aforementioned exceptions do not apply.   Children in the second and third trimester are either viable or so close to viability that abortion under most circumstances should not be permissible under the law.   Again, this position is entirely in accordance with the holding in Roe v. Wade.
  • The Republican Party supports the expansion of programs to make contraception available to men and women, so that the horror of abortion can be avoided where possible.  
  • The Republican Party supports the expansion of programs that make carrying a child to term easier for mothers; that make caring for children easier; and that make adoption a more viable alternative.
  • The Republican Party supports the expansion of programs that provide access to counseling services for expectant mothers who want to keep their children, or who want to place their children with adoptive parents.
  • The Republican Party supports the expansion of programs, including tax policies, that make it easier for two-parent families to raise their children.  It is simply a fact that children do better with both a father and a mother in the home, and our policies should reflect that reality.
  • The Republican Party supports the expansion of programs that enhance the enforcement of child support where parents are not married.   Men who do not support their children are irresponsible bums, and our policies should reflect that moral judgment.
Finally, because the issue of abortion so divides Americans, the deeply-held religious beliefs of many Americans on this issue must be respected.   Therefore,
  • The Republican Party will continue to oppose any government funding of any organization that performs abortion services, as such funding requires Americans who oppose abortion on religious grounds to support with their tax dollars actions their religions may deem gravely immoral.   The right of an American woman to seek abortion services does not trump the religious freedom of all Americans.
  • The Republican Party opposes any governmental action, whether through legislation or regulation, that would require individual Americans opposed to abortion or contraception to provide direct support for abortion or contraception in any way, including through businesses they own.   Again, the Republican Party stands on the side of the individual's religious liberty as central to the meaning of America.  
A platform like this might alienate some conservatives, even some in my own family, but I doubt that they are going to vote Democratic as a result.   At the same time, I think a platform like this would be attractive to a large number of Americans in the center, and would put the Democratic Party's abortion on demand under any circumstances position in a new light, as the extremism that it is.  

All of this is a hard saying for me.   I am a staunch pro-Life Catholic conservative.   I think that what I believe about Life is both right and just.   It is the Truth.   But until I convince a super-majority of my fellow Americans that my Truth is the Truth, the politics of abortion is a waste of time.   Just look at Roe... it's 40 years later.   What really has changed?

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