Yes, I’m afraid we have another article about how the Democrats who need to admit that women who get abortions are immoral and tragic victims, this time by Andrew Sullivan (subscribers only) who uses praise of Hillary Clinton (while distorting what she was saying) to recite some tired, arrogant, and dishonest arguments.
For too long, supporters of abortion rights have foolishly and callously trivialized the moral dimensions of the act of ending human life in the womb. They have insisted that no profound moral cost is involved. They remain seemingly impassive in the face of the horrors of partial-birth abortion. They talk in the abstract language of “reproductive rights” and of a “war against women.” To acknowledge that human life is valuable from conception to death has been, at times, beyond their capacity. They have seemed blind to the fact that, as Naomi Wolf once alluded in this magazine, mothers and children have souls and that, in every abortion, one soul is destroyed and another wounded. And they seem far too dismissive of the fact that the concerns of many pro-life Americans are not rooted in intolerance but in the oldest liberal traditions of the protection of the weak.
We have here, again, the highly idiosyncratic notion of compromise that generally characterizes these lectures: pro-choicers need to build bridges and work with others by admitting that Andrew Sullivan is entirely right about the abortion issue and adopting his position in toto. Look, Andrew and every other “A. Sullivan” (and Naomi Wolf, for that matter, although it’s amusing how she’s mocked relentlessly when she advises Al Gore but praised as a moral sage in abortion debates) are entitled to their view that abortion is immoral but a tragic necessity. Perhaps Democratic politicians need to accommodate these people rhetorically (and, of course, they do.) But I am most certainly not going to say that fetuses have “souls,” or that women who get abortions are “wounding” their souls, or that abortion is always immoral, because I think that these beliefs are false and pernicious. I’m not going to back off; no matter how many times I hear this, “capitulation” and “finding common ground” are different issues. If you want the latter, we can talk. If the former, you can piss off. Oh, and I’ll admit that “some” pro-lifers are sincerely committed to protecting the weak as soon as Sullivan not only concedes that virtually every pro-life Republican politician (and Christian conservative leader) is steadfastly opposed to any policy that would reduce abortions except for criminalizing abortions for (poor) women, but also writes column after column demanding they admit their bad faith before they can be admitted into acceptable political discourse.
This is instructive:
One reason that John Kerry had such a hard time reaching people who have moral qualms about abortion was his record and rhetoric: a relentless defense of abortion rights–even for third-trimester unborn children–with no emphasis on the moral costs of such a callous disregard of human dignity. You cannot have such a record and then hope to convince others that you care about the sanctity of life.
The claim that Kerry used absolutist rhetoric on abortion is simply a bald-faced lie, as even the other A. Sullivan concedes. But this does reinforce a point Atrios recently brought up: people making the argument that the Democrats need to moderate their tone on abortion are completely unappeasable. No matter how wishy-wishy your rhetoric, you will always be accused of being an “extremist.” And it’s strictly a one-way ratchet, of course, as I’ll discuss later.
And then we get this shit again:
But even this is not enough for the Democrats to move the issue out of its current impasse. The party needs to end its near fatwa on pro-life politicians and spokespeople. Harry Reid and Tim Roemer are a start. The Democrats should learn from President Bush’s canny use of the issue. He is firmly pro-life. And yet he gave several pro-choice politicians key slots at the Republican convention. The new number-two at the Republican National Committee, Jo Ann Davidson, is pro-choice. When the Republicans are more obviously tolerant of dissent than Democrats, something has gone awry.
So the Democrats have a “near fatwa” (love the fudge word. This kind of rhetoric is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals. Except the weasel…) only marginally lessened by the fact thatthe most powerful Democratic politician in the country is pro-life. On the other hand, the Republicans get enormous credit for one RNC member and a few speeches on other topics given by blue-state Republicans with no national influence. And, of course, using Schwarzenegger as an example of Republican tolerance is Orwellian. He became governor via a recall, which was necessary because he had no chance whatsoever of winning a Republican primary. The intellectual dishonesty is just staggering.
But you can see why these arguments are popular. Let’s return to the beginning:
And, if [Hillary] and the Democrats can move the debate away from the question of abortion’s legality toward abortion’s immorality, then they stand a chance of winning that debate in the coming years.
I hate to break this to you, but the debate has been stable for decades, and the pro-choice position is winning. The Democratic position on abortion is the majority position. Conversely, the official position of the national Republican policy–a constitutional amendment that would force all states to ban abortion in all circumstances–is the position of a small minority of wingnut cranks. This is why Bush has to be “savvy” by using token unrepresentative politicians to try to hide his party’s position, and bring up centuries-old Supreme Court decisions he obviously doesn’t understand rather than be candid about his position. And this is why Sullivan’s arguments are as politically ingenious as they are disingenuous; they force Democrats to be defensive about positions that are highly popular, and do this by deftly changing the subject from the positions of that canny George Bush. This line of argument is a trap–don’t fall in.