In writing the two columns a week for this blog, I’ve tried to maintain a certain structure and rhythm which readers may have taken notice. Once a week, usually on Wednesdays I take an issue and dig into it. The other column, usually on Saturday, is commentary on 2-3 news pieces from that day’s headlines. It offers a good balance—a blog that focuses exclusively on breaking news loses it larger sense of purpose. One that only talks about big picture issues losing its relevance to what’s happening on the battlefield today.
Over the next few months, I am going to formalize this approach. On Wednesdays, one by one, I am going to take up major issues and outline the vision of Blue Dog Reaganite, enabling readers to have a full sense of what this blog stands for. Then on Saturdays, we’ll continue discussion of breaking stories.
Today’s series starts with what I consider to be the seminal issue in the American politics, indeed throughout the West—the right to life.
I still remember the moment. I was 14 years old as the presidential election of 1984 was getting heated up. Democratic nominee Walter Mondale had picked pro-abortion Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. Ferraro’s Catholicism only heightened attention to abortion, particularly when her cardinal, John O’Connor of New York called her out in public. A magazine running a discussion of this story, also ran a piece on the nature of abortion itself. As I read about what was done to the infants in the womb, the anger rose within me. Who would do such a thing to the most helpless of all creatures? Why would a nation tolerate this? And as the years went by, the complete mystery heightened. We accept that the things like racial discrimination and pollution are not acceptable and that the government has every right to enforce our moral beliefs in this regard. But somehow that the government has no rights to protect the dignity and value of the most innocent of human beings. It gets even more bizarre, when you consider that in some political circles most devoted to legalized abortion, there is equal zeal to protect the sanctity of life for dolphins, seals and even deer.
The very reason for having a government is the protection of the innocent. We reject extreme libertarianism and turning society into the law of the jungle, precisely because of this belief. This has manifested itself differently at different points in history. At the turn of the 20th century, we rejected taking a hands-off economic approach to such an extreme as to deny workers appropriate safeguards. Laws protecting the right to organize unions and bargain for better pay were passed. As were regulations on workplace safety. These are so universally accepted today that even conservatives, notably Ronald Reagan, did not support turning back the clock to 1890. In the 1960s, America rejected the notion that freedom of association went so far that owners of public facilities—restaurants, hotels, etc—could take that to such an extreme as to deny African-Americans entry into their business. And that employers could not use race as a reason for denying someone a job. We still believe in freedom---for an employer to run their business as they choose, but also recognize that freedom has limits.
That same balance has to exist in the protection of human life. Everyone should have freedom to determine how they want to build their families. The cry “keep the government out of my bedroom” rises up when abortion is discussed. These people should not flatter themselves—no one has any desire to be there. They have the freedom to decide what goes on there on their own. But when a human life is created, society has an obligation to ensure that those who cannot defend themselves, have adequate legal protection. And again, as a society, we accept this premise on a variety of levels already. We don’t believe parental freedom extends to the right to do child abuse. Or to leave toddlers alone. Children are protected by law in these instances. As they should be when they are in the womb.
This debate has become toxic in America. If you watch TV or movies, people who believe what I have written here are regularly portrayed as narrow-minded sex-obsessed bigots. The same people who do those portrayals then turn around and declare themselves appalled by the amount of hate in our culture, after they’ve injected the poison into it. I won’t deny that a pro-life person—myself definitely included—can be guilty of getting too worked up in the heat of debate. What I don’t agree with is the notion that we’re all that different from anyone who feels passionately about any subject. While this is the most important of the topics I get worked up about, I’ve also gotten heated up when arguing foreign policy, domestic policy, whether Michael Corleone was right to kill Solozzo and McCluskey in The Godfather and whether the Wisconsin football team can get a New Year's Day bowl game in the post-Alvarez era. If you have opinions and are human, you’ll fall short of perfect discourse sometimes. I suspect if our counterparts in the abortion debate were honest with themselves, they might admit to the same shortcomings.
But even if every pro-life person were exactly as portrayed on TV (and again, if you believe that, I strongly suggest you visit a pregnancy center or even a pro-life demonstration sometime and see how the silent majority acts and thinks), that still doesn’t mean a human being should die because of it. If a civil rights activist were insufferably self-righteous would we bring back segregation because of it? If an environmental activist acted like an ass, would we give corporate polluters a blank check? Let’s keep in perspective what we’re really debating here—and that’s whether government has an obligation to protect life in its most vulnerable form. If it doesn’t do that, what exactly is the purpose of civilizations forming a government in the first place?