The Problem With Abortion Politics: Round Two

Thomas Peters takes issue with my arguments against abortion politics. But I’m afraid he’s missing my point. Several of them, actually.

Thomas says that today’s SCOTUS ruling on American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock not only demonstrates the split of the Court on First Amendment rights, but also:

illuminates one of the critical flaws in Steve Skojec’s thesis about abortion politics — that we ought to ignore things like the make-up of the Supreme Court and instead simply vote our consciences, even when we know with certitude (as we do in the case of Romney and Obama) that each politician will make very different choices when it comes to nominating candidates to the Supreme Court, etc.

Except that’s not what I said. I never advocated ignoring the makeup of the Supreme Court; I said one of the big problems is the makeup of the Supreme Court. Including a number of justices who were appointed by Republicans. To wit:

Five of the justices that decided Roe (Burger, Brennan, Stewart, Blackmun, and Powell) were Republican appointees. Similarly, five of the justices that upheld Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (Blackmun, Stevens, Souter, O’Connor, and Kennedy) were also Republican appointees – with Blackmun being the only common justice between the two decisions. Nine pro-abortion Republican justices in the two major abortion cases to ever come before the Supreme Court, each time comprising the majority? Forgive me if I have little confidence that the next Republican president will pick someone who will turn the tide.

I’d like to be convinced that I’m wrong about judicial promises handed out like candy by election-year Republicans, but Thomas does nothing to dissuade me of this concern. Instead, he changes focus:

Folks like Steve then go on to argue that the important thing for us to do is to work to change the culture and be purists when it comes to who we support.

But how exactly are we supposed to change the culture if the very basic freedoms we have come to take for granted — such as the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Religion — are stripped by activists judges and these actions are upheld by a reconfigured Supreme Court?

We do need to change the culture. I stand by that. It’s the culture that is producing the sort of people who are appointed – not elected – to the Supreme Court, and then legislate from the bench, drawing justification from how closely their rulings are in tune with the zeitgeist. Equally concerning to me is the tendency on the pro-life side to want justices to do the exact same thing, only in support of the pro-life cause. Judicial activism is bad news no matter how you slice it, and we shouldn’t be hypocrites about it if we ever want to get out of this mess.

Does this mean that it doesn’t matter who is appointed today, tomorrow, or next year, or that we have to wait for the culture to change before we can expect (or demand) good appointees? Absolutely not. It’s not an either/or proposition. It’s both. But as I’ve pointed out, the track record on Republican appointees is less-than-stellar, and the restrictions and litmus tests placed on justices during their confirmations are so rigid, they have to be monumentally circumspect about what they believe. All of which makes it very hard to know whether you’ve got a good justice or not until there’s an important case before them, and by then it’s too late if you’re wrong. (For my money, this means that one branch of government has become entirely too powerful, and needs to have some limits imposed. But I digress.)

Spinning the wheel of fate and hoping that a left-leaning justice will retire or die while your guy is sitting in the White House is not a sane political strategy. It’s too risky (and a bit morbid) and if you’re not a big fan of the party nominee’s other policy positions, you’re betting a lot on the hope that he gets that opportunity.

Which brings me back to the question being a political purist. I believe that if we practiced a little more political purism, we would begin to shape the discussion on the sort of candidates we could expect in the future. One of the advantages of voting Republican is that you’re working with a party that understands and – ostensibly anyway – supports the free market.

And in the free market, what rules the day? Supply and demand. So if we demand candidates that better represent our interests by voting for those that espouse our beliefs, we can expect that the GOP will eventually realize that they have to supply them. Let’s face it – what matters to them more than anything (and this is true of both political parties) is that they want to win. Politics is a game of compromises, and we all know that Mr. Romney has flip-flopped his way to the top of the heap. Even his supporters admit as much. History has a way of repeating itself.

Do we really need a victory if it’s of the pyrrhic variety? Wouldn’t it be better to lose in a way that guarantees we don’t keep getting GOP candidates that are further and further to the left every time? Wouldn’t it be great to have a presidential nominee who not only is willing to appoint good justices to the SCOTUS but also has sensible, responsible, and moral policy positions? Isn’t that worth working toward?

Thomas then goes on to tackle the elephant in the article:

It strikes me as the soul of foolishness to argue that instead of fighting to elect a President who has promised to elect Supreme Court justices who respect the Constitution we should pursue a failed political strategy like Ron Paul’s “The Sanctity of Life Act” which, if passed, would –you guessed it– be challenged up to the Supreme Court and which –you guessed it– would have to be voted on by both houses of Congress, including a U.S. Senate currently controlled by a pro-abortion Democratic majority.

The “soul of foolishness” is a pretty strong statement. I think it’s also a pretty strong statement to call Ron Paul’s Sanctity of Life Act a “failed political strategy” that would be “challenged up to the Supreme Court” without substantiating that claim in any way.

First of all, say what you want about Ron Paul, but the man knows the Constitution. He may be idealistic, he may be a little awkward and squeaky, and he might have gotten picked last for kickball, but nobody takes a more constructionist approach to our nation’s foundational document. And if the man proposes legislation that will circumvent the federal courts (including the SCOTUS) from interfering with it, my money’s on him knowing what he’s doing. He’s obnoxiously constitutional, which is just what we need.

Of course, the point is valid that we don’t have the votes in Congress for the Sanctity of Life Act – right now. Then again, a big bone of contention I have is that this very fact makes me  strongly question the Republican Party’s commitment to life issues. Congressman Paul has proposed this act multiple times over the years. If the Sanctity of Life act is a “failed political strategy,” perhaps it’s because pro-life Republicans didn’t support it. As writer Laurence Vance pointed out back in 2010 in a (rather hyperbolic, but not inaccurate) defense of Ron Paul’s pro-life credentials:

The self-proclaimed pro-lifers in Congress had their best chance to do this just a few years ago and blew it. Most Republicans in Congress claim to be pro-life; some Democrats in Congress claim to be pro-life. Between the two parties enough votes could have been obtained to restrict the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court when the Republicans controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress — the period from January 20, 2001, to June 5, 2001, and again from January 3, 2003, to January 2, 2007.

If this legislation could have been passed and for some reason never even made it to the floor, I think we should all be asking ourselves why not. Why wasn’t this an effort worth making, when nothing else we’ve tried has worked? If the SCOTUS is the biggest obstruction to overturning Roe, and the SCOTUS can be circumvented, why didn’t we do exactly that? This isn’t exactly grassy knoll material, but something is amiss with the radio silence on this issue.

Thomas sums up as follows:

In short, abandoning the high ground (our Constitution and engaging the political process handed down to us by the Founding Fathers) in favor of nebulous “cultural evangelization” and “voting solipsism” as exclusive strategies is a shortcut to failure.

This statement flat out mystifies me. First, because who the heck said anything about “voting solipsism” and just what, exactly, does that mean? If I were a solipsist, I’d have made sure abortion was taken care of by now. Unfortunately, I’m not that narcissistic.

Secondly, I’m the one who is actually arguing for taking the high ground, taking recourse to the Constitution, and doing exactly the sort of thing I think the Founding Fathers would have wanted. I don’t want to play politics with abortion anymore, when almost 40 years of that has gotten us how far, again? I’d love to see an estimate on how many human lives our legislative efforts at the national level have saved. I’m certain it’s far, far less than 1.5 million annually. I bet it’s less than 1,000. God bless every life that’s been saved, but is that seriously what we’re willing to settle for? Just keep doing the same thing over and over again and crossing our fingers and hoping beyond hope that this time, it’s going to work?

For every election I can remember, I’ve heard the same thing: “You have to vote for the GOP guy. We’re this close to overturning Roe.” And George W. Bush and his two houses of Congress had a better chance than anyone has since 1973. And zip. Zilch. Nada.

McCain was not serious about the pro-life issue, and I argued as much during the last election. For which I caught much of the same flak I’m getting now. Is Romney better than McCain? Who knows. He looks a little better on paper. He comes across as a lot less manic.

But he’s also a big government moderate with problematic (or at least uninspiring) positions and history on Iran, health care, government bailouts, cap and trade, immigration, and other issues which, while not as important as right to life, nevertheless will significantly impact the future of this country. Each of these issues also have clear constitutional implications, making me question what it means when Romney promises to appoint judges who respect the Constitution. How can he do that when he doesn’t appear to respect it? Add to that Romney’s patchy background on the pro-life position – despite his apparent conversion – and my enthusiasm for the man ranks pretty low.

Could I be persuaded to vote for him? Anything’s possible, but as my Magic 8 Ball used to say, “Outlook not so good.”

Either way, I’m willing, right now, to lay it on the line. I am so confident that my arguments are sound, I guarantee that if Romney is elected, Roe will still be the status quo when he’s packing boxes and moving out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I actually might consider voting for him just to help get him into office and prove my point.

If I’m wrong, you may scorn me with abandon. I’ll be the happiest guy eating humble pie on the Internet.



  • Someone

    Unfortunatley, whether you vote or not, someone will be in the white house for the next four years. It’s not as if you don’t vote no one will be president. In those four years till we have the next election, we have to elect someone who is going to do the least damage. Romeney is the choice for two reasons. A: His morals and policies aren’t as unsound as Obama’s, and B: Obama has been in the white house for four years, so he already has everything set up.

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  • Sage

    “First of all, say what you want about Ron Paul, but the man knows the Constitution. He may be idealistic, he may be a little awkward and squeaky, and he might have gotten picked last for kickball, but nobody takes a more constructionist approach to our nation’s foundational document. And if the man proposes legislation that will circumvent the federal courts (including the SCOTUS) from interfering with it, my money’s on him knowing what he’s doing. He’s obnoxiously constitutional, which is just what we need.”

    This is a bizarre argument. It amounts to saying that the actual state of US Constitutional jurisprudence is immaterial, and that was really counts for practical political purposes is that Paul knows what it ought to be.



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