Monday, November 10, 2008
- Abortion And Moral Choice
Even in a year where saying a thing like “shameless news media” is a redundancy, the treatment that Sarah Palin received at their hands was still astoundingly unfair. It’s true she didn’t help matters. Even when you take into account the fact that it was designed from the get go to make her look bad, her performance during her Katie Couric interview certainly could have been better. She was every bit the small state governor, and it was a disappointing performance for her on many levels.
But with that said, it was just one interview and one interview does not a career make. She is also the most popular governor in the country and the most popular governor in Alaskan History. She’s an accomplished woman and in reality is far smarter and savvier than the media is making her out to be. She has an excellent presence, is unflappable in her optimism, and looks to be a helpful presence going forward as the right tries to redefine itself. But it’s still a critical issue for the left to make sure she is as discredited as possible.
No events demonstrate that better than this exchange which was told to National Review’s Rich Lowry by Steve Biegun, the former Bush NSC member who was responsible for briefing her on some the issues she’s accused of not knowing.
He talked to her about all manner of issues relating to Africa, from failed states to the Sudan. She was aware from the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, which is followed closely in evangelical churches, and was aware of Clinton's AIDS initiative. That basically makes it impossible that she thought all of Africa was a country.
On not knowing what countries are in NAFTA, Biegun was part of the conversation that led to that accusation and it convinces him "somebody is acting with a high degree of maliciousness." He was briefing Palin before a Univision interview, and talking to her about trade issues. He rolled through NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Colombia FTA. As he talked, people were coming in and out of the room, handing Palin things, etc. She was distracted from what Biegun was saying, and said, roughly, "Ok, who's in NAFTA, what's the deal with CAFTA, what's up the FTA?"—her way, Biegun says, of saying "rack them and stack them," begin again from the start. "Somebody is taking a conversation and twisting it maliciously," he says.
It’s clear that whoever repeated that story as “Sarah Palin doesn’t know Africa is a country” is trying very hard to spin her every casual utterance as evidence of idiocy in the hope that she can be permanently branded a fool, and eliminated as a force in Republican politics. But why is that so important for the media? Well if you ask me it comes down to one issue, abortion.
The reason the press was so hard on Sarah was that she was a woman who challenged the long standing claim of the far left, that only they spoke for the issues of all women. And for those groups of the far left, the issue at question is abortion. The left views abortion with all the reverence of a religious rite. Free and easy abortion makes it possible for them to lead a life without consequences, and that idea is central to the “me, me, me” lifestyle philosophy of the left. Even the suggestion that an abortion might not be a perfectly reasonable and moral act will bring the kind of raging hostility and rationalization that can only come from someone who is trying to justify behavior that they themselves already know is wrong.
But because they so desperately need it to be “an OK thing to do”, they get the logic of their arguments all turned around. They treat the issue as if it’s a simple question for science and a complicated question of morality, but in fact the opposite is true. In reality the morality is thoroughly settled, and it’s the science which provides us only with questions. And because of that they’ve been trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to make their case against the place where the conservative argument is actually strongest.
When I say the morality is settled I may be giving too much ground to liberals. I might be naïve when I assume their good intentions, but in my mind, no one (that is … no one without an obvious mental illness) thinks that it’s OK to kill a child. If a child had been carried to term by its mother, and was intentionally killed seconds before the mother completed its natural delivery, no one would call that anything but murder. And since that’s so, the moral question is settled, it’s only the vagaries of science that remain to be dealt with. The question that is central to the science of the issue is “When exactly does that particular group of cells constitute a child”?
Unfortunately science can provide us very few answers to a question like that which are politically acceptable to liberals. Their opponents argue quite sensibly that the best place to draw that line is where it’s clearest; where it’s easiest to tell a ‘before and after’ moment. And so far the best place that science can draw that distinction is “the moment of conception”. But that’s an inconvenient place for the left because it would eliminate all abortion, and the elimination of all abortion would mean an elimination of the liberal ideal of ‘a life without consequences”. All the moments that liberals would prefer (all much later in the lifecycle of the child) all point to areas which science would describe as ‘grey areas’ taken at their best.
As an example, my liberal friend Bryan, one of the more thoughtful people I know, points to the onset of brain activity as a ‘compromise point’ since it’s the means we also use to determine that a life has ended. This offers a compelling philosophical argument but it still fails the test of science. Brain activity doesn’t begin in the same way that it ends, with the flat line that, thanks to all those medical shows, we all recognize as a termination of activity. Rather, it begins as a trickle which wouldn’t be immediately recognizable as ‘brain activity’. And what’s worse for liberals is that the trickle begins almost immediately after conception; far too soon anyway to have the question resolved the way they’d like.
So in the meantime the liberals have taken to fighting the abortion battle using the means where they think they are strongest, even though the data doesn’t support it. They continue to represent the supporters of abortion as the sophisticated advocates of enlightenment who have embraced the science of the issue, and they show abortion’s opponents as the superstitious backward rubes who use superstition and mythology to address their concerns. They do this because they see it as their only acceptable option, but since it’s largely unsupported by the data, it’s also been widely unsuccessful. Abortion advocates are losing the battle, and they know it. The only demographic where abortion still has clear unambiguous support is single men under 24. For all other demographics the issue contains at least a small element of emotional ambivalence and for most, ‘free and easy abortion’ is already a political loser. And as the moral sand slips between their fingers abortion’s supporters have become more and more desperate in their defense.
Abortion retains strong support by the media and leftists groups who have nominated themselves as the guardians of “women’s issues”, as well as any other leftists groups who lean on the “enlightenment vs. superstition” means of self justification. That’s why Katy Couric had to trash Sarah Palin. To the left image matters much more than substance, and while the reality of Sarah Palin’s candidacy had genuine weaknesses, it was the image of Sarah Palin that they needed, and still need, to shatter. For all their talk about choice, they viewed it as critically important that Sarah Palin’s ‘choice’ be seen as backward. Her image as a forward thinking career woman who has managed to have a happy family life and a wildly successful career had to be smashed or they risk the very foundations of their political philosophy. It’s their only remaining option in a political battle that they can clearly see that they’re losing. And it’s that knowledge which has made the media reaction to her so hyperbolic.
Sarah Palin isn’t everything that conservatives hoped for, but she isn’t what the left has portrayed her as either. And she’s much close to the former than the latter. Hopefully when the dust settles we’ll still be allowed by the media to see that. Personally I’ll be betting on Sarah’s tenacity to overtake the media insistence. And if she decides that it’s a battle she wants to fight, I plan to support her when she does.