Aikin, Abortion, and the GOP
A funny thing happened to Joe Biden recently. There he was, race-baiting merrily, flinging some truly righteous trash, shoveling the outrageous innuendos and implausible smears Democrats make a living trafficking in, and then something happened -- something that he couldn't have foreseen in a million years. He actually got called on his mud-slinging by members of the mainstream media.
A heart of stone would ache for the man. It is the safest bet in the world that Biden, famously slow to process new information, still hasn't figured out why he was being criticized. Isn't it straight out of the Democratic playbook to start with a kernel of truth about an opponent's views on economics and go off on a riff, extrapolating wildly and conjuring up an insinuation that Republicans want to bring back slavery? I mean, why is that wrong? When did the rules change, and why wasn't poor Joe informed?
Biden simply hadn't been paying attention. When Harry Reid trotted out the imaginary playmate who had whispered sweet nothings in his ear to the tune that Mitt Romney failed to pay income taxes for ten years, the insult to...well, everyone's intelligence was a bit much even for some stalwart liberals. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post rebuked Reid, comparing him to the corrupt Nevada senator in The Godfather II. One could almost see Cohen's nostrils flaring as he called Reid "a jerk." Lots of people, far too many, were asking the obvious question: if Romney didn't pay taxes for ten years, why weren't IRS hellhounds snapping at his rump? And the notion that a "Bain investor" would know personal details about Romney's tax returns was palpably false -- a silly, utterly preposterous stretch. Under the bus with Harry: he's a jerk and a guttersnipe.
Of course, he's been those things and worse for a long time. He did, after all, strain mightily to cause America to lose a war it was not losing -- the word, now obsolete, for that sort of behavior begins with t. What was different this time was that he was embarrassing The Anointed One himself. Cohen wrote: "The politics of this squabble are delightful. But Reid has managed to draw both his party and his president into the gutter with him." Inexcusable and unforgivable -- Harry's asking for a ride on the Van Jones Express, and here, in a nutshell, is the critical point that was lost on Joe Biden.
Legal theorists use the Latin phrase malum in se to refer to something that is inherently bad, evil in itself. The distinction between what is inherently bad and what is merely prohibited by law or regulation, malum prohibitum, has profound significance for a society. Ours would be far better if liberal pundits regarded Biden's sleaze and Reid's lies as malum in se, but the plain truth is, they don't. Braying vicious nonsense is bad when it's so hamfisted and downright stupid that it hurts Barack Obama. Casting Beloved Leader in an unfavorable light is a very serious offense. That sort of malum is strictly prohibitum in the liberal media. The Democratic watchword remains: crude dishonesty, bad; subtle dishonesty, good. As an aside, Obama's refusal to condemn either Reid or Biden is worth noting.
Republicans had little time to enjoy the fresh breeze behind their sails before their own candidate for senator from Missouri stepped up to the karaoke box and stank out the joint. Todd Akin, it turns out, holds some curious beliefs about the workings of the female body. He is willing to acknowledge that his assertion that women can will themselves not to conceive a rapist's child might be incorrect, but he insists that the science does not affect his overall position. He laments that his whole body of work is being invalidated by one word. He doesn't tell us what that one word was, and it is impossible to guess.
Over the past decade, the pro-life side has gained considerable ground. The reason for this shift in public opinion is not hard to understand. To the pro-life mantra that abortion is murder, pro-choicers chant that abortion is every woman's right. As women have no right to commit murder, the pro-lifers win this battle of sound bites going away. The only possible counter-argument is one that advocates of the pro-choice side are strangely reluctant to employ: abortion is something other than murder.
Barack Obama dances around his support of the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion, wherein a fetus is inverted in the birth canal and surgical instruments are inserted into it. He never mentions his support for "live-birth" abortion, wherein a baby is removed from the womb and killed. Inconvenient questions on these subjects are dismissed with a summary "I am pro-choice." Yet somehow his position, the position written into Democratic platform every four years, is supposed to be mainstream. Perhaps infanticide is not an extreme position.
Republicans take the position that viable fetuses are babies, and there has always been a consensus in this nation in opposition to the killing of babies. That argument is persuasive, but it causes problems for the Republican platform. On the continuum of human development, a viable six-month-old fetus can be coherently described as a baby. But as babies cease to be babies when they move right on the continuum and become children, so they are not yet babies when moved to the left and they are embryos not recognizably human. Calling a one-celled zygote a baby or a child defies logic. The party that assigns greater moral weight to a fertilized egg than to a woman will drive away women in droves.
More than ever, America needs a sane, thoughtful debate on abortion. Democrats are not eager for such a debate because they realize, though they dare not admit it, that Roe v. Wade will be a casualty. No dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy is permitted within the Democratic Party, but the ugly secret is that it is very easy to demonstrate to the most rabid defender of the controversial ruling that it was wrongly decided. Ask any pro-choicers how he would have reacted if the nine old men in black robes had ruled that the Constitution prohibited abortion. How many seconds would it have taken for them to point out that the Constitution is silent on the subject? Support for Roe is enshrined in every Democratic platform, yet at its core, it is dishonest. The constitutional right trumpeted so loudly by its partisans exists nowhere in the Constitution.
Todd Akin's foolish formulation was cynically denounced by top Republicans. But, to them, it was malum prohibitum, an affront to independent women voters, a gaffe that will cost a crucial Senate seat. That forcing a woman to carry a rapist's seed might be malum in se is something many rank-and-file Republicans firmly believe (polls show that at most 20% of voters would deny abortions to rape victims) and something Republican candidates can't bring themselves to acknowledge. The GOP platform committee, apparently, wants to provide fuel for the latest Democratic canard, the "war on women."
If the Democrats are far to the left of the public on abortion, and the Republicans are to the right, who will speak for the majority of Americans on this vexed issue?