Monday, June 21, 2004

"Political Expediency"

Let's "Hannalyze" the section called "Political Expediency" from Chapter 8 ("I'm Pro-Choice") of "Let Freedom Ring".

Hannity starts off the section by saying:

A good rule of thumb to help determine the relative righteousness of one side in a debate over the other is to check their respect for openness and truth. If one side is less than forthcoming about its positions or tries to disguise it in euphemistic language, you ought to be suspicious about the virtue of their cause. Truth has nothing to hide. Let me illustrate the point with a little quiz. The answers might surprise you.

Okay, my take on this section is that he's going to show how people "hem and haw" around when they have an indefensible position. This chapter is on abortion, so I'm assuming the indefensible position to be discussed is the "pro-choice" position. But is it?

Hannity goes on to ask the first multiple choice question of his quiz:

Who said, "I am opposed to abortion and to government funding of abortions"?

a. Pat Robertson

b. Jerry Falwell

c. Bill Clinton

Of course, the answer turns out to be Bill Clinton. However, Hannity doesn't give an example of Clinton being less than forthcoming on the issue or using "euphemistic language" to explain his position, which he had just said was what we should look for to determine the "relative righteousness of one side". Hannity merely states that Clinton was once "pro-life" and is now so "pro-choice" that he vetoed a ban on partial birth abortions.

So Clinton flip-flopped. If memory serves, Jimmy Carter did, too. Hannity blames this on political expediency: Democrats with presidential aspirations changing positions to appeal to the party base.

Republicans have done it, too, though. Let me illustrate the point with a little quiz of my own. The answers might surprise you.

Which president, while still a governor signed the "Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967", decriminalizing abortion in their state years before Roe v. Wade?

a. Bill Clinton

b. Jimmy Carter

c. Ronald Reagan

If you guessed C-Ronald Reagan, you'd be right. An article appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times recently described the bill Reagan signed as "allowing abortion in cases of rape and incest or to protect the mother's mental and physical health". It became law in California years ahead of Roe v. Wade. This is not to say that Reagan was enthusiastic about it. An article by Tom Curry on said that "Reagan agonized over the measure, fearing that doctors would exploit a mental heath loophole to approve many abortions. But in the end he signed it."

Of course, back in those days, abortion wasn't the polarizing political issue that it has become. Fred Barnes said in a 2003 opinion piece that:

Even here [in the U.S.], full-throated conservative opposition to abortion is a relatively recent phenomenon....The most telling example of conservative indifference to the abortion issue [in decades past] occurred in California. At the time, Mr. Reagan was troubled by the passionate lobbying against the bill by Cardinal Francis McIntyre. But on the advice of two of his most conservatives advisers, Ed Meese and Lyn Nofziger, Mr. Reagan signed anyway. He persuaded himself that the measure would have little impact. Instead, it prompted a surge in abortions.

Apparently (when not looking through an ideological filter like a conservative would do today) Reagan, while not comfortable with what he saw as a "mental health loophole" in the bill, must have seen some merit in the other reasons justifying a "therapeutic abortion" (rape, incest or to protect the physical health of the mother) or he wouldn't have signed it. Again, whatever Reagan's reasons for signing the bill, whatever gave him doubts, he nevertheless did sign it. While some politicians talk about "a woman's right to choose", Reagan actually signed a bill into law that "prompted a surge in abortions" and later when running for president billed himself as "pro-life". At the end of this section, Hannity derides politicians who became "pro-choice" when they decided to run for president. But one statement stands out. Hannity says that he realizes "that at times politicians feel they have to adjust or change their positions to be successful. But it's completely reprehensible for them to do so with respect to a fundamental moral issue." However, didn't Reagan do an about-face in this case, or at least "adjust" his position as Hannity put it?

Hannity continues with his quiz:

Who once voted for civil rights legislation defining an unborn baby from the moment of conception as "a person"?

a. Jesse Helms

b. Henry Hyde

c. Al Gore

Of course, the answer is Al Gore. In this case, Hannity quotes a Michael Kramer article* in the March 7, 1988 edition of U.S. News and World Report where Gore's advisors admitted to trying to obfuscate Gore's long "pro-life" voting record (a position unpopular with the national party's base). Their strategy? "In effect, what we have to do is deny, deny, deny."

Again, jumping to the end of the section, Hannity sums thing up by saying that Gore and others in the Democratic Party either "never believed in their earlier stated moral position, or their lust for high office overpowered their moral convictions. In either case, their conduct is deceitful."

Okay, my turn again.

Who once said they opposed a pro-life amendment to the Constitution and favored leaving the abortion question up to a woman and her doctor?

a. Tom Daschle

b. Edward Kennedy

c. George W. Bush

Yep, it was Dubya who said it while running for Congress back in 1978. Here's the quote in context from an article by David Corn:

In 1978, Bush, a 31-year-old oilman, was seeking the Republican nomination in Texas' 19th Congressional District, which included Midland, Odessa and Lubbock. He was locked in a fierce battle with Jim Reese, a veteran campaigner and Reagan Republican. Days before the June 3 primary runoff, Bush was interviewed by a reporter for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Reese had attacked Bush for being cozy with liberal Rockefeller Republicans. In response, Bush listed conservative positions he held. "I'm not for the extension of the time to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment," he told the paper. "I feel the ERA is unnecessary. I'm not for the federal funding of abortions. I've done nothing to promote homosexuality in our society." But he went on to explain his view on abortion. The Avalanche-Journal reported: "Bush said he opposes the pro-life amendment favored by Reese and favors leaving up to a woman and her doctor the abortion question. 'That does not mean I'm for abortion,' he said."

So, Bush opposed the main goal of the antiabortion movement, a constitutional amendment banning abortion, which the GOP had endorsed. Moreover, he echoed the language of abortion-rights supporters: Abortion is a matter best left to a woman and her doctor.

Now, let's go back to the main premise of this section where Hannity says that "[i]f one side is less than forthcoming about its positions or tries to disguise it in euphemistic language, you ought to be suspicious about the virtue of their cause." Hannity had said that a "good rule of thumb to help determine the relative righteousness of one side in a debate over the other is to check their respect for openness and truth", so let's see what the Bush campaign's response was when confronted by Corn:

On the day the story [of Bush's abortion statements from the 1978 campaign] was to go to press, I called the Bush press office at 8:00 a.m, Austin time. I explained to a press aide that I had unearthed this article and needed a reply from the campaign by noon. Someone will get back to you, she told me. Fifteen minutes later, she called and asked me to fax her the Lubbock newspaper article. I did so, and less than a hour later, the Bush campaign telephoned with a response.

"We consider this a misinterpretation," spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "He is prolife. He was always opposed to abortion." You're saying, I remarked, that the reporter got it wrong? "We're saying this is a misinterpretation," he repeated. He also pointed out that the relevant passage had not been a direct quote -- as if that diminished the article's accuracy.

I was disappointed. The campaign had resorted to the oldest dodge: the candidate was misquoted. But note the careful use of the word "misinterpretation." Clearly, someone at Bush HQ had decided this was the best noun to use. After all, it was less confrontational or incendiary than "damn foolish, idiotic mistake" -- which was actually what the campaign was accusing the reporter of committing. And note who was challenging the account. Bartlett did not note that the Bush press office had contacted Bush and that Bush categorically denied having expressed these pro-choice positions in 1978. Bartlett had used the royal "we." In doing so, he had distanced Bush from this reaction. It was not Bush who was calling the reporter incompetent. Instead, "we" were "considering" the 22-year-old newspaper account a "misinterpretation." Given the quickness of the response, I doubted that the press team had checked with the boss, who was then in Kennebunkport, before crafting this line.

Hmm. So, does this somehow reflect on the "relative righteousness" and "virtue" of Bush's side of the abortion debate? When both sides are using "euphemistic language" to explain their flip-flops, then doesn't Hannity's whole premise come into question?

Hannity insinuates that it's only the "pro-choice" candidates that need to bob and weave if they had changed their view from a "pro-life" stance. He even says on page 184 of "Let Freedom Ring" that: "I'm convinced that somewhere in the recesses of their souls, leaders know that abortion is morally wrong, which is why they refuse to deal squarely with the issue." But the fact that the Bush camp dances around policy changes, too, just shows that "Political Expediency" is a two-way street. It's not so much that the Gore and Bush campaigns dodged out of a guilty conscience over abortion so much as an effort to disguise moves meant to appeal to their party's base.

*NOTE: I couldn't find an online copy of the Michael Kramer 1988 U.S. News article, so I have linked to an archived article that has an extended quote from it.

**For those of you out there thinking that Bush may have had a change of heart on abortion after being born again. Here's another quote from the second David Corn article I quoted from in this section:

Bush could, as Gore eventually did, maintain that he experienced a change of heart. In fact, Bush has claimed he under went a religious awakening in the mid-1980s. So he possessed an easy way out: a new relationship with Jesus, a new position on abortion. Hard to argue wth that. But some die-hard anti-abortion activists have been wary of Bush, because he has refused to commit to appointing anti-abortion judges and to selecting an anti-abortion running mate. (They have a point. If you believe abortion is murder, then you ought to name judges who will curtail such wrongdoing -- and you damn well ought to be certain your number-two is not a supporter of a murderous practice.) Among these hardliners, news that Bush had once been pro-choice might reignite suspicions. And Bush's campaign had derided Gore for pulling a switch. Could Bush now confess to having done the same?

So it seems that Bush is suspected by many on the Christian Right of being a "closet pro-choicer"!