instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Invocation must imply intention

In this week's Spanning the Globe, T. S. O'Rama quotes a bit of political hindsight from Ramesh Ponnuru:
Most Republicans spent the first two-thirds of 2009 underestimating how big a problem pro-life resistance would be for the Democrats. If they had run ad campaigns based on the issue in the districts of pro-life Democrats, it would have made it harder for those Democrats to back the bill in the end. Those Democrats could well have been the decisive holdouts. Here, again, Republicans were on the popular side of an issue — even many supporters of legal abortion don’t want government funding — but failed to press their advantage.
I took exception to this in the comments, and rather than further abuse TSO's hospitality I'll put down a fuller treatment here, beginning with this principle:

Those who see that abortion is a grave evil should not allow the Republican Party to get away with invoking the abortion issue merely as the means to other, unrelated political ends.

Note that I'm not objecting to mixed intentions. It's fine with me if someone objects to the Affordable Care Act for both abortion-related and, say, economic reasons. Such a person may advance abortion-related arguments for repealing the ACA, while regarding the economic benefits of repeal as an intended side-effect, and I won't complain (or if I do it will be for more specific reasons).

What I'm objecting to is false intentions, the advancing of abortion-related arguments in order to achieve some goal unrelated to abortion.

This is, of course, a variant of the charge commonly made against Republicans by Catholic Democrats, that they campaign on a pro-life platform in order to get elected, but once elected they do nothing for the pro-life cause. Without getting into the accuracy of the charge, or even the prudential consequences if it is true, let me say that it is bad and wrong to campaign in this way, for a number of reasons. In no particular order: it is dishonest; it leaves untouched the evil of abortion; and it brings discredit to the pro-life cause.

My contention, then, is that Ramesh Ponnuru's comment contradicts the principle that using the abortion issue merely as a means to an unrelated end is to be resisted.

Why? Because in the passage quoted he envisions the use of "ad campaigns based on the [pro-life] issue in the districts of pro-life Democrats" as the means, not to advancing the pro-life cause, but to defeating the Democrats' bill.

To those who would say those ends are inseparable, I would point out that the Stupak Amendment separated them, at least to the satisfaction of the country's bishops. And while I have no political acumen at all, I suspect a pro-life campaign over the summer would have made the House bill more pro-life and therefore more certain of passage. Who knows, maybe it would have encouraged Senator Nelson to hold out for a stronger pro-life Senate bill, with the result of... a pro-life law! As a result of a pro-life campaign! Imagine that.

Which is to say, I see nothing wrong with pro-life ad campaigns in the districts of pro-life Democrats. What's wrong, I think, is the intention of invoking opposition to abortion with no particular concern for achieving opposition to abortion.

For that matter, it has often been pointed out that the Democratic Party is so in love with abortion that it was prepared to scuttle the health care bill if it wasn't sufficiently abortion-friendly -- and by Heaven it would be nice if there were no Catholics so in love with the Democratic Party that they can't acknowledge that. Might it not also be pointed out that the Republican Party is not so in love with opposition to abortion that it didn't run pro-life ad campaigns at a time when they might have improved the health care bill? Can we wonder whether the Republican Party is so indifferent to abortion that it was prepared to allow it in a health care bill if it couldn't defeat the bill?

And while Ramesh Ponnuru has, to say the least, a solid record of opposing abortion, his vision quoted above has nothing to do with actually opposing abortion. It's merely an invocation, for purposes of achieving other, unrelated political ends.