Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My Two Cents on Abortion

Is it me, or is the abortion thing just another distraction? I mean, not to take anything away from the validity of either side... Do we really think whichever President gets elected is going to have any kind of drastic impact on abortion?

First off, of the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial), it will be the judicial folks that make the choices that impact abortion. Even if a President or even a Congress make laws restricting abortion, you have to know those decisions will be challenged eventually, and ultimately it will be the Supreme Court that gets the last word.

Now I know what you're going to say - who ever is the next president, for the next four or eight years, will probably be in charge of nominating replacement judges. We're looking at the strong possibility of 2-3 of the nine retiring in the near future. And when that happens, pundits will wag their tongues as to the significance of everything that happens.

But let's cut to the chase, shall we? Say a justice retires. The President nominates a replacement. Predictably, this nominee is in close lockstep with the President on issues like abortion. Then the nominee goes before Congress and gets every decision they've ever made re-examined and a few decisions they might hypothetically make in the future. Assuming the Congress approves this person (which is by no means guaranteed) they may or may not tip the scales in the Supreme Court towards the left or right.

So fast forward a few years. We replace two justices and now the Court is leaning heavily towards one side (pick one). Laws get passed having to do with abortion, and those laws get challenged, eventually making their way to the Supreme Court. Regardless of what is decided in the future, decisions from previous sessions stand, like... Roe V. Wade.

Now, I know this is a personal issue for many. Some have more first hand contact with life and death than others, like healthcare providers. To the rest of us, this is an interesting academic debate, and we have the luxury of distance. But I would respectfully submit that even the pro-choiciest of the pro-choice army does not enjoy the idea of abortion. Certainly, to those who have the procedure done, it is a traumatic and painful process. The doctors who perform abortions, I would guess, take no joy from terminating a pregnancy. Every fetus aborted weighs on their conscience. Why do they do it then? I can't be sure. I suspect that in the context in which it is presented, it seems at the very least, a reasonable alternative. Those of us who have never dealt with an unwanted pregnancy ourselves can only suppose the circumstances, but one thing I can safely assume - that this is not a world that exists in black and white, and we all find ourselves in some shade of gray. All of us make decisions we question later. All of us wonder about what could have been.

My point is, the decision as to whether a woman should have an abortion is one best left to healthcare professionals, and the mother. As a man, I have to remind myself that despite any opinions I have, if a woman was pregnant by me, regardless of how involved I am, this will affect her more profoundly than it will me. So having my say excluded from the final decision is a bitter pill, but one I have no choice but to swallow. And if I, as the father, only get a consulting vote, how much less should 535 men and women who don't even know us? This is a medical issue first, a moral one to be sure, but even so, it is not the government's place to mandate morality. In a country where our tax dollar goes to subsidize auto industries that pollute our air, in a country where handgun violence rivals even the most war-torn regions of the world, in a country with a multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry, in a country that devoted billions of dollars every year to building tanks and missiles, it seems a little disingenuous to suddenly cherish life when it comes to unborn babies.

I'm not saying life isn't sacred. I'm not saying our elected officials aren't entitled to their opinions. I'm just saying that decisions this personal, decisions no doubt tempered by personal mitigating circumstance, should not be left to anyone except the parties directly involved. If abortions ceased tomorrow and forever, I would celebrate along with the neoconniest of the neocons. But only if the choice to carry the pregnancies to term were made by the mothers and not the government. I just cannot accept that our government has the moral authority to dictate terms to the citizenry on this highly charged and personal issue. I close by saying that this issue has been trotted out to get the partied worked up, and nothing else. Next, we'll talk about some other irrelevant topic, like flag burning or gay marriage.

My Theory on Sarah Palin

I should preface this by saying I'm not as well-versed on her as I should be. I only know what the mainstream media tells me. She has been a governor for two years, which makes her the only one of the four with any executive experience, albeit brief. Before that, she was mayor of a small town in Alaska. All told, her experience in politics goes back to 1992. I think you'd agree that Republicans are in no position at this point to criticize Obama's "lack of experience".

If Republicans win the White House in November, Palin will almost certainly ascend to the presidency. McCain is not long for this earth, and I think it is telling that he chose a woman to be his running mate. My initial reaction was that McCain is trying to gather up the disaffected Hillary supporters to his cause. But in politics, it helps to be able to look beyond the obvious. Certainly, some will flock to vote for any woman in high office, regardless of qualifications, principles or policies. As a liberal, I had to laugh when conservatives crowed about the Palin decision as demonstrating the chauvinism of the Democratic Party. Parenthetically speaking, I have to wonder how many anti-Hillary Republicans will jump ship to Obama rather than vote for a woman.

I can see the strategic value in Republicans nominating in a woman, especially in light of Hillary not getting the Democratic nomination. I wonder though if it won't backfire. Republicans have made much of Obama's lack of experience, and there were many who scoffed at the idea of Hillary being President on general principle (i.e., her gender). Now McCain has forced them to either eat crow in the name of party loyalty or jump ship.

November will see a lot of people on both sides of the fence crossing over - women who supported Hillary for no other reason than her gender will throw their lot in with McCain. Misogynists in the Republican party who are loathe to see a woman in the Oval Office may well send a message on election day by either not voting at all or voting for the all-male ticket. But what's good about this election is that is going to be very telling about the motivations of voters. We'll see if the issues trump all, party loyalties call the shots, or we just wind up voting within our comfort levels and nothing else.

I do think Obama is going to win, though. Of course I do - I'm a Democrat. But I see the Palin question throwing the GOP into an ideological tailspin. Back in 1984, Walter Mondale took Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate, and it seemed to symbolize the left's willingness to include women in all its reindeer games at all levels. It cast the GOP as the Archie Bunkers of modern politics, and it also seemed like blowback for the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment some years earlier. But I always secretly wondered if the Ferraro choice was made when Mondale realized that it wouldn't matter who he picked - Reagan fever was running high in America in 1984, especially in the wake of the Los Angeles Olympics. Reagan seemed to embody not just the GOP, but American pride in general. In light of what had to be an obviously hopeless cause, I suspect Mondale chose to attach himself to a running mate that would at least serve notice that the Democrats were going to be the first to crack the glass ceiling.

I have to wonder, in light of the general attitudes towards Bush in this country, if McCain isn't borrowing a page from the Mondale playbook. He knows he's going to lose, not because of anything about him per se, but because the country is going shift left after eight years of Republicans in the White House. And if he's going to go down in flames, he can at least serve notice that Republicans are every bit as progressive on gender issues as Democrats, even if it took them 30 years to catch up. So in the short term, Republicans lose the White House, but this decision to include a woman on the ticket begins to repair the reputation of the GOP as misogynists, a message which will blossom in time for the GOP to woo the feminists back into their camp for 2012.