What's the central issue in 21st century American politics?
Terrorism? Not a chance.
The-economy-stupid? Not even warm.
"Choice" in abortion -- as we are reminded in the scuttling of
the bankruptcy bill, a piece of legislation devoutly favored by creditors
but, in its projected form, unsatisfactory to ... guess who. The pro-choice
organizations that hold the title deeds to the Democratic Party. So ...
The bankruptcy bill, intended to tighten the federal standards
for taking bankruptcy and thereby escaping legally incurred debts, would be
law but for the insistence of pro-choice Democrats on a provision directed
at a tiny, inactive fragment of the pro-life movement. Some years ago, this
fragment made civil disobedience -- a la the civil rights era -- a keystone
of its strategy. A follow-on notion was that demonstrators arrested for
attempts to shut down abortion clinics should take bankruptcy and thus
sidestep fines and financial penalties.
Came the bankruptcy reform era somewhat later. Pro-choice
organizations instructed the Democrats, no way can we have reform without
closing down this putative avenue of escape. Result: legislative gridlock.
Bankruptcy reform died during the lame duck session's waning days.
The death kindled memories of battles earlier this year over
President Bush's nominees to the federal bench. What was the quickest way to
discredit an exceptionally qualified nominee such as Justice Priscilla Owen
of the Texas Supreme Court? Portray said nominee as an enemy, or at any rate
critic, of "choice." Supposedly, we couldn't have such a one on the federal
bench. It would imperil the Right to Choose.
The right to choose what? By now, we all know the answer: One
choice reliably resonates with self-styled progressives. That is the choice
to abort an unborn child under the sanction conferred 30 years ago next
January by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade.
In 2002, this is what it's all about. The Declaration of
Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Normandy Beach -- it all comes down to
abortion. Nothing else is close. As for those who would lay rude hands on
this sacred right, the righteous will rise up indignantly. Il ne passeront
pas -- "They shall not pass" -- in Marshal Petain's stirring words.
There are some distinctly odd and jarring things to consider in
this context. That abortion should ever have become a national political
issue is the first thing. This condition is owing to the U.S. Supreme
Court's intervention. The court, in Roe, slapped down all those state
officials who had supposed Texans (for instance) could make rules for
Texans. Abortion, previously illegal, became not only legal but also
approved as national policy. No longer could local people bring to bear
their own insights on the question. It was the high court's way or the
A second oddity is the servility of Democrats to organizations
like the National Organization for Women and the National Abortion and
Reproductive Rights Action League. The whip that the pro-choice lobby cracks
is a loud one. Its crackle makes Democrats whimper at the feet of the
pro-choice lobby. Bankruptcy reform may be, generally speaking, a good idea,
but in any chamber controlled by Democrats, the only way to do it is the
The abortion debate -- which splits the country down the middle,
philosophically speaking -- distorts our politics in ways that no one, least
of all perhaps the justices who decided Roe vs. Wade, could have foreseen in
1973. The beneficiaries of Roe like things just as they are. If you happen
not to like them that way, you can practice biting your tongue in half.
One of these days, the feminist firebrands who shove around
Democrats like Tom Daschle and the once-pro-life Dick Gephardt will
necessarily begin devoting more time to bingo and hip replacement. For now,
a national Democrat unwilling to check his conscience with NARAL is
essentially a dead Democrat. And the "right to choose" lives on -- not,
shall we say, gloriously.