Princeton professor Robert George, one of America's leading moral philosophers, recently visited the Vatican for an audience with the Pope. He faced an age-old dilemma: "What's a good gift for the Pope?" This time the answer was obvious. He gave him Ramesh Ponnuru's new book, "The Party of Death."
Ponnuru, my close friend and colleague at National Review, has written the first serious pro-life book for a general audience in decades. It is a humane, sustained and, most of all, respectful argument about respecting life from abortion, eugenics and euthanasia.
"Respectful!?" I can hear the shrieking now. "It's called The Party ... of ... Death." Indeed, the mere title has enraged some to the point of distraction. Time's in-house blogger, Andrew Sullivan, spent days denouncing both Ponnuru and the book while admitting he hadn't read a word.
Sure. the title is provocative - and deliberately so. But it's ironic: Media thumb-suckers are decrying the fact that Ann Coulter's outrageous rhetoric grabs media attention. Karen Tumulty of Time noted that Coulter "very shrewdly recognizes that the level of discourse now has become so loud and so angry that you have to go that much further over the top than you did the last time to get anybody to listen to you." So here's Ponnuru with a supposedly over-the-top title, but the "Today" show hasn't called. Maybe if he wore a blond wig?
The title offends not because it is unfair but because it is blunt. Ponnuru cuts through the bunker of euphemisms we hide behind to avoid dealing with topics like abortion. It's hardly news to Americans that the vast majority of us don't like to talk about abortion. "The Party of Death" states bluntly what people would rather couch in euphemism or, better yet, not say at all.
Some are vexed by the word "party," thinking it explicitly means Democrats. It doesn't (though it certainly includes many). Ponnuru uses the term "Party of Death" the way The Nation uses "the war party" to describe hawks everywhere. But "death" is the important word. Abortion, right or wrong, is a "choice for death." That's neither my description nor Ponnuru's, but liberal philosopher Ronald Dworkin's. No serious person disputes that abortion kills something. The debate is over what it kills, and who gets to decide.