The Republican choice for the presidency in 2008 would be much clearer today if Chris Matthews had asked the right question last spring.
On May 3, the Republican presidential wannabes -- at the time minus Fred Thompson and a few third-tier candidates who have since had the sense to drop out -- gathered at the Ronald Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, Calif., each hoping he'd be anointed Reagan reincarnate.
Earlier that day, President Bush issued a letter to pro-abortion Catholic Nancy Pelosi, declaring himself a pro-life president, plain and simple.
Bush wrote: "I am concerned that this year Congress may consider legislation that could substantially change Federal policies and laws on abortion, and allow taxpayer dollars to be used for the destruction of human life. I am writing to make sure there is no misunderstanding of my views on these important issues." The president stated clearly: "I will veto any legislation that weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage."
A sharper Matthews should have asked pro-choice Rudy Giuliani -- who has not only supported taxpayer-funded abortion, but, in the past, opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion -- a question of this nature: "The president, earlier today, threatened to veto any legislation that weakens current federal policies and laws on abortion or that encourages the destruction of human life at any stage. Would you, as president, send a similar letter to Congress? Do you support what the president did today?"
But even if Giuliani gave a blood pledge to support the Hyde Amendment -- the 1976 amendment that excludes abortion from the comprehensive healthcare services provided through Medicaid -- and veto anything that would repeal it, there will still be something missing. Leadership. And that's something that May 3 letter shouts concretely from the rooftops.
The letter had some real practical purposes this year, as far as the legislative process goes, and it will bleed into 2008. As Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said when it was issued: "The letter shows why elections matter, and why for social conservatives the question of who occupies the White House should call for careful reflection about more than just the judicial philosophies of the various candidates." It's a reminder that we must reflect on a candidate's record and philosophy and whether he has just made some assurances, or whether he actually believes what Republicans do.