2006 Book of the Year

Posted: May 23, 2006 12:05 AM

Although we haven’t reached the end of May, I have decided to hand out my second annual "Book of the Year" award. With over seven months to go, there is virtually no chance that a book as good as The Party of Death by Ramesh Ponnuru will hit the shelves by the end of 2006.

Ponnuru begins by educating the public on an issue that is both profoundly important and woefully misunderstood. Although that issue is abortion, one of the most talked about issues in America, it has remained misunderstood with the help of several decades of false media reporting, especially concerning the true extent of a woman’s so-called right to choose.

Toward the end of remedying that problem, Ponnuru tells the reader exactly what Roe did and did not say. And that is why Democrats and Republicans alike need to read this book. It will let both sides know just what they are arguing about.

But don’t count on much attention to The Party of Death coming from liberal readers – the ones who perhaps need to read it most. Despite its title, this is not an emotional book. It is instead a slow moving and logically compelling book, which might not be accessible to those who base policy decisions on emotion rather than logic and evidence.

Indeed, on nearly every page Ponnuru makes the kind of logically compelling remarks one expects to encounter once a chapter in a normal book. That, of course, means that this is no normal book. It also means there are about 250 good reasons to read it.

Readers should not worry if they find themselves getting bogged down by the sheer frequency of the author’s profound statements. Almost out of sympathy for the reader, he occasionally gives them a break with succinct summaries of his most important points before shifting gears. At the end of chapter three, for example, Ponnuru offers this summary of the view of abortion held by what he calls the (Barbara) Boxer Democrats:

Abortion should be legal throughout pregnancy. Teenage girls should not have to inform their parents about it, much less get their consent. Nobody who would let  the voters deviate from these positions should be allowed on the court. The Senate  shouldn’t even be allowed to hold a vote on such people. The law should not treat  the murders of pregnant women as double homicides because it might lead people  to look more negatively at abortion.

And taxpayers should pay for abortions, just in case there are some going undone. But federal funds should not be allotted to ensure the health of the unborn. Each of these positions is extreme by the standards of public opinion –  but not by the standards of what the Democratic party has become.

That kind of blistering summary would be hard to believe had readers not just finished an entire chapter proving each and every assertion beyond dispute. That’s the beauty of this book. It is so boldly articulated because it is so carefully researched.

In addition to his painstaking research, Ponnuru uses a technique I admire in a writer: hanging a political opponent using her own words. He does this with this exchange between Rick Santorum and Barbara Boxer (note that this book is not kind to Boxer, nor should it be):

Santorum: Do you agree any child who is born has the right to life?

Boxer: I agree with the Roe v. Wade decision, and what you are doing  goes against it and will harm the women of this country.

Santorum: But I would like to ask you this question. You agree, once a child is born, separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed? Do you agree with that?

Boxer: I think when you bring your baby home … the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights …

Santorum: You said "once the baby comes home." Obviously, you don’t mean  they have to take the baby out of the hospital for it to be protected by the Constitution. Once the baby is … completely separated from the mother, you would agree that baby is entitled to constitutional protection?

 Boxer: I will tell you why I don’t want to engage in this. You did the same conversation with a colleague of mine, and I never saw such a twisting of his remarks.

Santorum: Let’s say the baby is completely separated; in other words, no part of  the baby is inside of the mother.

Boxer: You mean the baby has been birthed and is now in the mother’s arms? It is a human being? … I would say when the baby is born, the baby is born and would then have every right of every other human being living in this country, and  I don’t know why this would even be a question.

Santorum: Because we are talking about a situation here where the baby is almost born. So I ask the question of the senator from California, if the baby was born except for the baby’s foot, if the baby’s foot was inside the mother but the rest of the baby was outside, could that baby be killed?

Boxer: The baby is born when the baby is born. That is the answer to the question  …

It is tough to tell whether the above exchange was as good for Santorum as it was bad for Boxer. Regardless, by the time the reader is exposed to the exchange (on pages 50 and 51) the book’s title seems a whole lot fairer.

On the issue of stem cell research, Ponnuru is equally effective. For example, proponents of the deliberate destruction of embryos often quote statistics concerning the frequency of miscarriages to support their position. The author offers blistering responses such as, "The high natural death rate among ninety-year-olds does not make it all right to burn down nursing homes" and, "The tsunami that occurred in December 2004 does not mean that it’s okay to slaughter Asians." The average reader is probably left wondering just how long it took him to write such a pithy and quotable book. Other authors are left with a combination of sheer enjoyment and utter envy.

Another positive aspect of this book comes from the author’s tendency to pose just the right questions, explicitly and implicitly, to supporters of the party of death. Some examples follow:

  • In 1871, the New York Times described the abortionist’s trade as "a systematic business in wholesale murder." What has happened since to change that view?
  • Millions thought that it was right to disconnect Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube so that she would starve to death. Would it be okay to remove her usable organs before removing the tube?
  • Joycelyn Elders once told Congress, "The number of Down’s Syndrome infants in Washington state in 1976 was 64% lower than it would have been without legal abortion." Why did that remark not keep her from being nominated and confirmed as surgeon general of the United States? Did people not understand what she was saying?
  • The New York Times refrains from using the term "partial-birth abortion" - ostensibly because it is not a "medical" term. Why, then, do they use the terms "heart attack" and "female genital mutilation"?

Of course, the answers to these questions are fairly obvious to Republicans - and I suspect they are obvious to most Democrats, too. Armed with the facts and logic of this great book, the former can breathe life into a political climate long devoid of serious intellectual debate. For the latter, the facts and logic may prove to be deadly.