President Bush's fire measure

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Dec 11, 2000 12:00 AM
Conservatives are asking, coast to coast, what will President Bush do? The question goes beyond the demands of diplomacy. Yes, they wonder how he will square off to sullen Democrats, to skeptical bureaucrats, to journalists mad with anxiety to catalyze an ignorant remark, a solecism Jay Leno can use, since he's beginning to run out. They wonder what concrete evidence there'll be that we have a Republican president, a Republican House and (on days Dick Cheney is there to break the tie) a Republican Senate.

There are two measures, in the opinion of this observer, that readily qualify for immediate attention. One is the death of the death tax -- a sign of life! The second is the passage of the ban on partial-birth abortions.

As between the two, the abortion bill edges out the other for reasons that would seem apparent. Contrary to public misunderstanding, the number of partial-birth abortions is not high. Some have wondered why so much thunder and fire have been expended in opposition to the ban, given their infrequency and the mothers' demonstrated freedom to guard their health without them.

The enormous battle twice waged by President Clinton to continue to authorize partial-birth abortions rests on his alleged belief that to abolish them would emasculate the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision authorizing abortions in general. Doctors and scientists have written and testified that a mother's health is never put in jeopardy for failure to extend to her the facilities of the baby guillotine -- but the other side won.

Now the vote in favor of ending partial-birth deaths was not a narrowly Republican measure. The last time around, the vote in the Senate was 63-34; in the House, 287-141. Overwhelming majorities, but insufficient to crash through a presidential veto, and indeed the veto was forthcoming. The vote by the new Congress would of course be different, but it is inconceivable that it would fail to generate a bill which President Bush could then sign.

Those who have a fancy for that kind of thing are invited to speculate: How many individuals would be helped by one relief, compared to the other? In the 30 days after death taxes were repealed, how many Americans subject to death penalties will die? In the month after the end of partial birth, how many Americans would emerge safe from their mothers' womb?

The arithmetical questions are quickly dismissed as grotesque, even macabre. But let's dwell on it just the same. Congress now has the power to grant life to X number of people in the 30 days after the one bill is passed, and to ease the death of Y number of people in the 30 days after the other bill is passed. An argument can be made that the people approaching death have had long lives and should be relieved of the anguish of knowing that most of their life earnings are going to be taken away by Uncle Sam; therefore, they deserve consideration ahead of incompletely born fetuses who have no sensation of any loss, except for the pain they feel from the mutilations imposed by the abortionists' knives and ice picks, etc.

But that subject is not likely to be debated. The leader of the House, Dennis Hastert, and of the Senate, Trent Lott, can appease those most eager to help the one camp or the other by saying simply: Tomorrow. Tomorrow we can come to our problem and do something about it, but let us, today, agree to proceed on one and get it through.

Mr. Bush was quoted over and over again during the campaign as a candidate who sought unity in Washington. Unity in Washington won't come until the next world war, but what is very much needed is a sense of accomplishment. We have had, for three congressional terms, divided government, a Democratic president and Republican legislatures. The result of it has been impasse, on such as partial-birth and tax relief.

Even those who do not believe that the victor should wallow in spoils should concede that the integrity of the democratic process requires that there be some feeling that all that effort came to something, that government by the people should, every now and then, give some sense of the palpability of the people's strength at the polls -- yes, even strength at the polls leavened by Electoral College refinements.

The robustness of the political system requires a sense of accomplishment. George W. Bush has much to concern himself about, but mustn't neglect giving those who voted for him a sense of accomplishment.