The Ayatollah Comes To New Jersey

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Jul 12, 2001 12:00 AM
Get a load of this! An epic struggle looming on the uses and abuses of political rhetoric: major contenders Bret D. Schundler ("think of Schindler's List, then just change shi to shu ," he says affably to the voters who have trouble with his name) vs. James E. McGreevy, for governor of New Jersey. Schundler is a Republican and a Presbyterian. McGreevy is a Democrat and a Catholic. Schundler opposes abortion, McGreevy favors abortion.

On Saturday morning, newspaper readers learned that Schundler had accused McGreevey of 1) a lack of tolerance, 2) a disregard for the Catholic Church so categorical as to question the qualification of any Catholic to serve in public office, the whole of which cast McGreevey as 3) the equivalent of the ayatollah in Iran.

Well, McGreevey was shocked by this line of argument, as also New York Times reporter David Halbfinger who, in a story, traced the syllogisms, and the paralogisms, in this headline encounter.

Nobody disputes that the Catholic Church denounces abortion. Why? Because, in the understanding of the church, a fetus is a human being, to be sure unborn.

So what do we think of people who care naught for the lives (as postulated) of human beings? Why they are, Mr. Schundler has been quoted as saying, not to be distinguished from murderers, Nazis and slave owners. Moreover, anyone who denounces a right-to-lifer as unqualified to serve in government is acting like the ayatollah and is guilty in effect of religious persecution.

Now on a purely theoretical chart, you have indeed a syllogism at work. Proposition A: The fetus is a human life. Proposition B: A Jew is a human life. Proposition C: The Nazis, in killing Jews, scorned human life. Proposition D: The abortionists, by killing the fetus, scorn human life. THEREFORE, The abortionists and the Nazis have the same views on human life.

But logical caretakers step in and point out that there is an undistributed middle: Everybody agrees that Jews are human beings, but not everybody agrees that fetuses are human beings. Under constitutional law, which is the governing authority, the free-to-choose people are exercising rights. To call them murderers is to suggest that when engaged in abortion, they think of themselves as killing a human being; which, manifestly, they don't think of themselves as doing.

Consider now attendant complications, which, in the McGreevey-Schundler contest, illuminate political contentions in America on an enormous black-white screen.

The man accused of indifference to baby genocide is -- a Catholic! His accuser, a non-Catholic! The Catholic takes a step forward in the contest and says that nobody who opposes abortion is fit to serve. The Protestant replies that the Catholic advocating choice is untrue to his

own religion and, derivatively, either an apostate or an infidel.

Round and round they go. The New Jersey governorship fight is the most conspicuous political encounter in the United States this November. And this is so in part because Schundler, who is trying to do for fetuses what Schindler tried to do for the Jews, is a tough and very eloquent conservative politician, arrived on the scene fresh from a stunning victory over Bob Franks, who would have defeated the Democratic winner in the Senate fight of 2000 if Jon Corzine had had only $59 million instead of $60 million to fight Franks with. Well, Franks has been a wonderful, graceful loser, joining ranks heartily with Schundler, and this notwithstanding that Franks is on the choice side of the abortion question.

Now Schundler is going to have to retreat on the facile charge that pro-abortion people are like Nazis and ayatollahs. But McGreevey is going to have to wiggle out of the position that Catholics are, to the extent they believe in the church's teaching on abortion, unqualified to hold office.

Then there is the root question of tolerance. Everybody who aspires to grown-up thought in politics knows as well as that the sun will rise tomorrow that a Governor Bret Schundler would be zero menace to anybody in New Jersey, or Alaska, who wanted an abortion. But McGreevey has political hay to harvest in suggesting the contrary. Schundler has to worry that by suggesting that choicers are like Nazis, he will mobilize against him all who do not fear Schundler, but don't want someone with his views to succeed politically.

The New Jersey election gives us everything: Catholic non-miscenegation on the abortion issue, and a challenge to political hygiene.

The ayatollah is looking in; so are Robert's Rules of Order.