A Not Inexhaustible Supply of Credibility

Please Forgive the Double Negative.

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Ross Douthat over at the Atlantic has been doing a fantastic job recently of documenting a somewhat curious phenomenon - ostensible pro-lifers who have, for one reason or another, elected to support Barack Obama. (More here, here, and here). Ross is a more talented and patient writer than I am, so I would encourage you all to read the entirety of his pieces, but if you want the general flavor, Douthat chronicles (with polite consternation) the fact that a number of conservative commentators have overtly decided that the war in Iraq is a greater evil than abortion, and have decided to cast their votes appropriately.

Ross's points are all very well-taken, but I believe that the basic message he is sending should be stated with more clarity and force, which I intend to do below the fold.

More below...

There are, of course, many reasons why the average voter is pro-life. Some find abortion "icky," some are pro-life because of their parents, some believe that there's a command in the Bible somewhere that states "thou shalt not commit abortion"; the list goes on and on. The phenomenon we are dealing with, however, does not deal with the "average voter." Kmiec, Bacevich, Larison, et al, are allegedly thinking men. Their stock and trade, to some degree, lies in thinking, writing, and commenting about politics. Such men, if they are going to call themselves pro-lifers, should understand that there is ultimately but one reason to oppose abortion from a public policy standpoint: that it represents the unjust taking of a human life. This necessarily entails a belief that the unborn human is entitled, by its inherent qualities as a human life form, to all the same legal protections as born humans.

With this in mind, let us examine the positions of Kmiec, Bacevich, et al. Let us assume, arguendo, that the Iraq War is indeed an unjust war, and that every life lost in it represents a life unjustly taken. It then follows that the total count of lives unjustly taken including coalition casualties, civilian casualties and Iraqi armed forces casualties is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000. Even if you are inclined to believe the grossly inflated figures of the Lancet survey, three years of occupation in Iraq led to a total of approximately 650,000 excess deaths. These are, without a doubt, extremely troubling numbers, especially to one who believes (as Kmiec, Bacevich, et al do) that the Iraq war is an unjust one.

However, it remains a basic fact in this country that abortion (to an intellectually honest pro-lifer) represents the unjust taking of approximately 1.2 million lives each and every year. Or, for perspective, somewhere between 5 and 6 million lives unjustly taken since the start of the Iraq War. Of course, numbers do not tell the whole story - respect for life is not a numbers-counting game. It is true that in some limited circumstances, one kind of unjust life-taking may be more injurious to the fabric of a society than another, despite involving less lives taken. However, in this case, it is virtually impossible for a conservative to imagine anything that could be more destructive to the fabric of society as a whole than the real and symbolic destruction of the family unit and family responsibilities that abortion represents. An unjust war might say that we have poor judgment, are overly aggressive, are greedy, or whatever your personal conspiracy theory leads you to believe about why we entered the war. The specter of legalized abortion in this country says that we as a society are okay with parents legally killing their children en masse.

The only explanation for Kmiec/Bacevich's abdication of reason that I can credit is the fact that there have been hundreds and thousands of mass media stories over the last four years about the number of people killed in Iraq, and almost no stories during that same time period about the number of people killed by abortion. This explanation is sufficient to explain why the average voter considers Iraq to be a more important issue than abortion - it should not be sufficient to explain why individuals of allegedly deep thought and insight should be so easily swayed. Bacevich at least has an excuse for not being entirely rational in this case, having tragically lost a son in Iraq. No one - including myself - will begrudge Bacevich his grieving, or his anger at the source of his loss. As far as Kmiec - who less than four months ago was telling us all to vote for Mitt Romney - I can fathom no explanation or excuse whatsoever for his apparent willingness to cast his vote according to the whims of a pop-star besotted teenage girl.

Political pundits and leaders (particularly conservative ones) are not appointed to their positions as leaders of public opinion. They earn them through years of thoughtful and well-reasoned commentary - through proving, time and again, that thoughtfulness and rationality will win out in their commentary over glamour and emotion. By deciding to endorse a man who appears more and more by the day to be a pathological liar, and a greater supporter of abortion on demand than even Bill Clinton, Kmiec and his ilk deserve to lose whatever credibility with the pro-life voting public that they have built up over the years.

Let us not suppose any longer that these men really have ever been convicted pro-lifers, or that they have ever thought through why they were pro-life, or why it was important to be pro-life in the first place. If they had, they would not have been so easily swayed by a silver-tongued liberal who has flatly confessed his open antagonism to the pro-life cause, and voted according to the same during his time in public office. When future elections come around, and these individuals tell us who we should vote for, let us not suppose any longer that they are telling us that they have vetted the candidate's pro-life beliefs and found them satisfactory - we should instead understand that they have found that the candidate pleases them emotionally in some way, and nothing more. Which ultimately means that their opinion should be given no weight at all, unless a given subset of voters is especially concerned with which candidate emotionally pleases Douglas Kmiec or Andrew Bacevich.

Credibility is earned, and not given. And a true pro-lifer should understand that siding with an enabler of what pro-lifers consider to be mass infanticide will destroy all your credibility with pro-lifers in an instant, and that this credibility may never be re-earned. Kmiec and Bacevich have actively asked for this fate. We should be happy to give it to them.

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A Not Inexhaustible Supply of Credibility 34 Comments (0 topical, 34 editorial, 0 hidden) Post a comment »

I'm not sure Bacevich could ever have been described as a conservative, any more than Jim Webb was. But Kmiec, I think, has just lost his marbles.

"No compromise with the main purpose, no peace till victory, no pact with unrepentant wrong." - Winston Churchill

That's the expressiom that has repeatedly popped to my mind as I've read Kmiec's various explanations.

"People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors." -Edmund Burke

with respect to pro-life issues? They're both involved in academic law, a profession which has only to gain from more and more complicated government legislation, and until they foolishly endorsed Obama I had never heard of them.

Robert P. George and Hadley Arkes continue to be the standard-bearers for conservative bioethics with respect to public policy and law.

I'd trust Kmiec and Bacevich's opinions on bioethics about as much as I'd trust George and Arkes opinions about the outcome of the NCAA tournament.

Seriously, where do Kmiec and Bacevich get their credibility from? Kmiec is a Catholic professor; is that it?

It seems to me like Douthat is inadvertently propagating the notion that they are somehow respectable authorities when it comes to pro-life issues by his shock at their positions...

I need to make room for my own ignorance. I really don't know who either of them are, and I think I know the bioethics field pretty well. But I could just be ignorant of their contributions.

Well Kmiec was head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Reagan and H.W. administrations (note: a position Rehnquist and Scalia held before). He also headed Mitt Romney's Judicial Committee.

How someone knowledgeable goes from Romney to Obama is still befuddling.

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1. Kmiec has lost his mind (and/or is making his endorsements for President based on television appearance), or
2. We may have dodged a bullet with Romney.

The Red Sox Republican: Burkeanism, Baseball, and Sundries.

Here is what Mr. Kmiec said in an article he wrote in Slate.com, explaining his endorsement of Obama:

"Our president has involved our nation in a military engagement without sufficient justification or a clear objective. In so doing, he has incurred both tragic loss of life and extraordinary debt jeopardizing the economy and the well-being of the average American citizen. In pursuit of these fatally flawed purposes, the office of the presidency, which it was once my privilege to defend in public office formally, has been distorted beyond its constitutional assignment."


From the article, it isn't that Mr. Kmiec likes Obama that much, but that he is voting against Bush's Iraq War and associated economic policies. For him, that trumps concerns about abortion or other issues.

Perhaps Mr. Kmiec had believed that Romney would pursue a different course in Iraq as President than Bush did. Initially, Romney had not been strongly in favor of Bush's surge; he only glommed onto it after it appeared to be popular with the Republican electorate. Whereas McCain was advocating a surge even before Bush himself announced it.

Kmiec has lost his marbles.

Look, I don't know how old you are but I, for one, was an adult during 2002 and anyone who thinks the Iraq War was not debated ad nauseam is either a knave or poltroon.

Now in what remains of Kmiec's mind the justification may not have been sufficient and the objective clear but to say the administration hasn't given justification and laid out objectives since 2002 is simply a tragic case of self-beclowning.

How one thinks placing a liberal in office to extract a humiliating defeat from the situation while pursuing a hostile domestic agenda remedies the situation escapes me.

"A man does what he can and endures what he must."

Look, I don't know how old you are but I, for one, was an adult during 2002 and anyone who thinks the Iraq War was not debated ad nauseam is either a knave or poltroon.

No kidding. I remember it very well, as well. I very distinctly remember thinking 'when are we going to stop talking about invading Iraq and actually *DO* it?' IIRC, it was debated pretty much continuously from September 2002 through to March 2003.

Finrod's First Law of Bandwidth:
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it takes the bandwidth of ten thousand.

...because he believed Mitt to be a liar and far more liberal on foreign policy than he was telling us stupid conservatives, and now that Mitt is gone he's rolled over to the real Liberal in the race?

Interesting hypothesis.

It's not enough to be a legal scholar. You have to actually understand pro-life issues before you can make judgments on laws pertaining to pro-life issues.

Kmiec's lack of experience with bioethics makes it unsurprising to me that he's not particularly pro-life. Not all Catholics are...

I don't doubt his conservatism with respect to constitutional jurisprudence, but for me the surprising thing is that anyone's holding him up to be a conservative authority on pro-life issues.

Anti-Iraq is a personal gripe.

One cannot be taken seriously if he abandons the unborn because he's having a bad hair year.

If you want to make the issue purely political, both stances are surrenders to an ideology which, frankly, we ought to be spared.

Rudy might have been the least acceptable Republican this presidential campaign cycle for pro-lifers, but it should be Rudy >> Hillary >> Obama for pro-lifers. It'd be difficult to find anyone further left on abortion than Barack Obama.

Finrod's First Law of Bandwidth:
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it takes the bandwidth of ten thousand.

Polls showed that there were quite a few social conservatives who were willing to support Giuliani despite his pro-choice views. Because they liked his tough stances on terrorism and crime, and the way he liked to tussle with liberal opponents.

For example, Pat Robertson endorsed Giuliani. If Pat Robertson could endorse Giuliani, then Mr. Kmiec could endorse Obama.

It was the anti-abortion activists, like James Dobson, who insisted on being absolutists about the issue. Most rank-and-file social conservatives were willing to consider all possibilities and not dismiss any candidate out of hand.

the short answer to which was that those of us pro-lifers who supported Rudy still had the goal of overturning Roe in our sights; we believed that we could get judges from Rudy who would advance that cause. No similar argument exists for Obama, as there is zero chance that Obama would appoint a Justice who did not believe 100% in Roe v Wade.

"No compromise with the main purpose, no peace till victory, no pact with unrepentant wrong." - Winston Churchill


What Rudy thought, or what anybody else thinks, about abortion is essentially irrelevant until we get another judge.

It's pretty much that simple.

"I ain't never votin' fo another Democrat so long as I can draw breath! I'll vote for a dog first!" - Leola Thomas

James Dobson let the cat out of the bag when he told Hannity & Colmes that it was far worse for a Republican to be pro-choice than for a Democrat.

The reason, he admitted, is that if a pro-choice Republican (say Giuliani) managed to win the White House without the help of pro-life conservatives like himself, they would lose their electoral clout within the GOP.

Whereas if a pro-choice Democrat (say Hillary) won the White House, that would, if anything, re-energize the entire pro-life movement.

As Gerson put it in one of his columns: Pro-life activists like Dobson would prefer to keep control of the GOP even if it loses, than to lose control of the GOP even if it wins.

From James Dobson's point of view, he is already salivating at the huge amount of financial contributions and new members he can attract by using President Obama as a boogeyman. It would be much harder to use a Republican president, even a pro-choice president like Giuliani, as a boogeyman because so many of his followers support Republicans on other issues.

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First, I think Dobson is dead wrong. Second, though, you are clearly twisting his thinking process. I'm sure Dobson's point was the one others here made against Rudy: that the pro-life movement could survive losing an election but not losing control of the party it calls home. That's a political-strategic argument, not a fig leaf for self-justifying direct-mail fundraising.

"No compromise with the main purpose, no peace till victory, no pact with unrepentant wrong." - Winston Churchill

Let me guess, you believe that for social liberals its all about the children!

What James Dobson realizes is that it is more acceptable to lose an election cycle, than to lose the influence necessary to move an agenda forward over the long haul. Believe me, if pro-lifers leave the Republican party, stick a fork in it. The Republican party will be without influence for years to come.

Could it not be the obvious fact that having a pro-choice Republican president makes it harder to give justice to the unborn?

Your insistence on it being all about power and money is sophomoric. We could have these cynical arguments about what's "really" motivating people all day long.

Or we could just look at the obvious fact that it hurts Dobson's stated and worthy agenda.


The blogger formerly known as "Alexham"

I honestly do not understand Kmiec's change here. But here's a conjecture as one who is a Catholic academic and knows many.

I think the culprit may be the very understandable vanity (one that I'm not immune to) that involves love of opinion--and love of distinct opinion--the love of taking the "bold" or distinct opinion.

What might have attracted him to this particular opinion are the following:

(1) Obama's appearance of reasonability, moderation. I used to favor Obama over Clinton precisely for this reason. In the past few weeks, it has become apparent to me that Obama is actually the more hard-left--the more alienated from America--that is Clinton. I now would prefer her over Obama.

(2) The discomfort that supporting McCain would require Kmiec to once again be a loyal supporter of the Republican Party. If he has convictions, and I think he does, his first love is of his social conservative ideals, motivated in part by his understanding of God's law. I, like him, know that we cannot have an unreserved attachment to the Republican Party, and that our integrity may very well require us to not support the party or its candidates in a particular election or policy.

Still, he's wrong to think that now is the time for such a break. As long as the Democratic Party remains the party of abortion and homosexuality--a party committed to constitutionalizing such activities through justices selected by the President--only some compelling, extremely unlikely coutnervailing reason would justify supporting that party's presidential candidate.

Sorry, Kmiec, this election the dutiful thing to do is, yep, fall in line behind the very fallible, but least-bad-of-the-alternatives candidate, who once again, is the Republican one.

"People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors." -Edmund Burke

Kmiec's position represnts more of an abandonment of ideals for "moderation in politics" than anything else. This is not the time to jump from the GOP ship, despite the ever-widening chasm within the party. Simply put, the Democratic Party has nothing to offer us. Although their leaders spout platitudes about helping the poor, very few of their actual rubber meets the road policies have accomplished that stated goal.

Like it or not, the GOP is home for social conservatives, at least for the next four years. Then, depending on the outcome of this year's election, it may be time for Kmiec and the rest of us to do a little soul-searching, but until then, helping the Dems will only work against the cause of preserving life in all its forms.

Also, it is perfectly intellectually consistent for a person to be both pro-life and against the war in Iraq without compromising on either point. That is the Vatican's official positions on those issues as well as those of some public figures in the US, for example Bob Casey [whose support of Obama I find to be as mindboggling as Kmiec's] and He Who Shall Not Be Named.

And I don't know why you guys make it so. It's simple. You start with the premise that you've eliminated McCain as someone you could ever vote for, for whatever reason. For Kmiec it appears that McCain's positions on the war (and I suspect probably some personal issues as well) caused that.

After that, he then looks at who's left and decides whether or not, on balance, any of them are worthy of a vote because they might, slightly, advance any parts of the agenda he believes in. Now personally, I think he's deluded himself that Obama is in the slightest bit compatible with the rest of what he believes in, but is Obama better than Hillary for them? Quite possibly in his view. Was this correct? Probably not. In my own personal view, Hillary is preferable to Obama, but not enough to affirmatively vote for them in the general. I did vote for her in the Texas primary though, for precisely that reason (and not the "sow dissension" reason that so many others used).

Most of you are operating on the premise that McCain was still an option. From reading his editorial, he plainly was not.

who were blogging on the Republican primary to believe that Mitt Romney and John McCain were different on the war. Please. Don't insult us.

"A man does what he can and endures what he must."

McCain certainly made that case, repeatedly, in late January.

"If we surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do, and withdraw, as Governor Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide, and the cost of American blood and treasure would be dramatically higher."

Seems pretty clear to me. Of course, at the time McCain was roundly criticized for this. But if you take him at his word, HE certainly believes that he's different on the war (and withdrawal, specifically) than Romney. So I can't see that I've insulted anyone.

The author seems to be suggesting that since the number of aborted fetuses in the U.S. exceeds the number of casualties in the Iraq war, the appropriate prolife candidate is McCain.

This utilitarian view neglects that while the newly elected CinC will have the absolute authority to end the Iraq war (at least our participation in it), he/she will have no authority to end abortion.

Rather, McCain might have the authority to appoint a justice who might overturn Roe which might result in a number (certainly not all) states outlawing abortion over a period of years.

Even if we accept the utilitarian argument presented here the equation is definitely not as clear cut as the author suggests.

The comparison is asymetric because a vote for Obama is a clear repudiation of the war and a forward-looking statement not to engage in similar invasions. A vote for McCain is not a strong, unambiguous vote for abortion restrictions.

In fact, McCain has been silent on all federal restrictions except for the easily avoided, rarely invoked PBA ban. Ok, fine it should be up to the states. If so, the president's role is then only about appointing federal judges. What is the probability that a given McCain SC appointee will strike down Roe vs Wade? Hard to say, and not as high as some might think given the Senate opposition and McCain's apparently agnostic views on originalist judges. Oh, I know, there are a couple of executive orders too, but it's really all about the judges.

It is very plausible that abortion continues to be largely legal even under McCain, perhaps with some increased room for restrictions within the framework of Roe and Casey. Ultimately, from a big-picture perspective, reversing abortion becomes a matter for the bully pulpit (which McCain won't provide) and/or a shift in public opinion (which can just as easily occur under President Obama).

Let's say you get Roe vs Wade reversed. Will President McCain make any proactive effort to support federal legislation strangling abortions across state lines? Or inflict new paper cuts by withholding federal funds from localities or organizations that aren't working hard enough against abortion? Will he voice an articulate defense of the pro-life cause, on the inherent justice behind states' efforts to ban the practice?

Don't hold your breath.

So from a strong pro-life view, McCain is still preferred to Obama, but the upside is greatly diluted.

"there is ultimately but one reason to oppose abortion from a public policy standpoint: that it represents the unjust taking of a human life. This necessarily entails a belief that the unborn human is entitled, by its inherent qualities as a human life form, to all the same legal protections as born humans."

I am an orthodox Jew. While we are opposed to abortions for convenience, if the mother is at all at risk an abortion may actually be required under Jewish law. And while we believe that the fetus deserves respect, we do not believe that an unborn fetus is equivalent to a full fledged human. And that difference may be greater early in a pregnancy.

I actually think most Americans are probably close to this position. But you have written us out of the pro-life side of things. Americans fear the absolutist position that won in Nicaragua and Chile, and you give me reason to fear.

Charlie Hall

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You are right that the mother's life is an essential factor to consider, which is why pro-lifers do consider her a "full-fledged" human being.

But you are wrong, logically, philosophically and morally, when you say that an unborn fetus is not equivalent to a "full fledged human being" just an an infant is.

I don't doubt that many pro-lifers believe what you believe, and "pro-life" is on a spectrum not a single point, but you would do well to consider the possibility that embryos and fetuses are morally equivalent to all human beings by their nature, being stages of a full human being's development, from embryo to fetus to infant to child to adolescent to adult.

A human being is a human being and worthy of full protection at each and every stage of his development.

Obviously, there are difficult moral cases. But the hard cases must be decided justly on the basis of the moral realities in view and the specific circumstances on the ground (likeliness to survive, etc).

My take is they will be trumpeted long & loud because the Democrats & MSM are still peeved over "Reagan Democrats." Any pro-life person or non-flaming liberal Republican could not support Obama's policies. I think these people still see him as an easily malleable "clean slate." Sort of like the person who chooses a spouse with major flaws in the hopes of "changing" him or her.

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