Comparing Extremists

Democrats, you could argue, lose elections because they're in thrall to the extremist views of their base, especially on social issues. Take abortion: Many Democrats think that, if a pregnant teenager is considering an abortion, that should be up to her rather than to her parents. This is unpopular in some segments of the electorate. Republicans, by contrast, take the "mainstream" view that Roe v. Wade was an act of judicial overreaching and that controversial questions about abortion should be handled by the states.

Except for some Republicans.

Those Republicans believe in the Human Life Amendment, which would grant fetuses and embryos the legal status of people. Since no such amendment has passed, we can't be sure what the consequences would be. But if fetuses are people, entitled to treatment under the 14th Amendment's "equal protection" clause, then letting people have abortions would clearly be unacceptable. The procedure would need to be banned. And not just banned, but punished the way any other killing of a person would be: as murder. Perhaps the women or doctors (or both) involved would be subjected to the death penalty. Equal protection, after all.

Stem cell research, meanwhile, would be a thing of the past. Current controversies center on the question of federal funding. But if embryos are people, then the research itself must be banned. And who knows what would happen to in-vitro fertilization?

So there are extremists on both sides, then, but there's still a difference. Liberals demand total obeisance to the orthodoxy. Sure, Harry Reid is pro-life. And, to be sure, he's minority leader of the Senate and therefore the senior politician in the Democratic Party, but conventional wisdom says otherwise, so we can just ignore this. Human Life Amendment-supporting conservatives, on the other hand, are kept quietly in the closet. They get trivial jobs like White House Counsel where their responsibilities include advising the president on questions of constitutional law. And, of course, the current White House Counsel was just nominated to be an associate justice on the Supreme Court.

On the other hand, when you consider that conservative discontent overwhelmingly focuses on the worry that Harriet Miers might not be conservative enough you may begin to guess that things have gone awry. This business about embryos being people also pops up in such obscure contexts as the Republican Party platform which states "we support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the 14th Amendment's protections apply to unborn children." Who knew?

I was doing some reading on the Internet last week and found an article which said abortion was bad because its legality "hamper[s] courtship and marriage." Marriage, as you know, is important to conservatives. Liberals want to ruin it by letting gays and lesbians get in on the action, which is extreme and unpopular. Conservatives want to strengthen marriage, and banning abortion is part of that. According to the same article "effective female contraception," "the changing educational and occupational status of women," and the destigmatization of divorce are also to blame. We've got to change that stuff. Men, the article says, are bound to "avidly [seek] sexual pleasure prior to and outside of marriage" but we need to return to a time when one distinguished "between women one fooled around with and women one married, between a woman of easy virtue and a woman of virtue simply."

The author of the piece is one Leon Kass, and sits on the President's Council on Bioethics. It appeared in Boundless, a webzine you probably haven't heard of, but that's published by Focus on the Family and targeted at college students. Focus on the Family is a multi-million dollar enterprise run by James Dobson, an influential evangelical leader who just happens to be a key source of support for the Miers nomination.

Some would say this goes to show that some pretty influential people on the right have some pretty extreme views. But with the conventional wisdom saying otherwise, who am I to disagree?


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