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Democrats and the Pro-Life Movement

Ross Douthat has written an honest, charitable post that is the most thoughtful contribution I've so far seen a conservative commentator make to the debate over Bart Stupak's stance on health care reform. Ross takes issue with certain of Stupak's critics from the left and remains skeptical about the compromise he ended up striking, but he goes on to articulate many things that pro-life critics of the reform bill have been unwilling to acknowledge: that there is a reason why there are pro-life liberals; that Stupak's failure to pass his amendment does not mean the end of such a bloc; that many of the pro-life conservatives who cheered Stupak on were secretly hoping that he'd fail in his efforts and drag the bill down with him; and that those very same conservatives have failed miserably in the task of proposing constructive alternatives to solve the very real problems that motivated the reform agenda they so enthusiastically opposed.As a pro-life, pro-Stupak, anti-Obamacare conservative (yes, there is at least one of us here!) I agree with pretty much all of this. Whatever one's opinions about the merits and demerits of the reform bill itself and the complicated moral and legal issues about federal (and non-federal) funding of abortion, there was always something deeply, darkly cynical about the ways that many pro-life conservatives were cheering Stupak along. (Full disclosure: I know this in part because I far too frequently went in for this sort of thing myself.) What the Stupak controversy had the chance to do was to make the pro-life movement into something more than an appendage of a political party, and while I've no doubt that some of Stupak's pro-life supporters would have been genuinely happy if the reform bill had passed with his amendment attached, it's hard to shake the sense that many of the loudest critics of Stupak's eventual compromise originally viewed him as a useful idiot whom they could use to bring down a bill that was just a piece of evil Marxist redistributionism, anyway. In the present political climate, the pro-life movement needs Democrats every bit as much as Democrats need the pro-life movement, and if representatives of that movement insist on narrating Stupak's story as a farce rather than - as Ross views it - a tragedy, it's highly unlikely that Democrats like Stupak will want anything to do with them the next time around.Meanwhile, and this is once again a point that Ross's post helpfully emphasizes, the other strand in this tale of wasted opportunity arises from conservatives' stunning inability to propose a coherent and forward-looking agenda of their own to address this country's very real need for serious health care reform. Claiming the banner of church teaching when it comes to the protection of the unborn while ignoring the demands of that very same church concerning the adequate provision of health care is a gross moral incoherence; and until pro-life conservatives begin devoting more energies to improving the quality of those lives that they - we - are so intent to save, policy compromises like the one that Stupak struck with Obama are pretty much guaranteed to be the best we're going to get.As Ross puts it, these problems are not about to go away.

About the Author

John Schwenkler is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University.



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JohnA very nice post! One of the things I try to tell people -- people can truly have the same goal in mind, but their way of understanding the situation and how to deal with it can differ. Obviously not all differences would be acceptable, but the problem is that many (with the American-right version of right-to-life groups) is that they confuse prudential reason and decisions as principles, and so if you disagree with a methodology you are seen as disagreeing with the principles. I am sure there is an equivalent from the other side as well (I would be interested in hearing examples, actually). But I think one of the things which needs to be done is to continue to point out the common belief, common ground. As long as that can be held, even if there are major political differences, then the combined front can do some good. But if one side or the other keeps sniping because of prudential issues, it not only fails to attract the people who hold a common belief to work with them but will completely turn off those who disagree and yet might be able to be led to agreement if things were more charitable. It's difficult. We all fail in charity from time to time. I know that. We are human. But, when it is said and done, we must always remember, it is charity, it is love, which alone remains and remains of value.

Thanks, Henry. It seems to me that the best example of an "equivalent from the other side" is when Christian conservatives are told that opposing big-government programs means not caring at all about the plight of the less well-off. As I indicate in my post, I think that this attitude is often understandable given conservatives' frequent unwillingness to propose their own ways to address problems like the inadequate provision of health care, but it's nevertheless a false, and to my mind very unhelpful, thing to have said.

John, if you don't mind my asking, were you opposed to Obamacare because of pro-life concerns? Perhaps in conjunction with other concerns (e.g. the debt factor)?

Well, John, the best way to demonstrate that "its nevertheless a false, and to my mind very unhelpful, thing to have said" is to articulate policies that are not only plausible ways of responding effectively to the desperate plight of "the least of these sisters and brothers of mine" but that are also plausible politically: Is there a realistic chance that the policies can gain the support--not least, from political conservatives in DC--to become law?

Of course I don't mind! I was opposed to Obamacare for non-abortion-related reasons, and - largely thanks to the editors of this magazine - was agnostic on the question of whether it was objectionable on pro-life grounds alone.

"Is there a realistic chance that the policies can gain the supportnot least, from political conservatives in DCto become law?"Perhaps not, but one way to deal with that situation is to work on changing the attitudes of those political conservatives, which is a big part of what people like Douthat are trying to do.

Good post John, especially for its honesty. There are intolerant, nasty people on both sides of the liberal/conservative spectrum. We have to be more than party loyalists and differ when we consider our party to be wrong. While we can be fiercely critical it is the worst of human nature to insult and impugn the integrity of others simply because they disagree with us.

This comment of Ross's is just false:"And not anti-abortion conservatives, who backed him to the hilt not because they wanted him to succeed, but because they assumed that he would fail, and in failing, drag the whole health care package down to defeat."Anti-abortion conservatives took a tremendous amount of incoming fire from economic conservatives precisely becuase we supported Stupak to the hilt and wanted his efforts to block all abortion funding to succeed. We were vigorously encouraged to take a powder on the life issues precisely so the whole thing would fail.

Actually, abortion never was a Democrat v.Republican issue, nor was it a Conservative v.Liberal issue, the issue of abortion is a universal issue. We, who profess to be Catholic, are called to conserve The Truth, The Word of God, and apply The Word, liberally. universal truth is a self-evident truth, such as "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that ALL Men are CREATED equal... Let us not pretend that to be created means "to be born".And please, no more shout outs, as I am becoming rather cranky.

John S, I too would like to complement you on your well expressed post. However, when I add to it the comments from others within this group who self-identify as "conservative" I can not get any coherent pattern of policies or positions.I simple do not know if that is because I am not part of the American culture or what. Bill M. you and I have been exchanging opinions for a decade now so if anyone in this group knows me it is you. Is it because there is no coherent pattern that has yet emerged since Obama's victory other than the negative one or is there more at play in a cultural sense, after-all we have the same stresses and strains in Canada as you do.

Nancy, I'll try not to shout so I will say this as quietly as possible.Given the discussion we are having what the heck were you thinking when you included that link?Why did you think we needed to see it?

I'm a liberal, probably pink by most standards, uninsured, and I've ranted against Obama"care" all over this blog. Republicans have talked a lot about getting to the root of the problem, which is high health care costs. Certainly a laudable goal, but how do you do that without imposing restrictions on unnecessary or wasteful care, which is often construed as putting Gubmint bureaucrats between doctors and patients? Among their solutions is capping malpractice awards (capping legal awards is a favorite generic solution among Republicans). Another solution proposed by GOPGuv Rick Perry of Texas is for people to "take responsibility for their own health care." No idea what that might mean other than "suck it up and die proud to be a Texan" [my rough translation]. "This American Life," which is usually an entertainment show, ran a very interesting series of spots on health insurance costs and some of the surprising culprits of high costs (ignore the stuff about pet insurance, or maybe not; it illustrates some interesting things about the insurance biz)., I'm waiting for somebody, anybody, any party, to start thinking outside the box on health care. Saying "we need to spend more" or "we can't afford it" isn't working too well. Horror story of the week: One of my students damaged her knee such that she has to be on crutches. Her surgeon told her she needs reconstructive surgery. She has no insurance. He told her to sign up for a student policy. The next opt-in period won't start until June. Surgeon refuses to operate until she gets insurance. So she's hobbling around on crutches and painkillers for the next three months.Is this a great country or what!?

"Anyhow, Im waiting for somebody, anybody, any party, to start thinking outside the box on health care."Actually there are lots of people doing just this, but for the record: I favor issuing means-tested vouchers to the entire population, with the federal government also guaranteeing to cover all catastrophic medical expenses beyond a certain percentage of household income.

A quick take:1) a nice thread by our new threadser.2)Another repetitive and simplistic (Truth fronm teh beginning) Nancy.3) My real question is how do these new threaders suddenly appear? Nothing against John.But I've often asked if we could have threaders from priests in real parish life and nuns in regular ministry who can cast perspective from ther eand not just from academe.

Thanks Bob, but actually I'm not new! It's just been quite a while since I've managed to post anything ...

John, regarding your post at 7:43, that sounds like a good idea.

John, thanks. How are vouchers different from the provision in the current bill, which (Medicaid expansion aside), will, in another four years, assist those who are paying more than 2 to 9.5 percent of their income (no one's sure where that line will be drawn) for premiums? Would the vouchers be like food stamps, chits worth a limited amount of money that can be applied only to food stuffs food (no liquor and cigs)? Would they be cash handouts to qualifying individuals and families? Payments directly to private insurance companies for premiums? Would there be any minimum benefits that such a voucher system would provide? The current bill makes vague provisions to help you buy insurance (once you've shucked out 2 to 9.5 percent of your income), but that could be anything from a "Cadillac" policy to the crummy $10,000 deductible per family that Raber and Son currently have.How do you see such vouchers reducing health care costs? Most important, which GOP legislators actually support such a program? As I understand it, during Obama's meeting with the GOP, LaMarr Alexander, who was asked to speak for the Republican contingent, said that the money for a big program (and a voucher program with guaranteed catastrophic illness coverage such as you suggest sounds pretty big), and that we should be moving only in baby steps.Get back to me on this before 9:45 p.m., wouldja? :-)

Tea party people are angry like most people in the country are angry over the economy, unemployment, loss of jobs and depressed housing prices and market. Too many politicians are taking advantage of this anger, exploiting it and not pointing to positive things. That wild, destructive anger propels people to do something like this;

:One of the things I try to tell people people can truly have the same goal in mind, but their way of understanding the situation and how to deal with it can differ."Mr. Karlson --You speak of differing methods of reaching a goal, an important point. Here is a similar point worth considering: Jacques Maritain pointed out somewhere that one reason a pluralistic society can work is because we can reach the same conclusion from different premises, and thus sometimes we have the same goal with conflicting justifications for the goal. An example was the goal of defeating the Nazis in WW II -- the Communist nations and the Allies had different reasons for doing so, so they shared the goal and accomplished what they probably could not have accomplished without each other.Those who insist on unanimity not only of goals but also of methods and reasons for the goal sometimes end up throwing out the baby with the dishwater. Poor babies. That sort of ideological purity cannot always be afforded.

Ann Olivier (I don't know to call you Miss, Mrs, etc),Yes, people can also get to the same conclusion based upon different thinking processes. That is also important -- not just in this debate, but in theology in general. One of the things which always upsets me is when people try to make everything done to Aquinas. While he was a great genius, he was also a man of his time, and many of his premises were quite poor (not poor for the time, but poor for us now). He still got much good from them, many things which we would still agree -- but we can't be limited to them, and must rethink things because of what we have learned since his time. But I don't know how many times I've been accused of heresy when I try things differently. Not by people who know theology, but by those who think they do. I think the same thing is what happens in politics. The loud voices we hear from people who think they know what is going on -- but what they know is what they have been told and they fight based upon bad premises (this bill will have death panels!). How do we get them to calm down enough to actually look into it? I wish I knew.

When searching for the truth, avoid confusion.

When searching for confusion...avoid Nancy D. [sorry just had to say it :) ]

Henry --Jes' call me Ann. (Ms. is always good because it fits us all.) I wish I knew how to get the loud ones to stop shouting. I keep trying to understand their need to call names. Original Sin is one explanation, but it's too indefinite. I suspect it's because psychologically they can't face the possibility that they're wrong, They seem to think their whole world would fall apart if they ever admitted error, so when they are backed into a corner they have nothing to arm themselves with but noise.

But, Nancy, there are real complexities in this world. To avoid complexity is to turn away from the truth of the things. You don't untie a knot by ignoring the fact that it includes twists and turns that are difficult to straighten out. Ignoring truth is not searching for truth -- it is turning away from it, which is practically the same thing as lying.

When you get mired down in the details, you risk losing perspective. The best way to untie a knot is to get right to the heart of the "tangle."

Einstein may have said, "Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler."He definitely said:

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.

You quote Einstein on a Catholic blog?! He might have been deemed a scientific genious, but this is what he thinks of our beliefs:"I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly and "The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish."If we feed into these lies, do we not risk our immortal souls? I'll eat my words (and my hat too) if he happened to convert on his deathbed and noone ever bothered to let the rest of the world know.

Amiga,I am shocked you quoted Einstein's atheistic lies on a Catholic blog! If people here read them and take them seriously, you have endangered their immortal souls. I posted only a quote about the importance of not oversimplifying when you try to simplify. Would you remove e = mc2 from physics textbooks just because it was said by a Godless atheist? Even the truly evil occasionally speak the truth, and it is never wrong to quote them when they do.I hope the moderator of this conference will remove your dangerous quotes. (In case my html coding doesn't work, the 2 in the equation should be a superscript.)

If people here read them and take them seriously, they'll KNOW BETTER than to quote him while attempting to justify issues of morality, because by the very renunciation of our beliefs, his other statements don't hold any water AT ALL.

Considering the source is usually a good rule of thumb. It should be deemed a virtue, in my humble opinion.

Amiga:The quote from Einstein that David Nickols provided is about how to think. You ask us to consider the source; you say considering the source is a good rule of thumb; and so it is (despite its source here), especially for those incapable of thinking for themselves. But do you really suppose there could be a much better source for advice about how to think than EINSTEIN? Perhaps you could offer us a distinctively Catholic critique of Einstein's advice, maybe something about how it sounds suspiciously like Occam's razor -- and how we all know the whole world went to hell as soon as Occam arrived on the scene. Perhaps you could spend some more time actually reading this Catholic blog before you offered several of your humble opinions. If you did, you would see that around here we often take seriously the arguments of atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians, including their arguments about religious belief. You are welcome to stick around, but if you want people here to take you seriously, you had better reserve your judgments about the intelligence of atheists.

Thanks for the welcome wagon remarks Matthew. But I will have you know that I have read this blog at length, probably far more than what's for my own good, and so keenly aware that you often take to heart the arguments of atheists. Is that a good thing? Should we not take more care and consideration who we're listening to? Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Proverbs 26:4.

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