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.

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

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