How to end abortion on demand

Clark Carlton is a politically disaffected Orthodox paleoconservative philosophy prof. He’s slipped onto my “back burner” for a while, but he lately has been making enough sense on public affairs that I was looking forward to his long-promised controversial thoughts on the pro-life political movement. Continue reading “How to end abortion on demand”

Is Sarah Palin a fake feminist?

It should be no secret that I am not a fan of Sarah Palin, but among her defects is not patent falsity as a feminist, as Jessica Valenti’s column at the Sunday Washington Post alleges. Valenti careens around like a pinball deprecating all things Palin, but in my opinion falls short of making the case that Palin’s feminism is fake.

Pro-life feminism is something I happen to know a few things about. It captured my attention 25 years or so ago when I heard a recording of Sidney Callahan, a distinguished social psychologist, teacher, and syndicated columnist in moral psychology, state the case for it. It had a humane and compassionate angle that I found very attractive personally. (I regret that Callahan’s talk seemingly not available online; I believe I ripped it from tape to MP3 and could share it with anyone interested after checking copyright more closely.)

So I became a supporter of Feminists for Life before it had a political action committee — not a member, as I think there’s something creepy about a man saying he’s a feminist (it strikes me as being on roughly the same level as “Hey, baby! What’s your sign?” or “Want to come up and see my lithographs?”) — even though some of its positions were well to my left at the time. (I also supported the “Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians” who intuited that they were particularly vulnerable to selective abortion should a “gay gene” ever be identified.) I have received the Journals of FFL for decades as a result. Valenti can sneer at the “debated notion that first-wave feminists were antiabortion,” but I’d rather have the affirmative than the negative of that in a debate.

I now consider the support of the Susan B. Anthony list, the FFL-affiliated PAC formed years later, a reliable indicator of a bona fide pro-life candidate who is not (necessarily) wedded to the religious right. I give essentially nothing to the National Right to Life Committee or its PAC these days, but in most election cycles, I’ll pore over SBA List endorsements for candidates, almost invariably women, whose positions (and odds) seem especially good, and then I’ll support them modestly. (Public records of such giving has gotten me labeled an anti-choice fanatic by the brain-dead denizens of Journal & Courier online comboxes.)

I probably could go on, but suffice that I know whereof I speak when I say that Valenti is either consciously lying or fabricating factoids when she alleges that pro-life feminism is a cynical ploy adopted only after “protesters realized that screaming ‘Murderer!’ at women wasn’t winning hearts and minds.”

But, of course, Palin isn’t a feminist — not in the slightest. What she calls “the emerging conservative feminist identity” isn’t the product of a political movement or a fight for social justice.

It isn’t a structural analysis of patriarchal norms, power dynamics or systemic inequities. It’s an empty rallying call to other women who are as disdainful of or apathetic to women’s rights as Palin herself: women who want to make abortion and emergency contraception illegal and who fight same-sex marriage rights. As Kate Harding wrote on “What comes next? ‘Phyllis Schlafly feminism?’ ‘Patriarchal feminism?’ ‘He-Man Woman Hater Feminism?'”

So let it be clear: Valenti considers abortion (and “emergency contraception,” but I repeat myself) and same-sex marriage among the sina qua non of feminism. That marks her as a “radical feminist” or something close.

In radical feminism, if you’re not tying “power dynamic or systemic inequities” to “patriarchal norms” — if, for instance, you tie them in the slightest to such phenomena as the Chamber-of-Commerce types pushing to get women into the marketplace in the early 20th century in order to suppress wages, or the prudent self-protection rendered more urgent by no-fault divorce and its effective abolition of marriage — you’re a fake feminist. I’m all in favor of words having somewhat precise meanings if possible, but as a few of my links to Wikepedia in this posting demonstrate, “feminism” as of today can follow a lot of different adjectives.

“So God made man; in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.” Human equality does not require identity of aptitudes and roles (though it is dangerous, if not outright wrong, to apply generalizations to specific people). A gifted athlete is no more or less fully human that a gifted scholar. A layman is no more or less human than a pastor or priest. Men and women are of equal dignity even if they are measurably different — and not different merely in the matter of some plumbing that only matters on special occasions.

Feminists for Life essentially embraces a form of what apparently is known today as difference feminism, or cultural feminism or new feminism. I have a little trouble getting worked up over the label, or holding myself out as expert in the taxonomy of feminism. But having followed them all these years, I know that the proper valuing of women for the common good is a bona fide concern of Feminists for Life.

So is Sarah Palin a fake feminist? Well, she’s to the right of many SBA-endorsed politicians. And I’m ready to believe that just about anything about her is fake. But I draw the line at credulously falling for an empty screed like Jessica Valenti’s column.

Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing preview

We don’t even have a nominee yet, but the posturing — academic and political — is shaping up, as signaled on the editorial page of today’s Washington Post.

In the right corner, weighing in with the mantra of “commitment to the text of the Constitution and the vision of the Founding Fathers,” is senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

In the left corner, weighing in with the historical untenability of ascribing to the Founders any unified “original intent,” is Joseph J. Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor of history at Mount Holyoke College.

Ellis is would win the match on points, but Sessions has a knockout punch: by and large, Americans agree with him, whether or not original intent is tenable historically.

It is perhaps probably significant that neither one speaks of abortion, the issue that, whether explicitly or encoded, has dominated confirmation hearings for decades. The current hot button issues for Sessions are political speech, guns, and eminent domain.

Globalization + the Pill = Culture Wars

A very interesting post at FPR clued me in to a Jonathan Rauch article in National Journal, which in turn discusses a new book that essentially publishes a Grand Unification Theory of the origins of “Red” and “Blue” America.

I hesitate to summarize. Read either the Front Porch Republic piece or Rauch’s for a summary instead.

What this leaves me with is a couple of intuitions, none of which I’m remotely prepared to defend to the death:

  1. I have taken some solace that “Red America” is growing demographically while “Blue America” is at NPG. This new theory makes me think that teeming Red America will continue to work for Blue America and will continue to be relatively ineffectual in carrying out any red agenda.
  2. Any red agenda is already in trouble. Red America, relatively speaking, tramples on the values they profess and which, in their pulpits, they literally preach. Why? They’re spitting into a very, very strong headwind of sexuality and lower wages, and their early marriages, plus the newish necessity of both parents working, make musical beds a far more popular game in Red American than in Blue.
  3. What happens when the Trillion Dollar Ponzi Scheme collapses? Red America knows more about the practical arts like gardening, homebuilding, etc. than Blue America knows. Will Blue America be picking Red America’s asparagus in a few Springs?

Tactical shift coming in Supreme Court confirmation fight?

Since Roe v. Wade was imposed on us by the Supremes 37 years ago, there has been a pervasive “abortion distortion factor”:

The “Abortion distortion factor” is that phenomenon whereby when established rules of law encounter the abortion right, the established rule is bent to accomodate the abortion right.

(Bopp, James, in A Passion for Justice – A Pro-life Review of 1987 and a Look ahead to 1988, at page 80) That factor has been huge in most Supreme Court appointment battles since 1980 – generally couched in code words and litmus tests that fooled no observant observer.

The successor for Justice Stevens may face a significantly different constellation of questions, centering on “Obamacare” partly because that issue works to the benefit of the Republicans though so pervasive is the Abortion Distortion Factor that it won’t be entirely out of play:

Another set of questions could prove embarrassing for Democrats who have lauded Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade for creating a right to privacy that includes contraception and abortion. “How can the freedom to make such choices with your doctor be protected and not freedom to choose a hip replacement or a Caesarean section?” asks former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey in The Wall Street Journal. “Either your body is protected from government interference or it’s not.”

McCaughey also notes that in 2006 the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Oregon ruled that the federal government couldn’t set standards for doctors to administer lethal drugs to terminally ill patients under Oregon’s death with dignity act. So does the Constitution empower the feds to regulate non-lethal drugs in contravention of other state laws?

Such questions may not persuade an Obama nominee to rule that Obamacare is unconstitutional. But they can raise politically damaging issues in a high-visibility forum at a time when Democrats would like to move beyond health care and talk about jobs and financial regulation. Stevens apparently timed his retirement to secure the confirmation of a congenial successor — but some Democrats probably wish that he had quit a year ago, when they had more Senate votes and fewer unpopular policies.

Sexual miscellany

Whiling away the hours until the Paschal Vigil tonight, I’ve caught up on a little reading. I mention sex (1) to drive traffic and (2) because there’s a sexual component to two of my three notables. (The third will get a separate posting.)

First, in the spin battles over Obamacare, we have Kate Michelman, abortion activist, lamenting that the Democrats so quickly abandoned insistence on covering “all the medical services women need and deserve.” From her perspective, the Democrats aren’t reliable friends, and “the pro-choice movement must have a powerful political presence independent of the Democratic Party.” She blames the Democrat strategic decision to recruit moderates after the 2004 election, which in fact led to election of several relatively moderate Democrats starting in 2006.

Indeed, it’s got to be a tough time to be a pro-abortion Democrat. There’s got to be – what? one? two? – dissonant voices in the Festive Friends of Feticide chorus that used to do unison soooo much better. Of course, the Republicans can count on Olympia Snow (sadly, Orthodox) and Lincoln Chafee peeling off from the GOP abortion platform at the drop of a hat. And there’s others whose pro-life song is delivered up so tone-deaf that I don’t really trust them to hold if the wind shifts a little. Maybe “tone deaf” is the wrong metaphor, but they don’t sound authentic. They sound like they’re dropping memorized sound bites.

So I feel your pain, Kate – enough so that I won’t call myself Republican today. I’m now roughly 30 years into dreaming of the day when abortion won’t be a partisan issue, but as the parties try to achieve their optimally big tents, that day bodes to be a while coming.

Ironically echoing her distrust of Democrats is Kathleen Parker, a generally conservative columnist at the Washington Post, lamenting Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak’s vote-switch for 30 pieces of silver a rather meaningless Executive Order. The unreliability runs both ways. Someone else dissed Stupak by saying you can’t count on pro-life Democrats. Indeed, party discipline can be pretty compelling. Stupak defends himself against Parker here.

Looking well past the next election – and the next, and the next – is Kasper Melville’s Battle of the Babies in the UK’s New Humanist magazine. The story should be a familiar one for both the triumphalist secularists and the tongue-clucking “hell in a handbasket” religious folks: the devoutly religious are outbreeding secularists by a large enough margin to spell the doom of secularism as any dominant force.

The latest iteration of this “prognostication comes courtesy of political scientist Eric Kaufmann, a reader in politics at London’s Birkbeck College, and the author of the new book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, out in March from Profile Books.” Kaufmann is facially neutral, while Melville is a secularist himself. They’re both not too alarmed by the prolific breeders in Anabaptist Amish and Hutterite enclaves, but the Quiverfull “movement” has Melville’s knickers in a knot:

However the success-through-fertility of [Amish and Hutterites] has served as a powerful model for newer variants of fundamentalism with a far more sinister agenda. One such is the Quiverfull movement (The name derives from Psalm 127: “Children are a heritage from the Lord/ Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them”). Kaufmann describes Quiverfull as “backward engineered religion”, an attempt to replicate the successful growth of these historic sects, combined with an ambitious agenda for political power. Under the leadership of the infamous religious conservative Doug Phillips, son of Howard, who was instrumental in the early stirrings of the Religious Right, Quiverfull, a coalition of neo-fundamentalist protestant denominations and communities, dedicated to biblical literalism, deeply patriarchal and morally conservative and separatist in mindset, has a 200-year plan, a “self-conscious strategy for victory through fertility”, as Kaufmann calls it. “They look around and see the low birth rate amongst the secular population, and the success of the sects, and they say, ‘Hey, we can take over here and quickly.’ They think that God should be the family planner. For them contraception is one step toward abortion. There are stories of Quiverfull women who can only have three or four children breaking down and feeling that God has not blessed them.”

Not to worry, Casper: Evangelicals (your “fundamentalists”) cannot maintain anything for 200 years. Someone will get a ThD from Fuller for reinterpreting “happy is the man who has his quiver full.” Nobody gets a doctorate for preserving and transmitting Evangelicalism unaltered. There may still be something called “Evangelicalism” in 200 years, but it’s doubtful that it will look anything like today’s version.

Remember, you heard it here first: Quiverfull is just one of Evangelicalism’s fleeting manias. They remind me of the T-Shirt I heard about: “They say I have Attention Deficit Disorder, but they just don’t underst… Hey! Look! A Chicken!”

Now Muslims are a different matter, though I’ve long been mulling over to the extent to which Islam, too, are inherently incoherent inasmuch as their religion, too, is based on a book susceptible of private interpretation. (They do differ from one another, you know.)

Rod Dreher, looking at Melville’s article (after I’d noted it but before I blogged) passes over the Quiverfull folks and focuses on a common a trait noted by Kauffman:

“I call them ‘endogenous growth sects’. The defining features are that they have strong boundaries to the outside, they try to live segregated from the rest of society, they practice ‘in’ marriage, they have high fertility rates and high retention of members – it’s grow-your-own-fundamentalism. The irony is that in terms of growth this is the most successful model for religion in Western secular societies. This is not true for the developing world, or for the Muslim world, but it is for the West.” The reason why Kaufmann covers both older forms of fundamentalism like the Amish and Hutterites, sects that are not likely to put the fear of God into secularists because they seem so passive, so withdrawn and uninterested in imposing their worldview on the rest of us, alongside more aggressive and self-consciously power-hungry forms of evangelical Christianity and Islamism is because, in his argument, the older sects provide the model of success that is now being followed by the newer ones. To understand them, Kaufmann argues, we need to look at the older forms they are self-consciously aping.

This is what Dreher calls the “Benedict Option” – semi-monastic, consciously counter-cultural. I’ve been wondering, as has Dreher, whether conscious separation, which surely will get us labelled “fundamentalist,” is the only real option in a very seductive society.