Four Items, A La Carte

1) Over at Right Wing News, John Hawkins and I are having a debate that flows from the prompt, “How would you advise the right going forward?” Round One is now up. His entry is here. My own take is here. I’d love to get feedback from The American Scene’s readers, so do give the entries a read, and have at it in comments.

2) Mathew Continetti reinforces my belief that it is wise to limit one’s stay in Washington DC, lest you’re tempted to start writing nonsense like this, embarrassing yourself in the process. Populist leaders have held very modest views of government, Continetti writes, name-checking Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan and Ronald Reagan.

And Palin? Time and again, she has run against elites who, in her view, are ignoring the public interest. She overthrew a three-term incumbent mayor of Wasilla because he wasn’t as conservative as the people he represented. She used sales tax revenues and bond issues to help the town grow into a thriving suburb. She knocked off a Republican energy commissioner, a Republican attorney general, and an incumbent Republican governor because she felt that they were helping themselves and their friends and not the Alaskan people. As governor, she passed a sweeping ethics reform, changed the tax code so Alaskans got their fair share of oil revenues, and introduced competition and transparency into the construction of a natural gas pipeline.

When you find yourself lauding a politician for “using sales tax revenues and bond issues” as mayor to help their municipality grow, it’s a pretty good sign that your case is laughably thin. Is there any mayor in America who doesn’t use sales tax revenue for that purpose? How is “using local bond issues” evidence of populist cred? Next we’ll learn that she presided over City Council meetings where any citizen could rise to a podium and speak their mind!

Mr. Continetti’s language might also lead readers to imagine that a natural gas pipeline has been built in Alaska, thanks in part to Sarah Palin, but actually construction on the project hasn’t even begun. My understanding is that she worked on issuing a contract for the project, not its construction. You’d think that competition in bidding would be termed “a basic responsibility of competent officials operating under any governing philosophy” as opposed to “populism.”

Overall, it’s just a terrible piece — check out what Mr. Continetti thinks a populist approach to health care entails — though I suppose it’s becoming fairer everyday to call Mr. Continetti “the intellectual force behind Palinism.” Talk about damning with faint praise. My least favorite emotion is embarrassment for others. It is particularly unpleasant when a guy with an agile mind and writerly talent finds himself lacking the intellectual integrity to do good work.

3) Kerry Howley profiles Kathleen Parker — an interesting, well-written piece.

4) The estimable Ann Friedman, an exceptional writer and thinker, excoriates Democrats for adding a provision to the health care bill that prohibits federal funding for abortion.

What precisely does the amendment do?

The amendment will prohibit federal funds for abortion services in the public option. It also prohibits individuals who receive affordability credits from purchasing a plan that provides elective abortions. However, it allows individuals, both who receive affordability credits and who do not, to separately purchase with their own funds plans that cover elective abortions. It also clarifies that private plans may still offer elective abortions.

Ms. Friedman writes:

This isn’t just about how the money is allocated or what workarounds exist. This has me so incredibly infuriated because it further segregates abortion as something different, off the menu of regular health care. It is a huge backward step in the battle to convey — not just politically but to women in their everyday lives — that reproductive health care is normal and necessary, and must be there if (or, more accurately, when) you need it.
This also sets apart women’s rights from the Democratic/progressive/whatever agenda. As something expendable. But fundamental rights for women are not peripheral. They are core. And not just because of so-called progressive values. In a political sense, too: Seeing as how the Democratic Party relies on women voters to win elections, you would think they would have come around to this no-brainer by now.
It’s pretty cramped underneath this bus, what with 50 percent of Americans down here.

A couple thoughts:

a) The bigger role the federal government takes in funding health care, the more you’re going to see politicians interfering in matters that would otherwise be left to doctors and patients, and the more controversial these battles are going to become among the public. This seems obvious to me, but I never see progressive writers worrying about it.

Isn’t it perfectly possible that 10 or 20 years from now, a president will come along who the left likes even less than George W. Bush, or that abortion will be less popular than it is now among voters, or that an influential political minority will turn against contraception, or that a majority of people or Congressmen will make some decision about health care funding that progressives find abhorrent? Even now, the American electorate and progressives aren’t perfectly aligned on all sorts of matters relating to health care. You’d think that as a result, the left would favor giving money to folks too poor to afford health care, so that they could spend it any way they wish, rather than pushing a public option that is subject to a political process where they’ll inevitably lose some battles. After all, abortion is unarguably something that the vast majority of Americans see as something “different than regular health care.” Whether they are right or wrong, it is unrealistic to imagine that the political process won’t reflect that widespread belief.

b) There are many women in the United States who oppose abortion, and if asked would agree that federal money shouldn’t fund it, so the assertion that the amendment throws 50 percent of the population under the bus isn’t accurate, unless one takes the position that these anti-abortion women are suffering from false consciousness.

c) Abortion isn’t an issue that I write about with any regularity. I’ve agonized over it at various times, never reaching any conclusion with which I am comfortable. My dearest friends include people who’ve come to dramatically different conclusions. They’ve done so in good faith. I can’t fault any of them for it, though obviously at least some of them are wrong on an issue with grave implications for millions of people, whatever turns out to be objectively right.

The unknowable thing for me is when human life begins, when it is morally required to protect it, etc. Intuitively, it seems wrong — though not implausible — to say that human life starts at conception. Likewise, I’d be deeply troubled by killing a fetus as 8 months. But where do you draw the line? I can’t prove when life begins, or whether or not God exists, or whether my intuitions about the kinds of life that require protecting are even correct, or any number of other questions that might make the abortion issue an easy one, rather than the most difficult political issue in America. My uncertainty makes me loathe to impose a legally binding answer on other people, so you’ll never see me in a pro-life rally — but the same uncertainty makes me deeply uncomfortable with abortion, insofar as my personal take is that uncertainty in life or death circumstances calls for erring on the side of caution.

That’s why I’ve always taken great care to never be in a position where I inadvertently conceive a child, and why if I ever were in that position, I’d rather dramatically reorganize my life forever than see the abortion even of a child I wish I hadn’t helped conceive. So you can see why I’d feel uncomfortable with the notion of my tax dollars being used to fund abortions — just as I am presently uncomfortable that my tax dollars are used to fund the death penalty — and wish that they weren’t, even as I strongly support all sorts of reproductive health care for women, including abortions in cases when the life of the mother is at risk. The counterargument, of course, is that some folks would object on moral grounds to vaccines, or birth control, or Viagra, or medicine that was tested on animals. Should they be able to veto federal spending?

5) I argue with Andy McCarthy here.