Friday, June 17, 2005

Pro-lifers: sold out by Bush?

It's easy to forget how high the stakes of the last presidential election were for pro-lifers. As Hadley Arkes notes, in a recent article in First Things (April 2005), entitled Bush's Second Chance, "even the most sober observers of the political scene recognized that a Kerry presidency would mark the end of any prospects for the pro-life cause in Congress or the courts." As one conservative news commentator remarked, "we narrowly dodged the bullet that time."

Yet as the dust has settled, it is no less clear that President Bush is doing little, if anything, to address the concerns of those who voted him into office a second term because of his pro-life platform. Arkes writes:
On the matter of abortion, however, the President did not seem to be seized with any comparable sense of moment, or any heightened awareness of possibilities now come into sight. And yet, in the case of abortion, the new possibilities had already been visible for more than two years. The President showed no keen awareness of these possibilities now, just as he had shown no awareness earlier. It was not that the facts were not there to be seen, or that the President had no means of knowing. For at least two years the White House staff, and the President it advises, had ample reason to conclude that America had reached a turning point, and that, with the slightest moves on the part of the administration -- moves so slight that they did not require the exertion of an executive order -- they could have produced some striking gains for the pro-life cause while fostering a deep crisis in the ranks of their adversaries. With moves modest by any measure, Mr. Bush could have advanced the pro-life cause and propelled the Democrats in Congress into an internecine war that would surely have torn them apart, and left them morally exhausted during the season of the campaign. That the President should have had no interest in inducing such strain among his adversaries, at virtually no cost to himself, must be ranked among the great political mysteries of our time. But apparently more pressing than any desire to sow confusion among his adversaries has been the President's desire to preserve his reticence on the matter of abortion.

... For Mr. Bush, this reluctance to speak on abortion has been part of a policy fixed in his makeup and critical to his political design. In 1999, when he was preparing for his first presidential campaign, Mr. Bush took soundings among prominent conservatives, and the word went out: he was emphatically, decisively, on the side of the pro-lifers. He could be depended on to do the things that President Reagan and his own father had done before him to preserve a coalition that included pro-lifers. But, as the report went, he did not feel that he could “lead” with the issue of abortion. Either it was impolitic to make this question his defining issue, or he did not feel confident of his own facility in making the argument. He would speak on this vexing issue only when it was absolutely necessary for him to do so.
The upshot, for Arkes, is that Bush has had no interest in promoting the pro-life cause for at least the last two years. In the President's world, he says, "a willingness to talk about abortion is seen as tacky and unseemly." Read more here.

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