“Isn’t it better that I tell you what I really believe instead of pretending to change all of my positions to fit the prevailing wind?”So asked
Rudy Giuliani at the “Values Voter Summit,” on October 20. It’s a powerful rhetorical question. Simultaneously Giuliani declared that flip-flopping and pandering are beneath him, and intimated that he is superior to his leading rival, Mitt Romney, who is famous for having changed his mind on the subject of abortion rights. I’m no waffler, no quick-change artist when I face a different constituency, says Rudy. “I believe trust is more important than 100% agreement.” And so Hizzoner has made trust the currency of his campaign, and he links trust to consistency: I’m the same guy yesterday, today, tomorrow, and the day after that.
And it’s true that in an important respect it’s Romney who has changed. When he ran first for senator and then for governor in Massachusetts, Romney campaigned as a defender of abortion rights. But, as he tells it, when the issue of “cloning and embryo farming for purposes of research” reached his desk as governor, what he saw was a “slippery slope . . . taking us to racks and racks of living human embryos, Brave New World-like, awaiting termination.” And in his contemplation of this issue, his eyes were opened to the truth about his prior commitment to preserving abortion rights. “And I was wrong,” Romney told the National Right to Life Convention last June.
Romney’s conversion story has been greeted with mild derision in some circles. When he told a version of it at the National Review Institute’s Conservative Summit in Washington last January, some listeners wondered aloud to each other afterward how likely it was that a man of Romney’s years and political experience could have failed to think through the moral gravity of abortion until the issue of embryonic-stem-cell research prompted him to do so. But as Clarence Thomas notes in his memoir My Grandfather’s Son, recalling a hitherto much-doubted assurance he gave at his 1991 confirmation hearing, it is perfectly possible for a public figure preoccupied with other issues to have given little thought to the constitutional questions implicated by Roe v. Wade. Is it terribly different for Mitt Romney to have given little real thought to the moral questions implicated by abortion, while giving facile campaign assurances in order to get elected — and then to have a closely related policy question, which he faced officially, prompt him to think harder? Conservatives also know well the story of Ronald Reagan, who signed a bill liberalizing abortion access as California governor several years before Roe v. Wade, and who later came to see abortion as a moral abomination and became a champion of the unborn. I don’t know anyone who doubts the sincerity of Reagan’s change of heart on the issue.
But believe him or doubt him, Romney’s position on abortion is now publicly, completely, comprehensively pro-life across the board. Romney is unequivocal. Even if he’s only “pandering” to the base of the Republican party, he’s good and stuck now. From Supreme Court nominations, to the arguments his solicitor general would make in abortion cases before the Court, to the Mexico City policy, to the Hyde Amendment, to partial-birth abortion, to embryonic stem-cell research, to cloning, to euthanasia and assisted suicide — Mitt’s laid down his marker, and effectively invited pro-lifers to hold him to right-to-life positions. On any related issues on which he has not publicly spoken, or which may emerge in future, we can infer what a President Romney would say and do as consistent with a set of declared principles, and hold him to a standard he has himself laid down. Now that’s what a trust based in consistency looks like.
Can Rudy Giuliani match it? Not on your (right to) life. It’s a neat line, but his “trust is more important than agreement” gambit would inspire more faith if the mayor hadn’t been pandering like mad on the abortion issue ever since his presidential campaign began. And the record suggests that Giuliani’s artful dodging is the most skillful and therefore the worst sort of pander — the kind that seems to meet his critics at least halfway but really promises next to nothing. This leaves the candidate maximum flexibility to do as he pleases after he’s elected, rather than binding him to an intelligible principle whose preservation or betrayal will be visible to all.
Where has Giuliani been on the life issues in his career? Everywhere at least once, and now nowhere in particular. As Rich Lowry noted last March:
When he first began running for New York City mayor in 1989, he said that he personally opposed abortion, favored overturning Roe v. Wade and opposed public financing of abortions. During that campaign he morphed into an unmodulated pro-choicer. He dropped talk of opposing Roe v. Wade and endorsed taxpayer funding of abortion. By the time he was mayor, he was declaring a “Planned Parenthood Day” in New York and all but pledging to perform abortions himself, should it ever come to that.
In 2000, when he started and then dropped a run against Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Senate, Giuliani came out against banning partial-birth abortion — and he went on record defending Bill Clinton’s veto of a federal ban. But last April, presidential candidate Rudy reacted to the Supreme Court’s upholding of the federal ban signed by President Bush in Gonzales v. Carhart by saying it was “the correct conclusion,” with his campaign saying that the federal law contained additional evidence on the procedure that helped change his mind. Later he said his position had “evolved.” That’s a good change, but it would be interesting to hear the mayor expound himself on just what he thinks of this grisly practice.
On the underlying abortion right invented out of whole cloth by the Supreme Court in Roe itself, Giuliani has not, since his presidential campaign began, said a condemnatory word. In May he said it would be “okay” if the Court overturned Roe. But then he added: “It would be okay also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent. I think the court has to make that decision and then the country can deal with it. We are a federalist system of government and states could make their own decisions.” Giuliani seemed not to know or care that the first and third sentences contradicted each other. For as long as the Court views Roe as a precedent and not a grievous error requiring reversal, the states cannot “make their own decisions.”