Contra Frum
An argument within the family.


Hadley Arkes

In the pages of National Review, David Frum has weighed in with his usual, engaging argument, this time on the side of Rudy Giuliani. As he made his case, he paid me the compliment of using my own recent piece, contra Giuliani, as a foil for his own. He was generous enough to describe my own piece as “forceful,” and took it as the occasion to produce an argument forceful in turn. And that is exactly what we would wish in a conversation among friends, trying to settle their judgments on this vexing matter.

But in picking passages from my own piece, he curiously neglected to recount the reasoning that supported those passages, including the portions that coincided with his own argument. And if one looked again at the substance of what I had said, it would become clearer that nothing he said actually countered the argument I offered, and on several critical points he had actually confirmed that argument.

First, on the point of possible convergence: David left out of his account my avowal that I might indeed have to “bite my lip” and vote for Rudy, and do that for reasons rather close to his own. I too have been aware of the vast damage that can be done by eight years of a Democratic administration that regards abortion, not merely as a regrettable choice, but as a positive good, to be promoted at every turn by executive orders and through resolutions at the United Nations, meant to feed back into the American law. And, in addition to the aforementioned effects, we would suffer the steady appointment of judges who regard the freedom to order abortions as the new “first freedom.” But as I argued also in my piece, the Republican party has become the pro-life party, and for the sake of rescuing the pro-life party, the pro-life issue may have to be placed, in the scale of things, just below the concern for vindicating the rightness of the war in Iraq. For the thoughtless recoil against the war may damage the Republican party in a sweeping way, and take down with it the most important force in our politics for the pro-life movement.

But the risk implicit in this move is that it takes this issue — the destruction of 1.3 million innocent human lives each year — and removes it to a place rather secondary or even peripheral to the concerns that are regarded as central to the Republican party. David confirms precisely the logic of that move in several ways, which may indeed have passed his notice.

He has quite signed on to the main vice exhibited by the Republican establishment: that the task of dealing with this issue of abortion is not the business of the political class or the elected leadership. When he says that we are on the verge of breakthrough at the Supreme Court, needing one more appointment, he assumes that the matter of abortion is indeed mainly the business of the courts. In that respect, he seems oblivious of the fact that, for the past several years, the President has had within his hands the means of bringing the issue of abortion to the Endgame with simple, costless moves, using the measures we have already passed in Congress, and pushing the Democrats into crippling tensions. I have already outlined those simple measures, in several places, including memos solicited by members of the White House staff, and I won’t take the space to review them here. Those measures do not even require the exertion of an executive order. That President Bush has not made even these gentle moves, which could induce deep strains among the Democrats, while costing him nothing, may be a measure of his own political tin ear. But it may also confirm the message that he had put out as early as 1999: that he would sign anything that we could manage to pass in Congress, but that he himself would show no leadership on this matter. We did not realize how literally he had meant that. By temperament and discipline, the conservative judges cast their judgments in a narrow way, deciding no more than that which they strictly need to decide. They are not equipped to carry the political burden of treating the political crisis of abortion. That is the work of the political class, moving in short steps, leading the courts gradually to cut back on Roe v. Wade, until one day the Court may take a shorter step, long anticipated, and finally put Roe v. Wade to rest.


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