Bench Memos

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You Can Even Try This At Home


My colleague Rick Garnett has taken on the sad but necessary job of refuting the even sadder arguments of our former colleague Doug Kmiec on Obama-on-abortion.   If it were just about Doug’s perplexing recent moves, I would say nothing further.  But it is about more than that.  Doug’s arguments are new to him.  But they are the familiar themes of self-styled “pro-lifers,” many of them Catholic, who voted for Kerry despite his awful record on abortion, and who will vote for Obama despite his.  About this position, I have two observations.

The first observation is that the position is not at all interesting (though it is still troubling) if these “pro-lifers” are duds.  What I mean is that, if but only if someone believes that people begin at conception, is that person’s support of Obama (so far considered) a real man-bites-dog story.  Then (but only then) is there a tale to tell, a justification on order.  Or, as Ricky said so often to Lucy: then “there’s some ‘splaining to do.”  After all, if you think people begin later  — at viability or birth, for example — it makes perfect sense to support Obama and to oppose McCain, at least as far as abortion goes.

The second observation is a test to distinguish duds from live ammo.  Take any story told by a self-identified “pro-life” Obama supporter.  Take out the word “abortion” wherever it appears.  Eliminate all explicit mention of the “fetus” or the “unborn”.  In general, change the subject from “abortion” to “obesity”, and see if the story reads just fine, if it still makes perfect sense.  (Well, as much sense as before.)   If it does, you have a dud on your hands. 

For: obesity is an undesirable but basically self-regarding state of affairs; something that should indeed be rare, but isn’t and won’t be; a condition which typically results from imprudent and even undisciplined behavior, but which sometimes results from circumstances beyond an overweight person’s control.  (These would be called “hard cases.”)  Public authority can and should discourage obesity, but no one thinks making it illegal would be productive.  Even to do more than moderately discourage obesity would intrude too far into people’s privacy.  

Abortion, on the other hand, is a grave injustice which kills over a million Americans a year.  So, here is another test of whether someone is really a “pro-life” Obama fan.  Take out all the abortion references in his or her story, just like before.  But don’t insert “obesity” instead.   This time, insert the phrase (something like)  “kills someone else.” 

If the story now makes no sense — indeed, if the story send chills up and down your spine — you have a dud on your hands, too.


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