We live in a world of soundbites, in which context is breezily relegated to the shadows and hysteria is positively encouraged. As Aldous Huxley observed, “an unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling falsehood” — and, in our age, how they are. We are subject, as Huxley predicted, to “the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant.” Take a look, for example, at what Richard Murdock, a Republican running for the Senate from the state of Indiana, said yesterday:
I believe life begins at conception. The only exception I have for to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother. I struggled with myself for a long time but I came to realize life is that gift from God, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape. It is something that God intended to happen.
Now, compare this with the headlines today:
Talking Points Memo: GOP Senate Nominee: Rape Pregnancies Are The Will of God
Salon: Richard Mourdock, misogynist
Huffington Post: Richard Mourdock Slammed For Saying Pregnancy Resulting From Rape Is ‘Something God Intended’
ThinkProgress: GOP U.S. Senate Candidate Calls Rape Pregnancies A ‘Gift From God’
Associated Press: Mourdock: God at Work When Rape Leads to Pregnancy
Daily Kos: Another crazy Republican rape theory
The Atlantic: Republican Senate Candidate Says Rape Pregnancies Are a ‘Gift from God’
BBC: Fury at US candidate rape comment
It was unwise of Mourdock to range into discussion of theodicy in the current environment. He, as Huxley might have put it, “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” Nonetheless, it was clear what he was saying. For anyone possessed of even a passing familiarity with the argument against rape and incest exceptions, his point should not have been difficult to grasp. (Therein, one suspects, lies the problem.) To wit: If an unborn child is indeed a life, then how it became one — however ghastly that was — is rendered irrelevant. This position could be summed up by saying that “life is life is life,” and that its sanctity cannot be diminished by the circumstances of its creation. There are myriad philosophical and moral arguments to be offered on this question, but Richard Mourdock has made no secret about the position he takes. This is not news, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. As Mourdock subsequently explained:
“What I said was, in answering the question from my position of faith, I said I believe that God creates life. I believe that as wholly and as fully as I can believe it. That God creates life. Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think that God pre-ordained rape? No, I don’t think that. That’s sick. Twisted. That’s not even close to what I said. What I said is that God creates life.”
One suspects that, in this case as so many others, the Left’s offense is a cover. It saw and took an opportunity to commandeer a stray and twistable quotation and to impress it into service against its real bugbear, which is Richard Mourdock’s position on abortion. It is not as if those who have jumped on this story are outraged by Mourdock’s comments but satisfied with him otherwise; they are outraged by Mourdock’s being pro-life, period. More than anything else, yesterday’s very slightly ambiguous explanation is another convenient way for progressives to pretend that “pro-life” is synonymous with “pro-rape.” Irin Carmon, writing on Salon, makes no secret of this conflation:
If you doubt that the abortion obsession in this country is about sex more than it is about “babies,” just look to all this agonized public parsing about “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape.” Americans are, at least in theory, sensitive to survivors of rape, whose bodies have been cruelly used against their will, and they see a forced pregnancy as further suffering. The corollary, of course, is that pregnancy is the just punishment for consensual sex, or, if you think an embryo or fetus is the same as a person, that rape justifies capital punishment. But most people don’t think in those consistent absolutes, which is the reason that the antiabortion movement has sometimes conceded to rape exceptions, as Mitt Romney has — they’re willing to suffer them, occasionally, as a sort of gateway drug towards stigmatizing and marginalizing all abortion.
With a few admirable exceptions, progressives have thoroughly mastered the art of changing the subject on abortion, ignoring wholly the moral question at hand and instead electing to discuss “control,” “choice,” “probes,” “my body,” “the 1950s,” and anything else on the growing list of red herrings that will afford them the opportunity to shout and scream and protest and grouse and avoid ever actually having to discuss the material query, which remains: “Should we kill unborn babies?” For speaking lazily and giving his opponents another cudgel with which to hit the quite genuine opponents of abortion on demand, Richard Mourdock should feel regretful this morning. But he has nothing else for which to apologize.