Politics & Policy

Needed: A Cultural Reset

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton and Fifty Shades of Grey

‘If it’s consensual, it’s okay.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s abuse, because it’s consensual.”

Would you give that advice to a 15-year-old girl?

The latest video from the pro-life activist group Live Action, which specializes in investigating what’s going on inside America’s “women’s health clinics,” highlights a Planned Parenthood educational video and personnel advising teens about BDSM — a catch-all for sexual violence: bondage, discipline and domination, submission and sadism, and masochism.

“Sadists like to inflict pain and masochists like to receive pain,” a teen’s tour guide to sadomasochism explains with great enthusiasm. It’s the darkness of Fifty Shades of Grey — which one Planned Parenthood staffer recommends as a good primer on whips and clamps — and of a culture bored with sex after having so much of it, without holding out much hope for actual love and something more than instant gratification.

Planned Parenthood benefits from a general sense that planning family life is good, and that it is there to help. But Planned Parenthood, which is America’s leading abortion provider, assumes the nonexistence of innocence. It also assumes that the desire for family life where women and men flourish together not just in love for one another but also with an openness to babies has become archaic. Its philosophy is the antithesis of Pope Francis’s recent exhortation that married couples be drawn out of themselves for love of new and vulnerable life. When we live for nothing but ourselves and our comfort, our own souls and our culture suffer and die.

I actually thought about our future with some hope, though, as I skimmed through Hillary Clinton’s new book, Hard Choices, almost universally considered to be a pre–presidential-campaign prop. I confess that I have long been intrigued by the prospect of Hillary Clinton as president of the United States.

Maybe it’s a kinship I felt upon learning that we had both been named “good citizens” by the Daughters of the American Revolution while juniors in high school. There’s a certain sisterhood in that. Whatever we may disagree on, we have at least this common ground: We want to be good citizens. We know that politics is our moral obligation, and that how we engage with politics can do good or harm to the human spirit.

Or maybe it’s the thought that my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru put in my head in his book Party of Death. He tells of a dream he had about the former first lady and former senator. “She is at the podium, well into a campaign speech.” It’s definitely a friendly crowd for her. Maybe a Democratic assembly — a national convention, perhaps. Or maybe a feminist gathering. In her own book, she recounts her famous speech to a U.N. conference in Beijing, where “women hung over banisters and raced down escalators to shake my hand.” That kind of crowd.

But back to the speech in Ramesh’s dream. Mrs. Clinton’s opening words about women and children are all met with applause. She goes on to talk with great sensitivity about prosecuting domestic violence and rape. And she eventually reaches the point where she speaks with love for pregnant women and then proclaims: “We should all be able to agree that 1.3 million abortions a year is way too many, and we should work together to bring that number down. The most important thing we can do is to give women more options.” She talks about the need to support families. She offers: “I think maybe we’ve been so busy fighting the people who want to throw women in jail that we’ve somehow lost sight of the fact that abortion is a terrible act of violence against the young.”

She goes on to explain: “States ought to be able to try different approaches to protect women and children. And I think the Supreme Court ought to let them.” And she adds: “America deserves better than abortion, and America deserves better than this fight we’ve been having for over a generation.” 

Ramesh’s point is that we’re not a country comfortable with abortion; we’re a people who want to know women have the help they need when facing an unplanned pregnancy. “The public has some ambivalence about the subject of abortion.” Such a speech could just make Hillary Clinton president.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds at first glance. Consider Melinda Gates, a leading philanthropist along with her husband, Bill Gates. She recently announced: “When I get asked about my views on abortion, I say that, like everyone, I struggle with the issue, but I’ve decided not to engage on it publicly — and the Gates Foundation has decided not to fund abortion.” 

“I understand that the abortion debate will continue,” she wrote in a blog post, “but conflating it with the consensus on so many of the things we need to do to keep women healthy is a mistake.”

This is significant. When others, like Barack Obama or Komen for the Cure, have for even a brief moment considered that the most radical, stubborn adherence to abortion-industry demands might not be prudent, they have been reined in by their ideological overlords. The sort of freedom Gates exercised here should be encouraged.

As she reassesses what women’s health looks like, what a gift it would be if she led a rethinking of just what exactly constitutes good basic health care. In Hard Choices, Mrs. Clinton writes about the importance of seeing women throughout the world “not as victims to be saved but as partners to be embraced.” One fundamental way to achieve the former secretary of state’s goal is to stop looking at women’s fertility as a condition to be managed, and pregnancy as a disease to be prevented, and instead to celebrate them as being at the core of a woman’s identity.

In Hard Choices, there’s a photo of Mrs. Clinton at her daughter’s wedding. She’s radiant in her flowery gown as she and her husband, the former president of the United States, beam with pride and joy. What a credential! She didn’t need to be first lady, senator, or secretary of state to be a leader. Embracing who we are as women and men, made uniquely and in a wondrously complementary way, seemingly made to come together, is not a political position so much as an opportunity for a cultural reset. This family thing is quite renewing, literally regenerative. Even with flaws and imperfections, it can wind up bearing tremendous fruits.

Settling for sadomasochistic primers for teens and “liberated women” isn’t a healthy culture. Women leading the way from experience to embracing life and supporting it and helping it flourish in families with a motherly love — now that’s something that would be a bit like Hillary’s fictional speech: uniting, welcome, much bigger than a baby step in a good direction.

It might just save our political and cultural lives. Never mind our souls.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association

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