A baby by any other name, &c.

Attendees at the March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., in 2013 (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)
On abortion, patriotism, North Korea, and more

Years ago — early 1980s? — I was watching television. There was a debate between a pro-lifer and a pro-choicer. The pro-lifer was talking about “a mother and her baby.” The pro-choicer said, “First of all, let’s get the language right: It’s not ‘mother’ and ‘baby,’ but ‘woman’ and ‘fetus.’”

Is there a more incendiary word in the abortion debate than “baby”?

Once — early 2000s? — I gave a speech on abortion. I’ve fished it out, and would like to quote a paragraph:

He who controls the language, controls the debate — at least that’s what people say, and I think there is truth in it. I also think that the language of our abortion debates is incredibly corrupt. A lot of people can’t bring themselves to say the word “abortion”: They say “the right to choose,” letting their listeners fill in the blank. In discussing partial-birth abortion, the Associated Press referred to a “fetus outside a woman’s body.” Normally, that’s known as a baby. One abortion doctor, testifying to Congress, spoke of rendering a woman “unpregnant.” Etc., etc.

We quickly get into Orwell Land.

In 2009, a jihadist murdered a lot of people at Fort Hood in Texas. There were 13 dead. Or were there 14? One of the dead was a woman who was pregnant: Francheska Velez. Her dying words were “My baby, my baby.”

Should she have said, “My fetus, my fetus”? I’m quite serious. I sound rhetorical, but I am dead serious.

Last week, there was a ghastly story out of Chicago — a story as old as time, really — which I will not quote in detail. I will simply give the AP’s headline: “Pregnant Chicago woman slain, baby cut from her womb.”

Note that word “baby.” But what if this baby had been aborted? Would the word “baby” have been inapt?

On it goes, until people look reality in the face. It happened to me, years ago. I think people should think what they want about abortion (and everything else) — but not bury their heads in the sand.

• Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I was impressed by Beto O’Rourke’s statement on the flag, the NFL, and “kneeling.” This was back in his Senate campaign. I thought the statement was thoughtful — and something different out of a politician’s mouth. I said, “There’s a politician who’s not afraid to think — and to say out loud what he thinks. I may not agree with him. But kudos to him.”

On some later day, he talked about abortion — and was utterly bargain-basement. He sounded like everyone else — like every other brain-dead politician, or person: A woman has the right to do whatever she wants with her own body. That kind of thing. Like out of a machine — a robot distributed by the Democratic party.

This brings me to Pete Buttigieg. He, too, has said thoughtful things, in my opinion — things you normally don’t hear from politicians, about identity politics and so forth. But when it comes to abortion? He plays dumb. Listen to him: “A woman has enough to deal with when it comes to her health care without also having to worry about male politicians telling her what she ought to do with her body.”

Oh, come on. The reason I’m so disgusted with O’Rourke and Buttigieg is that I assume they know better: They are well-educated and intelligent people. They are not yahoos. They are only pretending to be, to get along in their party.

If the debate were over a woman’s right to do whatever she wants with her own body, there would be no debate. The debate is over the question “What’s in a woman’s womb when she is pregnant? Something like a hamburger or an appendix? Or something more like a baby? Is there a second life, a second body, involved, over which a woman has a kind of stewardship? Does this second life or body have rights?”

Again, I assume Beto and Pete know these things. But they play dumb for their audiences, which gets my goat.

• The Venezuelan dictatorship and the democratic opposition are conducting talks in Oslo. (This is where Israelis and Palestinians — and other warring parties — have conducted their talks, too.) You know the first name of a leading member of the democratic side? Stalin. His name is Stalin González.

And you know what the Ecuadoran president’s name is? Lenín. Lenín Moreno.

Ay, caramba.

• In a tweet, President Trump spoke of “our Great Patriot Farmers” (who are getting socked by his tariffs). This language has a Soviet whiff to me, along with “Enemy of the People” and so on. What’s next, the announcement of a Five-Year Plan? A Great Leap Forward?

Last fall, right before the mid-term elections, Trump sent troops to our southwestern border, in “Operation Faithful Patriot.” I thought that was a name to make any patriot gag.

I thought his “slow dance,” as someone termed it, with the flag at C-PAC was gag-making.

Years ago, I always said that the worst thing about the PATRIOT Act — which I fully supported — was its name. An Orwellian whiff.

Frankly, I never much liked the “Homeland” in “Department of Homeland Security.” I thought it sounded … not quite us, not quite American. You know who agreed with me? (We happened to discuss it right after the announcement was made.) General Vernon “Dick” Walters, which pleased me. (He knew a lot of languages. And he was a great American patriot. Faithful, too.)

(Fidel Castro once said to Walters, “We have at least one thing in common.” “What’s that, Mr. President?” “We were both pupils of the Jesuits.” “But there’s a major difference, Mr. President.” “Oh, what’s that?” “I have remained fidel” — which, in Spanish, the language they were using, means “faithful.” He was good, Walters.)

• Mitt Romney is big — bigger than I am, I’m sure. Did you see this story? “Romney rejects Trump judicial pick who smeared Obama.”

Obama, you recall, ran an ad against Romney said that, verbatim, “Mitt Romney. Not one of us.”

He is big, Romney. I think I would still be stewing over the 2012 campaign. Hell, I am.

• In 1970, President Nixon used the word “incursion” — not “invasion.” He was referring to a South Vietnamese operation in Cambodia, designed to wipe out Viet Cong supply bases there. A lot of people hooted at this word “incursion.” They thought it was a dainty, disgusting euphemism.

I thought of Nixon last week when reading an article about Venezuela — an historical article. It was headed “Decades after failed invasion, Cuba still eyes Venezuela.” And here is the sentence that seized my attention: “The incursion — condemned at the time as a Cuban ‘invasion’ — was a resounding failure.”

Well, well, well. I wonder what Nixon would say …

• Here’s another headline: “Trump, de Blasio: Both look in mirror and see a president.” (Article here.)

Well, so do I, but don’t no one give a damn …

• Shall we have some music? For a review of Evgeny Kissin, the pianist, in recital at Carnegie Hall, go here. He is a throwback of a pianist — from me, a compliment.

• One of the people I relied on, to know about North Korea, was Eric Talmadge, a correspondent for the AP. He has now died. For the AP’s article, go here.

Referring to his trips to and from North Korea, he once said, “Every time I come back home, I wake up the first morning thinking, ‘I can go anywhere I want today.’ I could go to the beach, I could go see a movie, I could get on a plane and go to Florida if I wanted. Even if, in the end, I just stay home and eat potato chips on the couch, it’s a very liberating feeling. I don’t take it for granted anymore.”

Thank you for joining me, ladies and gentlemen. If you’d like to write me, try I’ll see you soon.

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