The Catholic Thing
A “Truce” on Abortion and Marriage? Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 01 March 2011

Mr. Robert Heiler acquired part of his seasoning in politics by putting in a stint as a speechwriter for John McCain during the late presidential campaign – an assignment surely as enduring in its satisfaction as serving as a gag writer for Harry Reid. Heiler has sought to offer some instruction to those of who have taken Gov. Mitch Daniels at his word – and drawn dark implications from that word – when Daniels suggested that we ought to call a “truce” on the “social issues” of abortion and marriage as we move toward 2012. (See “The Strategy Behind Mitch Daniels’ Truce,” Real Clear Politics, February 19)  

Heiler has come to tell us that “truce” does not mean “surrender.” Daniels’s concern is that the pro-lifers don’t turn away that vast middle cohort of “independents.” Those people tend to be indifferent to the matter of abortion and marriage, and may even recoil from those who seem to them overheated on these issues.

But Mr. Heiler delivers the wrong lecture on the meaning of the wrong words. On matters lexical, we need no instruction that “truce” does not mean “surrender.” But those of us who speak ordinary English took the urging of a “truce” to mean that we should not make those issues of abortion and marriage central issues in our politics. Or make them too prominent by insisting on talking about them, too often, too loudly, as though they were just too important to put aside. An old adage, stemming from Machiavelli, has it that when a wise man preserves his silence on a matter that everyone else thinks important, he gives us to understand that it is not really that important after all.

Of course, Gov. Daniels has other matters pressing immediately upon him, including a matter of high, strategic importance: scaling back the out-of-scale power of public service unions. But Gov. Daniels is perfectly capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. Like the rest of us, he must encounter the experience of dealing with many problems hitting at once – problems with the job and children and illnesses in the family. Somehow the means are found to say something on all these questions, even if we have to put our main energies into the matter immediately pressing.

       There can be no truce in pursuit of the right to life.

It is the inescapable function of the statesman to alert us to the things that are in principle important, even when most people do not especially care about them. Lincoln drew out for the public the implications of making slavery national in scope, and when he did, he broke the news through to large portions of the public that preferred, overall, not to think much about it.

Do people these days think that real human beings are killed in abortions? If so, about 1.2 million innocent lives have been taken every year without the need even to render a justification. In the scale of things, would the dismembering or poisoning of 1.2 million humans be as important as the level of unemployment? This country may still look the same twenty-five years from now even if we keep putting patches on Social Security. But it will not be the same country if marriage, already weakened, is cast anew on terms that alter its very meaning.

Of course, the strategic focus of politics at the moment is on the dramatic expansion of the power of the state, marked by the political takeover of medical care. But that does not require silence on everything else. Mr. Heiler and Gov. Daniels fail to notice that it is critical simply to put something on the table, even if it is quite modest. For even a modest bill can raise the critical points in principle.

As I’ve argued in these columns, the Republicans have the issue in hand with the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act (2002). We now know that the killing of babies who survive abortion occurs far more often than we had even imagined when the bill was passed. And yet that bill mainly planted premises in the law for the protection of the child; it contained no penalties. A Republican candidate for president can propose that we simply focus on this bill, which drew the support of Democrats and even of people who call themselves “pro-choice.”

And we pose the question of just what the penalty should be for killing a child born alive? Would it be more serious than a moving violation in traffic? But just to raise the question and draw attention to this part of the problem draws the attention of the public to every question of consequence contained in the matter of abortion.

When Gov. Daniels called for a “truce,” that was a clear sign to the media and the Democrats that he didn’t want to talk about those vexing issues of abortion and marriage. And of course, as William McGurn has pointed out, nothing will guarantee more that the media will be asking him about those matters in a persisting, needling way. One way or another, Gov. Daniels will be compelled to talk about these matters, even if he waves the flag of a truce. The question is whether he will talk about them on the terms framed by the media, or whether he will talk about them on the terms that he and the pro-lifers frame, with the focus pointed at the moral heart of the matter.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law

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Comments (5)Add Comment
written by Bill McCormick, March 01, 2011
An excellent article. This talk of a "truce" is a call for peace without justice. But we needn't disassociate our concern for "the dramatic expansion of the power of the state" from these social questions. They are in fact quite connected. Not only has there been a considerable extension of governmental authority and power, but this authority that elected officials (of both parties) and bureaucrats have arrogated to themselves has turned out to be profoundly morally ambivalent, essentially technological. Thus a situation in which one of history's most powerful states can speak neither to the proper end of its power nor the virtues that ought to guide us toward that end.
written by Ray Hunkins, March 01, 2011
Well said Professor. Over many years of political activity I have applied the following credibility test to nascent candidates who claim the conservative mantle: "Trust but verify." Gov.Daniels has taken several demerits in the test, not the least of which is for his judgment in making the comments which are the subject of your column. His conservative credentials cannot be verified at this time.
written by Jacob R, March 01, 2011
I think the Republican party better go back to the drawing board on this one.
If anyone is wondering why we get all these negative stereotypes foisted on us start looking at the guy who tells you how stupid you are for thinking abortion means more than how much money you make--this is often the same person who still holds on to deep racism, insisting that blacks getting screwed over has been 100% their own faults.

That's why John Mccain did so well right? Indifference to gay marriage and abortion?

I for one would be a democrat the rest of my life if they become pro-life...then I wouldn't have to put up with cocksure republicans who sound every bit as much a part of the culture of death as our enemies on the left.

Can we start a new party without population control leftists OR it's ok to visit prostitutes and live like a leftist except economically republicans?

We focus too much on numbers..having your ranks swollen with soldiers who look at you as religious nuts with unworthy goals wont give you the strength of your numbers anyway, no matter how many billions you have.

One unified party which fully acknowledges Christ as its Lord would be more effective than all the pedantic arrogant "conservative" billionaires in the world.
written by Magister Christianus, March 01, 2011
I could not agree more. I am a native and current resident of Indiana, and my response at the time of Gov. Daniels' ill-conceived comment was that the President of the United States must deal with more than fiscal issues. I have no idea where Gov. Daniels stands regarding foreign policy nor really what he thinkgs regarding the so-called social issues that he prefers to avoid. Fiscal responsibility is indeed important, but to whom are we being responsible if we are killing off the next generation?
written by Achilles, March 01, 2011
Dear Jacob, your words belie deeply conflicted ideology and a mind connected to the zeitgeist rather than converging with reality. Christ said “you will know them by their fruits.” Though I am no republican and no real fan, your rant misses so many marks it discredits you. Black values rooted in liberation theology produces the same great ills for blacks as it does for Mexicans as it does for ideological Islamicists. You appear to have little understanding of “deep racism” as you call it. Bandying about words like “arrogant” and “pedantic” are hardly helpful to your case. You are a party of one, you might want to really ask yourself why.

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