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Let the Babies Do the Talking

A year ago, the smart money said that Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination and that John McCain was the least likely Republican nominee. The experts were just conjuring their latest scenario for the rest of the electoral season when along came Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska to cloud their crystal balls yet again. In less than a week’s time, the little lady from Wasilla has more or less single-handedly put the Democrats on the defensive, energized John McCain and the Republican Party, and redefined what’s at stake in the campaign.

Until her arrival, the Democrats assumed they had a monopoly on “change,” which was their way of reminding the public of everything they disliked about the Bush years. Thanks to Palin, change has now acquired a whole new meaning. As post-convention polling makes abundantly clear, it will no longer do for the Democrats to say that voting Republican means giving a third term to the Bush administration. In what ought to be a slam-dunk year for the Democrats, the presidential race is essentially a dead heat – a fact that tells you almost everything you need to know about it. In nominating Barack Obama, the Democrats have chosen a compelling personality and orator; they have also chosen a man with an astonishingly thin record of accomplishment whose views are decidedly left of center.

The mainstream media, which can hardly contain their enthusiasm for Obama, have embroidered his professional credentials and downplayed his ideological allegiances. But it took only a couple of deft verbal thrusts by Palin – delivered with characteristic zest and a sunny disposition – to pierce the protective veil that had been a year or more in the making. The phrase “community organizer” will never be the same again, nor will Obama’s claim that the change he offers is what America wants or needs. The Senator from Illinois won the nomination by organizing the disgruntled Left into the dominating force of Democratic primaries. With his eye now fixed on the general electorate, he has been back-pedaling like mad from his previously asserted opinions – witness recent television interviews, in which he straddles almost every issue that had made him the heart-throb of liberals for the past eighteen months.

Significantly, Senator Obama and his party aren’t giving an inch on abortion. Last week, they began a heavy radio blitz in numerous battleground states, arguing in pointed terms that the Republicans intend to eliminate a woman’s “right to choose.” Republicans, and pro-lifers in particular, should not underestimate the potential power of this line of attack among voters, including many women, who have spent a lifetime averting their gaze from the palpable humanity of the unborn child. The perverse genius of the right-to-choose slogan is precisely that it obfuscates the merits of the question by changing the subject: it diverts attention from the child who is killed to the pregnant woman’s state of mind. In the Age of Oprah, the force of that emotional appeal is considerable.

Whenever the issue is politically framed in this manner, the pro-life position faces daunting rhetorical obstacles. The Democrats’ ads can and should be answered, but an election campaign is no time for recondite discussions of moral law or embryology, no matter how compelling their logic and facts may be. The ads should be countered, rather, by beating the Democrats at their own game, which means placing primary emphasis on protecting babies. A bright light should be focused on Obama’s defense of partial birth abortion, and his even more egregious role in Illinois in preventing passage of legislation to save the lives of children who survive abortion. Public sentiment on both issues runs strongly in favor of the pro-life position, and Republicans should play to that strength.

The heavy lifting here can be done by Republican advertisements that are at once hard-hitting and emotionally appealing. Beyond that, Sarah Palin’s mere presence on the ticket adds a grace note that will subtly yet powerfully reinforce the advertising message. You will observe that she did not speak directly to abortion in her electrifying acceptance speech. She didn’t have to because her concern for the unborn is demonstrably conveyed by her own (and her pregnant daughter’s) courageous example. Here, pictures are worth a hundred elegant theological and biological arguments: to see her with her family, including her Down’s infant son (whom she describes as “just perfect”), is to understand the pro-life argument in a way that the most dazzling debater could not hope to match.

Let the opposition talk about the right to choose. The Republicans should respond with pictures, lots and lots of pictures, featuring up-close-and-personal footage of Governor Palin with her children, along with brief sound bites from her on why children need special protection in the womb no less than after birth.

Michael Uhlmann served in the Reagan White House and taught American politics at the Claremont Graduate University.