Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ann Althouse on Giuliani's and Romney's Abortion Views

In Saturday's New York Times, Ann Althouse contributed a guest column, Rudy & Mitt Hem & Haw on Abortion, addressing the candidates' shifting statements on abortion.  From the column:

If you’re already opposed to Giuliani or Romney, I’m sure the ridicule practically writes itself. Something so convoluted has got to be manipulation. Right? Compare them with straight-talking John McCain, who said: “I do not support Roe v. Wade. It should be overturned.” That’s harder to mock.

But it is the candidate who sets out to deceive us who has the most reason to keep it simple. By contrast, complexity may signal that the candidate is actually trying to tell us something about how he thinks. He may have a sophisticated grasp of the role of the executive in relation to the courts and the legislatures. We might do well to tolerate some complexity.

Although I don't doubt that many candidates hold complex views on abortion, Althouse doesn't explain why those who express a straightforward position about how they would act on the issue are necessarily deceptive.  Moreover, "may" is the critical word in Althouse's next sentence.  There is a difference between expressing a genuinely held, nuanced view on abortion, or even experiencing an evolution in one's belief about abortion, and changing one's abortion positions based on political expediency.  (As Floyd Abrams puts it in his response to the column, "There is nothing complex about waffling.")  The public has good reason to suspect that Romney and Giuliani lie in the latter camp.  It's true that "politicians are political," as Althouse writes on her blog in a follow-up to her column, but not all politicians have made such politically driven shifts on the abortion issue.  Pro-choice and anti-choice voters alike have reason for skepticism and uncertainty about how either candidate would act on abortion-related issues if elected.  Althouse's column continues:

What should a candidate say about abortion? To represent what the country as a whole thinks, the president ought to take account of the deep beliefs Americans have about both reproductive freedom and the value of unborn life. To deserve the trust embodied in appointment power, the president should have a sound understanding of the judges as independent decision makers who follow an interpretive methodology that operates differently from political choice.

I'm not sure exactly what Althouse is getting at here.  I think presidential candidates ought to say what they will do on abortion-related issues if elected, and there's obviously no one-size-fits-all script for that.  Some will support pro-choice positions, some anti-choice, and some will fall somewhere in the middle.  It will then be up to the voters to decide among these positions (if the issue matters enough to them).  Ideally, candidates will also give a rationale for their position that inspires trust that they will do as they say.  A candidate who supports anti-choice positions may do so because he or she is religiously opposed to abortion.  A pro-choice candidate may believe the choice should be left to women because he or she recognizes the "deep beliefs Americans have about both reproductive freedom and the value of unborn life," as Althouse puts it.  Of course I would like to see all candidates act in a way that honors women's reproductive freedom.  But that's an unrealistic wish.  It does seem reasonable to criticize candidates for being coy and/or politically driven in saying what they would do.

Among those writing letters responding to the column were Nancy Northup, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Floyd Abrams.  Althouse responds to the responders on her blog.

2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion | Permalink

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What do you expect from politicians. Lying is their job. That's what I said on the Abortion Forums.

Posted by: Scott Hughes | Feb 28, 2007 12:05:19 PM

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