Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Agonized wriggling about abortion.

Reviewing Ramesh Ponnuru's The Party of Death (which I found via Matt Yglesias), John Derbyshire mentions that Ponnuru
gives a mordant account of the contortions engaged in by politicians seeking to straddle the issue, or to hold together coalitions whose components are fundamentally at odds on RTL [Right to Life] topics — old-school white Roman Catholics plus feminist intellectuals, for example. Democratic office-seekers who are themselves Roman Catholic are in a particularly nasty bind here, and Ponnuru’s scathing exposure of their agonized wrigglings and tongue-forkings left me almost—almost—feeling sorry for Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo, and (later in the book) John Kerry.
Now I understand that before Derbyshire can say critical things about his NRO-bedfellow Ponnuru, he needs to show common cause with some obligatory bashing of feminists and Democrats. At times like these, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry will make particularly good targets. And one can tell that Derbyshire isn't particularly interested in said wrigglings and tongue-forkings, since he's happy to move on. Presumably the sin of Kennedy, Kerry and others is that they advocate a middle ground, personal opposition to abortion combined with support for laws to let others decide differently.

One could ignore this as so much throat-clearing, except that Derbyshire later stakes out his own contorted straddle:
Even cults have a right to be heard. I would not like to see RTL views prevail; but I would rather see them prevail than see them stifled.
So Derbyshire believes that it would be wrong for the right-to-life crowd to have their way -- for reasons he puts well -- but so committed is he to the notion of political speech that he would forego living in "a happier and freer nation" to make sure they get their say. Or so he says -- I cannot shake the suspicion that these sentences are another nod towards his compatriots on the right, rather than a belief he has examined.

But let us take him at his word. When a Democratic politician takes a nuanced position, it is wriggling and tongue-forking, but when a conservative intellectual says it, we are meant to be impressed with his intellectual independence and original conviction.

Conservatives make it hard to be treated as intellectuals when they insist on tipping their hats to their fellow travelers before disagreeing with them.

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