Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I participated in the March for Life today on the National Mall here in Washington, with my wife and two small children. It's always inspiring to see all the lovely people: the men and women religious in their habits; the priests leading groups of fervent parishoners; the crowds of young people first discovering politics through this most important of issues, the sanctity of life. It's encouraging to see how peaceful and beautiful, and at times devout, the groups are. It gives a sense that there is still hope for our culture, and it makes me darned proud to be Catholic.

It's also a lot of fun, because the March for Life is like the national Catholic family reunion. There are people we only see this one time each year, and good friends who make a special point of getting together on this day.

With some of these old friends, and surrounded by all the beauty of the pro-life movement, I got a couple chances to explain my advocacy for Rudy Giuliani, the one "pro-choice" candidate in the Republican race, and the strongest hope for those who would like to see both parties run abortion advocates for president.

I think my case is strong. Guiliani's policies on abortion, as on other important social issues, like the defense of marriage, is the same as the other major candidates: he pledges to nominate judges who are bound to the Constitution, instead of pushing their own non-Constitutional agendas, thus eroding the judicial logic of Roe v. Wade; he thinks partial-birth abortion should be illegal; he has pledged to maintain, even with the veto pen, the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortions. He's glad embryonic stem cells are no longer an issue, so that he doesn't have to take a stand on federal funding. There's not a lot else a president can do, apart from advocacy at the UN and pressing things through the Justice Department--and none of the other candidates has anything to say about these things, either.

The difference with Giuliani is that he calls himself "pro-choice." To my knowledge, the only time he's defined that during this campaign, he said he opposes putting women in jail for abortion; fine, so does every serious pro-life voice. (Fred Thompson brought up the same strawman of putting women in jail, got some grief from pro-lifers, and nonetheless got the endorsement of National Right to Life.) Still, it rightly gives us pause to hear him label himself pro-choice. What does it mean? What does it signal about his commitment to good judges? What would he do with the Department of Justice and the UN? And what kind of message is he trying to send? Is he trying to marginalize the pro-life movement?

Those who know Giuliani's history know that in his first political contest, he ran to be the first pro-life mayor of New York. He lost, then ran again calling himself pro-choice, and went on to do nothing for the pro-abortion movement--and, indeed, oversaw, somehow or other, a fall in abortion rates unmatched in American history.

So why does he call himself pro-choice? I suspect he's tired of flip-flopping, and label politics. At the so-called Values Voters Forum last Fall, he tried to pitch himself as someone you can trust, because he doesn't just remarket himself for every campaign. (Unlike, say, some of the other candidates?) That pitch failed. The pro-life movement doesn't trust him. Maybe they shouldn't--maybe I'm all wrong.

That's the trick with politics: along with policies, you have to judge the candidates' characters, and it's easy to be wrong. And the candidates have the same problem: they have to try to communicate their characters--and hide their flaws--and sometimes they screw up. I think Giuliani probably blew it on this one, just like he seems to have blown it by not campaigning in New Hampshire and Michigan. That's a strategic error. But maybe he really is pro-abortion, and the pledges he's made are all lies, or subterfuge. Who knows?

I told a friend at the March that I support Giuliani, also, because I think his governing philosophy is most likely to produce a conservative culture. I believe in limited government. I believe that low taxes isn't just a give-away (and certainly isn't any more of a give-away than liberal economic policies), but an investment in the people, a way of asking them to make wise decisions for themselves, and so create the kind of rich culture and vibrant economy that only myriad decision-makers can create. I believe that government interference on things that aren't absolute right-and-wrong issues demoralizes the people, and creates the kind of moral thoughtlessness that so prevails in America today. I believe that the only way to produce good people is to let parents make their own decisions about their children's education. I believe that a just society depends on the rule of law, and the rule of law depends on a judiciary that judges, not according to personal preference--not even good personal preferences--but according to the actual written laws: first the fundamental law of the Constitution, and then the laws of elected Legislatures. And I believe that if government takes over health care, the only way to keep down costs will be rationing, which will not only reduce the quality of our care, but also put life-and-death decisions in the hands of a government that cannot be trusted: no matter whether the nicest Baptist preacher you ever met is President, nationalized health care will end in forced abortion and euthanasia. Because the more power you give government, the more likely it is that corrupt politicians will take it over, with promises to serve the majority at the expense of the weak.

For these reasons and others, I think being pro-life and socially conservative is necessarily linked to a broader, traditionally "conservative" agenda. And I have made the prudential judgment that Rudy Giuliani is the most likely to fight for this agenda. So as a social conservative and a committed pro-lifer, I support Rudy Giuliani for president.

Still, it makes me sad that the argument has to be so complicated, involving so much guesswork about what these guys really think and will really fight for. Seeing all those committed pro-lifers at the March today, I wish they could just say, "Giuliani calls himself pro-choice, so we will do everything in our power to stop him from taking over the Republican party." And I wish that Giuliani would just switch his label, and pursue the same policies while calling himself pro-lifeWhy can't it be easier? Why can't we be united behind simple labels?

But then, that's the nature of democracy. (And indeed, of the whole moral life). It just isn't simple. You have to think through all the issues, and the governing philosophies that inform them. You have to weigh the characters of the candidates--and weigh the statements of the Press, to see if what they say about the candidates is true. (Based on my research, for example, I think the standard narrative about Giuliani's personal life is outright libel, based on nothing but the rumors of the liberal New York media.) I wish it were simple--I wish life were simple!--but it isn't. And so good people will disagree about prudential decisions, especially the prudential decision of what candidate will best serve our culture, and best protect the most basic rights of the most vulnerable among us.

What can we do, except do our best, argue it out, and pray that the Good Lord will watch over this blessed country we love so much?