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This week Cardinal John O’Connor issued a strong and intelligent appeal that Catholics should put the pro-life issue first on their agenda. It would be nice if some of our Republican leaders would show similar understanding and courage.
Addressing the moral crisis of this nation’s life, engaging issue by issue its serious implications for our liberty, must be our top priority. This is why I cannot support the squishes who are lining up to manipulate us into thinking they have some serious and important purpose in seeking the Republican presidential nomination, which they can’t quite be troubled to put into words. George W. Bush has now made clear he will take the usual cop-out approach on abortion.
Bush had a major platform from which to speak last week, as he held high-profile events trotting out the legions of Republican king-makers that are going to make him the next … well, the next Bob Dole. He was, of course, asked about abortion — and the cop-out began. First he framed his pro-life position carefully as a matter of personal opinion. “Well, I personally believe there is life, and therefore I take the position I take.” And then, when the question arose about what can be done, he suggested that while it would be nice if we could ban abortion, America is not ready for that, and so we have to wait until America’s heart changes.
“We ought to say we understand that the issue has been very polarizing; it has been debated for 30 years; there are strong positions on both sides. But in the meantime, until America’s hearts change, put policies in place that reduce abortions.”
“Until America’s heart changes.”
When you hear that refrain from a politician who is bidding for a leadership position, it’s time to do some serious thinking — particularly from a politician aiming at the highest office in the land, because the presidential platform is hugely important — not just when you are in office, but also during the presidential campaign season.
Everyone seems to neglect this, especially the oligarchs that George W. Bush represents. They neglect the role of truth in politics, because they think that the presidency is all about manipulation and power and they see the presidential election as presenting only the challenge of getting hold of power. They don’t see it as what it actually is: the periodic gathering of the whole American people to consider the future of the country and the issues that face us.
Our national gathering every four years for the presidential race is a unique focusing of the serious attention of the entire American people. During the presidential debates, for instance, a candidate addresses one of the largest gatherings of American citizens ever assembled — and they are assembled precisely for the purpose of rendering political judgment about the course of the nation, and the principles and people who should lead it. Political gatherings of 100 million Americans don’t happen that often. Perhaps we should make better use of them.
That is why the actual words of the supposed standard bearer at such moments are so extremely important. This was illustrated perfectly by Jack Kemp’s ineffective performance last time. At the critical moment when he answered the pro-life question, he stated that he was pro-life, but that political action against abortion had to await a changing of the national heart. Kemp in ’96, and George W. Bush now, have done the same thing. They grudgingly offered just enough token pro-life rhetoric to enable them to garner pro-life support. A subtle calculation, no doubt. They use the issue; they do not serve the issue. We should, by now, be heartily sick of politicians who act as if these critical issues exist simply so that they can play with them to get into power.
We should be repulsed by politicians who thus carefully plot their answers to advance their own purposes. They clearly don’t care at all about realizing the opportunity presented by such moments to constructively address the moral crisis before us. Speaking boldly and truthfully in such circumstances could make all the difference in the nation’s life. Whenever I see phonies standing instead before huge audiences with the excuse that we can’t do anything real about the moral crisis until “America’s heart changes,” the first thought I have is that such moments would be a good time to change some hearts!
Don’t tell us that America’s heart needs to change — do something to change it! Look Americans in the eye and engage in the process of changing hearts, because that is what real leadership must be about — as any coach, pastor, or general, and any real political leader or statesman, knows perfectly well.
Men who do not even attempt leadership in such moments of opportunity simply have no authentic ambition to lead. There can be no clearer evidence that all they are thinking about is their own group, and how to benefit it by getting power and holding on to it. Issues that should be served are used instead. That is why squishy answers like those of Bush and Kemp to the abortion question are totally unacceptable, and no serious moral conservative should even consider supporting those who manipulate the issue in this way.
Also totally unacceptable is the notion that what is involved in the moral issue of abortion is just the opposition of several “different” personal views, and that since we don’t happen to share an opinion on it right now, we should just move along to other issues. As Gov. Bush said the other day, it isn’t really that important to him how his supporters feel about the life issue. He pointedly said of the latest group of Republican big-wigs attempting to anoint him, that he has no idea how they stand on abortion. And his record in Texas is entirely consistent with this — occasionally talking a good pro-life game, and regularly backing pro-abortion people to key jobs in government.
This pathetic package of manipulation and hypocrisy is not good enough. It wouldn’t even be good enough in normal times, and it certainly isn’t nearly sufficient at a time in the nation’s life when addressing the issues of heart and conscience ought to be at the top of the agenda. George W. Bush is just another political pro, out there doing his thing.
This is a year when people should look over the scene in America, clearly see the serious effects of our continued moral decline, and resolve that as a people we shall seek out the leadership necessary to come to terms with that decline now, before it is too late.
It is sad that at the very moment that many people are convinced in their hearts that this is true, the whole oligarchic Republican establishment is gathering its energy for a leap right off the cliff of moral indifference. They are trying, once again, to put “leaders” before the American people who can’t or won’t lead.
Can we survive another presidency of corruption, led by a professional politician without the understanding, the conviction, or the commitment to stand before us and persuasively encourage Americans to recover their moral self-confidence?
We need leaders who can do in our present moral crisis what Reagan did in the arena of international crisis. It is not a coincidence, by the way, that the same folks who are now unwilling to confront the moral crisis in a forthright way, also opposed Reagan’s desire and willingness to confront internationalist tyranny in the same spirit. One of the cohorts that stood very much on the other side of Ronald Reagan back in 1980 was, let us recall, the George Bush “Money is God” establishment Republicans. Candidates who truly respect our role and responsibility as citizens simply think through the nation’s situation as best they can, and then truthfully propose what they believe to be the real challenges and solutions that must be given priority in the course of the years ahead.
But the elite do not respect our responsibilities, so they try to manipulate and control us. They spend big bucks to see whether the professional manipulators and controllers, and the pollsters and handlers, can devise a way for their candidate to appear as one thing to one group and something else to another group. Absent from all that calculation, of course, is any willingness on their part really to address the issues.
If some of these candidates, like G.W. Bush and Steve Forbes, could get elected without ever saying a word about any issue at all, that’s what they would do — because then they would have real “freedom of action” once they got power. They would be unconstrained by the expectations that deeds would follow words.
I was thinking about all of this while reading a transcript of an interview with Dan Quayle on Fox News Sunday. He was asked about so-called “Log Cabin” Republicans, the group of homosexual Republicans: “Are you going to be comfortable with them? Are you going to work with them?” Here is Quayle’s reply: “I am comfortable [with] whoever wants to join my crusade. I have a very definite vision for America. I got into politics because I thought I could make a difference. I am a principled, convicted politician. Ideology drives me. Ideas are important. Ideas have consequences. Big ideas have big consequences.”
You realize, of course, that all this is to say precisely nothing. He said a lot of words, and when you try to think them through, he said nothing. He had been asked a question about the “Log Cabin” Republicans, and he did not answer it.
Yet the question of how one is going to deal with the radical homosexual agenda is a fundamental question. If you are serious about the moral priorities, then you have to be serious about an agenda that seeks to undermine the naturally and legally privileged position of heterosexual marriage. You have to be deeply concerned about a position that divorces human sexuality from the context of family, procreation, and responsibility.
But a lot of drivel about the size of ideas — whatever that means — does not answer this important question.
When presented with a question that has at its heart the challenge to our moral judgment presented by the liberal agenda of moral indifference, a leader must address that challenge — habitually viewing such questions as his opportunity to have real discourse with his fellow citizens. It is not that hard to understand that when someone asks you about the “Log Cabin” Republicans, they are asking you about the homosexual issue and agenda, and that it would thus be appropriate to take a minute in your response to explain what is at the heart of that agenda, and why you cannot accept it.
A moral conservative leader shouldn’t want to run away from that opportunity to teach by hiding behind a flurry of empty words. I have lost my patience with this meaningless talk — it is the junk food of political discourse, and it is not good enough for our time. These politicians give us a lot of words strung together that get them through the question but leave the soul empty. Their words reflect no reasoning, give no indication of actual time spent meditating on the country’s situation, and offer no conclusions they are eager to share with the American people as truths we need to hear. That kind of seriousness is what is required, but not offered by any of them. Dan Quayle is just less adept than Bush at hiding the fact that he is trying to manipulate us.
People often ask me why I am so dissatisfied with the field of Republican potential candidates for president — well, this is why. I am dissatisfied with shallow and superficial pretence. I think that as a free people, with the kind of strengths, history, and record that we have, we deserve better than this, and in the past we have gotten it. Why can’t we get it now? Partly we don’t get it now because we don’t insist on it. We are willing to hear what we wish they would say, instead of listening carefully to what they actually say. We don’t expect substance in the words of our leaders, and so we settle for a lot of verbiage from speechwriters that means nothing.
Our acceptance of such vacuity promotes the disappearance from our political discourse of the very idea that we would try to reason about political issues — and that we have a responsibility to do so with discipline and integrity. We are increasingly uncomfortable with even the implication of moral objectivity that a forthright argument gives, and so we allow our leaders to satisfy us without even the appearance of serious deliberation. This is one of the consequences of moral relativism, because moral relativism means that everyone has an opinion, and there is no way, finally, to find the truth among them. So it doesn’t matter if we are sloppy or careless in our thinking, because even if we were careful and precise, our opinion wouldn’t be more valuable than anybody else’s. Down this path of mental and moral sloth lies darkness and confusion that will end in the most wicked of possibilities.
We are on the brink of this situation in America, because moral relativism has taken over so many hearts and minds — even among people who call themselves conservatives.
If any of these well-handled and focus-grouped Republicans really wants to help lead us back from this danger, he might start by summoning the courage to try to make some sense on the critical issues that face us. If we the people want to lead ourselves back from it, we must stop giving respectful attention to meaningless drivel, and demand instead the rational discourse befitting a free people.