Love, death, and John McCain

Tom Ridge is pro-choice. That’s OK, says McCain. But Mike Bloomberg is pro-gay-rights. That, says, McCain, would be too much. So love is worse than murder?

I’ve always had some sympathy with people who think that abortion &#8212 at least late-term abortion &#8212 is murder, or at least enough like murder to be worth prohibiting despite the enormous costs that would impose on women and the unwanted children who would come to term as a result. (Whether a candidate for President should say that, thus labeling a very large fraction of his female compatriots murderers, is a different question.)

After all, we all agree that infanticide is murder: is there an obvious sharp morally relevant line between the third trimester and the fourth? Or between the third and the second? Or the second and the first? Or between a fertilized ovum that has implanted and one that hasn’t?

Not that this argument convinces me; I’m pro-choice without any significant qualms. But I can respect it.

Of course, if you don’t think abortion is murder, or something very like murder &#8212 unless you believe that it is the unjust killing of a human being &#8212 then restricting it is just an especially nasty way to mess up the lives of some women and put a question mark over the career choices of all women of reproductive age, in the interests of deterring men and women alike from enjoying themselves sexually. And when I consider how much of the leadership of what calls itself the “right-to-life movement” is also anti-contraception, I think that for them “abortion is murder” is mostly a cover story for something deeper and uglier: fear of women and hatred of pleasure.

So I found a pair of statements by John McCain (who isn’t really a straight talker, but does have a somewhat unbuttoned lip that sometimes gives you some insight into what he and his fellow wingnuts are really thinking) especially revealing.

McCain is clearly on the right-to-life side of the reproductive-freedom debate, but he’s open-minded enough (or politically cynical enough) to be willing to run with a pro-choice politician such as Tom Ridge.

I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party. And also I feel that – and I’m not trying to equivocate here – that Americans want us to work together. You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don’t think that that would necessarily would rule Tom Ridge out. I think it’s a fundamental tenet of our party to be pro-life but that does not mean we exclude people from our party that are pro-choice. And I think Tom Ridge is a great example of that. Far more so than Bloomberg, because Bloomberg is pro-gay rights, you know, a number of other issues.

Start with Ridge being OK with McCain and (he hopes) the base. Fine. If I can understand that someone might think that abortion is murder and therefore not think that he’s a bad person because he’s anti-abortion, than McCain ought to be able to understand that someone might think that abortion isn’t murder and therefore not think that he’s a bad person because he’s pro-choice. Most of the loudest right-to-lifers don’t seem to be able to understand that, but if McCain has that capability, and can make the fanatics go along with it, more power to him (short, of course, of the power of the Presidency).

But McCain went on to say that Mike Bloomberg, who’s not only pro-choice but also pro-gay-rights, would be a bridge too far. In political terms, no doubt he’s right. Still, think about it: he is, and he thinks his base would be, OK with someone who isn’t against what McCain agrees with them is a form of murder. But someone who isn’t against discriminating against gays is beyond the pale.

What can you say about a party for whom love is worse than murder?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: