“It is out of characterfor the left to neglect the weak and helpless. The traditional mark of the left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient. The basic instinct of the left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves. And that instinct is absolutely sound. It’s what keeps the human proposition going.” ~ Mary Meehan
I wrote a while ago that I am a professed culture war pacifist. As the years have gone by and I’ve grown older and (a little bit) wiser, I’ve also become a pacifist in the more traditional sense. Where once I saw virtue in strength – in the good fight, as it were – I see now only pain and confusion. War rarely achieves what it sets out to achieve, and victory is at best a mixed bag. Terror is often in the same futile camp, but as Matt Yglesias notes:
Every time you murder a doctor, you create a disincentive for other medical professionals to provide these services. What’s more, you create a need for additional security at facilities around the country. In addition, the anti-abortion protestors who frequently gather near clinics are made to seem much more intimidating by the fact that the occurrence of these sorts of acts of violence.
In general, I think people tend to overestimate the efficacy of violence as a political tactic. But in this particular case, I think people tend to understate it.
Tiller’s death is the culmination of years of culture war propaganda, fear tactics, and Christianity gone bad. Religion is not in and of itself good or evil, but in the hands of villains and fanatics it can be a dangerous thing – much as any ideology can be, though there is indeed something more frightening about the religiously charged fanatic. The pro-life movement has gained nothing from such fairweather spokespeople as Bill O’Reilly who is in it not for the preborn but for himself, not for any particular cause but rather ratings.
In any case, this is not only a blow against life – and specifically the life of George Tiller, who has been brutally ripped from this world and from the lives of his loved ones – but against the pro-life cause. And not just the specific political cause, either, but against life itself. Against all causes for life – be they anti-war or anti-abortion or anti-death penalty.
Now I’m not really sure where to place myself on the generic political playing field. In many respects I would call myself a progressive; on others I might be aptly titled a conservative. I’m a localist, a decentralist, but I also favor social safety nets. I’m against a pervasive government, but not against a welfare state. I’m against military expansion and incursions upon our civil liberties by the state (and big business) but I am in favor of state services, progressive taxes, etc. On gay rights – and rights in general – I fall amidst the left or the libertarians. But as Nat Hentoff – an atheist and a leftist – has often noted, progressive politics are ostensibly about protecting the rights of the weakest among us and yet his fellow progressives fail to see how the preborn (or unborn) are, in essence, the by far the weakest of the weak, the most helpless of the helpless. The right to choose, in contemporary progressive thought, trumps the right to be born (and the preborn have no such capacity for choice).
In the 1960’s and 70’s federal doctors sterilized young American Indian women without their knowledge or consent. This was preemptive genocide on the part of the U.S. Government (which had played at different forms of genocide against the aboriginal peoples of this continent for sometime). I bring this up to point out that the culture of death, in the hands of the state, can be used as a tool of efficiency. Forced euthanasia is not such a far-fetched fantasy. Abortion is already most common amongst the poorest citizens, and especially amongst blacks, single mothers, and so forth. It is indeed far cheaper to abort than it is to pay for welfare, law enforcement, etc.
And yet the pro-life movement has made, time and again, a mess of their cause. They have created a divisive cultural battlefield. Potential progressives who oppose abortion – or moderates, for that matter – who might otherwise join the pro-life cause are repelled and repulsed by this divisiveness – this guilt by association. (They are often also ostracized from their progressive circles, I might add, which are often none too keen on dissent over this issue.) Even though this murder represents the exception rather than the rule, it and the sort of hateful rhetoric that accompanies it (Operation Rescue propaganda, for instance) have been and will continue to be symbolic of the movement at large. This, as well as support for preemptive war, the death penalty, etc. denies the essential continuity I discussed in my last post – and goes against Cardinal Bernardin’s “consistent ethic of life.” [pdf]
The killing of George Tiller will be politicized. And it is indeed a blow to the pro-life cause, as well as a blow to the rule of law, as intimidation and lawlessness are used to frighten and drive away law-abiding, if misguided, doctors. This sort of terror, as Ygelesias noted above, works at the micro-level. More broadly, however, it plays into the hands of the pro-choice cause, and the adamently and unflinchingly pro-choice President we now have; and it creates a climate in which this issue is even more difficult to discuss, to find common ground upon, to yes, even compromise.
But beyond this, the death of this man should be seen as a unique tragedy, separate from the abortion debate even though that was what brought it about. Every life is sacred, and one has just been ruthlessly torn from this world and from those whom he loved and who loved him.