We are all culture-of-lifers now

BushAndMiersMelinda Henneberger’s latest online column for Newsweek is noteworthy for two primary reasons: her matter-of-fact identification with other pro-lifers, which is refreshing, and her absolutely clear belief that George W. Bush has played pro-lifers for fools.

Henneberger argues that Harriet Miers is “a staunch Bush loyalist, but not an ideologue” and that her convictions about abortion are obscure. Henneberger does not address Miers’ challenge of the American Bar Association’s pro-choice policy, or the concerned sounds already coming from pro-Roe advocacy groups.

The column is a persuasive argument that Roe v. Wade is unlikely to be reversed in the near future, but how many pro-life voters would believe that their preferred long-term future depends largely on a metanoia moment for Supreme Court justices?

Here are Henneberger’s more persuasive moments as she tries to prove Bush’s priorities:

Among pro-lifers, I have long held the minority view that Bush never had the slightest intention of packing the Supreme Court with justices who would seek to overturn the 1973 decision legalizing abortion. Karl Rove would throw himself in front of a train before he let that happen.

So where did I get my inside intel on this?

There have been several not-so-subtle signals from Bush himself. When asked, during his first campaign, whether he thought the decision should be overturned, he said the country was not ready.

At a news conference in Iowa in 2000, he was asked whether he would counsel a friend or relative who had been raped to have an abortion. He answered, “It would be up to her.”

And here are her weaker paragraphs:

All the president’s talk about a “culture of life” might even have been sincere up to a point, of course; doesn’t everybody think they’re for a culture of life?

And it certainly did the trick for him. Many people I know — most of them pro-life Catholics who oppose the war and much of the rest of Bush’s domestic agenda — felt obligated to vote for the president on this one issue.

So will social conservatives now admit they’ve been had? Probably not.

As that passage demonstrates, many journalists seem incapable of referring to a culture of life without using scare quotes on first reference — so, no, not every person believes in a culture of life. To some people, including another Newsweek columnist, it is an empty suit of a phrase that hides scary legislative plans (anything that would hinder the right to unrestricted abortion or a host of issues involving euthanasia).

It’s entirely too early for anyone to predict how Miers would rule as a justice, should the Senate consent to her nomination. As a social conservative, I agree with Henneberger that my fellow travelers are unlikely to “now admit they’ve been had” — because I am not yet convinced we’ve been had.

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  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    Doug: If you’re arguing that “culture of life” should be used by the MSM in general religion coverage without scare quotes, then please provide a clear definition. You know, something that could go in the AP Style guide, for instance. Otherwise, stop complaining.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    I’ll cite Pope John Paul II, who coined the phrase: “The culture of life means respect for nature and protection of God’s work of creation. In a special way, it means respect for human life from the first moment of conception until its natural end.”

    I think the first sentence is sufficient, but I include the second sentence for a more precise definition. Together, the two sentences are more concise than AP’s very helpful definition of fundamentalism.

  • Brad

    My brother, who is quite liberal and not a believer, but can rant against abortion with the best of them, has long had a theory that conservative politicians don’t want to get rid of Roe because that would sever the link between the Republican party and many of the religious who might otherwise be inclined to vote for Democrats.

    I think yesterday might have added to his evidence.


  • http://agrumer.livejournal.com/ Avram

    Respect for nature? I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen or heard “culture of life” used to refer to environmental causes, or animal rights.

    And are you sure Henneberger means those as scare quotes? They look to me like indications of her belief that Bush used the phrase insincerely.

  • Michael

    So the culture of life doesn’t include support for the death penalty? Funny how many people who say they respect the “culture of life” seem fairly willing to execute prisoners.

  • Tom Breen

    I think “culture of life” is still destined for quotation marks for the forseeable future, if only because it’s a politically loaded phrase. While it may make perfect sense in the context of JP II’s theology, in the secular arena it’s just a way to suggest that one’s opponents are embracing a “culture of death.”

    As for being had, there are articulate social conservatives who argue that Bush has never been remotely pro-life; it would be nice to see them represented in press coverage of the issue.

  • tmatt

    Many people — including some evangelicals — have started addressing environmental issues in “culture of life” language.

    Also, Catholics often talk about seamless garment theology — linking the life issues — without needing to argue that they are all of the same level in terms of doctrine.

    And, Michael, you know I am with you on the death penalty. But the Vatican’s language there is different than abortion and the death penalty stance is not 2000 years old.

  • Michael

    I don’t really care about the Vatican’s position, Terry, although arguably JPII using the phrase “until its natural end” indicates he would have included opposition to the death penalty in the “cultue of life” since he spoke often about his opposition to the death penalty.

    If Bush — a non-Catholic — and other evangelical protestants use the term “culture of life” while also backing the death penalty, it seems to me that it is really “code” and politically-loaded and therefore should be included in quotes.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    Doug: You proposed (with debts to JP2): “The culture of life means respect for nature and protection of God’s work of creation.” Unless you also ask the MSM to adopt something like the entire Catholic moral theology to boot, this seems far too abstract to be workable for MSM journalism. Personally, I’m in favor of respecting nature and all of manifest Reality, so I think that “culture of life” is a great term. I’m sad to see that it’s been coopted by JP2 and the religious right in theologically and politically dubious ways, making it difficult for me (and many other religious progressives) to say the phrase with a straight face. As someone else on this blog post said, when all your opponents embrace by definition a “culture of death,” (and for such crimes as merely embracing, say, artificial birth control), then your term is really little more than propaganda.

  • tmatt

    JOE, et al:

    Personally, I do not mind the quote marks — if reports give some evidence of the content behind the quote and the source. What I don’t like are the reporters that use the quote marks as a way of suggesting that the whole concept is merely a matter of opinion. In this case, the quote marks mean “the so-called….”

    Meanwhile, the GOP folks are using this term to appeal to Catholic swing votes and to suggest that — true enough — there are “life” issues other than abortion. That’s right. But there is no way that the modern GOP is pro-life in any broader sense. Is it more “pro-life” than the Democratic Party? That’s a sad contest, but the answer is a weak “yes,” because of the heavy and ancient emphasis on abortion and the protection of the weak, innocent and defenseless.

  • Brad

    I personally think, on the whole, Democrats are a bit more “pro-life” when you start thinking of things like unnecessary wars, negligence of poverty, death penalty issues, hunger/homeless issues, differences on health care access, etc. but I also think it’s a sad, pathetic comparison. Generally, an admittedly over-generalized view of it, to me, is that Republicans are more pro-life for those on the edges of life, age-wise (very old and very young), Democrats are more pro-life for those in the years in between.

    I don’t know how the electorate would react if someone actually came out with opinions that cut across the parties in a consistent way.


  • Jacob

    I wonder sometimes when we talk about “culture of life”. Isn’t what we are really concerned about opposition to killing?

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/ Joe Perez

    tmatt: > I disagree. While I agree that the Democratic Party has a ways to go on the abortion rights issue, I will only grant you that the Republican Party is often more authoritarian in how it seeks to protect the weak and the innocent. That’s not enough in my book to say they are in fact more “pro-life” than the alternative.

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  • francis

    Well, Joe, you might have a point but the Democratic party at least in one case is staunchly opposed to any protection of the weak and innocent. But I guess, they see it as protecting these from the “frustrations of life”.

    That doesn’t make Republicans any better, of course.

    Nonetheless I can’t see why suddenly it should be clear that pro-lifers were had by the GOP? Because of the Miers nomination? Her views might still be obscure but the same could and can be said about Roberts. IMHO we will see clearly when a case is decided and not before.