I Respect Andrew Bacevich a Great Deal

He’s a man who has paid with his dearest blood for his love of country.  He also makes quite a bit of sense.

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  • Tom R

    I’m curious, Mark, if you agree with Mr Bacevich on “forget about outlawing abortion”?

  • Elaine S.

    I’m as pro-life as they come but I think from a political point of view, in the short to medium term (next 20 years or so), “forget about outlawing abortion” is right. However, that doesn’t necessarily translate to “forget about instituting ANY kind of limits on abortion at all”. Pro-lifers have had some success, at the state levels, with measures such as partial birth abortion bans, parental consent/notification laws, informed consent for women, etc., and that is probably where political efforts should be concentrated. It’s a case, as he said, of picking one’s battles wisely.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Good article, though I don’t agree with every point of his. I’m not sure Wendell Berry would like being called a conservative for one. Certainly not as the word is used these days. But since the point of the article is that “conservative” ought to mean and do something very different than the right wingers are doing these days, I don’t quibble too much.

  • Andy

    I agree with Elaine above – the fight to outlaw abortion on the political front is probably a lost cause for the next 20 or so years. To reach the point where that is possible requires that the pro-life movement educate folks about life – what it means and the like. To be conservative means to conserve – not to ignore problems or to seek ways to find a justification – it means to value all life – from conception to death – to see that all life needs support from conception to death – to recognize that the state should not be taking a life – that war, the death penalty, drones, torture, are life issues. I agree with Mr. Bacevich that there are probably many areas that conservatives and liberals could find a common ground. However, in today’s version of conservative agreeing in any way with what is perceived as liberal is an anathema – a shame because there are many liberals (my wife and I among them) who find Mr. Obama at best less than a good president, and who are looking for a party that represents their views – pro-life from conception to death, aware of the need to protect the environment, the need to make sure that a single salary can allow a family to live, not merely survive, to reign in our military idiocy and in so doing reign in the industrial complex that supports it. However, given what the conservative ideals of today are I don’t see any hope of that in my lifetime.

  • “Forget about outlawing abortion or prohibiting gay marriage.”

    I can’t respect or take seriously anyone who writes this. If you abandon certain principles, what right do you have for calling yourself a conservative? A country that has legalized abortion is a dystopia, and a country without legalized abortion is far from a utopian dream.

    One might have gone to Martin Luther King, Jr. after his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and said, “Sorry, Reverend, you’ve got a just cause and all, but it’s, you know, too darn utopian for America. Sorry, we’ve got more important things to do, like developing a winning coalition.”

    • Stu

      I like him. I don’t think the effort to outlaw abortion is futile. In fact, I think momentum is on our side and eventually the opinion on redefining marriage will also come back to sanity as people witness the destruction it has done.

      But overall, his strategy bears strong consideration.

      • I don’t know the guy. But if I had any affection for the guy, it would drop precipitously. That’s just the way I react to such words about abortion.

        It seems Mark Shea is trading in one form of the thing-that-used-to-be-conservatism for another thing-that-used-to-be-conservatism. Indeed, Mark Shea should just drop all his white hot screeds on the current ills of conservatism (e.g. torture, unjust warmongering) and maybe, I might give Bacevich some consideration. Somehow, I doubt Mark would have posted the piece, if it suggested he shut up on torture.

        • Mark Shea

          Do I have to endorse every syllable he says in order to think there is a lot of merit in what he says? I don’t think he says “Shut up on abortion.” I think he’s saying there’s very little chance that abortion law will change in the US, which is probably true. When the GOP had the best chance it’s ever had to do something, it did nothing but appoint a justice who says Roe is “settled law” and another guy who has yet to reveal what he intends to do. The endlessly dangled carrot of promises to “change the complexion of the court” has given us O’Connor, Souter, Kennedy….

          • Mark, just “forget” about torture and warmongering. It’s not as if anything you’re going to do is going to change anything.

            Yes, “shutting up” is not the same as “forgetting.” You’re correct about that. Forgetting about something is far worse than being told to shut up about something. In being told to forget about something, you’re being told to put something out of your mind. Don’t even think about it.

            God bless Mother Teresa. Or even St. Thomas More. The hopelessness of the cause is not a consideration AT ALL. Do you really mean to tell me that a Catholic should consider the success of a project first before he allows it to prick his conscience? Jesus said that the poor will always be with us. Well, thanks, I guess I can forget about it. Hey Thomas, all the nobles and religious are backing King Henry. Forget about it.

            No, no, I never think that you endorse every word. I’m just wondering why it doesn’t piss you off like the other stupid things that conservatives say.

            • Stu

              I took the author’s words also to mean that he thinks those “ships have sailed” and that battle is lost. Tactically, I disagree with him. In fact, we both seemingly do. Pretend those lines were out of the article. If that were the case, do you think he has some points and lays out a course of action that could build some consensus?

          • I can just imagine how the Lord of the Rings might have turned out after listening to counsels of despair and hopelessness.

            Sam: It’s hopeless, Mr. Frodo.
            Frodo: You’re right, Sam. Let’s forget about it.
            [Frodo and Sam turn around and head home to the Shire.]
            The End

            • Mark Shea

              Assuming, of course, that thinking the likelihood of political solutions to abortion are coterminous with hope and despair. The early Church approached the question of abortion via other means than the political and eventually defeated it. I myself don’t think it’s time to abandon the political. But I also think that the main avenues to defeating are not and have not been the political in our culture.

              • ivan_the_mad

                I’ve always assumed that efforts like the Gabriel Project have saved more babies from the butcher than lobbying the legislature.

              • Mark,

                It seems to me that you’re the one who is locked into thinking about political solutions. I haven’t been arguing on the political level at all. It’s the principle of the thing that concerns me.

                It is an injustice that abortions are legal (just as it is an injustice that torture is apparently legal in the US). As long as abortion is legal in this country, it remains an injustice. Forgetting about making abortion illegal CANNOT be done. That’s not a mere political statement. It’s about an injustice that MUST be corrected. There is no way I can avoid that. I don’t see how anybody who thirsts for justice and demands justice can avoid that.

                All options, political and non-political remain on the table. I’m glad we agree. Here’s what I wrote in 2003:

                “Because my sincere belief is this: there is no sense in applying constitutional patches on a corrupt culture.”

                Does that sound like I’m latched onto mere political solutions? Please take my word that my opposition to what Andrew Bacevich is not based on political tactics, but is one from principle. I cannot forget about making abortion illegal because legal abortion always represents a continuing injustice.


  • Kirt Higdon

    I’ve learned a lot from my reading of the books Bacevich has written. I would say that short and medium term, it is pointless to put a lot of time and energy into a political fight to outlaw abortion and gay “marriage”. These are simply the most recent poisonous fruits of more than two centuries of liberalism since the time of the “enlightenment”. Until liberalism collapses politically (and today’s conservatism is simply another branch of liberalism), it will continue to produce more such poisonous fruit. The battle for legal recognition of transexualism is already engaged and “transhumanism” (replacing the human race with a race of cyborgs) is on the horizon. Christians can only work in the shadows and around the edges – mostly in non-political areas and in lower jurisdictions where they might hold a political advantage. But conservatism practiced by Christians is self-defeating. In the larger culture, there is little worth conserving; in the larger political/legal arena, practically nothing.

  • Claude

    I admire Bacevich as well and could get on board with several elements of his program. I have one of his books around here somewhere in which he even expresses admiration for right-wing punching bag Jimmy Carter on the grounds that Carter rightly warned the country of the perils of avarice.

    But this:

    So forget about dismantling the welfare state. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and, yes, Obamacare are here to stay. Forget about outlawing abortion or prohibiting gay marriage. Conservatives may judge the fruits produced by the sexual revolution poisonous, but the revolution itself is irreversible.

    Bacevich is talking about a radical reconstitution of the conservative agenda. I will eat my hat when the right abandons the culture wars and its crusade again the public sector!

  • “Forget about outlawing abortion or prohibiting gay marriage.”
    Matt 5:6 “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.”
    Yeah, it’s like I could forget about the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, or over one hundred times the massacre at Newtown, Connecticut happening every single fucking day.

    • Kenneth

      Our country and our culture do not give a rat’s ass about the slaughter of anyone, let alone “Holy Innocents” Righteous outrage about abortion rings hollow and that is why 40 years of top-down political efforts have failed, and why they will fail for at least the next 20 years. The pro-life movement simply refuses to believe that they have to win the culture first, or they think they already have and that they just need to politically outmaneuver some small clever cabal of evil feminists.

      To the extent your movement has even taken on the bottom-up cultural pitch, it has failed because it does not have the credibility of consistency. We have, through word, action and inaction, declared a near-total national consensus that human life is a commodity, and one priced at about the level of un-screened fill dirt. Your life is worth your net worth, and if you’re poor, (or increasingly middle class), brown skinned, or inconvenient in any way whatsoever to our national interest or the economy, you die. Game over. Play again some time. We have a cultural consensus that murder is THE go-to solution for foreign policy.

      We have a culture that non only still clings to the death penalty, but positively celebrates it. We have a gun culture which doesn’t simply advocate the right of self-defense, but fantasizes over scenarios in which we finally get to kill someone legally, or else to join in armed separatism, aka civil war. The city at the center of my little universe, Chicago, loses 500 some a year to gun violence, which is more than the fatalities we saw in Afghanistan last year.

      We have a national consensus which says this is simply unavoidable, and no politically inconvenient talk about it will even be tolerated. As a result, we have two or three generations of people who have internalized that warped sense of normalcy, and see youth homicide as a natural cause of death, and link their entire sense of self-respect to the gun they pack themselves. We have a culture which is still squeamish about a flash of breast on TV, but thinks its perfectly OK for kids to see (and simulate) thousands of graphic murders by the time they reach middle school.

      This is our culture, and the “pro-life” movement and associated conservative political movements own a proportionate share in its creation and maintenance, whether they care to admit that or not. So we’ve created this market system which says all human life is negotiable, and bids down the price at every opportunity. Yet the pro-life movement thinks it can declare, by fiat, that the price of one kind of life will be pegged at platinum levels in this hideous market of ours.

      That is the same delusion of command economies that led socialism to fail, and it will continue to fail the pro-life movement as it has failed for four decades. As with all failed movements, its true partisans will respond to failure by redoubling their efforts to apply the failing strategy and by denouncing all skeptics of that approach as impure and tools of evil.

      • ivan_the_mad

        Rather insightful, Kenneth.

      • “The pro-life movement simply refuses to believe that they have to win the culture first, or they think they already have and that they just need to politically outmaneuver some small clever cabal of evil feminists.”

        This is silly. The protests, such as the March for Life or 40 days for Life, move beyond the political realm. They also seek conversion. Before Kingdoms change, men must change.

        • Kenneth

          Such protests are still 90%+ oriented toward achieving top-down political action. They are events designed for the benefit of media and secondly to sort of mobilize one’s own movement, sort of a morale booster. Does that lead to a few conversions? No doubt. But mostly it’s preaching to the converted. Moreover, it really does nothing about the core disconnect I mentioned. Being anti-abortion is not the same as being pro-life. The movement has not shown any real understanding or acceptance of the need for buy-in.

          The strategy has centered on maneuvering the right legislators and judges into place to mandate a total ban on abortion in all circumstances, and meantime bullying doctors and patients out of choosing what you haven’t yet outlawed. The model is to lead people by hook or by crook and force of law. “You WILL be doing things our way, you just don’t know it yet.”

          Coercion and political guile don’t win hearts and minds, and they’re also terribly difficult and ultimately ineffective ways to get humans to do what you want in groups. If you want to see exactly how that plays out, study the trajectory of communism, or drug/alcohol prohibition.

          If you want to see what real bottom-up cultural engagement looks like, and how well it works, look at the trajectory of what many of you also consider your arch-nemesis, the gay rights movement. They’ve done plenty of protests too, but they spent the last 40 years, the last 20 in particular, engaging people with their message at every level of our culture. Making the human-human connection and doing the maddeningly slow and un-sexy uphill slog of changing people’s hearts and minds. That movement, in its modern format, has been around almost exactly as long as the pro-life movement. Stonewall happened only four years before Roe. The majority consensus on gays has changed 180 degrees in a generation, and laws are falling into place all around that. They’re fighting their endgame.

          What has the pro-life movement gotten in that time? Angry and frustrated, mostly. Played by politicians who used you for electoral benefit and are fleeing you like a sinking ship now that they have less to gain. Waging a fighting retreat, or at most a stalemate, not an endgame.

          • Claude

            A trenchant analysis of the issue. Well said.

          • It certainly depends where a person stands doesn’t it?

            Over twenty-five years ago, I spoke out against someone proposing violence against a homosexual solely because that person was homosexual. I was a lapsed Catholic then, and since returning to the Church, any antagonism towards sinners as a whole (and I include myself and everyone else in this life as a part of that group of sinners) has decreased. But since I hold to Natural Law and the Church’s teaching on marriage, I’m told that I hate gays. I readily acknowledge a change in society, where holding the same views, I once was a gay sympathizer but now I am accused of holding a hatred of gays. Kudos to the brave new world.

            But on the street, protesting at Planned Parenthood, I get to witness such events as this. One day, a very angry woman approached our little group. She began talking to a woman who has been a decades long member of a local crisis pregnancy center (that, by the way, has been the most rewarding volunteer work I’ve ever done). The angry woman explained that she was pro-choice and that she had an abortion. And the details came out. Her husband had forced her to get an abortion. Thinking back on all those years of helping women in distress, the woman of our little group reached out responded, “I wish I had been there to help you.” At that point cathartic tears flowed, and the once angry woman was no longer angry.

            There should be more events like that. I wish I were more like that. As I wrote above, before the Kingdom can change, men must change. That’s a call to conversion. A conversion that includes myself, but more broadly, the surrounding culture.

            But in addition to the work of conversion, the end goal will persist. Eventually, the injustice of legal abortion will have to be removed. The only way to bring about that change is to appeal to the government that will make the change, or by replacing the government with one that will make the change.

            But thanks for your comments; I don’t know that we disagree except that I refuse to forget the injustice of legal abortion.

      • Andy

        Thank you Kenneth – a much better and more lucid way of saying what I tried to say and couldn’t.

  • tz

    “Forget about outlawing slavery” is equivalent. Or Aztec sacrifices. OLGuadaloupe crushed the stone serpent’s head in the latter. Nullification but eventually war the former.

    Somehow I don’t understand those who would shred the rule of law on Al Queda.

    … burst into the sanctuary. Pointed a gun at the person responsible for tens of thousands of murders of innocents. He was legally untouchable. He shot and killed him. So how did you feel when you first heard the news that Tiller was assassinated?

    I am an ultrapacifist. Otherwise I would have to follow the logic that there are fewer abortionists than Al Queda #2s (there seem to be more of them than #2s on the old “The Prisoner” with Patrick McGoohan, and there was a new one every week). A dozen large K of C councils could end abortion in 2 weeks if they desired to sacrifice themselves. This is not advocacy, as I said I’m an ultrapacifist. I have a rosary and I know how to use it. Since I’ve been told that using anything more direct would be too nasty. But if I can’t do anything more about the holocaust down the street, what can I possibly justify about ephemeral or illusory threats 10,000 miles distant?

    But it lends perspective as to what circumstances and to whom they will advocate violence.

    As far as “gay marriage”, no-fault divorce and contraception redefines, perverts, and destroys marriage more profoundly and seriously than the stupid and silly pantomime of two people who pretend. Yet the silence on those is deafening from the quarters who would condemn the farce. A knowing desecration is worse than a theatrical pretense.

  • Elaine S.

    “Forget about outlawing slavery, but keep it confined to the existing slave states” was Lincoln’s position when he ran for president in 1860. Before he was elected president, Lincoln went out of his way to emphasize that he was NOT an abolitionist in the sense of wanting to free all slaves immediately. His signature cause was keeping slavery from expanding into newly settled western territories. Committed abolitionists considered him far too soft on slavery. Even after the Civil War began he was hesitant to turn the war into a crusade against slavery for fear of alienating border slave states that stayed in the Union; and the Emancipation Proclamation specifically excluded slaves in border states and Union-occupied areas. Yet, imperfect and “compromising” as his position was on slavery, he is the president who gets credit for having ultimately freed the slaves. Likewise, I think it is entirely possible that the president on whose watch Roe is overturned, or legalized abortion finally ends, will NOT be a 100% pure committed pro-lifer.