Michael Gerson is a lifelong Republican who was George W. Bush’s speechwriter for several years. He also holds strong anti-abortion (he would say, pro-life) views and he is a longtime WaPo columnist, largely conservative (in the old-fashioned sense) and occasionally moderate, enough that I read his work sometimes. I’m glad today was one of those days:
For most of my life, had you asked me whether I could vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate, my immediate reply would have been “no.” Protecting unborn children — undeniably alive, distinctly human, possessed of their own genetic identity — is the commitment of a compassionate, welcoming society.
Yet my “no” has always been qualified. It does not mean I could support a pro-life fascist or a pro-life segregationist. Opposing abortion does not make up for the betrayal of fundamental democratic values. And the pro-life Republicans I have supported — say, George H.W. Bush or Mitt Romney — were broadly qualified to do the president’s job. Being pro-life does not grant general permission for dangerous ineptitude.
In shorter language, being anti-abortion doesn’t mean you have to choose the idiot just because he says he’s on your side.
While Gerson admits Joe Biden is pro-choice, he points out that when Biden was VP under Obama, who was also pro-choice, abortions in the US dropped steadily during those 8 years. He cites to studies by the Guttmacher Institute:
Gerson thinks that even a SCOTUS stacked by a second-term Trump wouldn’t overturn Roe. I’m not at all convinced of that. Gerson also says:
And even a significant retreat from Roe would leave matters to the states. Most Americans would continue to live under the abortion laws they currently have.
This is true in terms of states with the greatest populations, which also tend to be more liberal (Texas somewhat excepted). But lots of rural, conservative states are already lining up laws to turn women into baby machines.
But Gerson then makes this point:
The actual level of abortions in the United States will be determined mainly by deeply rooted social attitudes and trends. The effect of presidential leadership is more marginal and indirect than advocates on either side recognize. Ultimately, persuasion will matter more than federal regulations. And here, the case for Trump begins to break down. Is it really in the long-term interest of the pro-life movement to associate itself with a form of right-wing populism that dehumanizes migrants, alienates minorities and slanders refugees? Or to tie itself to a political leader who oozes misogyny?
Now, much of Trump’s base consists of people who dehumanize migrants, who ooze misogyny (great phrase, that!), who like Trump because he embodies their hatred of women, of Blacks, Jews, gays, non-Christians (sometimes non-<my kind of Christian>). Trump gives their hates legitimacy and protection. No one is going to get to them, but I don’t think Gerson is trying that. He wants to reach the pro-lifers (yeah, his term) who find Trump disgusting, disturbing, dangerous, despicable (and a few more d-words), but who feel they have to vote for him anyway because, you know, abortion. These are the people whom these words are aimed at:
For some, treating the 2020 election as a referendum on abortion is a way to live with Trump’s moral ugliness. If there is only one issue on the ballot, then only one policy position counts, not Trump’s character as a man and a leader. This has the virtue of simplicity and the drawback of complicity in grave wrongs. . . .
And it should matter — greatly — to pro-life people that Trump has presided over a substantially preventable public health disaster, causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, largely among the ill and elderly.
It dishonors the pro-life cause to make it an inexhaustible permission slip for prejudice, deception and malice. And so I find myself in an uncomfortable but inevitable position: I am pro-life, and I intend to vote for Joe Biden.
Gerson’s column is dangerous enough to the Trump cadre that the National Review already attacked it — Michael Gerson on Pro-Lifers and the Presidential Election — a few hours after it came out. So he may be doing something right.
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