By Charles Redfern, first published on www.creedible.com, June 3, 2010
A riddle and a question have hounded me recently. The riddle: “What is the difference between pro-life advocates and cannibals?” The answer is easy: “Cannibals eat their enemies.”
The question: Did I miss a memo? Maybe God’s e-mail landed in my spam: “I was so totally bored the other night I took my scissors and snip-snipped verses from the Bible. Gone is Exodus 20:16 (“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”) and Matthew 5:37 (“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one”) and Psalm 5:6 (“You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors”). Proverbs 19:5 is on the cutting room floor (“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free”). So is John 8:44 (the devil is described as “a liar and the father of lies”).”
The question is highly relevant in my home, Connecticut, where you’d think voters would bay like beagles. Richard Blumenthal, the state’s attorney general and Democratic Senate candidate, dropped comments suggesting he served the Marines in Vietnam. He didn’t. He remained at home in the Reserves during the war. Blumenthal said he never intentionally lied, which may or may not be true, but he was at least careless in honoring a strict Marine code: Respect your colleagues who risked the tiger traps, trip wires, and enemy fire as they sopped through the rice paddies. Don’t even think about “misspeaking.” Make sure everyone understands – and still be proud. You were, after all, a Marine.
But few bay. There’s an eerie silence. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that Blumenthal still leads his Republican opponent, former World Wrestling CEO Linda McMahon, by 25 points. Maybe McMahon leaves them profoundly unimpressed – or maybe we’re so steeped in the swill of a lying culture we expect deception. Remember Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin, Richard Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinksy, Newt Gingrich and his memos coaching candidates on using misleading, alienating language. In my view, John Yu’s “torture” memos add up to intellectual dishonesty. The big lies swirl in a world of acceptable falsehood. Managers order their secretaries to keep the gate (“say I’m not in and take a message”) and salesmen promise us they’ll talk to their managers – all before we come home to deceitful telemarketer calls and the background murmur of a thousand dishonest television commercials. The gurgling swill spills over the top, drips off the stove and creeps closer to the kitchen door …
But the most sinister concoction came this Spring in the cannibal-like pro-life movement. The riddle and the question merged when some of its representatives employed disingenuous tactics in the debate over health care.
Not Your Pro-life Caricature
I’m in broad agreement with The Consistent Life Ethic, a term coined in 1983 by the late Roman Catholic Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Bernardin’s heirs oppose abortion, capital punishment, assisted suicide, economic and environmental injustice, euthanasia, and unjust war (some are strict pacifists; I am not). Many pro-life Democrats are Catholics and swim in this stream, and more than a trickle of evangelical Protestants like me are joining the fold. It is logically and biblically consistent.
So, although I’ve long supported national health care, I was concerned lest lawmakers sneak in federal funding for abortions. I hereby confess: I was proud of the pro-life Democrats. They actively engaged, cajoled, and negotiated. They were politicians in the good sense, with an unchanged abortion policy the result.
Non-partisan sources agree. According to Factcheck.org, “The law says individuals who get federal subsidy dollars must use their private money to pay for coverage except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Claims that the new law will lead to a large increase in the number of abortions lack support.” In fact, “NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League) even refused to endorse the bill because of what it called ‘egregious’ restrictions on abortion coverage.” An NPR report quoted Judy Lichtman, an adviser to the National Partnership for Women in Families: “There are extraordinary things in health care for women … But all, I have to admit, come at the expense of women’s abortion rights, and that’s very sad.” Indeed, some within the pro-life fold feared US Rep. Bart Stupak was too stubborn when he refused to support the bill with the Senate language on abortion. He negotiated the promise of an executive order from President Obama, which was subsequently fulfilled, and then voted for it. Pro-life Democrats breathed a sigh of relief.
A Time For Murk & Fog
You’d think there’d be celebration and insight. Yes! We made sure no federal dollars funded abortions. The Hyde Amendment remains, which shows that Congress needs pro-life Democrats. If it weren’t for them …
But that swill. It’s gurgling. It’s bubbling. It’s glopping over the top and onto the stove. It’s spilling onto the floor and creeping toward the door.
The ink in Obama’s signature had barely dried before the e-mails piled the inboxes. One pro-life organization claimed something along these lines: Congress had just passed the most abortion-friendly legislation since Roe v. Wade. Other conservative pro-lifers claim that the overhaul allows community health centers to perform abortions at tax payer expense. Editorial writers for the Minneapolis Star Tribune rendered their verdict: “This is blatant, misleading fear-mongering. This isn’t about protecting the unborn, who will benefit along with their mothers from the reform’s greater access to medical care. Instead, the intent is to whip up opposition to health care reform in time for the fall elections and to send politicians to Washington, D.C., who will work to repeal the law. How in the world is this ‘prolife?’”
Perhaps US Representative Randy Neugebauer unwittingly signaled the ugliness when he shouted “It’s a baby-killer” while Stupak spoke on the House floor. Ironically, Stupak had frustrated many pro-life Democrats before that comment. Now he was a hero, a status magnified when it was learned he was receiving threatening phone calls. But Stupak is stepping down, and pro-life groups are targeting other Democrats for overthrow who have advocated their cause. The cannibals are hunting their prey – and they’ll use any weapon, including misinformation.
The swill swirls: The health care legislation supposedly reeks s of socialism and, according to Senator John Kyl, is a “stunning assault on liberty.” Keep it hush-hush, Senator, but the “individual mandate” – requiring the purchase of insurance – is anchored in Republican health care proposals in the 1970’s (the “mandate” would have required employers to fund insurance). Matthew Dalleck explains more: “Endorsed by Stuart Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation and conservative economists such as Milton Friedman and Wharton’s Mark Pauly, individual mandates as an idea were at least partially generated by pro-free enterprise intellectuals.” In other words, conservatives once saw Obama-like healthcare as a way to avoid Socialism.
No matter. Truth is a dispensable trifle. I can almost see the jaws dropping among Factcheck.org researchers when they declared, “We’ve seldom seen a piece of legislation so widely misrepresented, and misunderstood, as the new health care law. We stopped counting the number of articles and items we turned out on the subject after the total reached 100.” Among the … uh, … erroneous facts: The legislation supposedly required microchip implants (no); cut benefits to military families (no); “will require 16,500 armed IRS agents to enforce” (no); gives Obama a private army (only if a reserve of doctors for emergencies is seen as an army).
Blind To Ourselves
The real tragedy in the swill is self deception. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Neugebauer sincerely believed his own “baby killer” accusation – and I’m positive that the prolife author of the e-mail I received honestly thought the new law was the most pro-abortion legislation since Roe v. Wade. They don’t think of themselves as cannibals; they’re bravely holding up the standard. A huge part of me feels compassion for them.
But I also feel those pro-life advocates harm the cause. Many say they’re Christian, but they’ve so imbued themselves with deception they cannot see it. Perhaps they really believe God sent the memo. Stupak himself has pondered the real agenda: “I question, did they want to protect the sanctity of life, or did they want to defeat health care.”
It’s no secret that some have legitimate qualms about the legislation. Fine. Argue those qualms. Onlookers are not fooled, however, at debates in bad faith. They see the hypocrisy. They also see how the culture of deception has blinded the pro-life movement to its own victory. Pretending those biblical passages don’t matter has converted some pro-lifers into cannibals. Most insidious of all, those very individuals think they’re morally upright in their hunt for heads.
For further reading:
“A Cynical ploy to derail health reform,” Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/94623424.html.
Biography of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin: http://archives.archchicago.org/jcbbio.htm
Consistent Life web site: http://www.consistent-life.org/
Dalleck, Matthew, “The GOP’s Dirty Health-Care Secret,” The Daily Beast, March 24, 2010, http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-03-24/the-gops-dirty-health-care-secret/
Henig, Jess, “More Malarkey About Health Care,” Factcheck.org, April 19, 2010, http://www.factcheck.org/2010/04/more-malarkey-about-health-care/
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Washington D.C., UCCB Publishing, 2004).
Robertson, Lori, “The Abortion Issue,” Factcheck.org, April 1, 2010. http://www.factcheck.org/2010/04/the-abortion-issue
Rovner, Judy, “Health Care Rolls Back Abortion Rights, Groups Say,” NPR, April 15, 2010. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126000118
Sider, Ronald J., Completely Pro-Life, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1987).
Stuart, Christine, “Blumenthal Maintains Lead, Popularity,” CTNews Junkie, May 27, 2010, http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/q-poll_blumenthal_over_mcmahon/
Ward, Jon, “Stupak says Catholic and pro-life groups hypocrites for condemning health-care vote,” The Daily Caller, March 23, 2010, http://dailycaller.com/2010/03/23/stupak-says-catholic-bishops-pro-life-groups-tried-to-use-abortion-to-defeat-health-bill/#ixzz0poW3c9km