THE biggest problem with Applied Hyperreality in politics isn't people who operate on their concepts as though the concepts were the reality. The biggest problem is people who do so without recognizing, or acknowledging, the difference.
And the entire debate over "Abortion" in this country--even that rubric it is subsumed under, courtesy its opponents--seems an exercise in mass dismissal of hyperreality at work.
Exhibit A is this from Meganjane McArdlegalt last week (and yes, I realize that proving a point about hyperreality by using Meganjane is like winning a bass contest with a store-bought fish):
To change the outcome, a pro-life political coalition would have to gain a supermajority in Congress for twenty years--long enough for a few liberal justices to die in office.
In other words, whatever else is responsible for the Brownian motion inside that woman's head, she appears to have come within shouting distance of middle age believing that reproductive rights have the same relation to the Law as wide lapels have to men's fashions. (That was just one sentence in a 1300-word piece, all of which competed for that same place of honor. ) We leave the Reader to figure out the implied theory of US government, or how she came by it.
Is there an issue so mischaracterized, so (willfully) misperceived, in domestic political life? Our Galtette's notion that it's a question of "Congressional supermajorities" being just one example. Roe is the godmother of right-wing issue shaping. It wasn't the first (New Deal, Cold War, Civil Rights, Vietnam); it wasn't even the first to be successful (the fight against the International Communist Conspiracy, actually started, and continually refueled, by Democrats and other centrist middlers; the right-wing version, with Commies under every bed and in every local water treatment plant, had its successes, but was on the whole a tougher sell). The political advantages the GOP achieved by becoming the party of Overturning Roe Now (Whenever Democrats are in Power)! have informed a generation's worth of message management by misdirection and judicious applications of raw meat.
Opposition to Roe, with its ready-made constituency of the self-appointed morally superior, the guardians of a Truth that surpasseth understanding and frankly, gets a little pissed off at having to bother with explaining things to the rest of us, was in many ways the template for a "conservative" resurgence: the tyranny of the Elites, with their snobby rejection of everything the Real America stood for, especially Jesus; the Golden Age of America, located somewhere between the end of Reconstruction and the election of 1960, now Lost, thanks to misguided liberalism; and especially the notion that the government had been hijacked by liberal jurists "writing the law instead of interpreting it." This was wildly successful, in terms of winning elections, of altering the debate over the nature of the relationship between the citizen and his government, and largely eradicating the troubling tendency of the domestic economy to aid citizens across all economic strata. The two things it did not accomplish, for some reason ("Congress strategically blocks change," sniffs McArdlegalt, ever mindful of the danger a high-school civics-level understanding of how government works would pose to her libertoonian cred), were the alteration of Roe or the discovery of a philosophical foundation for that "Originalist"/"Textualist" structure they'd already erected.
And so again we turn to the Saletan Crusade, and again we note that he somehow seems to imagine that the debate is not between opponents of reproductive freedom and Constitutional law, but, rather, between supporters of reproductive freedom and The Controversy Over Abortion, which they must answer. (Again, the why of this is never explained; it's either because we are honor bound to cede the high moral ground to the defenders of Life, or because of a single answer on a recent Gallup poll--contradicted by an explicit support for abortion rights left unmentioned--or else because Saletan thinks so.) Note also that abortion opponents needn't argue the Law. They just have to argue with Saletan's more reasonable position.
Meanwhile, at the White House, Obama aides have convened meetings between pro-choicers and pro-lifers to seek "common ground" in the abortion debate. Already, the two sides are sniping in the press and refusing the simplest concessions.
Surprising, and a tad disappointing, since this President's post-partisanship has already resulted in as many as three national Republican figures admitting that he may not be Satan incarnate after all. Of course, none of them is a current office holder.
It's an interesting concept, innit, that the search for common ground begins with both sides granting concessions? Then again, this is Slate.
1. Abortion reduction.
Here Saletan launches into the tale of Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Ladies Against Women, enduring the ignominy of attending a meeting at the White House which was--the gall!--chaired by a member of the President's own party:
Melody [Barnes] testily interrupted to state that she had to correct me. "It is not our goal to reduce the number of abortions." The room was silent. The goal, she insisted, is to "reduce the need for abortions."
Good Lord. Suppose this notion of the party that wins elections setting the agenda takes hold! And here's Saletan:
No ordinary person sees a difference between reducing abortions and reducing the need for abortions....Yes, in theory, "reducing abortions" can be used as a rallying cry for restrictions you oppose, whereas "reducing the need for abortions" can't. I see your point, and I've argued it before. But most Americans and the politicians who represent them have been simultaneously uncomfortable with abortion and with government interference in abortion for a long time. A semantic concession won't change that.
Now, let's see if I've got that straight: unlike you, Bill Saletan, most Americans, who apparently appointed you their spokesman when 635 of their fellows answered a pollster's question last month, don't see the distinction; therefore, the side which actually wishes to uphold the distinction should abjure it, the better to reach an agreement which benefits the other side. An agreement which, might we add, it doesn't need and which would have no practical effect, other than, in this instance, to make one side of the argument out to be disingenuous because of the language some group at a seminar accepted in its name. Have I got that right? 'Cause I seem to be experiencing some trouble with my inner ear at the moment.
So lemme ask this: if you're so convinced that "right-to-lifers" don't actually believe their own rhetoric, wouldn't this be a good time to insist they drop the word games they've been playing since 1972? Are they talking about reducing abortions, or are they talking about making contraception a crime? Frankly, that's the side that could use a lesson in the value of straight talk.
2. Contraception. Dear Dr. Land and other pro-life participants: You say that life begins at conception and that millions of unborn lives are stake. Back up those statements. Decide whether you're going to be anti-abortion or anti-contraception.
Okay, so, again, it seems to me that #1 was an ideal place to clear this up. Let's talk instead about your own "majority", Mr. Saletan. Where, exactly, do you stand? You keep referring to abortion as morally repugnant, without giving us any clue as to what, other than your own squeamishness and a gratuitous reading of some poll, that's based on. When the time comes to pin that down you cower behind "government interference". Both sides do your grunt work so that you can stand in the middle and berate them for refusing to join you. Where, exactly, is the line drawn and what, exactly, is it supposed to be dividing? If you really do wish to reduce the number of abortions performed in this country, what's stopping you? Surely not the Law. Surely not a lack of consensus or a poor choice of terms. The fact is that this is precisely what's gone on for forty years on your side, not something New: charades. Lip service to Life, no long lines waiting to adopt minority children with two heads. Lots of tears for defrosted embryos, nothing but opposition to welfare, food stamps, public education, universal healthcare, or living wage legislation. Cough up, Saletan. How many unwanted children share your condo and eat out of your fridge?
Dear Ms. Page and other pro-choicers: Imagine some lunatic going to Kansas and murdering the head of a pro-life pregnancy center. Imagine reading in the newspaper that the pro-lifers you've been meeting with are now reluctant to "make nice" with you because, they say, the murderer is part of your "family." You would go ballistic, and rightly so. Please show the other side the same fairness you would expect.
Funny thing about that hypothetical: it's never happened. Meanwhile, anti-abortion violence is commonplace. If Dr. Tiller was the first physician murdered in the name of Life, or even the first "collateral" casualty, and if you could demonstrate that the Right to Life movement's extremist rhetoric and forty year history of shrugging its shoulders in response had nothing whatsoever to do with it, you might have a point. But you don't.
Lemme ask a question: have we ever seen the Lone Nut Theory so quickly deployed or so cynically applied? Is there an Official Timekeeper somewhere ("Lone Nut? Sure, go ahead. 56.4% of Americans will think it's the first time it's ever been used.") ? Telling people to shut up about systematic violence aimed at accomplishing what you can't by legal means is morally reprehensible. And the easy dismissal of Right-to-"Life"'s ugly track record in this regard is a prime example of why no one should trust you in the first place.
4. Financial purism.
ban on funding reproductive health groups that perform abortions is too much to demand. If you want to fight direct funding of abortions, fine. But the indirect funding Obama restored is hardly radical.
And again, cough up. You're the majority, after all. All you have to do now is get everyone in that majority on your side.