Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 7, 2009
POLITICS: Unspeakable

You may remember the flap over the Secret Service limitations on where protestors could set up near George W. Bush, and the wailing about "free speech zones" being an unconscionable restriction, etc. I have yet to hear anybody (1) complain about the Secret Service's policy since Obama took over or (2) explain how the policy changed, as I suspect it has not. Like so many routine government activities, it's only objectionable when it's Bush.

Anyway, this is a slightly different story - about a private sign-making company, not a government agency - but it's nonetheless revealing: a billboard company refused to allow signs to call President Obama "pro-abortion," insisting on altering the billboards to "pro abortion choice." You can go click the link to see the proposed and amended billboards.

First of all, this is ignorance. Obama has long supported taxpayer funding to subsidize abortions. It is simply not possible to support taking money from taxpayers to pay for a thing, causing more of that thing to happen, and then argue that you are not supporting the thing itself. Taxpayer funding is a far cry from live and let live (it's something Obama opposes for, say, sending black children in failed DC school districts to private schools - he must regard abortion as more desirable than a good education). Add in efforts to squeeze Catholic hospitals that have moral objections to performing abortions, and Obama's famous crack about how he would not want his daughters "punished with a baby," and it's just nonsensical to deny that Obama is, if words have any meaning whatsoever, pro-abortion. The fear of saying so about anybody is revealing, though - it's a recognition that being pro-abortion is a bad thing, which of course is not the case if you believe, as supporters of legal abortion must, that the act does not take a human life.

(A digression: when Sarah Palin talked recently about the choice to keep her youngest child, liberals argued that this was a concession - isn't it wonderful, some of them argued, to live in a country that allows such choices? Um, no. Using cocaine and driving drunk are illegal, but we still speak of not doing them as being moral choices. If a teenager from a bad neighborhood refuses to join a gang, we can celebrate the positive moral choice without saying, "isn't it great to live in a country where teenagers get to choose whether or not to join violent, drug-dealing street gangs?" No, it's a tragedy.)

Second, the reluctance to allow open discussion of the issue is symptomatic of something Justice Scalia has noted at the Supreme Court level: the systematic bending of all other rules and customs, much as happened in the days of slavery, to protect the practice of abortion, from unique rules for protests around clinics, to laxer regulation of clinics, to distortion of the language itself. The same people calling for displaying graphic photos of interrogation of detainees or who want soldiers' coffins on the front page of the newspaper without the consent of their families are the ones who are horrified by the idea that any image should be displayed of abortion, the ones who even recoil at showing pictures of live unborn children in the debate. The unwillingness to face the language itself is a symptom of the recognition that some things can't really be defended.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:32 AM | Politics 2009 | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

I agree Crank. The Dems and GOP both work for the same guys.
BTW, I'd love to see your take on General Inspector, Elizabeth Coleman's performance yesterday before the House Financial Services Committee. Congratulations Mr. Norquist, your government has truly been drowned in a bathtub.

Posted by: Berto at May 7, 2009 12:56 PM

That's an interesting observation of Scalia's. I don't know why I'd never heard it before.

Same with photos of coffins and fetuses. Consistency (and staying on topic) are not features found in today's "progressives".

Posted by: spongeworthy at May 7, 2009 1:07 PM


I agree with most of what you say, but there's one thing I can't agree with: the comments about being pro-abortion. NO ONE is pro-abortion. No one wants abortions to happen. But people who are pro-choice recognize that sometimes abortion may be necessary. I would never want a woman I am involved to have to have an abortion; but I recognize that there are circumstances where it may be necessary.

I'm not writing this to try and sway your mind, or anyone else's mind, on the abortion debate. I agree with you that supporters of abortion rights have to, as a logical matter, accept that a fetus is not a human being (otherwise abortion is murder-there's really no two ways around this and the failure of the pro-choice lobby to concede this at times has been a major point of frustration for me). But even if fetuses aren't humans, abortion is still a bad thing, in general, and nobody WANTS to do it. But some people may have to. So to say that people who are pro-choice are really pro abortion is distorting the debate. As Bill Clinton said, those of us who are pro choice believe that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. That last part is key.

And on the issue of funding, it has more to do with a frank recognition that the people who need abortions, the very reason why it SHOULD be legal, are those who can't afford them. Now, although I'm pro choice, I don't know where I stand on the funding issue. But there are legitimate reasons to fund them that don't necessary make someone "pro-abortion." If abortion IS a constitutional right (and last time I checked, it is), then the government is simply facilitating the exercise of that right. It's like a right to counsel-just because government pays for those lawyers doesn't mean that they want criminals to get off. Of course, government HAS to provide lawyers and it doesn't HAVE to provide abortions, but I think my point is clear: facilitating the exercise of a right doesn't necessarily mean government is in favor of the negative aspects of those rights.


Posted by: Rich at May 7, 2009 1:32 PM


"Anyway, this is a slightly different story - about a private sign-making company, not a government agency"

Slightly? Try "completely".

This has nothing to do with free speech. Nobody is entitled to free speech on billboards that I own.

Posted by: A.S. at May 7, 2009 3:23 PM


You say that the last time you checked abortion is a constitutional right? Just out of curiosity, what Constitution did you check? I've read the United States Constitution and it is silent on whether children may be killed for being inconvenient. You used that imaginary right to lead to government funding for that "right." Well, a non-imaginary right contained in the second amendment of the Constitution is the right to bear arms. So, am I correct in assuming you think the government should fund gun purchases for those who can not afford one.

Posted by: largebill at May 7, 2009 4:18 PM

"(1) complain about the Secret Service's policy since Obama took over "
You mistake 2 things. First, the idea of free speech zones have been around for a long time. The problem was found with taking only the dissenters, and putting them in the free speech zone. The Secret Service agreed not to do this, I believe after a lawsuit. So long as they are not creating a security risk (say, wearing anti-X shirts, not waving signs, not making a distraction) they should remain. Both those last 2 conceivably create a security risk - and if the first is violated, I'll object again.
Private property creates another problem, where many of the Bush rallies were held.

And I second the private company statement by A.S.

"No, it's a tragedy."
You mistake criminal dealings with lawful ones. A more equivalent is to compare it do drinking yourself into a stupor.

"who want soldiers' coffins on the front page of the newspaper without the consent of their families"
Very few people want this, though do believe it is permissible if the pictures exist. Those that do generally temper it with permission of the family.

"I've read the United States Constitution and it is silent on whether children may be killed for being inconvenient."
You should read up on the 9th amendment, and then wander into the 14th.
"nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"
It's part of the reason why a state can't stop you from smoking, but can make it miserable for business to either sell or allow it. And to allow equal protection, you have to treat an 22 year old, 70 year old, 1 month pregnant or 6 month pregnant woman somewhat the same(let's leave social and safety concerns out of it for now). Quick now, should the 60 year old be able to purchase an abortofacient? What about the 22 year old? What about men?
Then go into the foundations of privacy from government interference, I believe from Justice Brandeis somewhere around 1900? This is why one of the code words when looking into judges and laws is privacy. It shouldn't be, since we do have some liberty from the government no matter how hard they try. Yet it is.

And then, look into how Supreme Court rulings are built on top of one another using citations.

"You used that imaginary right"
It's not imaginary. It's a century of law research and documentation, based in part off of Griswold, the decision that did not allow states to ban condoms (among other things).
I do find the arguments against compelling at times, though I disagree with them. I don't find arguments like this compelling at all.

Without this, we create problems. Cheat on your wife? 2 years in jail. Premarital sex? 4 years in jail. Don't have premarital sex? 6 years in jail. Really, these examples are silly yet permissible. Scalia's Lawrence dissent shows he believes these laws can exist. I find this troublesome.

What has always amused me is how much the Right embraces the judges whose dissents would permit much more interference in our lives, and yet champions liberty.

"So, am I correct in assuming you think the government should fund gun purchases for those who can not afford one."
The government provides lawyers for the poor. And I could use a new shotgun.

Posted by: Dave at May 7, 2009 7:16 PM

Wow, that was a longer comment than intended. Apologies.

Posted by: Dave at May 7, 2009 7:17 PM

Rich, if you support something you are "pro-" whether or not you shake your head at it being unnecessary. I agree that "pro-abortion" may not necessarily apply to everyone who favors keeping abortion legal, but it undoubtedly applies to those who wish to fund it. We have many freedoms that are not subsidized. "No one wants abortions to happen" ignores the fact that they happen and someone causes them to happen.

A.S. - I am not arguing censorship, which is why I made that distinction. But the acts of private individuals, however lawful, are not exempt from criticism.

Dave - How do I "mistake criminal dealings with lawful ones"? My point is precisely that these things are moral choices whether they are legal or not.

"a century of law research and documentation" - Uh, no. Griswold was created of whole cloth in 1965. Brennan slipped some language into an unrelated decision 5 years later that was designed to bridge Griswold into abortion. Roe was 1973, and neither it nor Griswold had any historical legal antecedent. (If you believe Woodward's book, the vote on Roe was almost entirely free of legal analysis). The Constitution provides specific rights that protect privacy, and abortion ain't one of them.

I have no problem with saying those laws can be Constitutional, as the Constitution nowhere bans them. That's what we have democracy for, not judges.

Posted by: Crank at May 7, 2009 7:32 PM


When I said that abortion was a constitutional right the last time I checked, I meant merely that as the Constitution has been authoritatively interpreted by the Supreme Court, abortion is a protected right. Now you may disagree with this interpretation for any number of reasons, some of them entirely valid. But the simple fact is that both as a legal and descriptive matter, the Constitution protects the right to have an abortion. And I also said quite specifically that I am undecided on the funding issue. Even where the Constitution creates a right, it doesn't necessarily (with the exception of the right to counsel) impose upon government an obligation to fund that right. But government may choose, for non-Constitutional reasons, to fund that right, anyway, because it believes that it is a good thing that people have access to that right. The analogy to guns is a non-starter: the Constitution imposes no obligation to fund either abortion or guns, although both may be protected rights. If government so chooses to fund either one, we can debate on the policy merits whether government should or should not fund them. But it isn't an argument about constitutional obligation. Frankly, I don't know if government should be in the business of funding abortions. What I do know is that the simple act of doing so doesn't mean that government is in favor of it, but rather that they are in favor of the right to an abortion, as opposed to abortions themselves.


Posted by: Rich at May 7, 2009 11:46 PM


I appreciate you responding to me, as I know your busy, and because I enjoy your thoughtful commentary on issues like this one.

I think our differences are largely semantic, but in this particular instance the semantics play a large role in how the debate is framed. We must ask ourselves: what exactly does it make government "pro" or "in favor of" by funding abortions? I submit that it is not abortions per se, but rather the RIGHT to an abortion that government indicates its favor towards when funding abortion. It is of course true that we have many freedoms that are not subsidized, and with the exception of right to counsel, it is also true that the Constitution does not require the subsidization of any of those freedoms. But that doesn't mean that where government funds such activities it is in favor of them. Take, for example, a University that funds various student groups to facilitate the private speech of those groups. Now that University cannot constitutionally deny funding to particular student because of the group's viewpoint. If under this scheme a Christian group receives funding, I find it hard to say that the government is pro-Christianity. Rather, the government is pro free speech, and it has subsidized speech to that end. The analogy is not quite on point, as the University is funding free speech generally and not Christian speech specifically, but I think the point that the level of abstraction at which you define the government's action is important here. I suspect that those who support subsidizing abortions feel the same way-they probable don't view themselves, and nor do I view them, as pro-abortion. Rather, they probably view themselves as pro-abortion rights. And while there is not right to a subsidized abortion, the funding does facilitate the exercise of that right for the people who need it.

With respect to your last point, that "'No one wants abortions to happen' ignores the fact that they happen and someone causes them to happen,' I'm not sure you can make the leap from funding to causation. Certainly funding makes it easier, but it hardly causes abortions. Unwanted pregnancies combined with a lack of means cause abortions. Frankly, it's not clear to me that you can attribute causation to any particular actor when discussing something as complex as abortion. But even if you could draw a direct causal line from funding to more abortions, I still don't think it follows that those who fund are necessarily in favor. The government funds all sorts of business/industrial ventures that create all sorts of negative environmental externalities; that doesn't mean the government's in favor of it. Sure, there's a more direct link in the subsidies for abortion context, but again, the general point remains: there are all sorts of reasons to fund something, and the very fact of funding it only shows favor towards at when you define the activity funded at such a specific level. This distorts things because both the debate generally takes place at a more abstract level (i.e., protecting the right to an abortion rather than being in favor of abortions), and specifically those who support the right and subsidies for it define their actions at the more abstract level.

Lastly, two points we can probably agree on. One, I absolutely agree with Scalia's point about the way in which certain rights get defined in the abortion context. As a liberal and someone who both supports the abortion rights and the other rights that get distorted in the abortion context, I find this very frustrating. These things should be approached on their merits, and all too often liberals can't do so because of their blinders (the liberal in me is forced to point out the some is true of conservatives when discussing gun control). Second, you are absolutely right about Roe and the Constitution-the history doesn't support the conclusion that abortion is a constitutionally protected right. Although I believe it to be so, that is because of a different theory of constitutional interpretation. It is simply disingenuous to say the history supports it (this is another example of Scalia's point in a slightly different context: rather than confront the infirmities of a constitutional theory of interpretation that denies abortion is a right, liberals often distort the application of that theory to include abortion. Footnote: I claim originalism is infirm for reasons other than its failure to recognize abortion as a protected right, I independently come to the conclusion that abortion is in fact protected).


Posted by: Rich at May 8, 2009 12:14 AM

"My point is precisely that these things are moral choices whether they are legal or not."
And I was referring to it as a bad comparison because it bridges over solely moral decisions into ones that are prohibited and policed. Still moral, yes.

"Griswold was created of whole cloth in 1965."
Yeah, I can see why you say that. I was referring to Brandeis' Harvard Law article from 1890, which started to form the basis of privacy arguments. He built on this in his Olmstead (1925?) dissent, which propagated.
I'm comfortable with saying it's been built and discussed for a century but not settled law, with the extension of private rights (not law) going back to the Federalist papers. And that the article, Olmstead and Griswold are linked in concept - most people accept this, I believe, even if they find it faulty.
And I don't find what you said about Roe entirely wrong.

"The Constitution provides specific rights that protect privacy, and abortion ain't one of them."
And that's one of the problems with the interpretation.
I take what you've said to believe that the State, if it chooses, could prevent me from smoking a cigar in my own home?

Here's the thing Crank - I don't think that many people are aware how much (more) states can become involved in our lives. Willing to trade it off, sure.

And a thanks as well - we'll disagree on a number of things it seems, but at least putting in the effort both original and responding before the eventual name calling starts.

Posted by: Dave at May 8, 2009 4:16 AM
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