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Nice guys finish first

National | Rep. Charles Canady: Winning some the winsome way

Issue: "Disorder in the Court," June 8, 1996

The biggest problem with U.S. Rep. Charles Canady is this: He's a nice guy. The Democratic gadfly from Massachusetts, homosexual-rights proponent Rep. Barney Frank, complained last August, "When you have cause to disagree with someone across the aisle, the loonier the advocate the better." But Mr. Canady, Florida Republican and shepherd of bills to prohibit partial-birth abortions and restructure affirmative action, just doesn't look like a kook. He's gentle and open-faced, clear about his convictions without flying into bombast.

Apparently this was giving Mr. Frank fits. His best spin on the problem: "What we're finding with Canady is that you don't have to yell and scream and jump up and down to be extreme." No matter the pleasant demeanor, Mr. Frank implied, anyone with these views is an extremist. "Can't get used to soft-spoken extremists," Mr. Frank said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Frank has discovered that even an "extremist" can be useful. The two unlikely allies combined forces to keep debilitating amendments out of a lobby reform bill, breaking what Mr. Canady calls a "gridlock" that had stalled Congress for 40 years. A framed assemblage, including a copy of the bill, a photo of President Clinton signing it, and a presidential pen, hang on the wall opposite Mr. Canady's desk, and he proudly points it out to a visitor.

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It was the way in which Mr. Canady worked on the cause of keeping the lobby reform bill clean that co-workers say is his most distinguishing characteristic: He worked hard. Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, agrees. When shipped a thick stack of medical documents relating to partial-birth abortion, Mr.Canady read them closely enough to phone Mr. Johnson back with questions about a possible contradiction he'd spotted. Mr. Canady "really wants to get his facts straight," says Mr. Johnson. It's a degree of diligence-and reasonability-not expected of extremists.

On a recent visit to Mr. Canady's office no bomb-making apparatus or Klan banners were in sight. The congressman appeared so consistently nice-responsive, thoughtful, open-that the frustration of opponents seeking kookiness could be easily understood. We began with a question about typically "extreme" legislation introduced by Mr. Canady, a bill to ban a form of late-term abortion, in which the abortionist uses a tube to literally suck the brains out of a living partly born child. Mr. Canady's bill to ban this procedure passed Congress, then was vetoed by President Clinton on April 10. At the time of this interview, the vote to override the veto was still unscheduled.

In the meantime, Mr. Canady and his colleagues are working to correct pro-abortion "misinformation" about the grisly procedure concerning "the supposed impact of anesthesia administered to the mother on the children in partial-birth abortion."

WORLD: Were they still claiming that it kills the baby first? I thought that had been refuted.

Canady: Oh, it has been refuted, but so far as I can tell a forthright correction has never been issued by the people who made the false claim. One of the interesting things about that particular misstatement is that it raises a real question about their loudly proclaimed concern for the health of women. By disseminating that false information, they endangered the health of women, because it's quite understandable that women who heard that the administration of anesthesia to a pregnant woman could kill the unborn child would be reluctant to undergo any medical procedure requiring anesthesia while they're pregnant. And then when the falsehood was pointed out to them, they did not think to recant the lie. But that's par for the course in the abortion debate.

WORLD: By delaying action on the veto override, do you feel that time is on your side?

Canady: I think the more people focus on this, the more public opposition will grow to it, and the more support will grow for the bill.

WORLD: Does it surprise you that abortion advocates didn't cut their losses and renounce this procedure?

Canady: They support partial-birth abortion because they have an unwavering, absolute, ideological commitment to permitting abortion under any circumstances, for any reason or no reason, and using any procedure imaginable. The believe that abortion should be given that kind of sacrosanct status in the law and they are unwilling to do anything that will impinge on the absolute right to abortion in any way.

I think this is strictly driven by ideology. The truth is, this is a procedure performed by a handful of people-we don't know how many-but it's not a procedure that most abortionists use. It's by no means a mainstay of the industry. But it's their concern that if one procedure is restricted in any way, other restrictions will follow.

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