Columnists > Voices

Too close to the center line

Why hand the election back to the president's opponents?

Issue: "Year in Review 2004," Jan. 1, 2005

Ever since the election results came in during the evening of Nov. 2, many who had hoped and worked for the defeat of George Bush have pled that he now owed his opponents something of a conciliatory posture. The vitriol of the contest, these folks argued, could be tempered only with a series of compromises on some of the issues that had been so divisive during the campaign.

So I've been asking myself, and others around me: Just what ought these compromises to look like? What exactly is it that the president's opponents think he should do to bring about the unity they think is so important?

And, I've asked myself seriously, when the Bible tells us to treat others the way we would like to be treated, and when it teaches us that we are, to the best of our ability, to live peaceably with all people, then don't I have an obligation to meet just about everyone at the middle of the road?

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Yet the fact is that on a number of key issues, Mr. Bush has-from the perspective of many of us who helped elect him-already compromised just as much as, or maybe even a little more than, he should have. To go any farther would be to hand the election back to his opponents.

Take, for example, the issue of abortion. George W. Bush is known as a pro-life president. But consistent pro-lifers are likely to protest: "Just barely." These are people who point out that the word abortion was rarely, if ever, mentioned during the recent campaign. Certainly John Kerry, not wanting to be identified directly with that hideous concept, wrapped himself in the code words "right to choose." But Mr. Bush wasn't much more courageous. His own code words were "culture of life," through which he quietly signaled to pro-lifers only what they were straining to hear.

Mr. Bush went out of his way to insist that he had no litmus test (not even a "culture of life" litmus test) for those he would appoint as federal or Supreme Court judges. He has now appointed as his attorney general a man who a couple of years ago I heard explicitly eschewing a pro-life position. And last week he appointed as secretary of health and human services a man who has always played games with the pro-life community.

Or consider the matter of homosexual marriage. I am grateful that Mr. Bush has endorsed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would declare plainly that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. And I am glad that the president has affirmed this as his own conviction. Yet the timidity with which he has done so is mystifying. So is his regular explicit allowance for the individual states to provide room in their own jurisdictions for so-called "civil unions." All you have on your side, Mr. President, are three-fourths of the voters, all of human history, and God's clear declaration about the issue. If this were a really delicate issue, your caution might be understandable. But it's a winner, every way. No need for compromise here.

Or take the case of judicial appointments. If only Mr. Bush's list of appointees during his first term, which was stellar in so many regards, had been matched by his personal willingness to go to the mat-with millions of us cheering him on-to close the deals he had so courageously proposed. Instead, it was too often as if the only purpose in his nominating a good man or woman was to create a martyr of that person, and then to let that martyrdom disappear quietly into a black hole of inaction.

On some issues, fair-minded people won't mind compromising. There's lots of wiggle room on matters like the reform of Social Security, on immigration policies, on whether to support the UN's Kofi Annan, on tax reform, on healthcare details, on steel tariffs, and a thousand other questions of public policy.

But, of course, these aren't the issues where Mr. Bush's opponents really care about compromise. It's on the big "moral" issues that the feelings and the anger run deepest. That's where his opponents most want him to trim his sails.

It's also precisely where some of us have to say clearly to the man we backed: You're already straddling the middle line more than you should. Take even half a step farther in that direction, and you're likely to get run over.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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