Columnists > Voices

Straight talk

Why hesitate at the finish line?

Issue: "Stand in the gap," Nov. 5, 2005

Could it be that all those good, smart folks in Washington have just outsmarted themselves? Isn't it time for someone, in the middle of the current garbled debate about a new justice for the U.S. Supreme Court, to remind everybody of the stark simplicity of the Bible's teaching: "Let your 'yes' be yes and your 'no' be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation"?

And no, this isn't a rant just at the doctrinaire liberals and lock-step Democrats. It's a plea directed even more at the folks we sent to the capital with what we thought was a fairly specific message. Somewhere along the line, somebody has dropped that ball. The message has gotten terribly garbled-and it isn't altogether the fault of the bad guys.

The opposition, to be sure, has not made it easy. They have managed so to distort the main issues that a straightforward discussion or debate has become all but impossible.

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But since when is it the obligation of the opposition to make it easy for the good guys?

Everyone knows there's an elephant in the room. Everybody knows the elephant is the abortion issue. And everybody-at least everybody on our side of the debate-pretends that it's a topic we dare not bring up. But isn't it time, and past time, to set that pretense aside and discover where we really are?

Here's the absurdity of the posture we've now assumed. Pro-lifers-and that includes not just a generally pro-life president and a generally pro-life administration and a generally pro-life Congress, but most of the pro-life lobby as well-are so cowed by the opposition that we've concluded no candidate for the highest court of the land can any longer declare his or her commitment to a basic pro-life position.

It is altogether appropriate in the current context, mind you, to declare adamantly on the other side. More than a decade ago, we had already reached the point where Ruth Bader Ginsburg could show up as a nominee with her pro-abortion allegiances flying starkly in the wind for all to see. No wink-and-nudge routine was required; no guessing games were imposed on her backers. Everyone knew beyond the shadow of a doubt where she was headed and how her votes would go on abortion and all related issues. A pro-abortion president had won the election, and with that victory went the right to name Supreme Court justices who agreed with his position.

So don't the same rules apply in 2005? Not if you listen to the Democratic minority on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Somehow, they think only in terms of stare decisis. What is written is written, precedent trumps all, and no one dare ever question the status quo-unless, of course, the proposal is to move the culture a bit farther to the left.

But the Democratic minority is not my main point here. The focus instead should be on the toothless Republican majority (which in this case includes both the White House and all its clout and both houses of Congress), which seems intent on stuttering and whimpering all the way to the finish line. And now, after showing itself too clever by half, the question is whether that majority has learned anything at all from the embarrassing Harriet Miers interlude of the last few weeks.

What's wrong with a nominee who can declare simply and straightforwardly, when asked about his or her position on Roe v. Wade: "Count on me to side with the weak and the defenseless. Count on me to be a friend to the littlest of the little children. No, it would be wrong for me to apply that broad conviction in an answer today to a specific case that might come before the Supreme Court. But the president said when he campaigned for his office that he supports a culture of life. He and I have never discussed specific cases, and we won't. But he knows I share his convictions, and it would be only natural for him to nominate someone who does."

It wasn't Harriet Miers, and it wasn't her liberal opponents, who looked weak or silly over the last few weeks. It was a political party, and its leadership, that claims to believe something important and then gets terribly squeamish when it comes time to do something about it.

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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