This past Thursday not only marked the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but also the turning of an important page restoring constitutional government.
On the Mall in Washington, hundreds of thousands gathered for the annual March for Life. And in the Oval Office—really within earshot—President Obama put his signature on Executive Orders closing Guantanamo CIA prisons and prohibiting “intensive interrogations” (that’s torture, as even government prosecutors concede).
Politically, the two actions seem to be going in opposite directions. One pitched itself as a rallying of the opposition — the vehemence of opposition made all the sharper by the actions and statements of then Senator Obama supporting the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).
For the others, the closing of Guantanamo and the barring of torture fulfills a promise. Each side celebrated with their partisans: new winners, old losers.
Yet the emotional intensity of the both positions belie the straightforward political approach.
As speakers at the rally and commentary around the web make clear, abortion remains one of the first of the major political battle lines. But for many the position is one of over-riding moral weight. In conversation, it is impossible to see the other side.
It’s pretty much the same when it comes to the issues surrounding “aggressive interrogation” and detention at Guantanamo. For them the issue of torture has the same prima facie moral status. And that’s something new.
This moral outrage, this sense of moral stain gives the left something that it has been missing in political discussion. Morally charged politics. The other (conservative) side is not simply wrong as a matter of politics or policy, but wrong as a matter of morality. The rejection is every bit as visceral for left as abortion is for the right.
The question for the conservative and especially the pro-life crowd will be whether they pick up on this fundamental moral positioning. For those who see it, there is the opportunity for real bridge building: the concern for detainee rights and freedom from torture is of one piece with pro-life concern, part of what Joseph Cardinal Bernadin advanced as a consistent life ethic.
But of course, the temptation to play the partisan card instead of the pro-life one.
So we get comments from Representative Pete Hoekstra and Rep. Vern Ehlers that dodge any awareness of the moral dimension and go straight for the policy and the political. Hoekstra becomes the security hawk, and Ehlers puts forth a vague pragmatic concern. And Democrats smile. Answering moral concerns with this assertiveness or worse, with a wishy-washiness simply concedes the moral high ground. Worse for Republicans, it is an obliviousness which fastens the torture label to all their candidates and pushes them further into the wilderness.