In a 2005 Washington Post article titled “Women closest to Bush are Pro-choice” Ann Gerhart wrote:
Laura Bush hardly has been expansive on the issue of abortion rights. Asked on the eve of the first inauguration whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned, she said, “no.” Asked during the 2004 Presidential race whether that was still her position, she said, “Yeah.” Her terseness notwithstanding, she is a part of an unbroken tradition of Republican First Ladies who supported a woman’s right to choose, back to Pat Nixon, who said, “I believe abortion is a personal choice.”
Gerhart’s story focused on a fact well known to pro-lifers who pay attention to politics. The story notes that in the G.W. Bush administration the divergence from pro-life views went beyond the First Ladies, to include other women in high and influential positions, such as Condoleezza Rice.
The article appeared during the days before Bush’s ill fated nomination of Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court. It considered the possible influence so-called “pro-choice” women at the core of his inner circle might have on his decision.
As Bush considers judicial candidates, the competition for his attention has been cast as a well-funded battle between competing interest groups. What this overlooks is the possibility that Bush, who famously follows his heart and gut and acts decisively, may have some internal conflicts.
Whatever possible conflicts G.W. Bush may have had in his heart, it has become painfully clear over the years that there are undeniable “internal conflicts” over abortion and other moral issues in the heart of the GOP. Whether it’s Republican First Ladies or influential pro-“abortion rights” donors and fundraisers, the Party has plowed the furrow of its electoral ambitions with a team that unequally yokes so-called “pro-choice” donors with a conservative base that is emphatically pro-life.
The success of the effort depends on the sacrifice of principle. This involves first of all treating all the issues of moral concern as matters of personal opinion, on which it is tolerable to agree to disagree. In this respect, the spousal relations of GOP presidents may be the paradigm of the approach required to keep the badly matched GOP team intact. As Laura Bush said in the interview that re-focused attention on her views favoring “abortion rights”and “gay marriage”: “I understand his [George’s] viewpoint…and he understands mine.” [I will share some thoughts on Laura Bush’s explanation of her pro-gay marriage views in a separate post.]
Unfortunately the kind of understanding Mrs. Bush refers to must involve only emotional acceptance and tolerance. It can have nothing to do with the understanding that grasps the rational basis for a conviction, the reasoning that justifies it. In the latter sense understanding requires a common sense of the starting point (principle) from which reasoning begins, and the rules by which it is governed.
Every President of the United States, and in fact every official at any level of government in the United States, swears an oath to uphold and preserve the U.S. Constitution. Their oath commits them to maintain a certain form of government in the United States, which necessarily involves preserving the ideas and institutions required to sustain it. By taking the oath, these officials accept the obligation to make decisions that respect these ideas and institutions. This respect must be their starting point for reasoning about public policy issues.
As Laura Bush’s husband, G.W. Bush may have personal views and convictions. But as a sworn official of the U.S. government it becomes his duty to respect the ideas and convictions required to maintain the form of government the U.S. constitution establishes. Having taken an oath without mental reservation or purpose of evasion, if he decides to implement views that undermine and destroy, rather than maintain, that form of government, he forswears his oath. He literally commits the high crime and misdemeanor of perjury (from the Latin, perjurare, “to swear falsely, break one’s oath“).
In this respect, public officials do not have the luxury of simply speaking or acting from the heart. They must be able to justify their actions with reasoning that demonstrates the consistency between what they do and the integrity of the ideas and institutions they are sworn to preserve.
This is why, when dealing with issues of moral principle like abortion, personal views cannot be a decisive basis for judging someone’s fitness for any official position under the U.S. Constitution. Candidates and nominees must demonstrate that they know and can rationally apply the ideas on which it is based. They must demonstrate that they comprehend the connection between these ideas and the institutional arrangements intended to implement them. Once they are in office, they must be able to articulate their understanding of that connection with respect to every official decision and action they take. Unless they are held accountable in this way, their oath becomes a meaningless gesture, the babbling of deceitful platitudes intended to lull people’s vigilance while their liberty is being destroyed.
The GOP has followed a political strategy that allows the party to promote of candidates who never demonstrate this kind of fitness for office. It treats abortion and other issues as if they are matters of personal opinion. Candidates for office can then affirm their personal support for abortion, to please pro-life voters, while openly or covertly supporting “abortion rights” when it comes to law and public policy. Such people could never prove their fitness for office if doing so required offering a line of reasoning that relies on the ideas the U.S. Constitution implements and on which its integrity depends.
Ironically, one of the key selling points the GOP uses to mobilize conservative support for its candidates for President and the U.S. Senate has to do with the importance of their role in the selection and confirmation of Federal Judges and Justices. Conservatives are strongly committed to defending the integrity of the U.S. Constitution. Thanks to Laura Bush’s promotion of her new book, we are once again invited to ponder the conflict between what serves the political purposes of the current GOP leadership and what is needed for the survival of the Constitution.
The U.S. Senate’s consideration of Elena Kagan’s for the Supreme Court takes strategic advantage of this intrinsic conflict within the GOP. On account of that conflict, the GOP Senate contingent is unlikely to mount more than a weak, incoherent effort to stop her confirmation. This will prove once again that the GOP’s pro-Constitution sales pitch is inherently deceptive.
Strong grassroots’ opposition exists to the Obama faction’s evident intention to overturn constitutionally limited government in the U.S. The Kagan confirmation process could be the GOP’s chance to consolidate and lead that opposition. This could be done by making Kagan’s rejection of constitutional principle the central focus of the discussion. But by failing effectively to mobilize against Kagan on grounds of principle, the GOP will forfeit the opportunity for leadership.
Their default will lead more people than ever to realize that both actors in the present two party charade have abandoned allegiance to constitutionally limited government. The critical question: Do all the years of false but successful GOP sloganeering mean that this realization comes too late?