Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Open learning courtesy of Yale

Yale, putting a fraction of its endowment to good use, has launched the Open Yale Courses web site.

Containing free video and audio files of professors' lectures, the site is the answer to a technologist's dream of cheap, high-quality education for everyone with an internet connection.

Right now I am working my way through Prof. Stephen B. Smith's Introduction to Political Philosophy. Like my PoliSci professor at CU-Boulder Thad Tecza, Smith earned his doctorate at Chicago University and displays all sorts of crypto-Straussian habits.

Other promising offerings in the Liberal Arts include Prof. Donald Kagan's Introduction to Ancient Greek History and Prof. Amy Hungerford's The American Novel Since 1945, which presents two lectures on Flannery O'Connor's disturbing novel Wise Blood.

Unfortunately the science classes are of more limited availability.

But it's ungrateful to complain now that anyone can audit a semester of Ivy League courses.


OnlineUniversities.com provides links to 100 other open lectures at Harvard, MIT, and other prominent universities.

Is the embryo one of us?

The rapid march of technology has outpaced our ethical judgment. We have blundered into a confusing world of in-vitro fertilization, human cloning, and embryonic stem cell research. We ask ourselves: what is the human embryo, and how should we treat it?

Into this disputed realm strides Colorado's Amendment 48, which would grant legal personhood to every human being from the moment of fertilization. Whatever the merits and flaws of the proposal, it certainly presents us with an occasion to look at the ethical problems our society has ignored in its pursuit of worthy goals like increasing knowledge and inventing new medical treatments.

Who counts as a person in our society? This isn't some egghead's question above our pay grade; it's a vital topic of political life.

People have the bad habit of denying other people's personhood, ignoring their moral status as creatures whom we should respect. Different societies across time have refused legal protection to people based on criteria like race, sex, or disability.

Proving that somebody who is excluded should instead be included in society can be a difficult task, especially in the case of early human life.

Many people defend the personhood of each human being from the moment of conception by appealing to religion, often Christianity specifically.

This religious argument is nothing to be ashamed of, as religion is perhaps the best way to communicate to all men the content and the gravity of our complicated moral world. However, this kind of argument leaves out people who lack the same kind or the same level of religious commitments.

Fortunately a non-religious case can be made for the ethical worth of the human embryo. Professors Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen have made that weighty case both in their many magazine columns and in their 2008 book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. (See this excerpt in the Jan. 26 Denver Post)

While the promises of science ask us to look forward, we must not forget to look backward as well -- backward, that is, to the point at which we each came into being.

In Embryo, Professors George and Tollefsen begin with the story of Noah, who was saved from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when rescuers retrieved the container that contained his embryonic self from a flooded New Orleans hospital. His embryo was later implanted into his mother's womb, and Noah was born sixteen months after his rescue.

Noah's continuous existence since his laboratory conception is proven in a chapter which rivals a biology textbook in detail, ably recounting the conception and the intricate development of the human embryo.

From conception, the embryo acts in a way quite different from the sperm and egg whose union created it, but quite similar to the organism's behavior later in life. Studies of the embryo show its self-directed growth and its continuous bodily unity as it matures. In George and Tollefsen's view, this is evidence that the embryo is itself a human being, who is a human person.

An obvious reply to this claim states that the capacity for, say, consciousness, only begins with the formation of brain structures weeks into an embryo's development. Since only conscious organisms can be persons, a critic might argue, the embryo can't be a person.

But this argument raises objections. For instance, people who are asleep or in comas lack consciousness, but we don't deny that they are persons. The consciousness of infants is in some ways more limited than that of animals, but obviously we consider infants to be persons too.

The authors of Embryo also claim such critiques about consciousness and personhood untenably split the body from the person, in a theory they call "person-body dualism."

In ordinary life we sense that the person and the body are intimately united. When we cut a finger, we say "I am hurt," not "my body is hurt." If we claim that the person somehow enters the human body at a time after its conception, we have to think in that latter, counterintuitive way.

Instead of accidental characteristics like possessing a state of consciousness, the authors argue that a human being has a set of essential "capacities" that are in development at the embryonic stage but still merit calling that being a "person."

As law professor Richard Stith suggests, imagine taking a priceless picture with an old Polaroid camera. Its photo produces a full image after minutes of waiting, but that image is present within the developing photograph since the click of the camera shutter. Destroying such a photograph still destroys that worthy image, even though we can't yet perceive its full nature.

In a similar way, the human embryo is a person even at its beginning, which is our beginning. As George and Tollefsen write, embryos aren't "potential lives," they're "lives with potential."

(Cross-posted to YourHub.com)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kraft im Recht: Metternich on political philosophy

The blogger Deogolwulf has posted to his blog what he claims to be the first complete English translation of Prince Metternich's Political Testament.

The text itself is directed to historians, advising them which archives are pertinent to the statesman's deeds and giving them a few autobiographical notes.

"I made history and therefore did not find time to write it," Metternich says, offering a few reflections on the French Revolution and Napoleon and the Revolutions of 1848.

Yet he also discusses political science, taking as a starting point his adopted motto "Strength in Right" (Kraft im Recht). He praises political gradualism and ordered liberty while condemning ideology and revolution.

"I have always regarded preconceived systems as the product of leisured heads or the outburst of emotional minds," he writes.
"Not in the struggle of society towards progress, but rather in progression towards the true goods: towards freedom as the inevitable yield of order; towards equality in its only applicable degree of that before the law; towards prosperity, inconceivable without the foundation of moral and material peace; towards credit, which can rest only on the basis of trust — in all that I have recognized the duty of government and the true salvation for the governed.

I have looked upon despotism of every kind as a symptom of weakness. Where it appears, it is a self-punitive evil, most intolerable when it poses behind the mask of promoting the cause of freedom."

His remarks on Montesquieu's system of checks and balances are of interest to any student of the U.S. Constitution. He calls it
...a conceptual error of the English constitution, impractical in its application, because the concept of such a balancing is rooted in the assumption of an eternal struggle, instead of in that of peace, the first necessity for the life and prosperity of states.

Those who complain about the "divisiveness" of American political debates, just before they realize the relative insignificance of these disagreements, should recognize that the object of their dislike is in fact the proper functioning of the country's constitution.

Metternich continues: "Without the foundation of order, the call for freedom is nothing more than the striving of some party after an envisaged end. In its actual use, the call inevitably expresses itself as tyranny."

This is quite the antidote for free-floating cries of "Freedom."

Upon reflection, we see the defense of order is not merely institutional conservatism. Rather, it is at root an exercise in contemplation.

The single-minded man of only one principle may dismiss the need for both general wisdom and concrete knowledge, as he holds his principle may be applied universally by anyone regardless of her circumstances or personal quality.

Those who counsel our monomaniacal friends to curb such enthusiasms lack this nescient luxury of fanaticism.

The narrowly principled reformer must only know his principles. These may be listed in a brief manifesto without significant distortion, like constants set for a computer program. Contrariwise, the defender of the present order must perceive and praise the many goods targeted by the would-be revolutionary.

An opponent of feminism could find herself defending a multitude of concrete habits and customs: the patronizing behavior required from polite men on dates; the ban on women in combat; the benefits of unequal pay in the workplace.

A proponent of feminism must only defend and assert one idea, an intangible often left undefined in relation to any ideal or real order.

It is little wonder why traditional conservatives applaud the Permanent Things. They have so many things to consider.

When 'pro-choice' is anti-abortion

Noting Tony Campolo's comments at the Democrats for Life Town Hall concerning the number of Americans divided between the pro-life and pro-choice camps, we noted:
some of the “pro-choice” people referenced by Campolo don’t approve of legalized abortion in most cases, while some of the pro-lifers make exceptions of their own.

A new Knights of Columbus survey backs this contention.

CNA reports:
Only 15 percent of self-described “pro-choice” respondents favored unrestricted abortion throughout a pregnancy. About 43 percent of pro-choice respondents said abortion should be restricted to the first trimester and 23 percent would restrict abortion only to cases of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life was in danger.

Significantly, CNA says, only 15 percent of self-described “pro-choice” respondents favored unrestricted abortion throughout a pregnancy, the status quo under Roe v. Wade. Among the overall population, only eight percent favored that position.

(Unfortunately, the Knights' survey does not examine whether self-described pro-life people have views more consistent with the label they choose for themselves. This is an intelligence failure which leaves weaknesses unexamined.)

When 23 percent of self-described pro-choice voters sound like compromising Republicans, it is clear that the anti-abortion coalition is not as broad as it could be.

Early pro-life leaders likely chose their label in an attempt to set a positive, non-adversarial tone like that perceived in the label "anti-abortion." Perhaps the word choice was meant to distinguish them from the "wrong kind" of abortion opponents, especially the violent ones portrayed on "Law & Order."

This move of rhetorical self-satisfaction has drawbacks, as when people begin to think of "pro-life" as outré. Ask such a person "How pro-life are you?" and they could respond very equivocally as they distance themselves from stereotypes. Ask such a person "How anti-abortion are you?" and you might get a concrete answer on which to base a discussion.

The abortion debate is being obscured by its labels. Pro-life candidates and their publicists need to remind the electorate how radical Roe v. Wade is and how conflicted the pro-choice side is.

When a vigorous pro-life candidate describes his consistent stand in his campaign literature, he must do more than consider his acceptability to his base. Rather, he must propose actual legal reform.

Failed Colorado Senate candidate Pete Coors' 2004 political position paper is an exemplar of the tendency merely to signal support.

"I have a fundamental belief in the sanctity of human life. I am opposed to abortion," Coors explains there.

That was his entire statement on the issue.

Not very helpful. Its lack of explanation even fosters doubt about whether the man is only "personally opposed" and therefore not interested in political action on the issue.

In his present campaign, Sen. McCain only describes Roe as a "flawed decision," without explaining the flaws for the reader's benefit.

What is needed in these position statements is a minimal effort at voter education and coalition building. A candidate should add something like this:
Roe v. Wade was a bad decision. Did you know Roe v. Wade and related Supreme Court decisions legalize almost all abortions throughout all nine months of a woman's pregnancy? This is a case where the court is out of touch with America.

More than sixty percent of Americans, many of whom consider themselves pro-choice, favor allowing abortions no more often than in cases of rape, incest, and a danger to the mother's life. Another 24 percent favor banning abortions performed later than the first trimester of pregnancy.

If I am elected and Roe is overturned, I pledge to work to bring our laws and the outliers of the American medical profession into line with our standards for protecting human life in its earliest months. While I personally believe abortion should be prohibited in all but the most extreme cases, I will gladly reach out to those who believe otherwise to enact anti-abortion legislation that 84 percent of Americans would favor.

The eight percent of people who favor the Roe status quo have been allowed to misrepresent the national consensus for too long. May the truth come out.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The issue that must not be reported

Catching CNN during a lunch break yesterday, I witnessed their coverage of a McCain town-hall meeting. One man asked McCain:
Well, first of all, thank you both for all you're doing for our country. I wanted to ask you about -- about the issue of abortion, and specifically about the debate a couple of nights ago. The moderator cleverly never brought this -- the question up.

And with the debate coming up again, I would ask if you're going to find a way to bring the subject up, even if it's not asked about, because I firmly believe it's an issue which you have the advantage.

Now that's an interesting question.

Before McCain answers, we find that Tom Brokaw isn't the only one trying not to bring this question up.

CNN's Kyra Phillips interrupted, speaking over McCain's unheard reply:
John McCain campaigning in Waukesha, Wisconsin. You can still watch this live, if you want, at CNN.com/live. He's talking about your money and his pledge to bring it back.

McCain was about to talk about something besides our money, but CNN wouldn't let him.

After talking over McCain's answer, Phillips then speaks about the National Debt Clock,
concluding: "Dr. Deepak Chopra and Reverend Franklin Graham up next to talk about how our economic crisis could be a spiritual awakening for all of us."

Cut to commercial.

Polls often claim to show what issues Americans are really concerned about. Perhaps well-informed respondents merely echo the editorial priorities of the newsroom.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

At the DNC: The Faith Caucus

The Democratic National Convention was a great experience for me and for the city of Denver, though many of its consequences for the Democrats won’t be known for years.

The Sunday the convention began, I was informed that Catholic News Agency's credentials application had been approved after we were wait listed following an initial denial.

Hurrying downtown, I collected my credentials. Clueless about what to do with them, I felt like a dog who had finally caught the car he had been chasing. I certainly missed many freebies because of this ignorance.

With little time to plan, my editor and I decided the Faith in Action Forum, held the Tuesday and Thursday of convention week, could yield some quality stories.

We were not disappointed.

Most of the "Faith Caucus" panels were hosted by Sojourners editor and Evangelical pastor Rev. Jim Wallis, who told several jokes and sometimes even quoted Catholic social teaching.

At one point DNC Chairman Howard Dean made a surprise appearance at the Faith Forum.

Saying the party had acted as if “we mustn’t talk about religion,” he said “I think we’ve made a lot of progress for the last couple of years... I am thrilled to be in a party that no longer cedes the faith community to the Republican Party.”

He made the standard non-committal remarks any public figure makes about religion. Talking about how religions in the United States put aside their differences to unite, he echoed the standard neoconservative empty boasts about the U.S. being a “universal country.”

Would that we were a provincial nation instead!

Dean’s words were not the language of a society that recognizes its limits. Constrained by the secularist wing of the Democratic Party, his rhetoric could not place the United States “under God.” Indeed, his tone implied the United States herself was that Higher Power.

His short talk, which alternated between unconscious hubris and appealing platitudes, charged that Republicans pretend the United States is a mono-religious country. The diversity of the Democrats, he suggested, means the party must talk about religion in a different way.

To this, one might reply that while the Republicans may pretend there is more religious unity in the country than there really is, they do not pretend very well or very hard. Their religious references are generally bland and reactive to the latest secularist advance. Their rhetoric rarely translates from opportunistic vote-seeking into substantive action, as they too must strike a balance between Evangelical Christians, conservative Catholics, secular elites, and non-religious libertarians.

As for the Democrats, they often pretend there is far more religious diversity than there really is. Their idea of diversity is formed by the creedal melange of the college town or the big city, rather than the suburbs or the rural areas where religious belief is generally split between Christian denominations and the congenial unchurched.

(The Democratic leadership is also perhaps swayed by its religious minority donors. For instance, if it is correctly reported that more than half of Democratic presidential giving comes from Jewish contributors, strict Church-State separationism will dominate the party’s ethos regardless of that position’s wisdom or popularity.)

Obviously, Dean would not criticize the obnoxious secularism of certain party activists. Alas, such activists have done more than anyone else to help the Republicans play identity politics. Both Republican pandering and secularist pushiness have swayed Christians and others rightly disgusted by the licentious and impious path the Democratic activist leadership has taken.

Generally speaking, the faith panelists themselves were of very high quality, speaking as people desirous to inform, rather than merely persuade. Unlike the Senators I observed at other caucuses, the speakers rarely relied on slogans or flattery.

Perhaps the quality of a speaker is inversely proportional to his or her need to appeal broadly.

Diving into policy, Prof. John DiIulio and Rabbi David Saperstein discussed the future of faith-based initiatives. While there was nothing untoward about their discussion, it is quite clear that Democratic policymakers are pondering how to co-opt faith-based initiatives for their own political ends. The abolition of the programs was not considered, and speakers made foreboding, terse references to new non-discrimination regulations under an Obama administration.

Such regulations could include “anti-sexist” measures for charities run by churches of an all-male clergy, rules that would prevent charities from preferring their own coreligionists for leadership positions, and those predictable culture war issues which can be cast in the legal language of anti-bias.

Just as Bush’s critics warned, his program has become a tar baby for civic-minded religious groups.

Nonetheless, the speakers at the Faith in Action forum were far more concerned about the ability of politics to co-opt religion and “mute the prophetic” than mainstream Republican Christians have appeared to be. Rev. Otis Moss, Jr. quoted the remarks of his mentor, Martin Luther King, Jr, who said that the church ought to be neither servant nor master of the state, but rather its conscience.

“We should never allow the state to dwarf our witness,” Rev. Moss said.

One panelist discussed the surprising and saddening issue of modern slavery, claiming that there are between 50,000 to 100,000 people who are treated as slaves in the U.S. each year. When the enslaving conditions of sex trafficking, abused immigrant labor, and pure human meanness are considered, that number is too believable.

Two other panel speakers discussed how to reduce the numbers of abortions. There, it became clear to me that injunctions to seek “common ground” on the abortion issue are often just methods of avoiding the debate about whether or not the country is perpetrating a grave injustice.

“I’m tired of all the shouting on this question,” panel host Rev. Jim Wallis said. “The shouting has to stop. Let’s find some common ground.”

Yet the debate is precisely over who deserves to share the common ground of the community. When we let highly trained medical professionals fatally assault the unwanted unborn at the request of their distressed mothers, we have already declared that such people do not count.

One can’t deny human solidarity in one breath and plea for unity in the next without glaring inconsistency.

Certain Republicans have often hoped their party can poach socially conservative African-Americans away from the Democrats on moral issues. A few speakers from the Faith in Action panels would give those in the GOP some hope, as when one African-American Democrat rose to speak.

“I am a pro-life Democrat, and I like to think there is room for me in this party,” Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner said, receiving scattered applause. She argued that African-Americans care about the “sanctity of life” and the “sanctity of marriage,” adding “and they want to be in this party!”

Daydreaming Republicans should remember her closing words: they want to be Democrats. At the same panel Rev. Romal Tune noted with perplexity how he had once read a Family Research Council pamphlet that didn’t mention poverty among its moral issues. At another panel, it was obvious that prison reform and prisoner rehabilitation is a vital issues to this Democratic constituency.

Facing the prospect of their young men being sent through the hellholes of the American prison system, where they risk further moral corruption, rape and AIDS, it’s obvious that abortion is not the only life-or-death issue for the African-American community.

Let us remember that a lack of health care, too, appears to be a mortal threat for those on the borders of economic security.

Groups with such concerns are never going to vote for a party sternly dominated by anti-welfare and law-and-order policymaking.

Further, Republican daydreams place the interest of party over the public good. It is good for social conservatism to have representatives in both parties. Indeed, that presence is a prerequisite for any eventual return to a national consensus on such issues.

Worse, when social conservatives act as Republicans first, they risk ignoring threats to their philosophical allies in the other party.

For instance, there was an under-reported conflict between Democratic African-Americans and the Democrats’ LGBT faction, resulting in a lawsuit against the DNC.

At the linked page, DNC Chair Howard Dean testifies in the suit: “I wanted equal representation for gay and lesbian Americans, and I wanted to achieve it in a way that wasn’t offensive to the history of the civil rights movement.”

This likely means socially conservative black Democrats have taken offense at certain activists’ tactless insinuations that such loyal Democrats are the segregationists and Klansmen of the present because of their opposition to gay rights. It is a common conflict; earlier this year one black woman was even fired from her university employer for writing an article which took exception to the gay rights/civil rights analogy.

While I have not thoroughly investigated the matter, apparently the DNC delegate rules now include affirmative action provisions favorable to the impolitic but effective LGBT crowd. Democratic delegate quotas for youth and women precipitated the demise of the New Deal Coalition, and any similar rules privileging sexual lifestyle activists will further prevent the revival of that coalition’s better surviving elements.

These rule changes had been opposed by many African Americans, yet I doubt this conflict was prominent in the Republican social conservatives’ echo chamber. It seems to have been covered most in the gay press, which shows a deep animosity against African-American Pentecostal minister and DNC CEO Rev. Leah Daughtry.

Rounding out my listing of Faith Caucus stories, I should mention that Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec was a panelist. He tried to explain how a pro-life Catholic like him ended up supporting Obama, and briefly discoursed on the Catholic vote. Kmiec’s position is further described in a below post on the Democrats for Life Town Hall Meeting.

The close of the faith caucus prompts the question: why have a faith caucus at all?

Though the African-American community is more accustomed to clergyman politicians than other groups, most churches don’t want ministers to become political delegates. A Machiavel could with reason see the caucus as an effort to train tame preachers as counterparts to prominent Evangelicals on the right.

However, these ministers are also community leaders. Perhaps like the Holy See’s observer mission to the United Nations, their access to the party may at best advance issues of mutual interest and provide still other avenues to inform leaders of community problems.

One obvious application of the Faith Caucus is to temper, rather than conceal, the acerbic atheism of some party regulars.

Yet some Faith Caucus members themselves think such an effort could be a threat to party unity.

Addressing one panel, a questioner pondered how “principled secularists” would react to a growing faith caucus, worrying that the party itself could be fractured by secularist reaction.

“It’s a sad commentary that religion is such a scary word,” one speaker answered, promptly blaming his theological and political opponents of the Religious Right for religion’s bad reputation.

This blame-shifting is a mistake. Rebuking irreligion of the type represented by the reprehensible Amanda Marcotte is a basic part of social hygiene. Fanatical secularists have a culpable ignorance of religion that should be excused and tolerated even less than the damaging excesses and obscurantism of Evangelical populism.

One would like to think that such rebukes go on in private, as the operative rule at a party convention is the Eleventh Commandment paraphrased: “never speak ill of a fellow partisan.”

But to speculate on whether such actions are ongoing tempts one to judge by one’s hopes, rather than by one’s observations. Until Democratic leaders begin turning the Bill Mahers and the P.Z. Myerses into Sister Souljahs, we will have little evidence of progress.

Also at the DNC:

Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall

At the DNC: The Women's Caucus

The Women’s Caucus meeting held the final day of the Democratic National Convention proved newsworthy.

There, several speakers exhorted the crowd to encourage women to run for office. Obligingly, several young women in my social circles have been asked whether they have considered doing so. As the ladies in my social circles tend to be disgruntled conservative Democrats, the Women’s Caucus leaders would regard many of them to be the “wrong kind” of women, but they should be more careful about what they wish for.

Women’s Caucus speakers’ rhetoric about the advancement of women provides an appetizing irony in retrospect, considering the hostile reaction to the GOP’s selection of Gov. Sarah Palin one day later.

One asserted that women bring “different perspectives.” Certainly, Palin was not the difference she had in mind.

Speakers lamented how many more women were seated in foreign parliaments as compared to the U.S. former Vermont Governor Madeline Kunin told how she saw how many women were in Rwanda’s parliament and asked a female parliamentary leader why this was so. “For the survival of our children” was her touching reply.

The former governor’s remarks that women need to agitate “for the survival of our children, and children all over the world” patently clashed with speakers’ repeated support for that certain “women’s issue” which will be discussed below.

Howard Dean made another appearance and provided a gem quote for an unscrupulous reporter. Mentioning how the Democrats’ electoral woes were aggravated by hostile secretaries of state, he quoted the old saying “It doesn’t matter who votes, but who counts the votes.”

“We count the votes now,” he added, stating his belief that the Democrats will use this power for good.

With such a potent sound bite, it’s amazing Republican media outlets did not exploit it as a potential “Macaca moment” to score easy political points. Though politicians are not known for honoring self-imposed limits on debate, perhaps there is an unspoken bipartisan agreement against combing convention speeches for political gain.

More likely, media businesses which report such items don’t get press credentials at the next convention.

A few speakers endorsed Barack Obama with a noticeable deficit of enthusiasm. The tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps were referenced by continual exhortations to party unity.

“Hillary supports Obama and so do I” said Governor Kunin. “We have to reach out to our sisters who pause between saying those words!”

The tensions peaked just before Michelle Obama took the stage. At that time, the protesters showed up:

About a dozen women waved these signs in relative silence, protesting the absence of Hillary from the ticket. They were tolerated for far longer than the anti-abortion protesters who showed up before Sen. Boxer's appearance. Finally, Hillary's women were escorted out. One person was particularly incensed that she, a woman, was being thrown out of the Women’s Caucus.

Michelle Obama’s speech was lackluster. Her delivery was so reliant on her notes that both photos I took of her show her glancing down.

She did provide a suitably bizarre remark to base a story upon, saying of her husband:
He’ll protect a woman’s freedom of choice, because government should have no say in whether or when a woman embraces the sacred responsibility of parenthood.

Sanctity of parenthood trumps sanctity of life, I guess.

My reportage was apparently the only story carrying this quotation. The exclusive even attracted the attention of NewsBusters.

Needless to say, abortion was a major topic of discussion and a major focus of my coverage.

Right before Sen. Barbara Boxer was to speak, about a half dozen women ranging from middle-aged to elderly moved to the stage and opened their shirts to reveal T-shirts reading “I regret my abortion.”

As if performing an exorcism, the audience then loudly chanted “Obama! Obama!” as security escorted the protesters out.

Sen. Boxer effectively repeated many talking points, but was otherwise uninteresting.

Taking the lead from Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen, she started declaiming hypothetical criminal sentences for women who seek abortions and the doctors who provide them. As noted here, National Review responded to this point a year ago, noting how abortionists and their clients were treated in law, with much harsher penalties only for the former.

The fittingly surnamed Rep. Louise Slaughter attacked conscience protections for medical professionals who won’t involve themselves in abortions.

Bizarrely, she categorized such conscientious refusals as a violation of the Hippocratic Oath’s phrase “do no harm.” Of course, that oath forbade abortions until its opportunistic revision in recent decades.

More accurately, Slaughter suggested that abortion was the prerequisite for the creation of the feminist professional classes.

“It was the right to control our reproductive systems that made it possible for almost all of us to achieve our own dreams which our parents had paid for,” Rep. Slaughter said.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor made much the same argument in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey.

Pro-lifers generally aren’t socially aware enough to realize how significantly our society relies upon abortion as backup contraception. Without abortion, casual sexual relations would have to cease, yet casual sexual relations are now almost normative. Both male and female professionals are severely tempted to abort the child they have conceived because a child does not fit into the careerism for which they have prepared their lives.

They have been taught since kindergarten that they can do anything they choose if they apply their talents and work hard in the right career. In the context of abortion, we know what “doing anything they choose” often means.

The “me-tooism” of pro-life feminists such as Sarah Palin does not inquire whether the preferable aspects and results of feminism could only come by trampling upon the corpses of the unborn.

It is chilling to think that even admirable pro-life women may be unknowingly promoting the careerism, the egalitarianism, and the revolts against motherhood and fatherhood which both sustain and require the United States’ abortion regime.

Also at the DNC:

Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall

At the DNC: The LGBT Caucus

As one who is occasionally optimistic about the state of the Democratic Party, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) Caucus was disillusioning for me. I found that the newest faction of politicized sexual liberation is well-organized, well-funded, and willing to use raw power when it can.

Even so, it was surprising how some speakers played to the melodramatic stereotypes attributed to their members. Caucus Chairman Rick Stafford flatteringly but falsely declared the caucus the “best dressed” at the convention. His announcement that Ben Affleck had donated 25 VIP badges for the Starz Green Room prompted some attendees to bolt to the distribution like teenage girls in the throes of Beatlemania.

One actor from the X-Men movie, I believe it was “Nightcrawler” Alan Cumming, also put in an appearance and was acknowledged by the chairman.

Monday marked not only the first caucus, but also the birthday of Stafford.

Relieved at the opportunity to show charity towards a faction I hold in such low regard, I was happy to join in singing “Happy Birthday.”

The happiness was fleeting.

As I mentioned before, Colorado multi-millionaire Tim Gill described to the caucus his strategy for removing critics of his sex life from the political class. He targets any critics of gay rights at the state legislative levels, marshaling donors via Gill Action Fund mailing lists and so preventing his opponents from replenishing their talent pool.

Further commentary on Gill may be found at YourHub, where I note that every time Gill says “bigot” one may read the word “critic” without loss of information.

Gill's comments were also under-reported, finding mention only in the Rocky Mountain News but not in the Denver Post.

However, the likable GOP shill Hugh Hewitt linked to the story.

The LGBT caucus itself, whose Monday acts were reported here, claimed 274 members, about 6.7 percent of the 4,049 total. Speakers gleefully claimed that the number may not be accurate since more and more delegates were “coming out.”

There were a few allusions to the new changes to the DNC rules, though little that an outsider could understand.

Say what you will about the caucus, they sure know how to exploit multiculturalism. They claimed about one third of their 2008 caucus is composed of youth and about 40 percent were described as “people of color.” One speaker welcomed the changes from past convention caucuses, which he said had been “almost entirely white.”

Caucus speakers spoke of how necessary it was for caucus members to install themselves in the leadership of the other minority caucuses, showing they are well-positioned to cement their hold on the Democrats.

A minority LGBT is a diversity chimera whose identities may shift as politics demands. Further, the caucus adds to the power of the ethnic spoils system of affirmative action, identity politics, and anti-discrimination lawsuits. If they perceive other benefits, self-interested minorities may actually ally with and be co-opted by the LGBT caucus and its issues.

As people who are generally childless, LGBT caucus members have much time to sit on multiple committees and they have money on hand for political endeavors. Further, their sexual liberationism allies them with the dissolute, heterosexual college-educated youths who, secular and single, also have disproportionate influence in the Democratic Party.

At times, it was especially obvious how much the Democrats had changed. Nancy Wohlforth of the AFL-CIO addressed the caucus on Wednesday, trying to muster support for labor. Her pandering was blatant, going so far as to endorse “trans-inclusive” anti-discrimination legislation.

Yet her audience’s reaction generally ranged from indifference to rudeness. About four dozen caucus members, media, and guests were mulling about near the entrance to the ballroom, chatting as if no one were speaking. This peeved me to no end, not only because I was trying to record the session on a voice recorder, but because it was to my mind a clear affront to the Democrats’ blue collar past.

Wohlforth’s remarks received the applause of perhaps one-fourth of the delegates. The response was so tepid that a few attendees in the back engaged in frenzied, over-loud handclapping with the futile hope of inspiring a widespread response.

None came. They were saving their fawning adulation for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Thinking how my Democratic forebears would respond to the rise of the LGBT Caucus was nauseating. Caucus speakers’ allusions to a Wednesday party sponsored by the Stonewall Democrats prompted in me yearnings for a renewed Vice Squad.

At the entrance to the Wednesday meeting somebody was handing out free packs of “Gay Republican” playing cards. Fearing them to be pornographic, I declined, which was not the best example of journalistic instincts.

(Fortunately, a Google search reveals, the card decks only describe, not depict, the unnatural acts of GOP partisans.)

On Monday, Chairman Stafford made a particular point of praising one speaker as the “best dressed person here,” which was again unfounded flattery. As I observed from the rear of the ballroom, the person was dressed in a drab brown business dress with wide shoulders and ugly glasses, looking like a character from a bad eighties movie.

Later, as this person conversed with someone near me, I realized he was that queer sort known in current parlance as “transgendered.” His dress’ broad shoulders masked those of a man.

Another example came before me on Wednesday when, still puzzled over that blatantly false “best dressed” description, I noticed a homely woman with frizzy blonde hair, a pea-green skirt, and an ugly blouse with a rainbow butterfly-like pattern set on a black background.

Yes, he was another one.

Even I could tell this person had the fashion sense of an insensate male. I have better sartorial taste than transgendered DNC delegates. Who knew?

As the song goes, “Dude Look Like a Lady,” but not very well.

It seems male to female transgendereds are mockeries, a man's idea of how a woman should look, somewhat like the way a porn star or a Playboy Bunny are distortions of femininity. So, too, will same-sex marriage parody and distort the real thing.

Yet these wannabe walking parodies are now an influential element in a once great party.

How saddening.

Also at the DNC:
Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall

At the DNC: Democrats for Life Town Hall Meeting

The Democrats for Life Town Hall took place on Wednesday of the DNC week at the Hotel Monaco.

The room was small and had a seating capacity of perhaps sixty. Here is a picture taken from the second-to-last row:

Sadly, many of the seats were taken not by delegates but by media. E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post was present, as were Jonathan Last, Jim Antle, Tim Carney, and a few other journalists from conservative publications.

Perhaps this shows conservative journalists, or rather the readers they serve, are saps for the quixotic and compromised struggle of pro-life Democrats.

Three other seats were occupied by known locals, John Wren and his friend, plus a woman with the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Jonathan Last’s column contains a sad joke:
Another reporter saw me counting [attendees] and asked how many anti-abortion Democrats were in attendance.

"All of them," I replied.

Before this cozy audience, speakers made an unseemly fuss about Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.’s speech to the DNC the previous evening in which he voiced disagreement with the party line on abortion. His two sentences were hardly compensatory for the speech his father, Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, Sr., was barred from giving at the 1992 DNC.

Here’s what the junior Casey said:

“Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion,” he said. “But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.”

Not impressive, that.

Also voicing much happy talk about how the new Democratic platform was so committed to reducing abortions, speakers’ gratitude for Casey’s speech sounded desperate, like that of a beaten wife who sees in one kind word from her incorrigible husband a sign of his sure reform.

The politicians who spoke included Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis, North Carolina Congressman Heath Shuler, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.

Lincoln Davis’ remarks showed good political sense.

If Democrats continue to have only a “stark contrast” with the Republican platform, he said, “I think we start losing.”

There is “too much work to be done” to allow abortion to be “the one issue that takes us down,” Davis argued.

Also noteworthy is their view of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which the priority-skewed Obama has pledged to push through Congress in his first act as president. The bill would reportedly remove all restrictions on abortion, including restrictions on partial-birth abortion and federal funding for abortion.

While Republicans have cited FOCA to stir up concern among their captive pro-life contingent, they rarely consider its likelihood of passage. Rep. Shuler said he did not see FOCA passing the House and Rep. Davis was confident it was not going to pass.

Sen. Bob Casey, the man of the hour, discussed the Pregnant Women Support Act and proposed supplying nurses or health care practitioners for pregnant mothers to provide health care advice and counsel.

He also admitted the DNC platform language on abortion “wasn’t good enough for me.”

Both Casey and pro-life Obama-booster Doug Kmiec had to address Obama’s most infamous statements on abortion.

Regarding Obama’s “punished with a baby” comments, Casey said the statement was “poorly articulated” and “didn’t reflect what he was trying to convey.”

He added that he believed Obama was trying to describe the crisis situation that afflicts some young women during a pregnancy.

Obama also notoriously commented at the Saddleback Church forum that deciding when a baby gets human rights is “above my pay grade.”

Fortunately, Doug Kmiec reported at the Faith Caucus that he himself informed Obama that he thinks that decision is within his pay grade.

However, Kmiec similarly described Obama’s words as an occasion of misspeaking and not the most “felicitous” of statements.”

For a candidate so praised for his eloquence, these repeated misstatements on abortion indicate a particular confusion, perhaps even dissimulation, on Obama’s part.

Other Democrats for Life town hall speakers included Colorado State Senator Debbie Stafford, a former Republican, who discussed the role of domestic violence in abortion cases. She described the sickening cases where a woman undergoes an abortion due to pressure and even abuse from her lover or where a man is threatened by a pregnant woman who uses the possibility of an abortion to punish and harass him.

Rev. Clenard Childress, pastor of the New Calvary Baptist Church in Montclair, New Jersey, rebuked the use of the cant saying that Democrats are great for the born, but Republicans only respect life from “conception to birth.”

“But because someone failed the first nine months, but then they do better the next nine months… does that make your failure justified?

“I don’t understand the analogy. Yes, I hear it all the time. ‘What about after the baby gets here?’

“Well if I need a grant, if I need an education, if I need help, I first have to get here,” he countered.

Rev. Childress also discussed the damage abortion is doing among African-American women, who disproportionately seek abortions.

“There’s too many women hurting,” he said, focusing upon the pro-life Democrats in the audience. “And the ethnic group that is hurting the most is the one that supports your party the most.”

Several non-politicians at the Town Hall provided commentary on policy proposals to reduce the numbers of abortions.

There, the results of a Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good study were presented, reputedly showing what policies affect the abortion rate.

Further, Vince Miller, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, argued that programs aimed at reducing abortions would help people “think like Democrats” by emphasizing how constructive governmental policy can help people in their daily lives. He also landed a few blows in his attacks upon the individualism of Republicans and their reduction of “values voting” to “expressions of identity” detached from concrete results.

Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University and member of the DNC platform committee, was the most provocative of the policy hounds.

“It’s fine to finance Planned Parenthood on the one side,” he asked, “but shouldn’t there be government funding for counseling centers that want to in fact help women, and counsel women, who want to bring their pregnancies to term?

“Shouldn’t there be financing on both sides if we’re going to have ‘parallel of choice’?”

This is a very seductive position that could end up being very destructive to either or both sides of the abortion debate. By linking crisis pregnancy center funding to funding for abortion clinics, pro-lifers could be given a perverse incentive to vote for more abortion clinic funding to help crisis pregnancy centers.

Campolo cited statistics claiming that 43 percent of Americans are pro-life, but 51 percent are pro-choice. This somewhat conflicts with Rep. Davis’ statistic that seventy percent believe abortion takes a life.

There is a degree of selectivity concerning which surveys one decides to cite. For all we know, some of the “pro-choice” people referenced by Campolo don’t approve of legalized abortion in most cases, while some of the pro-lifers make exceptions of their own.

Ought a survey ask whether people support overturning Roe v. Wade, the extremely permissive details of which are unknown to many, or ought a survey ask how strict abortion laws should be? Ought the survey focus its questions on the woman, her unborn child, or her abortionist?

Some pro-life Democrats may end up publicizing the survey results most pessimistic about anti-abortion sentiment, simply to provide rhetorical justification in support of their favored social programs. Worse, they may cite these statistics to be good partisans who justify not pressing for “divisive” legislation which restricts abortion.

Campolo’s sharpest criticism blamed the churches for not doing enough:

“The churches, the synagogues, and the mosques of America have not been able to convince their own constituencies on this issue.” Legislation and political action is “asking politicians to do what churches have failed to do.”

Too gleeful abortion advocates often note, sometimes even with sound evidence, that the abortion rate among Catholics is reportedly equal or in excess to that among non-Catholics.

At any rate, it is too high.

If a deacon, priest, or bishop preaches (or does not preach) against abortion only out of consideration for political effects, he is not addressing the root.

Rather, he must treat abortion as a temptation some in his congregation have faced, are facing, or will face. In our own pews are young men and women contemplating whether to abort: the youth group’s popular young man who is heading to a prestigious out-of-state college or the young woman who helps with the daycare could be facing that temptation without spiritual counsel.

Perhaps their parents, even the ones who attend daily Mass and sit on the parish council, are considering pressuring the pregnant girl to do the deed.

Such youths or their parents may have already lost their horror of such a sin. Exhorting them to vote pro-life is secondary to exhorting them not to go to the clinic.

And what, then, can the Democrats for Life do?

Other than run interference for Obama, bash Republicans, and pass one or two social programs, not very much. It can be hoped that a well-placed pro-life Democrat may help appoint as federal judges a few “Bob Caseys of the bench,” though Mark Stricherz tells me he is skeptical of this possibility.

The judiciary, not to mention the law school, needs moderate or conservative Democrats as anti-Roe critics who lack the “Republican baggage” but can perhaps check the Democrats’ cultural radicals whose overreach consistently helps the GOP and hurts the country.

I would be remiss if I did not include Tim Carney’s political analysis written for CNA during the convention.

To my regret, I only met Carney briefly at the town hall meeting. I didn’t even have a chance to tell him I liked his book.

Carney, a journalist with the Evans-Novak Report, remarks on the reaction to Biden’s selection as VP, discusses Doug Kmiec’s support for Obama, writes of Casey’s DNC floor speech and examines the Democrats’ abortion platform.

Also at the DNC:
Faith Caucus

Women's Caucus

LGBT Caucus

Democrats for Life Town Hall