Thursday, August 05, 2004

Dueling Opinions: My Fifth Response To Jobim

Fact are indeed stubborn. As the Daily Show's Rob Corrdry once said, it seems that the facts have an anti-Bush bias. Taking a cue from AJ, I'll respond in reverse order.

1) Here's the most recent poll I could find on abortion, from January 2003:

Is that too dated? I doubt public opinion would have changed much on the issue since then, and I'm not willing to pay a subscriber's fee to the Gallup organization. (I'd welcome anyone who can point me to a more recent poll to do so.) What did the poll find: the plurality of Americans in fact think that abortion should be "generally available" (39%), a negligibly smaller proportion (38%) think it should be "available, but with stricter limits than now," and a minority of less than one quarter (22%) believe it should "not [be] permittied" at all. These numbers remained relatively stable since 1993, the first year for which the poll provides data, except for outright opposition, the Bush position, decreasing from 40% in 1993 to low 20s levels in all other years provided. Since the poll offered a "stricter limits than now" option which received no more support (actually, less) than the "generally available" option, it's just not true that majority, or even plurality opinion favors significantly stricter availability. And while AJ might feel justified in characterizing Kerry's position as "abortion on demand," Kerry has of course never said anything of the sort, and wouldn't. Kerry's avowed statements on the subject---expressing persoanl ambivalence but respecting a legal right---is entirely within the mainstream. Moreover, Kerry's opposition to the partial-birth abortion ban was, as I said, based on a lack of life/health or rape/incest exceptions. Take a poll on whether Americans would favor such a ban with said exceptions or without them, and see that Kerry's position is hardly an extreme one. Let me add, moreover, that partial-birth abortions only ever made up a fraction of 1% of all abortions performed. If we were to look at the proportion of total abortions legally performed which Kerry thinks should be legal---an amount less than 100% if we take his statements on partial-birth abortion at face value---the equivalent number for the American public would be quite similar. For Mr. Bush, that figure would be 0% (unless Mr. Adler is right about the point that immediately follows).

I had no idea, apropos of life/health and rape/incest exceptions, that Mr. Bush favored legal abortion in any cases at all. In all earnestness, when has he said so? Do Dobson, Falwell, Weyrich &co. know about this?

On Roe v. Wade, I found this page from Gallup:

I can't read the entire article, since it's got subscriber encryption, but the freebie part of it says that by a 53% to 30% margin, Americans have a "positive" rather than a "negative" reaction to Roe v. Wade. That's certainly consistent in a population in which 22% (less than one quarter!) think that abortion should never be permitted. A related question: What has the Bush FDA done about RU-486? Its introduction onto the market would obviously reduce the number of surgical abortions performed, as well as reduce the number of late-term abortions. And I think you'll find that clear majorities support its legalization. Last, unless I've been missing something, the last review of Roe v. Wade ended in its being upheld 5-4. Is this the sort of thing that we could reasonably expect Justice Kennedy has changed his mind about this late in his career? Just suppose, however, that you're right that two pro-choice justices would need to be replaced in order to overturn Roe. Justice Stevens certainly can't have that much time left on the bench, and Justice O'Connor has already spoken publicly about retirement. And the possible replacement of Justice Rehnquist in a Kerry administration, rather than a second Bush administration, would be a huge victory for the pro-choice portion of the population.

2. On the various FMAs: It won't do to pretend that any version of the FMA that would have left intact the possibility that individual states could legalize same-sex marriages had the slightest prayer of becoming official Republican policy, or of being brought up for a vote by the congressional Republican leadership. Mr. Bush might never have explicitly stated that he would have supported an amendment that would have left open such a possibility, but his public statements on the matter shouldn't leave any doubt about where he stood. Yes, he might have expressed a calculated ambiguity about the language---which went hand in hand with his, "let's put politics aside and defend the family" nonsense, as if the amendment should have passed by a large majority---but obviously, clearly, manifestly, Bush's support for the FMA was an embrace of the religious right, who would never have tolerated a compromise that would have allowed states to enact gay marriage on their own. In the end, of course, the religious right didn't tolerate any compromise whatsoever, and Bush finally did endorse a specific version of the FMA---the version that is out of sync with the American mainstream.

3. Has Bush governed to the right? AJ is right to point out Bush's horrendous record on spending. Not only were the social spending projects a thoroughly unconservative use of tax dollars, but the various items of legislation were flawed compromises that neither achieve what the left wanted nor keep spending in check as the right wanted. Mr. Adler could have gone farther: government spending has increased under President Bush more than it has under any other administration since President Johnson. And indeed, since the Republicans are likely to maintain control of Congress whatever the results of the presidential election, the gridlock resulting from a Kerry victory would undoubtedly have some decelerating effect on the growth of government spending.

So Bush would have been a disappointment to the right on spending issues. Is spending really the top priority for the right, however? I think not. The right, at least, seems not to care or not to have noticed. I don't want to rehash either the debate on the war or the debate on social issues, but I don't think it would be terribly controversial to say that Bush's policies in these areas have been everything the hard right could have hoped for (and there is something sort of impressive about his ability to unify the neoconservatives and the religious right). And on social policy, in particular, I'd be quite interested to see precisely where Mr. Bush disagrees with Messrs. Bauer, Dobson, Graham, et al.

Mr. Kerry, by the way, has supported welfare-reform, free-trade agreements (I think his trade policy would be an improvement on Bush's), and deficit reduction. Even if it was only a brief an abortive effort, he has questioned liberal orthodoxy on affirmative action. As with Bush and spending, these are all mitigating factors on Kerry's leftism.


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