Friday, August 06, 2004

Dueling Opinions: My Sixth Response To Jobim

Two Points:

1) AJ interprets the abortion poll as saying that there is 60% support for limiting abortion rights. I interpret the poll as saying that there is 77% support for abortion rights. I feel almost as if we're arguing over whether the illusion is a duck or a rabbit (or old woman/young woman, whichever you'd prefer). How can we determine which reading of the poll is correct? Clearly the most important factor is the middle 38% who support abortion but under more limited circumstances than now.

Let me try to offer a metric by which we can judge the matter. (Willingness to call oneself pro-life doesn't seem terribly meaningful to me. "No, Mr. Gallup, I'm anti-life.") The group in the middle wants to clamp down on certain sorts of abortion procedures that are currently legal (or, like partial birth abortion, were legal in January 2003). Let us call "x" the set of abortions performed using whatever gruesome procedures a majority of this middle group would want to outlaw. The proportion by which the middle group wants to reduce the number of legal abortions is 1-(x divided by the total number of abortions performed). So far so good? If not, tell me why.

Now I suspect that the set x represents a very small fraction of the total number of abortions, procedures (like partial-birth abortion) which are exceedingly rare and shrinking in number. That, I think, suggests that the middle group, in practice, tilts towards the position of the 39% who think that abortions should generally be available.

What has John Kerry done to lean towards the aggregate 77% that favor abortion rights with limitations? For one thing, Kerry claimed that he would have supported the partial-birth abortion ban with the specified exceptions. If that's not a majority position, it is certainly one that isn't wholly alien to that 77%. Moreover, unless Mr. Adler can provide reason not to take Kerry at his word, we can conclude that Kerry was indeed prepared to support a limitation on abortion rights. (I can't, for the record, think of a circumstance in which partial-birth abortion would be necessary to save the life of a mother. Maybe if some complication arose mid-childbirth, and that procedure were the only one available. Kerry wanted an exception in that sort of case.)

In more practical terms, Kerry has taken positions which have the practical effect of reducing the size of set x---in other words, of reducing the number of "gruesome" abortions, for lack of a better term---and Mr. Bush has not, because of his allegiance to religious right ideology. Namely, Kerry is supportive of easily accessible (and publicly-financed) emergency contraception, of legalization of RU-486, of education in birth control methods in public school, etc. We can argue about the merits of these policies in terms of their moral consequences, but I don't quite see how one could argue that they don't reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and late-term abortions (pace to the phalangists---teenagers will have sex whether they know how to use protection or not).

On a bit of a sidenote re: Bush and the FMA, I don't want to be interpreted as denying that Bush was trying to straddle several different positions (flip-flopping?). My point is that there was never the slightest chance that any compromise version of the FMA would be brought to a vote, that this reality was entirely predictable and known to Bush's advisors, that he took a position in favor of the FMA anyway, and when finally forced to, specifically endorsed the language of the most extreme version of the FMA.

2) Since I fear we're beginning to tread on ground already covered, I want to take a step back and ask a couple of questions from a more "meta" perspective. Mr. Adler and I are obviously partisans of opposite sides in this election. Each one of us interpreted identical data as bolstering the chances of victory for our respective sides, which, quite unlike the question of which man would be better for the job, seems that it ought to be decided by objective fact. I'm sure AJ's opinions are honest, and I hope he would say the same about mine.

The question is, why is it that we arrive at such diametrically different positions on an issue which only indirectly has anything to do with the merits of either candidate? Why do I look at a poll and say that it shows that Kerry is more in the mainstream, while AJ looks at it and claims the opposite? Perhaps this hints too heavily at an answer, but I'd begin by saying that neither one of us (nor anyone) else could have so sophisticated a mind as to completely compartmentalize our biases. So just how much, in other words, do those biases influence our interpretation of raw data?

P.S. Can't say I'm surprised that there are liars in the abortion rights movement. I think the point stands, though, that Bush's appointees to the Supreme Court and elsewhere will influence abortion policy in the future.

P.P.S. How much of Jobim's difficulty with the Democrats on trade is a function of their being out of power? Does he really think that Mr. Kerry, in office, and not engaging in election-year pandering, would fail to expand trade agreements. In 1992, as he might remember, Mr. Clinton's campaign adopted at least the rhetoric of the left at the time on jobs, the economy, etc. His trade policy was decidedly neoliberal, and usually correct.


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