11 May 2007

Giuliani shifting on abortion

In this posting, I expressed doubt about Rudy Giuliani due to his apparent willingness to countenance an erosion, albeit very marginal, of abortion rights. I'm not the only one who has been put off by Giuliani's efforts to straddle the issue; his position so far has apparently been that he favors the right to abortion, but "hates" it and would appoint "strict constructionist" Supreme Court judges (inviting rightists to take this as meaning judges who would endanger Roe vs. Wade, though in fact his wording is open to broader interpretation). Since Supreme Court appointments are the main way in which a President can influence abortion policy, there seems little point in having a pro-choice President if his judge appointments will not reflect his views. Giuliani's ambiguous position has merely succeeded in arousing suspicions among pro-choicers, while not making him much more acceptable to the hard-line fundamentalists who make abortion a litmus test -- that is, it puts him in a worse position than if he committed himself clearly to one side or the other.

Apparently realizing this, Giuliani now appears ready to ditch the studied ambiguity and come out forthrightly for what everyone knows is his real position. The assumption is that this will alienate few Christian Right voters who were not alienated already, while solidifying his appeal to secular Republicans -- and of course to centrist and liberal voters in the general election. The risks of this stance are reduced by the fact that several large states such as California and New York have moved their primaries early in 2008, reducing the importance of the activist-dominated contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. Anti-abortion views remain a major factor among Republicans (according to the New York Times article, "41 percent of Republicans thought abortions should be prohibited, compared with 23 percent of Americans in general; in addition, 53 percent of Republicans said they wanted a Republican presidential nominee who would make abortions more difficult to get"), but their terror of a Democratic Presidency has made electability an even more critical issue; the fear that "a vote for Romney/Thompson/Brownback is a vote for President Hillary" may trump all other concerns.

This response by Pat Buchanan expresses the betrayal felt by the hard core of the Christian Right. It is striking, however, that he raises the specter of a foreign entity meddling in the American electoral process against Giuliani -- "the Vatican will not be silent" -- as if this were something Giuliani should fear. The Catholic hierarchy's moral authority in the US has been hugely damaged by the child-molestation scandals, and American Catholics largely disregard the Vatican's fulminations about other issues such as contraception. I doubt that Giuliani is trembling at the prospect of the Pope telling Americans not to vote for him -- any American who would be swayed by such a pronouncement probably would not have voted for him anyway.

But I expect the Christian Right to grow steadily more agitated over Giuliani. After all, if a pro-choice candidate becomes the Republican Presidential nominee and wins the election, then the anti-abortion position is very likely to become permanently marginalized in American politics -- and the Christian Right with it, since it is their signature issue. Their power depends on the claim that Republicans cannot hope to win national elections without their support. If that claim is demonstrated to be false, it's a whole new ball game.

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Blogger Bill Yarbrough said...

Interested more in your thoughts around strict constructionist judges. Perhaps a post on your pros and cons here when you get the chance. Thanks.

12 May, 2007 05:21  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I'm no expert on Constitutional interpretation -- my main interest is in its practical consequences. I meant only that I think a President Giuliani could find judges who would generally be recognized as "strict constructionists" who would nevertheless uphold Roe vs. Wade. This is one of those phrases which the Christian Right has adopted as a code for "anti-abortion" but which doesn't necessarily mean that.

12 May, 2007 05:27  

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