Logo for Joe Sobran's newsletter: Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 Litmus Test Alert 

August 16, 2007 
[Originally published by the Universal Press Syndicate, January 13, 1998]
indent for Litmus Test 
AlertIf American politics doesn’t always make much sense, it’s largely because of two broad classes of people: (1) fools, and (2) knaves. This simple dichotomy roughly corresponds to the two-party system, though there is plenty of overlap.

Today's column is "Litmus Test Alert" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.indent for Litmus Test AlertEvery now and then (and now is one of those nows), the Republican Party is warned, by the solemn voice of the New York Times editorial board, that it risks losing the votes of “moderates” if it persists in applying “litmus tests.” Basically, this means that Democrats won’t vote for the Republicans unless they act like Democrats.

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertJust the other day, the Times chided Steve Forbes, who is clearly preparing to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, for endorsing “litmus tests.” It seems that —

indent for Litmus Test 
Alert“Whoa,” the Naive Reader will interject at this point. “Just what do you mean by ‘litmus tests’? And what’s so bad about them?”

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertWhy, I thought everyone knew that! A litmus test is bad because ... because ... well, I’m not sure, exactly. Something to do with “choice,” I think. You know, “tolerance” versus “dogma.”

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertActually, litmus test is one of those phrases that clog and confuse our political conversation because they seem to stand for general principles, when in fact they’re applied only to one specific topic. In this case, abortion. The Republicans are arguing about whether to withhold party funds from candidates who don’t oppose “partial-birth” abortions — the late-term kind that might, without being too graphic here, make a butcher faint.

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertOpposition to such abortions may thus become a “litmus test” for party support. The phrase first gained currency during Ronald Reagan’s first term, when liberals charged that Reagan was making abortion a “litmus test” for Supreme Court appointments, and —

indent for Litmus Test 
Alert“Wait a minute,” the Naive Reader may cut in. “You still haven’t explained what’s wrong with that. After all, don’t political parties usually take firm stands on certain issues? Wouldn’t the national Democratic Party withhold its support from candidates who favored racial segregation or child labor?”

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertWell, Naive Reader, you may be naive, but you’re logical. In politics, it often comes to the same thing. Of course you’re absolutely right. Both parties have litmus tests, or they wouldn’t stand for anything. But the opprobrious phrase litmus test is applied only to abortion to imply that opponents of abortion are uniquely “intolerant.” (Somehow the tolerance of those who favor abortion never seems to be in doubt, even when they won’t permit anti-abortion speakers at national conventions.)

[Breaker quote for Litmus Test Alert: There are no pro-abortion 'extremists.']indent for Litmus Test AlertTerms like choice, big tent, and extremism are applied in the same lopsided way. Only opponents of abortion are “extremists.” There’s no such thing as a pro-abortion “extremist.” In fact, nobody admits to being pro-abortion. They’re always “pro-choice.”

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertSo we have a weird political spectrum in which “moderation” lies not at the midpoint, but at the left end. One extreme is “extremist,” while the opposite extreme is “moderate.” The knaves have decreed it, and the fools agree with them.

indent for Litmus Test 
Alert“But that doesn’t make any sense!” the Naive Reader will protest.

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertRight again, Naive Reader. But political language is usually loaded this way. It’s designed to manipulate emotions, not to inspire reflection. And it provokes automatic reactions, like an electric cattle prod.

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertEven lots of people who have qualms about abortion, especially the late-term kind, don’t want to be called “extremist” or “intolerant.” They don’t stop to think about the implications of these words, and it never occurs to them to demand that such terms be applied consistently.

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertThat’s why the notoriously liberal media never refer to “pro-abortion extremists.” They don’t even want the concept to enter people’s heads.

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertOtherwise, they might find the term applicable to the Communist Chinese government, which forces women to have abortions against their will, even in the last month of pregnancy. If that isn’t “pro-abortion extremism,” nothing is. If you really believe abortion should be a matter of an individual woman’s “choice,” you should be horrified by the gruesome forced-abortion policy.

indent for Litmus Test 
AlertBut when was the last time you heard an advocate of “choice” condemn the Chinese policy? Unfortunately, American politics doesn’t have litmus tests for hypocrisy.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2007 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
This column may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation

Read a remarkable story
and see the remarkable
that goes with it.
Send this article to a friend.

Recipient’s e-mail address:
(You may have multiple e-mail addresses; separate them by spaces.)

Your e-mail address:

Enter a subject for your e-mail:

Mailarticle © 2001 by Gavin Spomer
Archive Table of Contents

Current Column

Return to the SOBRANS home page.

FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.

Search This Site

Search the Web     Search SOBRANS

What’s New?

Articles and Columns by Joe Sobran
 FGF E-Package “Reactionary Utopian” Columns 
  Wanderer column (“Washington Watch”) 
 Essays and Articles | Biography of Joe Sobran | Sobran’s Cynosure 
 The Shakespeare Library | The Hive
 WebLinks | Books by Joe 
 Subscribe to Joe Sobran’s Columns 

Other FGF E-Package Columns and Articles
 Sam Francis Classics | Paul Gottfried, “The Ornery Observer” 
 Mark Wegierski, “View from the North” 
 Chilton Williamson Jr., “At a Distance” 
 Kevin Lamb, “Lamb amongst Wolves” 
 Subscribe to the FGF E-Package 

Products and Gift Ideas
Back to the home page 


SOBRANS and Joe Sobran’s columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.

Reprinted with permission
This page is copyright © 2007 by The Vere Company
and may not be reprinted in print or
Internet publications without express permission
of The Vere Company.