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Joseph Sobran’s
Washington Watch

“Baby” or “Fetus”?

(Reprinted from the issue of June 12, 2003)

Capitol BldgThe grisly murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn child has shocked many people into new reflections on abortion. It has also put the pro-abortion forces on the defensive. Clearly the child, as well as his mother, was the victim of an undeniably monstrous crime.

Seeing the implications, the feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, an aggressive harpy if there ever was one, objects to the news media’s use of the word “child” in coverage of the story. She insists that “fetus” is “the correct medical term.” Of course she is doing what the pro-abortion movement always does: insisting on technical language in order to dehumanize the unborn.

But “child” is no more “incorrect” than “mother” is. There is no reason to prefer the abstract medical term to the normal and natural word, with all its moral overtones. No doubt Miss Allred would rather say the child was “terminated” than that he was “murdered.”

I never cease to marvel at the semantic perversions of abortion advocates. As they trivialize the aborted child as a “fetus,” they actually try to humanize the professional killer of unborn children as an “abortion provider,” rather than an “abortionist.” A strange distribution of sympathies, but that’s what happens when you try to normalize murder.

Like Milton’s Satan, the abortion advocates are really saying: “Evil, be thou my good.” In the end, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, when you choose evil you are also choosing nonsense.
A Summons to Conservatives

Donald Devine, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, has recently offered a sharp, though typically civil, challenge to the conservative movement. He laments that the movement has lost its way, and is in danger of being reduced to “cheerleading for the White House.”

As Devine sees it, conservatives have allowed themselves to be seduced by distractions of “empire” and “national greatness,” which are in tension with, if not inimical to, their core principles of limited and constitutional government. As a result, true conservatism — the kind that brought Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan to national prominence — is no longer a real force in American politics.

Devine has always been one to keep his eye on the ball, combining philosophy with political savvy. I first met him 30 years ago, when he gave a brilliant, stirring speech at a meeting of the Philadelphia Society. He drew on the thought of one of my intellectual heroes, Willmoore Kendall, but without Kendall’s rather cavalier scorn for the Tenth Amendment, the cornerstone of constitutional limitations on the federal government. Devine was emphatic about confining the government to the (few) powers assigned to it.

That kind of conservatism is hardly heard from these days. It has been upstaged and crowded out of the public square by neoconservatism, which is unconcerned with constitutional limits or, indeed, with any truly conservative principles. The neoconservatives want a government oriented to war and empire. True, they prefer a warfare state to a welfare state, but this is hardly a prescription for reducing the size and role of government.

On the contrary, Devine argues, a global empire would make limited government at home practically impossible. The militarization necessary for empire would change domestic institutions too, as it is already beginning to do under the rubric of “national security.” The slogans of “defense,” though attractive to conservatives, are just as capable of indefinite expansion as liberal slogans of “general welfare.”

Devine’s challenge has already gotten a hostile reception from National Review, once the bellwether of American conservatism; one of its writers calls Devine’s manifesto “cracked.” Bill Buckley’s magazine has long since abandoned its connection to the conservatism of Kendall, Frank Meyer, Russell Kirk, James Burnham, Richard Weaver, Brent Bozell, and the young Bill Buckley himself. It’s now a second-string organ of the neoconservatives, eagerly echoing The Weekly Standard. Its sassy independence and defiance of the Republican Party — its original reason for being — is only a faint, fading memory. Today National Review, born in dissatisfaction with Dwight Eisenhower, might pass for a publication of the Republican National Committee.

Devine wants American conservatism to be a vital force again. At the moment, what passes for conservatism is only a variant of the liberalism it allegedly opposes. As I’ve often said, the U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government. And for that we can thank many of the people who call themselves conservatives. If it were up to Don Devine, I can assure you it would be otherwise.
Out of the Bag

Nobody has ever called Paul Wolfowitz dumb. So it came as a surprise when the hawkish deputy secretary of defense admitted to a Vanity Fair interviewer that Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction” hadn’t necessarily been the central reason for the recent war. They were only one of several “bureaucratic reasons,” one which “everyone [in the Bush administration] could agree on,” Wolfowitz said.

Belief in the very existence of those weapons is fading fast. If Saddam Hussein had them, he didn’t use them when he most needed them. If he hid them, they haven’t been found since the war ended. It transpires that the administration distorted and exaggerated intelligence reports concerning them, with the suave assistance of Colin Powell, who is now handling damage control in the wake of Wolfowitz’s letting the cat out of the bag. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair still insist that the WMDs do exist and will eventually be located — but when?

Bush is still very popular, but Blair isn’t. Unless those weapons turn up, Blair may well be forced to resign. Unlike Bush, he staked his whole case for war on WMDs. He may pay dearly for his lucidity. Both Tories and Laborites are demanding to know whether he twisted the evidence in order to manipulate public opinion in favor of a war that was very unpopular in Britain to begin with. An official inquiry could end his political career.

Bush, of course, gave nebulous and shifting justifications for war. Though he was emphatic, even obsessive, about WMDs, he also implied that Saddam Hussein was, or might be, allied with al-Qaeda and other terrorist forces. He also stressed Hussein’s human rights abuses, though this had nothing to do with defending the United States from possible attack.

Bush also had confusion on his side. Many Americans somehow got the impression that Iraq was somehow behind the 9/11 attacks; many even thought that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were the same man! Though Bush, of course, never said anything so ludicrously false, without these absurd and widespread misconceptions, verging on superstition, the war might never have won popular support.

Sometimes, in politics, it’s unnecessary for a leader to lie. He can merely let his followers believe what they want to believe, without directly contradicting them. The truth is great and will prevail, but by then it may be too late to make any difference.
Copyright © 2003 by The Wanderer
Reprinted with permission.

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