Of Many Things

A good deal of the zing has gone out of the race for the presidency now that both John McCain and Bill Bradley have withdrawn. I didn’t realize the intellectual loss until last month, as I listened to Al Gore being interviewed by Jim Lehrer. Lehrer brought up the topic of abortion. Gore chose to distinguish himself from George W. Bush by intoning the most tired slogans of the pro-choice lobby. He would always defend a woman’s right to choose, he said. I have always supported Roe v. Wade. (It’s well known he hasn’t; as a congressman from Tennessee, he was moderately pro-life.) If he becomes president, Gore promised to make sure Supreme Court appointees embrace Roe v. Wade. Would that be the litmus test? Lehrer asked. No, of course Gore would not impose anything as crude as a litmus test for Supreme Court candidates. And so on.

Right there, I despaired of Al Gore and decided to cast a write-in vote for Julia Roberts, whom I saw interviewed later that night for an hour on The Charlie Rose Show. This may suggest I’m caving in to the popular belief that all politics is entertainment, I know. Not a bit. On purely objective, rational grounds, I’ve decided Ms. Roberts is more interesting, smarter and a lot better looking than either Al Gore or the governor of Texas. Imagine adversaries like Milosevic, Castro, Vladimir Putin, China’s President Jiang Zemin or even Saddam Hussein resisting the smile of Ms. Robertswhy, they’d all be pushovers for her diplomatic charm! The lady is irresistable.

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Gore is resistable. Do you have to dumb yourself down to run for President? Mind you, I once admired him - after he greeted me by name at a Washington conference several years ago (flattery will get you anywhere). But his pro-abortion absolutism got to me. Doesn’t he know that the majority of Americans are ambivalent about this issue? Couldn’t he risk being a little nuanced, as he once was as a congressman? Many people, for instance, don’t want to see women criminalized for having an abortion, but still think second trimester abortions are morally iffy and third trimester ones ought to be legally restricted (as Roe originally suggested).

I was thinking about a recent article in The New Republic by Gregg Easterbrook (1/31/00). He argues that the new understanding of early life in the womb fits neither the pro-life nor the pro-choice positions. Easterbrook does not agree with the Catholic bishops on the point at which fetal life deserves legal protection, but his position at least respects biology, which Al Gore’s does not. Biologically speaking, according to Easterbrook, the point of conception is a murky timesince two-thirds of fertilized eggs, it is estimated, never result in babies, even when abortion is not a factor. Either the fertilized egg (zygote) doesn’t implant in the uterine wall, or the later embryo is lost in natural miscarriage.

More to the point, Easterbrook disagrees with pro-choicers like Gore at the other end of pregnancy, in the third trimester (beginning at 24 weeks). At this juncture, the fetus has sensation and brain activity; in fact, it shows all the characteristics of a newborn. Armed with this evidence, in 1997 the A.M.A. declared that by the third trimester new life clearly existed and required legal protection. For similar reasons, Senate minority leader Tom Daschle switched in 1997 from supporting late-term abortions to opposing them. It is the mark of an ideologue, though, not to be affected by new evidence.

Charlie Rose is famous for puff-ball questions. No surprise, he didn’t ask Julia Roberts about abortion. If he had, I might have to change my vote to another actor. Still, I like the idea that Ms. Roberts, at the $20 million she’s now paid per film, could finance her own campaignlike Steve Forbes, only a kinder, gentler capitalist tool.

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