Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Lost Art of Disagreement

We sorely test our ability to live together if we readily question each other’s integrity.  It may be harder to restrain our feelings when moral principles are at stake, for they go to the deepest wellsprings of our being.  But the more our feelings diverge, the more deeply felt they are, the greater is our obligation to grant the sincerity and essential decency of our fellow citizens on the other side. – Senator Edward Kennedy, October 3, 1983
During my second year of law school, I read with mild amusement in The Washington Post that then-Senator Ted Kennedy had accepted an invitation to speak at Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Liberty Baptist was established by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, the arch-conservative founder of the Moral Majority, an organization many credit with the rise of the Christian Right in American politics.  To Falwell and most of the students at Liberty Baptist, Ted Kennedy represented everything wrong with American society.  A liberal Democrat and symbol of the American Left, Kennedy was on opposite sides of the Moral Majority on almost every conceivable issue.  Kennedy supported abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, opposed prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools; he was instrumental in helping to enact federal civil rights laws, which many southerners believed undermined states’ rights and local control.  Kennedy was a passionate advocate for national health care and government’s role in alleviating poverty, pollution, and discrimination.  Even his support for a nuclear freeze offended the anti-Communist, Cold Warrior Falwell.  A Catholic from secular leaning Massachusetts, Kennedy’s world view did not fit well on a college campus that embraced Falwell’s social and political conservatism and belief in biblical literalism and fundamentalist Christian theology.  To many students at Liberty Baptist, Kennedy was a modern-day Devil.  I had difficulty imagining how a Kennedy speech in Falwell territory could possibly go well.

I was wrong.  On October 3, 1983, Kennedy appeared before a packed house and gave one of the best speeches of his career.  Kennedy mixed humor with insight and spoke from the heart.  He joked that many people in Washington were surprised that he was invited to speak at such a conservative school, and even more surprised that he had accepted.  “They seem to think that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a Kennedy to come to the campus of Liberty Baptist College.”  But Kennedy understood the importance of dialogue and respect for opposing views:
I have come here to discuss my beliefs about faith and country, tolerance and truth in America.  I know we begin with certain disagreements; I strongly suspect that at the end of the evening some of our disagreements will remain.  But I also hope that tonight and in the months and years ahead, we will always respect the right of others to differ, that we will never lose sight of our own fallibility, that we will view ourselves with a sense of perspective and a sense of humor.
Kennedy reminded this mostly conservative Baptist audience that, as a Catholic American, he too loved his country and treasured his faith.  But he warned of the perils of absolutism and self-righteous certitude.  “I do not assume that my conception of patriotism or policy is invariably correct, or that my convictions about religion should command any greater respect than any other faith in this pluralistic society.”  He noted that the nation’s founders were men of varying faiths and that, while the United States shared a history of religious pluralism and tolerance, it also had experienced periods of prejudice and discrimination.  “Let us never forget:  Today’s Moral Majority could become tomorrow’s persecuted minority.”

It is doubtful Kennedy changed many minds that day, but his willingness to address the students and faculty at Liberty Baptist College, and the polite, respectful reception provided him, helped promote, if not agreement on the substantive issues, at least mutual understanding.  Falwell had personally extended the invitation because, he said later, although most of the students opposed Kennedy’s politics, it was important that they hear and consider opposing views.  That Falwell and Kennedy could share the same podium served as witness to the importance of civil discourse and the exchange of ideas.  It demonstrated that, while liberals and conservatives may disagree on matters of policy, they share many of the same values and, as Americans who love their country and wish to make it better, differ only on how to make it so.  If we wish for a vibrant, healthy democracy, Kennedy said, “We must respect the motives of those who exercise their right to disagree.”

Philosophically and politically, Kennedy and Falwell were diametrically opposed all their lives.  But they remained on friendly terms with each other.  When Falwell’s son applied for admission to the University of Virginia Law School (Kennedy’s alma mater), Kennedy volunteered to write a letter of recommendation and later invited the entire Falwell family to dinner at Kennedy’s house in McLean, Virginia.  Years later, when Rose Kennedy was in failing health, Kennedy invited Falwell, who at the time was in south Florida, to stop by the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach and pray with the family.  In 2005, when Falwell was hospitalized with severe pulmonary edema, he received a kind and encouraging letter from Kennedy, wishing him a quick recovery.  As Jerry Falwell, Jr., later reflected, “Both of these men understood that they could disagree without being disagreeable.  They were both lightning rods for their respective causes, but they treated each other with civility and respect.”

I note the Kennedy-Falwell story because it seems nowadays we have a diminished ability to engage in appropriate political discourse and disagreement, that we have lost a spirit of mutual respect, are less open to differing points of view, and rarely acknowledge our common humanity and good faith.

It may simply be that we are in the midst of a presidential election campaign, where every four years the airwaves are filled with out-of-context sound bites and false and misleading campaign ads (from both sides).  Democracy is a messy business.  It is why I am more comfortable with the world of ideas and policy than with the day-to-day clash of politics.

We live in an increasingly polarized world.  The rise of online news and the proliferation of cable news channels have made the world a more ideologically-entrenched place, less open to rational, civil discourse.  The American political scene operates increasingly on a mix of emotion and insecurity.  Our political leanings are reinforced, and not challenged, by the ascent of intentionally-biased news outlets, from Fox to MSNBC, and by ideologically-inspired blogs and websites.  Acerbic commentators and demagogues, mostly but not exclusively on the right (e.g., Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, Ed Schultz) demonize anyone who disagrees with them and successfully energize large swaths of sheep-like followers to view Democrats, or the Obamas, or whoever needs to be attacked that day, as the enemy.  

I understand that politics, religion, and similar human endeavors do not always lend themselves to easy conclusions and reasonable disagreements.  But there are ways to discuss differences that promote honest, good faith debate, where each side has the opportunity to learn from and be challenged by the other.  Consider the days when William Buckley Jr. debated the likes of John Kenneth Galbraith and other liberal intellectuals on Firing Line. Reasoned dialogue cannot occur, however, when people absolutely convinced of the rightness of their cause begin demonizing their perceived enemies. I see it almost every day on Facebook, where a small group of “friends” post angry, bitter, ad hominem attacks (“Obama is a liar” or “Obama’s a socialist out to destroy America”), and discussion stoppers (“If you hate this country so much, why don’t you leave”). 

Name calling serves only to suppress genuine debate and disserves the democratic process.  When language is used as a weapon, it closes down debate.  Take an emotionally charged issue like abortion.  If I am called a “baby killer” or am told that to be pro-choice is to favor a new Holocaust, there is no room for reasoned discussion.  Perhaps if my pro-life friend understands that I do not think he is a woman-hating fascist, and if he accepts that I am not in favor of infanticide, we can try to reach some common ground.  Tone down the rhetoric and my opponent may learn that I, too, believe abortion is morally wrong in most cases and that, as a society we should attempt to find reasonable ways to reduce the total number of abortions.  I will never agree that abortions should be outlawed, but we may find other areas of common ground.  Perhaps if we start from a position of mutual respect, my pro-life friend will learn that I understand the intensity of his feelings and agree that abortion is indeed about the termination of a human life.  We will not need to debate the philosophical issue of when life begins.  But perhaps I can show through statistical studies that abstinence is ineffective and that prohibiting abortions will not eliminate them, but only make them unsafe and threaten our civil liberties. 

If we can acknowledge the good faith of the other, perhaps we can agree that improved sex education and access to birth control more effectively prevents unwanted pregnancies, thereby reducing abortions.  Even if we cannot agree, at least we can acknowledge that the issue is not only about the morality of abortion – no one is actually “pro-abortion” – but its legality.  At issue is not the sanctity of life, a subject on which we both agree, but whether the government has the right to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term simply because she and her partner made a mistake (yes, human beings are flawed), or their birth control failed, or she was raped.  The issue is not whether abortion is morally good or morally bad, or whether one of us is “pro-life” and the other “anti-life”.  No, the issue is who gets to decide?  And when does the Government have the right to force a woman, or a teenage girl, to carry an unwanted pregnancy to full term?

I understand that, on some issues, like health care, liberals and conservatives disagree about the fundamental values at stake.  Liberals believe that health care is a right and that a compassionate society should ensure basic health care for all its citizens.  Conservatives believe that health care is no different than any other commodity, that only those who work and earn sufficient pay are entitled to buy health care services in the free market, and that society’s only obligation is to provide emergency hospital services to those who have no other option (such as the victim of a shooting or a car accident).  In today’s political environment, such disagreements take on the dimension of a moral crusade – compassion vs. freedom; socialism vs. free enterprise.  But perhaps we can agree on certain objectives.  Can we agree that an appropriate societal goal is to develop a system that will maximize the number of people who can afford health care without undermining advances in medicine?  Can we agree that increased preventive care is an effective means of reducing health care costs?  With respectful dialogue, we can at least define common objectives and find a basis for compromise.  But this can only occur when mutual respect and good faith prevail.  It is when America works best. 

“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress,” said Mahatma Gandhi.  Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, will continue to disagree on many issues.  But if our disagreements do not once again become civil and respectful; if we refuse to acknowledge the inherent goodness of the other and proceed with humility, recognizing that none of us has all the answers and that good ideas exist on both sides, we will no longer progress as a democratic society or find a common basis for our citizenship.  And then our democracy will be troubled.  As Senator Kennedy told the students at Liberty Baptist College nearly thirty years ago, “[T]he choice lies within us; as fellow citizens, let us live peaceable with each other; as fellow human beings, let us strive to live peaceably with men and women everywhere.”


  1. Mark,

    I was going to pass, once again, on commenting, especially when I saw that, once again, the star of your post was one of the more despicable men to hold office. As I read on, I was certain I would take a pass because your worn out hypocrisy was on display again. I’m not sure what occurs more often in your posts, demands for civility or blatant examples of incivility. Today you bemoan the “diminished ability to engage in appropriate political discourse and disagreement,” while yesterday you were insulting the peaceful, law-abiding and politically engaged Tea Party, accusing them of the most vile and disgusting acts for which you have resisted apologizing despite the overwhelming evidence of their innocence. Today you claim we have lost the “spirit of mutual respect” and are less open to differing points of view,” while yesterday you accused President Bush of damnable lies, for which you, again, have never apologized. You curse the expanded sources of news that have made us more aware and have prevented, to name just two, Dan Rather from destroying a good man with forged documents and MSNBC from tar and feathering George Zimmerman with edited 911 tapes. In a post about civil discourse, you described those who listen to Glenn Beck as “sheep,” despite admitting that you don’t listen to him, which explains why you are unaware of his number one rule, “Do your own research.” Followers of Beck have turned 200-year-old books into New York Times best sellers as they devour the history of this country and recently they did more to help the hungry in three days than a gaggle of liberals could do in a lifetime (it’s likely that this was not reported in the NYT). By the way, may I assume that your search for a church is over because you apparently have found a choir to preach to considering that you just insulted millions of Beck, Limbaugh, and Coulter fans, not to mention the four Ed Shultz fans.

    So I was passing on commenting, even when, as your first example of our country’s polarization, you mistakenly chose abortion, a life and death issue so much more serious than taxes, health care, gay marriage, defense spending and so on.

    Then I read it–a sentence that actually stunned me: “Perhaps if we start from a position of mutual respect, my pro-life friend will learn that I understand the intensity of his feelings and AGREE THAT ABORTION IS INDEED ABOUT THE TERMINATION OF A HUMAN LIFE.”

    I still can’t believe it, Mark. I have always assumed that the pro-abortion crowd did not view the unborn as human; that to them a fetus was a lump of cells and therefore abortion was not murder. I had assumed, falsely I now learn, that in their odd way of looking at life, the status of “human” only occurred when head cleared crotch. It was illogical and insanely stupid but at least they weren’t judging one life superior to another; deciding that one class of humans, the truly innocent and completely helpless, were less worthy of life.

    I have always considered you the prototype liberal, and while I knew that there were some extremists out there who, despite your assurances, become almost orgasmic at the thought of a woman having an abortion–as if declaring their womanhood in the loudest possible terms–I had assumed most found abortion distasteful but tolerable because, after all, the fetus isn’t really human yet.


  2. Do I know better now? Would you not agree that all “human beings” have an equal right to life? That a one-minute-old infant and a 99-year-old man in a hospice bed struggling for every breath both have the same right to life as a 21-year-old marathoner crossing the finish line? If the answer is yes, and if you believe the unborn are “human beings” you’ve got some intense soul-searching to do, because what you are defending is, indeed, a holocaust and what you are protecting IS the right to be a “baby-killer.” If you believe what you wrote, there is no more room to debate than if I said Down syndrome babies should be killed upon birth.

    I worry for you Mark, because you know the truth, but support the lie. Unless you’re applying for a position on the soon-to-be-formed “death panels” and do, indeed, believe that some lives are more valuable than others, you can not hold two diametrically opposed views. You can not hold that a fetus is human and then support its murder. You can not say that a husband is guilty of homicide when he ends the life of his unborn child but hold innocent the wife who snuffs out the life of that very same human being.

    You then add injury to insult when you suggest that a person who believes that abortion is murder could be moved closer to the pro-baby killing side if they would just look at your statical PowerPoint presentation that shows the teaching of abstinence is less effective than putting condoms on bananas! (By the way, not that it matters because the issue is murder, but I can rattle off studies that prove the opposite and would start with the amazing success that abstinence education in Africa has had in stopping the spread of AIDS.)

    The sad truth is that you do not, in fact, believe in the “sanctity of life.” You support, whole heartily, the idea that some life can be taken without due process and without accountability.

    The truth is that liberals only believe in bi-partisanship when the other side agrees with them. On at least two occasions I, a pro-lifer, have reached across the aisle with a proposal common to conservatives and which you have ignored both times: Outlaw abortion except in cases of rape and incest. Or, leave it to the states and the voters. Let New Jersey be the baby-slaughtering state and let Utah be the baby-saving state and let’s see which state prospers.

    But for the pro-abortion crowd, there is no room for any negotiation that includes any restriction at all on the sacred right of a woman to terminate the “human being” growing inside her.

    (I find it interesting, by the way, that in a post on incivility in which you singled out Beck, Limbaugh and the fetching Ann Coulter, you did not highlight the current and inexcusable conduct of Harry Reid, a man who may have topped Ted Kennedy’s greatest hits of “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back alley abortions...”, "Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management," and “I made immediate and repeated efforts to save Mary Jo by diving into the strong and murky current...”)

    Rich R.

  3. Rich,

    Wow. You have just proven my point. I have tried my best for the past three years or so to have a conversation with you, but you simply will not let one occur. Your response is not an attempt at dialogue or civil discussion, a concept you appear to be offended by, but a delusional, insulting diatribe that frankly is not welcome on this blog.

  4. Mark,

    I will, of course, respect your wish, but I must ask: How did I refuse to engage in conversation? I challenged your views and offered a proposal (for the 3rd time). Exactly what statements were delusional? Or insulting (except to Teddy and Harry)? Where was my logic not sound? What, exactly, did I write that proves your point?

    Rich R.

  5. Rich,

    I wrote a piece that discussed the lost art of disagreement and gave a very good example of two diametrically opposed people – Kennedy and Falwell – who, despite their disagreements, maintained a friendly air and degree of civility, a mutual respect for each other, despite their very strong and sharp disagreements on the issues. I am certain they did not always live up to their exemplary display of October 3, 1983 – Kennedy engaged in heated rhetoric, as do all politicians, and Falwell went way over the line on numerous occasions (e.g., essentially accusing President Clinton of murder in the Vincent Foster tragedy) – but I chose this example because it is something we should strive for in our political discourse. I then chose the emotionally-charged issue of abortion as one example of a subject that, IF YOU TONE DOWN THE RHETORIC, can indeed be discussed by mature adults. Your response is laughable in how tone deaf you are. Instead of stating whether you agree with what I wrote about civility, you call me a hypocrite and have the audacity to tell me that I do not believe in the sanctity of life, that I am indeed a supporter of a holocaust and of baby-killing (did you even read what I wrote?), suggest that I “know the truth, but support the lie” and make snide comments about Senator Kennedy without even acknowledging, commenting on, or addressing the points he made in his talk at Liberty Baptist College. Your responses rarely address the main points of my essays. Instead, you engage in ad-hominem attacks on either me or the people mentioned. Perhaps it is a matter of tone in some instances, but you are incapable of tolerance or civility in your political discourse. You are Exhibit A in how not to argue politics. I enjoy debates and discussions, particularly with those with whom I disagree, but a civil debate is respectful of the opponent. You may not intend to be so, but you do not argue or debate in a respectful manner.

  6. Mark,
    Let this be my swan song.
    Hypocrisy drives me nuts.  And the hypocrisy that shows up time and again in your posts is the call for civility when your posts are filled with incivility.  I used to point them out, but my efforts were pointless.  Now, I read your posts (never missed one!) and let the hypocrisy slide.  I had no intention of commenting on this post because I would just rehash what I have already said which has already been ignored. You use, once again, Glenn Beck as the poster child for incivility, ignorant of the fact that he just completed his third rally, this one called “Restoring Love,” in which tens of thousands of polite, well-behaved and caring people (you may know them as “sheep”) gathered for the express purpose of serving their fellow man.  So your essay lacked credibility and moved me not in the least to comment, which I made clear from the beginning.  I also made it clear that the only reason I was commenting was because of one glorious revelation.
    Nevertheless, I tried one more time to highlight the hypocrisy before I got to the meat and potatoes.  I contrasted your call for civility with your past incivility, using specifics (and keeping the Andrea Rule in mind, I limited it to just a few examples).  I then went on to respectfully disagree with your view of today’s news media, citing specific examples of why the proliferation of cable and internet news and independent bloggers is a good thing not bad.  I then pointed out the strangeness of writing about the need to be civil by citing a thoroughly uncivil person while describing as “demagogues” those who you admit to not listening to.  In this call for civility, you then branded millions of engaged Americans as herdable sheep, which I countered, again, with evidence of their non-sheep-like behavior.
    But all of that was just introduction to the real reason I commented and, although I MADE THAT CLEAR, I find it disturbing that you still focused on my non-interest of the “main point” of your essay, instead of the thing that actually motivated me to comment.
    But OK, should we be civil?  Sure and we shouldn’t kick puppy dogs either.  So we’re agreed on that less-than-earth-shattering idea.  But nothing that you wrote and nothing that I wrote before zeroing in on my objective comes anywhere close in importance to what you said regarding the unborn.
    And the response to that was to brand my reasoning as rhetoric/laughable/tone deaf/ad-hominem attacks/intolerance, as if throwing out adjectives is rebuttal.  What bounces off of me, sticks to you!
    But nevertheless, let’s examine a final time, my “rhetoric” (by the way, look up the definition of rhetoric and then imagine me saying thank you) and notice, once again, that I actually address what you write.
    You’re offended by my use of the word “holocaust.”  OK, let’s break it down:  We both agree that a fetus is a human being.  We both agree that abortion is the killing of a human being.  You support the right of a woman to kill a human being if it resides in her womb.  The question then is: How many human beings must die in this fashion before we reach the level of a “holocaust”?  Provide me that number and I will refrain from the use of that word until we reach it.  I mean, it’s not like we can be anywhere near the number of THE Holocaust, right?


  7. You’re offended that I accuse you of not believing in the sanctity of life.  Ok, let’s break it down: You support the killing of human beings.  What am I missing here?
    And again I ask you, what did I write that was delusional?
    So some direct questions:
    Why is the death of millions of unborn human beings not a holocaust?
    How does supporting the killing of human beings and having a respect for the sanctity of life coincide?
    Why is a man who terminates the life of his unborn child a murderer, but a woman who does the same, not?
    Are all human beings entitled to the same rights?  Are some people more equal than others?
    Are there any limitations you would support on abortion?  Consider your previous defense of Senator Obama’s extreme position before answering.
    These are not silly questions, Mark.  They are profound and you should be able to answer them, publicly or privately.  
    You seem to think that the abortion issue is terribly complex and that pro-lifers can be moved to see your particular wisdom.  It’s incomprehensible to you that there are issues that are black and white.  I keep imagining us, in previous lives, having a similar conversation in say, 1860.  I, as a Republican, naturally say to you, “Mark, slavery is wrong.  Period.” 
    And you reply, as a good Democrat, “Rich, it’s not that simple.  After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us slavery is inevitable?  Hasn’t the institution been practiced for thousands of years?  Should not the educated elite take care of those that are not as advanced and don’t know what’s better for them?  How, Rich, would millions of suddenly freed and inferior slaves support themselves?”
    “But Mark, slavery is evil.”
    “Please Rich, stop with the inflammatory rhetoric.  I agree with you that slavery is distasteful and we should do what we can to minimize its spread.  Perhaps we can outlaw it in the territories; perhaps, with continued education, we can encourage more and more people to see the wrongness of it, because I do agree with you that the negro is a human being, maybe not fully developed, but certainly human…”
    Well this skit could go on forever so I’ll stop since I know you disagree with the analogy, but sadly, much of the logic is the same and history proved anti-slavery thought correct and will, eventually, prove anti-abortion thought correct and many people will spend considerable time hiding their pro-abortion heritage.
    There are many things of which I’m certain, the non-existence of gay cowboys and the existence of real evil to name a couple, but the two most important are that abortion is murder and that what awaits us all, inescapably, is a reckoning.  I saw in your essay the most important nugget of wisdom and I sought to capitalize on it by provoking you to consider the logical conclusions that must proceed from it.
    I find it appropriate that we end on a life and death topic.  Our styles are opposite: I believe the best way to make a point is with humor and I discriminate not at all in the type of humor.  Your style is more earnest and measured.  But perhaps the more significant difference is perception.  I have never, not once, taken anything you have said about me personally.  In fact, my response is always the same: Defend your use of adjectives!  We are both men of evidence and I have always challenged you with a demand for your proofs.  If a case can be made that I am delusional, I will commit myself posthaste.  I have likewise never meant any offense and am sorry if you have taken it that way.  I think I have been faithful in supplying the evidence of my charges, although I understand the evidence I present may not sway you.
    I will continue reading you and continue learning, until your Mamet Moment, the workings of the liberal mind.
    Rich R.

  8. Rich,

    As you know, my weakness is one you also share and so easily exploit – the need to have the last word. So, against my better judgment, let me respond.

    Let me begin by suggesting that perhaps you are confused as to the meaning of civil disagreement. To disagree, even sharply, and to criticize statements and stances of another, is perfectly acceptable. I have criticized your beloved Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck on past occasions, but in the case of Palin, I pointed to a specific statement she had made about “death panels” and accused her of demagoguery, then urged her to rise above that and become the responsible leader she allegedly aspired to be. As for Glenn Beck, I attacked his absurd statements about social justice and his urging Christians to run from churches that preached social justice. I then proceeded to demonstrate how wrong he was and I noted that Jim Wallis, who Beck was unfairly and uncivilly attacking, had invited Beck to sit down together and engage in a “civil dialogue” about the importance of social justice in Christian teachings. Beck, of course, wanted nothing to do with it, so he continued to attack Wallis in an almost silly fashion.

    You may compare the tone of my writings to the tone and statements of Beck, Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, and any number of right-wing commentators, and I am confident that my writings will come across as more civil and open-minded than theirs. Am I perfect? No, and I admit that I did once refer to Limbaugh as a “talk-radio windbag” – how uncivil of me – but it is, unfortunately, an empirically true statement, so I cannot offer an apology.

    I appreciate the fact that you take the time to read and often comment on my writings. Based on the feedback I have received from many other readers of my material, however, you are the only person who has even suggested that my writings are anything but civil. Many have said a variation of the following: “I don’t always agree with what you say, but I appreciate the manner in which you write, and your respect for opposing views.” It is a matter of opinion, of course, but as I have written the equivalent of around 600+ pages of material, I will let the record speak for itself.


  9. You continue to want to debate abortion in an essay I wrote about the lost art of disagreement. I used abortion as an example because I believe it is an issue that, despite its emotionally-charged nature, can be discussed in a civil, respectful manner. I was neither arguing in favor of abortion nor intending to start a discussion about abortion, but was instead attempting to point out (apparently not very well based on your response) some parameters on how an issue like abortion can be addressed by people on opposite sides without resorting to accusations of infanticide and baby killing vs. tyrannical fascism. But since you insist, here is my response:

    -- All of your questions are inapplicable, because I do not believe that early-term abortions involve the killing of “human beings.” Approximately 88% of all abortions take place in the first trimester, when a fetus cannot exist independent of the mother. As it is attached by the placenta and umbilical cord, its health is dependent on her health, and cannot be regarded as a separate entity as it cannot exist outside her womb.

    -- That the embryo, zygote, or fetus (pick your term) is a form of human life, we can agree. Where we disagree is on the legal concept of personhood, which is different from the concept of human life. I can agree that fetuses are biologically and genetically human (that is, of the human species and a form of human life), and that this occurs at conception. But this does not lead to the black-and-white assumptions and arguments that you set forth, and which leads you to the conclusion that abortion is the murder of innocent human beings. The question that governs the entire abortion debate is whether the fetus has the same rights as a human being – that is, whether a fetus meets the definition of legal “personhood”. This is an issue of law that concerns the limits of the government’s reach into our private, moral lives. This legal issue is separate and apart from the morality and ethics of abortion, and the individual, private decisions of women to have or not have an abortion in a particular instance. It is about who has the right to control a woman’s body, including what happens to the embryo, zygote, or fetus that may be developing in her womb in the early stages of pregnancy.

    -- Thus, I believe that, while the fetus is biologically human, it is not a person within the meaning of the law or the Constitution, and at least in its early stages, does not have a legally-recognizable right to life. You disagree, I understand, but this is why I do not believe abortion is murder and why, no matter the total number of aborted fetuses, it cannot logically or rationally or morally be equated with the Holocaust, an analogy that I find utterly reprehensible and offensive.

    -- Logically, it could be stated that sperm and eggs are forms of life, and certainly represent the potential for human life. Indeed, this is why the Catholic Church opposes contraception. If you practice contraception, are you not also violating the sanctity of life? Every sperm cell that is blocked from fertilizing with an egg is depriving a potential human being of life. Is that murder too? How many blocked sperm cells can we allow before we start calling the practice of birth control a Holocaust? Fertilized eggs used for in vitro fertilization are also forms of human life and those not implanted are routinely thrown away. Is this murder too?


  10. I believe that the ability of a woman to have control over the most intimate decisions affecting her body is critical to a free society. Take away her reproductive choice and you step onto a slippery slope. If the government can compel a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and place doctors in jail who perform abortions, what will prevent the government from taking it one step further and forcing women to use contraception (or not use contraception) or undergo sterilization?

    I do not wish to continue to debate you on this issue, as we can only agree to disagree, but I do respect the intensity of your feelings and the sincerity of your beliefs.

    Finally, a historical note. Although you love to point out that slavery was supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, you fail to note that the Democrats to which you are referring were Southern Democrats, otherwise known as modern-day Republicans. In the 20th Century, these southern Democrats were led by the likes of Strom Thurmond, the famous Dixiecrat, racist, and segregationist who became a Republican when he realized the Democratic Party had become the party of civil rights (after Truman desegregated the armed forces and Hubert Humphrey succeeded in placing civil rights on the Democratic Party platform at the 1948 convention). Many others followed suit. Lincoln would not be welcome in the Republican Party of today. You may recall that Lincoln did not allow states’ rights to trump issues of national importance. The Democratic Party of the 20th Century (excluding most Southern Democrats, who later became Republicans) was the party that pushed for, advocated, and enacted all of the modern day civil rights laws (with the help of moderate Republicans, now mostly extinct, in the northeast, Midwest, and Pacific northwest). The majority of Southern Democrats (pre-1970), almost of all of whom have since transferred allegiance to the Republican Party, opposed nearly every civil rights law ever proposed.

    It is up to you as to whether your last comment was your swan song. All I ask is that, when you do comment, you try to raise the level of discourse to one of mutual respect that does not engage in unnecessary and demeaning ad hominem attacks. (I am reminded, however, of the line by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie "Jerry Maguire" when he tells Tom Cruise, "You think we're fighting? I think we're finally talking!")

    Peace and best wishes,