Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A national conundrum

America is having its national nose rubbed in the issue that it never wants to look at for very long. The issue of publicly funding abortion is forcing the injustice and moral contradiction of the question back into the public conscience - and people are already starting to squirm.

So long as abortion was privately funded, it could remain under most people's radar. If people wanted to pay for one - well, that was their business. Tossing a bone to pro-lifers in the form of the Hyde Amendment that prohibited any Health & Human Services (i.e. welfare) funds being used for abortion was pretty safe: abortions for welfare recipients was a bit of a touchy topic anyway (though some states still fund abortions with their own Medicaid funds).

But now the spectre of getting Federal funds involved in health care payment at every level is once again forcing the issue. When flat-out asked, most Americans - even those who have no objection to the procedure - don't want public funds paying for abortion. But public funding for abortions has long been the Holy Grail of radical gender feminists like NOW, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood. After all, as the largest for-profit abortion provider in the nation, PP could make a lot of money billing taxpaying American citizens for killing unborn American citizens. Pro-abortion forces are not going to easily surrender their long-sought goal, but pro-life legislators such as Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska have dug in their heels and refuse to violate their consciences by voting for public funding for abortion.

So the House and Senate face a Mexican standoff. Though the Stupak amendment made it through the House, knowledgeable observers of both sides say that advocates will not back down. Pro-abortion representatives who may have swallowed hard to vote for the health care funding bill with the Stupak amendment are determined to strip out that wording in conference. Pro-life legislators in both houses are determined to keep it in, or add equivalent wording to the Senate version. Without both parties on board, the bill can't pass.

Meanwhile, people are beginning to see through President Obama's smokescreen statements about how Federal law prohibits funding abortions. They're noticing that the Hyde Amendment was just that - an amendment, not a statute, that was tacked onto the HHS budget every year. There's no guarantee that it would continue to be tacked on - in fact, nobody was expecting the Pelosi House to do so. And it only applied to the HHS budget, which would not be the budget funding health care payments. (Of course, nobody knows what budget that would be, or where the money would come from, but that's another post.) And the proposed health funding reforms would reach far further than Medicaid payments. Also, Obama's on record as saying that paying for "reproductive health services" - industry code for abortion - is central to his plans for health care payments.

How this all plays out will be high drama. The longer it drags out, the more the media will be forced to talk about abortion - something they're very skilled at not doing. The more they talk, the more people will think. A man who doesn't want to look at the gross injustice of abortion can look the other way so long as it's "a personal choice". But when he is forced to pay for that "personal choice", he tends to look a bit harder. And perhaps this time he'll notice that abortion slaughters 1.2 million children each year. And maybe, just maybe, he'll ask his legislator to vote against funding that.

And maybe, just maybe, his conscience will move him to do a little bit more.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Seduced by illusion

Two interesting things happened recently. They seemed unrelated, but seem to me to share a common thread.

One was the selection of President Barack Obama as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. There was much comment from many quarters on this, especially when someone put together that the nominations for the prize closed just two weeks after Obama's inauguration - far too brief a period in office for him to have done anything to warrant such an accolade.

The other thing was the results of a rather out-of-the way online contest sponsored by the online magazine AskMen.com, which is a digital phenomenon in the GQ/Esquire/Maxim mold (think Playboy lite). Apparently their annual online survey of "Most Influential Men" turned up an interesting result: the man in question was imaginary. That's right, according to those who voted in the poll, the most influential man was the character Don Draper of the television show Mad Men. This surprising result was so intriguing that Rabbi Yonason Goldson wrote a superb column for Jewish World Review that makes several excellent points far better than I could.

To me, the connection between the two events was obvious: in both cases, those making the selection had voted for appearance, not substance. That Don Draper didn't exist and had never done anything in the real world was irrelevant; the important point was that he appeared to be the kind of man that the voters wished to emulate. The same criteria influenced Obama's selection for the Peace Prize: at the time he was nominated, he'd done nothing but run a campaign (and had done a masterful job of it) - an event which is pure image in America's media-dominated culture. Even following the nomination announcement, the media was abuzz with commentary such as this column, which gushes about Obama's acceptance comments.

The gap here between image and substance is frightening. What is even more frightening is that few think it remarkable. Anyone who knows history is aware that a sharp intrusion of actual events can shred even the most artful and well-constructed image (just ask the builders of the Maginot Line). One has to wonder how a culture who elects illusory images as their leaders will respond when they are faced with an actual challenge - because it is at times like that that illusion will shred and evaporate.