Sunday, March 22, 2009

For the little guy

In the 1970s Richard John Neuhaus was an anti-war, pro civil rights, Great Society liberal. By the time he died, liberals were labeling him "neo-conservative." Robert P. George explains that when abortion became a defining issue in American politics, and later, when it seemed that liberals wanted to drive religion out of the "public square," it was liberalism that had changed far more than had Neuhaus.
.... It is important to remember that in those days it was not yet clear whether support for “abortion rights” would be a litmus test for standing as a “liberal.” After all, the early movement for abortion included many conservatives, such as James J. Kilpatrick, who viewed abortion not only as a solution for the private difficulties of a “girl in trouble,” but also as a way of dealing with the public problem of impoverished (and often unmarried) women giving birth to children who would increase welfare costs to taxpayers.

At the same time, more than a few notable liberals were outspokenly pro-life. In the early 1970s, Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy, for example, replied to constituents’ inquiries about his position on abortion by saying that it was a form of “violence” incompatible with his vision of an America generous enough to care for and protect all its children, born and unborn. Some of the most eloquent and passionate pro-life speeches of the time were given by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. In condemning abortion, Jackson never failed to note that he himself was born to an unwed mother who would likely have been tempted to abort him had abortion been legal and easily available at the time.

The liberal argument against abortion was straightforward and powerful. “We liberals believe in the inherent and equal dignity of every member of the human family. We believe that the role of government is to protect all members of the community against brutality and oppression, especially the weakest and most vulnerable. We do not believe in solving personal or social problems by means of violence. We seek a fairer, nobler, more humane way. The personal and social problems created by unwanted pregnancy should not be solved by offering women the ‘choice’ of destroying their children in utero; rather, as a society we should reach out in love and compassion to mother and child alike.”

So it was that Pastor Neuhaus and many like him saw no contradiction between their commitment to liberalism and their devotion to the pro-life cause. On the contrary, they understood their pro-life convictions to be part and parcel of what it meant to be a liberal. They were “for the little guy”—and the unborn child was “the littlest guy of all.” [more]

FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » He Threw It All Away

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