Friday, May 11, 2007

Houston, We Have a Problem

Giuliani took yet another bite at the abortion apple in Houston today, near the site of Kennedy's address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in which he famously declared that in no way would his behaviour as President be influenced by such trifles as his religion and, you know, personal moral principles.

Giuliani today inverted Kennedy's formulation: on contentious moral issues such as abortion, Giuliani averred, government should take no action at all, leaving the moral decisions to individuals. While Kennedy proposed that war and hunger were not issues on which moral people disagreed on the need for government policy and that religion had no distinctive role in the moral understanding of these issues, Giuliani has declared that in cases where people reach differing moral conclusions, government policy must instead be limited (although he was unclear how completely) in deference to the conflicting moral structures of the population.

This clarifies Giuliani's thinking somewhat (unfortunately but unsurprisingly, in this writer's view), but it is not going to be enough. Giuliani will now be called on to explain to what extent he believes goverment can restrict or manage abortion, since people have conflicting moral opinions on that as well. Having already conceded the right of the states to legislate on matters such as partial-birth abortion and parental notification, he's going to have to explain where the "personal" component he believes mandates state inaction ends. On the basis of the speech delivered, it would seem that Giuliani as President would actively oppose the efforts of any state legislature to ban elective abortion entirely, for instance, which is some distance from merely respecting differences of opinion and having a personally permissive attitude--despite his pro-forma personal opposition to the procedure.

He's also going to need to demonstrate a rational framework for deciding where and on what basis morality and legality intersect, so that voters can have a sense for where his greatest political assets--his commitment to law and order and his defence of institutions of authority--will actually be engaged on issues of concern to them.

This writer has the impression that when Giuliani says abortion is something "something so very, very personal," he means it is something, like homosexual rights, centrally involved in the stability of the post-war sexual settlement (social indifference to illegitimacy, divorce, cohabitation, etc.) in which Giuliani is personally deeply invested in spite of the clear linkages between that settlement, the steady disintegration of the traditional American family structure and the most pressing social pathologies of our time.

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