August 12, 2005

KEVIN DRUM thinks that he can make the NARAL anti-Roberts ad better:

when you cut through the thousands of words of chaff written about it, there appear to be two main complaints. First, that the ad doesn’t make clear that Roberts’ brief was filed seven years before the Birmingham bombing, and second, that it’s outrageous to say that Roberts was “supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber.”

Well, is that outrageous? Sure. Roberts was defending a legal principle, and the beneficiaries of legal principles are frequently pretty odious characters. Defending the principle doesn’t mean you’re defending a particular person or group, a distinction the ACLU makes all the time.

However, on the overall scale of outrageousness, I have to say that this ad ranks pretty low compared to conservative benchmarks like Willie Horton and the Swift Boat lunatics. In fact, here’s what I think is weird: NARAL could have addressed both these complaints and made the ad better in the process.

Take the timeline issue first. Wouldn’t it actually be more effective to put this front and center so that the 1998 bombing appears to be the inevitable result of Roberts’ winning 1991 argument to the Supreme Court? Sure it would.

As for “supporting violent fringe groups,” why say it that way in the first place? Why not take the high road and acknowledge that Roberts was defending an abstract principle, but then condemn the ivory tower ideology that they believe produced such appalling real world results?

But this makes no more sense than the original ad. The 1998 clinic bombing didn’t happen because John Roberts argued against prosecuting Operation Rescue, a group which as far as I know isn’t even rhetorically in favour of clinic bombings, and which definitely didn’t set this particular bomb, under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. Clinic bombers are already liable for prosecution under a host of statutes much more fearsome than the KKK Act, notably those against murder. Implying such an implausible causal link is only marginally less mendacious than the original ad.

Similarly, Mark Kleiman’s attempt to excuse NARAL’s ad by calling Operation Rescue a terrorist group is an abuse of the word. Is Operation Rescue attempting to keep women from having abortions by making them feel shame and public humiliation at an extraordinarily vulnerable time? Undoubtedly. Have they attempted to physically block women from entering clinics? Indeed they have. But speaking as one who used to form a human chain in front of clinics to help women through the protesters, I’ve never seen anything from Operation Rescue that even remotely qualifies as terrorism, nor seen anyone physically threaten a woman (shoving a picture of a fetus in her face does not count). There may have been isolated incidents (as, to be honest, there were isolated cases of overzealous young men on our side itching to get busy with the opposition). But instilling fear for a woman’s physical safety–the definition of terrorism–did not seem to me to be one of the organization’s goals, and indeed, at clinics where OR is protesting there are so many police, barricades, and counterprotesters that it would not be a very effective organisation if that were the goal. I disagree with Operation Rescue about nearly everything, but comparing it to the Ku Klux Klan’s campaign of lynching free blacks is grotesque.

Such ads are undoubtedly effective, but each one contributes to a political culture in which scoring one for the team is the only important consideration. Honest pro-choicers who feel that it’s all right because this is important should have a good long think about what kind of country they want to live in.

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