This is what I was warning about, people

It was Tuesday when I warned that the unnecessarily-fanned flames of several Culture War flashpoints threatened to make this into the kind of presidential election I detest — one that consists entirely of yelling about social issues (about which no one changes anyone else’s minds, which makes them ideal tools for infuriating the base and raising money to keep the pointless partisan strife going), rather than talking about issues more central to the job of president, such as foreign affairs, national security and the economy.

Now, it seems the MSM is catching up with me. This AP story was on the front page of The State this morning:

WASHINGTON — All of a sudden, abortion, contraception and gay marriage are at the center of American political discourse, with the struggling — though improving — economy pushed to the background.

Social issues don’t typically dominate the discussion in shaky economies. But they do raise emotions important to factors like voter turnout. And they can be key tools for political candidates clamoring for attention, campaign cash or just a change of subject in an election year.

“The public is reacting to what it’s hearing about,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. In a political season, he said, “when the red meat is thrown out there, the politicians are going to go after it.”…

Precisely. And on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, also this morning:

In a year where the economy was supposed to dominate the November elections, the contraception backlash showed that social issues could have a powerful influence on the race. Republicans used the controversy to paint Mr. Obama as assailing religious rights—and adding another black mark against the 2010 health overhaul that spawned the policy….

Yep. That’s what I’ve been on about.

In any case, you were warned of it here first. And of course, the 137 comments on my previous post (so far) are indicative that even smart people, such as you, my readers, can’t resist rising to such bait. What hope do we have that the rest of the country will let it go, and allow us to return to more relevant (to the job of president) issues?

50 thoughts on “This is what I was warning about, people

  1. Phillip

    Much ado about nothing. In the end, the precarious state of the economy will dominate all. We had 137 comments cause like myself enjoy assertively making the argument on issues like gay marriage, pro-choice etc. You can be sure Obama will not be seeking to talk about these issues much in the election. It takes two to tango in that regard. He’s going to keep the election focused on (what hopes is) steady economic recovery, and the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, success in Libya and the taking-out of Bin Laden.

    You may hear a lot about culture issues before the summer because there is only one active nomination race going on, and of the four remaining candidates, one is a borderline-deranged culture warrior (Gingrich), while another is a more genteel, polite, but no less absolutist Christianist candidate (Santorum). Then there is the Mormon candidate who actually is more moderate than those two but has to hide that fact in order to be nominated; while only one, Ron Paul, adheres to what used to be true conservative philosophy in saying the government should get out of people’s private lives.

    This GOP circus is what will keep “Culture Wars” alive; but I don’t think you’ll hear as much after the summer.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Social issues are so trivial when compared to the economy, foreign policy, and the role of government in our lives.

    I would rather have a giant meteor hit the earth and wipe out all life as we know it than to sit through a this presidential election being dominated by social issues.

  3. David Carlton

    Er, Brad–Your presumption here is that these are unimportant issues that people get exercised about for essentially cultural reasons. But what if they aren’t? What if it actually *matters to her life* if a woman can get insured access to contraception the way most of us *guys* get insured access to *our* drugs? What if it actually *matters to a gay person’s life* whether or not gay people have the right to marry? I suspect that you yourself actually have positions on these issues, but you think it’s clever and “centrist” to pretend that they aren’t worth bothering with. Either that, or you’re the sort of person who thinks that if an issue isn’t of direct concern to a middle-aged, married heterosexual white Catholic male, it’s trivial. If the latter is true, whatever you think of yourself, that’s not “disinterested”–that’s parochial.

    And, finally, it’s simply not true that no one’s minds get changed by raising these issues. I know that I myself have come a long way on gay issues, and if you pay a smidgen of attention to what’s going on in the country, so have a lot of other people. People do change their minds–but they often do so in the course of very nasty conflict. Stifling the conflict may well stifle needed change.

  4. Brad

    David: What “guy” drugs? Surely you’re not going to bring up the tired Viagra argument. There is no way in hell that Viagra should ever, ever be covered by any plan. It’s the most absurd thing I ever heard of. If Viagra is covered and contraceptives aren’t, I have a very simple solution to that. And even if you DO add the contraceptives, I’d still say you should drop the Viagra.

    There’s no quid pro quo here. Men and women are sufficiently different that you can’t always find something that corresponds across the gender barrier.

  5. Doug Ross

    Agree with David. My views on gay marriage and abortion have both “evolved” as an adult. On the gay marriage topic, it came about from working closely with a gay guy and hearing the stories about the hoops he and his partner had to go thru compared to male-fenale couples. Really, what harm could possibly come from allowing it to happen?

    On abortion, I was more pro-choice before we had three kids. It’s hard not to think of a fetus as a life that somehow has less value than one that happens to make it through to birth. It’s a baby.

  6. Ralph Hightower

    I reckon that the politicians are finding out that they can’t fix the economy or create jobs, so they are trying to divert our attention elsewhere.

  7. bud

    Here’s the hyperbole that Brad is talking about:

    From the right:

    “In a country founded on religious liberty, Democrats have now done the unthinkable,” NRCC Executive Director Guy Harrison wrote. “Democrats have inserted themselves into your health care, and now they want to insert their values into your religion.”

    And from the Left:

    “We all know how hard the right wing will fight to restrict women’s rights – it appears to be their No. 1 goal!” countered Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The very ability of women to participate equally in our society is at stake on Election Day.”

    OK. I’m pretty liberal on the social issues but seriously Senator Murray, “The very ability of women to participate equally”? Isn’t that just a tad over the top.

    Of course that’s nothing compared to what Mr. Harrison said. It sounds as though women would be force-fed the birth control pills if they were offered for free.

  8. Brad

    Yes, bud, thank you!

    I get stuff like that several times a day from the DCCC. Fortunately, the Republican counterpart doesn’t seem to have my email address. But no fear — I get plenty of that sort of thing from Republicans right here in SC…

  9. `Kathryn Fenner

    It’s hard for women to participate equally when they cannot control their own bodies.

    …but that’s what the bishops and others want, isn’t it?

  10. martin

    Brad, it’s YOUR blog. You don’t ever have to bring up anything that you don’t want to.

    You choose to bring up cultural issues periodically, just like you choose to bring up Bush and Iraq, because you can’t resist the temptation to preach about those issues.

    Oh, and the hits. You have to decide if the obvious distress you put yourself through when you bring up these issues where so many disagree with you is worth the surge in hits.

    Or, maybe the people responding just need to decide to not rise to your bait.

  11. Brad

    Yes, I’ve heard that slogan thousands of times. I realize that it rings true and is powerfully persuasive — to you. Stirs the blood, inspires feminists to mount the ramparts.

    But of course, it dodges the issue, which is the other life involved.

  12. bud

    Since we’re going to have this discussion – again. Here is my view on it – again. I don’t expect to persuade anyone. Nor will anyone persuade me. But anyway, for the official record here is the truth according to bud:

    There is no firmly established criteria for when human life begins. Therefore it is incumbent on the most affected person to use her judgement to make the best choice for herself and her unborn fetus/child. Most woman choose to maintain the pregnancy until birth. A handful make the difficult decision not to continue with the pregnancy. No one else should EVER be entitled to make that decision, period. And certainly no governing official should have than power.

  13. Brad

    Here’s the thing about that, and it really is the thing that divides me from the folks on the other side. As I said back on this post, I think the way Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas would have been likely to think, not the way that it is popular to think today…

    There is a point at which life begins. That doesn’t mean I know it, or you know it, or any other mere mortal knows it. But there is a point, and that if objective fact. It’s not a matter of personal opinion. It’s not something each individual “chooses.” If you choose the right answer on that question, you’re right. If choose anything else, you’re wrong.

    This is the core question, and it is independent of the issue of abortion. Certain things are true. For instance, the Earth rotates in a manner that the sun seems to rise in the East. That’s a fact, and not a matter of personal opinion. Fortunately, that’s easily observable.

    There’s something that is easily observable with the development of a human being from a sperm and an egg. Before they get together, there is no individual new life. After they do, there is. To me, that’s as obvious as the fact that we first see the sun in the east each day.

    It’s not as obvious to other people. OK. But the fact is, they don’t have to believe that life begins at conception to reject the pro-choice position.

    The fact is that it begins SOMETIME. At some point, there is an ethic that cannot be breached. When is it? First trimester, the third? Birth? A year after birth? At SOME point, there is an individual human being that lays a profound moral burden on us to protect him or her from harm.

    We can’t come to agreement on WHEN it is. And since we can’t, there is no way that it is licit to allow that life to be deliberately destroyed. Because there IS a time, even if we can’t agree on it. Because there IS such a thing as objective truth, even if we can’t reach consensus on what that truth is in this case.

    And because we can’t agree, we have to err on the side of life. Because if we err on the side of taking life, and we’re wrong, it’s too horrible to contemplate.

    Anyway, the bottom line is, you can make this about something else, and not abortion — the essential difference between the two positions is whether you adhere to the modern notion that there is no such thing as right and wrong, that it’s just a matter of opinion, and everybody’s got one. Which I utterly reject.

  14. Brad

    And Martin, I’m sorry if you didn’t get my point, which is that these things are rising to the fore in our presidential campaign, and I OBJECT to that. All we’ll get is heat, and no light. And of course, our lengthy back-and-forth with no minds changed proves my point.

    Meanwhile… I see NARAL is taking out ads thanking Obama for taking its side in the Culture War. As if this wasn’t high-profile enough already. That’s all we need, is to have more attention called to it. By NARAL.

    But that’s what they do, right? Most of us can put these issues in perspective, whatever our positions on them. But for such groups as NARAL are concerned, there ARE no other issues. So of course, they’re delighted to see this stuff pushed to the fore.

  15. bud

    But don’t others also see the world where there is only ONE issue? There are the pro-gun people, the big military groups, the anti and pro drug legalization groups. Not to mention those who focus all their attention and energy to preventing ANY tax increase. Then there are those who would fight to the death any reasonable regulations to protect the envirnment. Or conversely there are groups that would protect the environment at ALL costs even to the point of protecting insignificant creatures like the snail-darter.

    Indeed the various “women’s health” issues probably attract more vitriol than any other category of issues. But they hardly stand alone as the only issues that polarize.

  16. Brad

    Absolutely, Bud. There are a number of issues that totally distort our politics. And if, for instance, I see 2nd Amendment issues starting to hog a lot of oxygen in this election, I’ll be upset about that, too. In some circles, that generates as much heat as abortion. Almost, anyway.

  17. Brad

    Actually, you know, the two issues have some things in common.

    The 2nd Amendment absolutists believe, as do pro-choicers, that the right of an INDIVIDUAL to decide life and death for another individual is absolute, as opposed to reserving such decision-making to the government and due process. Only in their case, they want everyone to carry the means to ACT on that right at all times, instantly, according to the gut reactions of the moment.

    At least someone wanting an abortion has to make an appointment and drive across town…

  18. Brad

    So basically, they’re fair game until they’re two or three years old. Or perhaps 12 — that’s a pretty good line. Not many below that age could survive without adult help. Actually, given the elongation of immaturity in recent decades, perhaps it should be open season until they’re 30.

    Seriously, no one who has ever held a baby, especially a newborn, and FELT that terrifying helplessness and utter dependence on YOU to hold them correctly, could possibly treat that “until it can live on its own” standard seriously.

    After five kids and four (soon to be five) grandchildren, I still find that feeling overwhelming when I hold a new one. The sense of responsibility, and fear that I might not be up to it, is always there. I always want to hold them, and then I feel relieved when I give them back to someone else. (Someone I trust, of course. There are people that I wouldn’t ever want to hand a baby to.)

  19. Steven Davis II

    I wonder if Kathryn would have a different view if a family member decided to abort one of her nieces or nephews.

  20. Steven Davis II

    “It’s not a life until it can live on its own.”

    What about the elderly who are unable to live on their own or the mentally and/or physically handicapped? Once they become a burden, should they be euthanized? Is Kathryn willing to pull the plug if one of her parents has to go into a nursing home?

    What about those who can live on their own but are a burden to society? Lifelong welfare recipients and people serving long prison sentences? Can we off them too?

  21. `Kathryn Fenner

    You can adopt a baby. You can’t adopt a fetus.

    Thanks for the anecdata. I’m glad you have a happy family, if overly large. Everyone is not similarly privileged.

    If everyone felt like you, there’d be no children available for adoption, except where both parents die, for example.

  22. Brad

    Actually, I can refer you to people I know who went through all the hard work of setting up an adoption before the baby was born, and then were present for the birth. If it’s not “adopting a fetus,” it’s only because they can’t take the baby home until the birth has occurred.

    And without abortion, there’d be a lot more babies to adopt.

  23. Phillip

    Brad, since you linked to the great Python “argument” sketch the other day, I feel the urge to mention the punch line from another classic, the “restaurant sketch” as in “lucky we didn’t say anything about the dirty knife…”

    in this case, the “dirty knife” being War. As in, everything you say about “err on the side of life” in regards to abortion makes a lot of sense, but then how does one reconcile that with an expansive view of waging war that goes far beyond the concepts of self-defense? (as in, e.g., Iraq, over 100,000 deaths, etc.)

    OK, now I’ve done it. I’ll sit back and wait for the next 137 comments on this post! 😉

  24. bud

    One thing we should all be able to agree on is that abortion should be rare. It’s never going to be the case that it’s non-existant any more than traffic fatalities will become non-existent. Let’s start by agreeing on that.

    The next step is to decide the best course of action to achieve some level of rarity that is acceptable to society. We can start by supporting the President’s plan to help provide free contraceptives to anyone who wants them. Anyone who really is opposed to abortion should embrace that idea zealously. Anyone who is pro-life should find that an easy choice.

  25. Tim

    The issue really appears to be about making a policy statement, not about decreasing the rate of abortions. Doesn’t matter when you define life beginning. Abortions will happen. Abortion rates in countries where it is illegal to have one are about the same, if not higher, than in countries where it is legal. And the ones where it is illegal, the women undergoing abortions are in much less safe conditions. 8.5 Million women a year have botched abortions in those countries, countries where the very strong moral stand has been codified into laws absolutely restrictive or extremely prohibitive. And still women have abortions, not in a mild headwind of ‘stigma’, but facing the gale-force of legal sanctions and medical risk. So, prohibit away. It doesn’t help, and it probably hurts the cause of decreasing the numbers of abortions, which by the way were decreasing across the board, probably due to better access to birth control, until the Bush administration cut funding for contraception in favor of abstinence promotion. So, all that doesn’t get you more babies to adopt, that’s just a nice sentiment.

    Millions of unwanted babies die in those countries every year. Should we do more? Yup, but that would require people to be more generous, involve themselves in the world, more foreign aid, more training and education, etc. Brad, I am pretty sure you are in favor of this, but in this fiscal climate, you will be one of the few oarsmen on that lifeboat.

    But let’s keep it closer to home. The wroth of the abortion opponents has long been directed at the ‘abortion industry’, that apparently reap vast fortunes off the low-income women they prey upon. (Sorry, it isn’t those girls from Sex and the City heading to Planned Parenthood Clinics.) Ask any pro-life group who they hate, and that’s it. The contract killer, not the one who plans and pays for the killing.

    When asked what sorts of prison terms they favor for the women seeking abortions, and the women who have abortions are considered really just victims. We would go pretty easy on them. Probably not charge them with any crime at all.

    So, banish legal abortion to the ages. When a women still tries to have one, what do you propose happens? I might be in favor of restrictions, if anyone has an answer of some kind about what that world looks like. My guess is lots more money for enforcement, punishment, programs, grants, etc. Again, Brad, those oars will be empty. So you will have a policy in place, without substance to back it up.

    Abortion laws in this country were pretty draconian until the 1830’s. Women were given real jail time, up to 15 years, more if it was done after “Quickening”. Over time, penalties gradually decreased and exceptions increased, as it was found that there really wasn’t anything to be gained by locking up women who were already in bad circumstances, and whose health was seriously compromised as the result of botched home abortions or dirty back ally abortions. Turns out it was not a good public policy. It resulted in a crazy-quilt of laws, helter-skelter, all across the US. And it wasn’t all Red States/Blue States which showed the divides.

    Look at the laws in SC just prior to Roe. Exceptions for rape, incest, fetal viability and the health of the mother. Loopholes all a mile wide. That’s In South Carolina.

  26. Brad

    Tim, how you do go on. Who do you think you are, me?

    I don’t accept that there are as many abortions when it is illegal as when it is legal. Go ahead and try to prove it to me, but I will remain unpersuaded that you can get reliable figures of how many illegal abortions actually take place. What is underground is underground.

    But the general observation I’ve made in the real world is that most Americans are law-abiding people. Furthermore, people take their cues of what is acceptable behavior from other people. In an atmosphere in which something is legal and acceptable and even supported as an absolute RIGHT, the emotional and intellectual barriers to making a decision to do a thing are lowered. When it is indeed seen as proscribed behavior — as the very back-alley, dishonest, black-market sort of thing that pro-choice people like to dwell on when they talk about the “bad old days” — most people are going to have a much stronger inhibition against making that decision. No, maybe it doesn’t stop everybody, but I’m completely certain that the number of abortions that occur would be less, and I believe dramatically less.

    That brings up all sorts of other rathole subtopics, but I’m just trying to address your assertion that the number of abortions would be the same. No, it wouldn’t. That’s impossible.

    As to your last bit. Yep, we had an organic system before, in which states made accommodations based upon the deliberative process. That’s legitimate. Everyone has their say, ranging all the way from my position to that of the rare folks who see partial-birth abortions as a positive good, and laws emerge that do their best to deal with all the realities and opinions that go into the mix.

    It was messy as hell, and I cringe at the thought of having abortion once again front and center in our legislatures. I could NEVER escape culture war debates then.

    But Roe was wrong. The declaration of an absolute right, putting the most interested empowered individual in the position of judge and jury, with absolute power of life and death, was completely wrong. That flies in the face of everything that our concept of the rule of law is about. In any sort of due process, the most interested party is expected to recuse himself or herself. Here, we give that person absolute power. That is completely and utterly wrong.

    And what it did was turn this into an absolutist, yes-or-no, litmus test issue that generates more heat than light. It’s about are you one of us or one of them, without any real hope of making a difference through all the shouting. Before 1973, this was not a calling card as to whether you were a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, right-thinking person or one of THEM. It was more possible to have rational conversations on the subjet.

  27. bud

    I’m just trying to address your assertion that the number of abortions would be the same. No, it wouldn’t. That’s impossible.

    With that one flippant comment you just rejected any measure of reason on this issue. Tim has pointed out the very simple fact that countries with legal abortion do not have a greater incidence of abortion. As long as you stand by that “impossible” argument, regardless of ANY evidence to the contrary then you are willfully being ignorant and obtusive.

    So herein lies the problem. Folks who are pro-life occupy a very shallow worldview that sees only draconian intervention as the answer. It is not a reaonable worldview and is certainly not one that makes sense in the context of the times. And to further exacerbate this situation we have groups like the Catholic Church that want to restrict access to contraceptives. This is a really huge divide that can only be resolved by one side winning the votes necessary to prevail. And since Roe V Wade the pragmatists have won.

  28. bud

    Brad, we’ve had this discussion at least a half dozen times and yet I still don’t know exactly what kind of law you want, especially regarding the punishments. Until that is spelled out then all the other words written to support the prohibition of abortion is pretty meaningless.

  29. Tim

    Appreciate the lengthy answer, and assumed you were awaiting posting mine to post your riposte.

    Saying things are impossible “just because” is not an argument. It is by definition, irrational. any figures I link to are something you have just stated are apriori unreliable, either due to the methodology or any perceived bias on the part of the study or interpretation, you have automatically said you are sticking your fingers in your ears and going “La La La I can’t hear you”. But nothing spells fun like performing futile acts, so,

    These news stories all reference the same WHO/Guttmacher study which is also generally referenced by pro-life organizations, including Catholic ones, so take what you will from it.

    I don’t really care, since I don’t plan to have an abortion, would not counsel someone to, etc. I know folks who have, evangelicals for what it is worth, and they fall on either side of this argument.

    Like I said earlier, I might be for a change in the law, if someone had any idea what that world looks like. Make a positive statement: I want women to carry babies to term, pay them handsomely if they don’t want the baby, etc. What is the Brad law? Even a hint?

    As for “legality” preventing people from doing illegal things, I assume you don’t mean things like smoking pot, but you do mean some other sort of illegal things, since no one in America smokes pot, outside of California. No one knows how much pot smoking is going on, since its illegal. Any study of anything illegal is, according to you, invalid.

    I am not defending Roe. We have had this dispute before. You like judicial activism when you like it (Brown) you don’t like it when you don’t like it (Roe). You can look back over previous posts for that argument, so no need to repeat it.

    I am not an absolutist, avoid statements of an absolutist nature, such as “In an atmosphere in which something is legal and acceptable and even supported as an absolute RIGHT”. But then even Roe wasn’t absolutist. It set up the graduated trimesters system. That was later changed to fetal viability, forget the case now. Where do I use the language of “Completely and utterly wrong” That’s absolutely absolutist.

    Here’s what I want. Happier Women having fewer unwanted babies the fastest, easiest, best way possible. If “Not a law but a practice” does that, cool. If some sort of reasonable legal prohibition gets you there. Cool. Show some evidence. Maybe show some area where you might be in a compromising frame of mind.

  30. Brad

    For some reason y’all find it difficult to understand that I simply want something to be illegal. My mind doesn’t run to punishments at all. I guess I’m a legalistic sort of person. I want there to be rules, and I know that most people follow rules, so if you have a rule against something, then that is going to happen less.

    I wasn’t being flippant at all. I was saying there’s no way to prove that there would be as many abortions if it were illegal, and every rational consideration argues that there would NOT be. Prove me wrong.

    As for punishments for abortionists? That is so far away from where the debate is that I never give it any thought. It’s not about punishment; it’s about preventing the activity.

    In any case, we are SO far away from any point at which that would come up. What I want to change (when I think about it) is this current intolerable situation, in which an interested party has ABSOLUTE life-and-death power. You just can’t have that in a society based on the rule of law.

    That means we need something other than Roe. And that turns us to the Supreme Court.

    That said, I don’t approve of applying litmus tests based on a single issue to judicial appointments, so I really don’t have a practical course for getting to where I want to be — beyond the fact that I would never want to see another judge appointed who would imagine an absolute right to privacy in the Constitution, as happened in Griswold. That’s what put us here.

    And BECAUSE I don’t have a particular program for accomplishing what I want, then I greatly prefer that our elections not be dominated by this issue or any other issues that are invoked mainly to separate people ideologically rather than to accomplish anything.

    If you ask me what I think about abortion, I’ll tell you. And if you assert something I oppose, I’ll say so. But since I don’t see a practical path for accomplishing that, I’d rather elections be about other things.

  31. Brad

    Back to the prohibitions thing…

    The big P Prohibition, that of alcohol, is generally seen as the greatest failure of any proscribed activity in our history. But even then, I would suspect that per capita consumption of alcohol was less then than it is now. I don’t know how I could prove that, since underground activities are hard to measure — maybe go by DUIs? But even that would reflect different levels of prosecution at different times.

    I would suspect that people who frequented speakeasies probably drank in excess more than in times when alcohol was legal, since that’s what they went there for. But spread over the whole population, given the inconveniences involved in obtaining hooch, it’s hard to believe that total consumption would have been greater then, as opposed to now, which it’s available at every gas station and (virtually every) restaurant and social occasion. Alcohol is ubiquitous now.

    It would be interesting to look at studies about that, but how could you rely on the numbers? Maybe there’s a way, but I don’t know how?

  32. Brad

    Wiki says, “The consumption of alcohol overall went down and remained below pre-Prohibition levels long after the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed.”

    But I still don’t know how we can know for sure.

  33. bud

    The big P Prohibition, that of alcohol, is generally seen as the greatest failure of any proscribed activity in our history.

    Prohibition of marijuana is probably a close second.

  34. bud

    How can we know? That’s where statisticians and pollsters come in. Today we survey just about everything and with appropriate algorithms to wade through the vageries of human nature remarkably good results can be achieved. Just look at the polling of the primaries. The ones released just before the voting have been pretty accurate. Colorado was an exception but even there the voters minds were probably changed a the last minute. The general election will be even more accurate. The days of “Dewey defeats Truman” are probably behind us.

  35. Tim

    “As for punishments for abortionists? That is so far away from where the debate is that I never give it any thought. It’s not about punishment; it’s about preventing the activity.”

    I know you want it illegal, but that by definition implies sanctions. I want Martian invasions to be illegal. I really wanted Sanjaya and Celebrity Apprentice to be illegal. Passing a law that has no credible sanctions, enforcement, etc. is, well, just clutter.

    You are also similarly positing a level of proof for this issue that I seriously doubt you would require for any other. Okay, since I sincerely believe you consider this to be paramount.

    Regardless, you have set up a position for yourself that in effect says, I don’t care what the evidence is, no standard of proof will persuade me. In fact, I don’t care if the proof is overwhelming that the ultimate value (protecting unborn human life) is actually harmed by passage of prohibitions, because what I really want is that it be illegal, not diminished.

    Regarding the Prohibition straw man, repeal of the federal law did not automatically repeal state and local ordinances. How many southern states continued to have dry laws on the books until just recently? May still have them.

    Me? I am pretty well convinced the 18th Amendment lowered rates of alcohol consumption. This also lowered rates of spousal abuse, one of its chief aims. Maybe it also raised awareness that we were in fact a nation of drunkards unlike any in human history. Who else had a Whiskey Rebellion?

  36. Brad

    I couldn’t get behind a Whiskey Rebellion. A Beer Rebellion, mayBE…

    First, Tim, I wasn’t holding back your comment until I could reply. Yours was one of 23 that I approved late this morning, the first chance I had after earlier yesterday evening.

    As far as trusting numbers… I’ve always liked the old saw about lie, damned lies and statistics. As bud and Doug will tell you, I have little love for numbers. Chalk it up with battles with business-side bean-counters in the newspaper business who thought that numbers were the only kind of knowledge upon which to base decisions, and understood absolutely nothing that couldn’t be reduced to a number.

    Sometimes I find numbers meaningful, but I’m quick to suspicion if I see factors present that would likely corrupt the numbers.

    Generally, I trust well-constructed polls, if they ask simple questions, such as would you vote for this person or that person? Construct your sample correctly, and you may be able to predict outcomes, as long as not too much time passes.

    But I know that even then, there are areas in which you can’t trust your respondents. For instance, they tend to over-report voter registration.

    And no, Tim, I have not said, “I don’t care what the evidence is, no standard of proof will persuade me.” I’ve said that you brought up an area in which the numbers are likely to be untrustworthy.

    As for your ironic “no one in America smokes pot,” I will posit that not as many as consume beer. A large part of that is that beer is legal. There are other factors as well, such as the fact that beer is far more ingrained in larger demographic swathes of the population.

    But again, we’re talking about an illegal activity, which makes numbers suspect. Of course, maybe that means the incidence is far greater. But ultimately, it seems unknowable.

  37. Brad

    Here’s an interesting side note: I was Googling “what proportion of the population drinks beer?” but when I got as far as “what proportion of the population…” Google filled in the rest of the question as “is gay?”

    Really? Is that truly the demographic question asked most?

    If so, my quest to push this cultural stuff to the back burner is truly doomed…

  38. bud

    But again, we’re talking about an illegal activity, which makes numbers suspect. Of course, maybe that means the incidence is far greater. But ultimately, it seems unknowable.

    You are one stubborn son of a gun. There have been endless numbers of studies aimed at determining how many people smoke pot. And over the course of time we have a pretty good understanding of just how many do. The term unknowable is what we call a truism. Of course it’s “unknowable”. But so is the number of people who drink milk or have sex twice a week. Heck even the census to count the number of people in this country is really just an approximation that undercounts the numbers. What we went through in Florida 12 years ago shows that under the most ideal conditions numbers are not be perfectly established. To suggest that something is “unknowable” misses the point. We can derive very meaningful estimates with valid confidence intervals that show how many people participate in a given activity (abortion, pot smoking) even when those activities are illegal.

    Having said all that it is incumbent upon folks who use statistics to use them properly. There is a question on the state’s accident report form that says “wearing a safety belt”. It’s self reported and obviously folks say yes far more often than is the case. But even so these answers can be calibrated using observational studies were researchers actually observe who is wearing a safety belt. It’s difficult and demanding work but in the end statistics are wonderful tools in evaluating human behavior.

  39. Brad

    Wait a second… wasn’t Hamilton from the Caribbean?

    And to be clear… I admire Adams, not Hamilton. Just as I think Jefferson is more admirable than Madison.

    Wait — to explain: I honor Madison, and Hamilton, deeply for the Constitution. What I object to is their subsequent descent into hyperpartisanship.

  40. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Steven– Once you are capable of living on your own, you are a life in being, to use the millennia-old legal term.

    Living on your own means being able to breathe and eat independently of another host human. The fact that we can artificially prolong life may be worth revisiting. I certainly wish to have the plug pulled on me, or better yet, not plugged in in the first place, so log as there is no expectation that I will be able to recover and breathe and eat on my own.

    The fact that someone has to bring the food to me does not change that I am alive.


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