The Poison of Roe v. Wade
David Brooks is known for considered thought, not hysteria. So his column in today's New York Times should not be quickly thrown aside. You need to read the whole piece, but here’s an excerpt:
Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Roe v. Wade decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.
When Blackmun wrote the Roe decision, it took the abortion issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that's always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn't have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate.
Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.
David Brooks is not a social conservative, mind you. And it would be unfair to construe his argument as just another attempt to ban abortion. In fact, Brooks is on record as generally pro-choice. What he’s doing in this column is finding the birth of today’s vitriolic politics in the anger spawned by Roe v Wade.
Brooks is right that little is gained when debate is denied. Here at The Yellow Line, we’ve always felt that much of the current anger towards President Bush is a result of his administration’s preference for decree over debate. The President even has his staff screen out dissenters from his town hall meetings.
Did Roe initiate this culture of absolutism over debate? Of zero-sum politics over compromise? Whatever your beliefs on abortion, it’s hard to deny that the issue has hurt American politics more than any other issue of the last quarter century. Unfortunately, overturning Roe v Wade may do little to temper passions.
Then again, making abortion proponents and opponents fight it out in state governments across the nation might be good for us all. It won’t be pretty, but at least everyone will get a chance to speak. When debate is denied, there’s nothing left to do but scream. But when debate is allowed, real solutions can arise. Overturning Roe v Wade might not be the worst thing for our nation. We know where pro-lifers stand. It’s time for pro-choice people to have a debate.