Never has the phrase “politics makes strange bedfellows,” been more apropos than this past November when pro-life evangelist the Rev. Pat Robertson endorsed pro-choice politician Rudy Giuliani for president.
How this union came to be calls to mind another quote: “misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows,” as it was the calamity of 9/11 that brought Robertson and Giuliani together.
“The overriding issue before the American people,” Robertson said during his endorsement, “is the defense of our population against the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists.”
Besides, Robertson has never been the most vociferous opponent of abortion, although there are plenty of other religious leaders who are unwilling to look past the former mayor’s pro-choice stance. One of Giuliani’s critics, Thomas J. Tobin, the Catholic bishop of Providence, R.I., is adamant: “Rudy's public proclamations on abortion are pathetic and confusing,” he wrote. “Even worse, they're hypocritical.”
Despite the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which made abortion on demand the law of the land, the fact is the intentional termination of pregnancy remains a controversial issue. But it is also a fact that a president can actually do very little to directly affect the number of abortions performed in the U.S., the total of which since the Court’s epochal ruling will soon exceed 50 million.
A president can do very little; however, one can appoint judges to the Supreme Court who may be inclined to overturn Roe, and that’s no small matter.
Only Pro-choice Republican Candidate
If we stipulate that Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and Mike Huckabee are the five men with a fighting chance to win the GOP nomination, only Rudy is pro-choice.
Yes, Giuliani makes the familiar disclaimer that he is personally opposed to abortion, but as conservative author George Marlin points out, “Rudy supports abortion, including partial-birth abortion and government funding of abortion,” and this has been true throughout his political career.
Marlin should know. He ran against Giuliani as the New York Conservative Party’s mayoral candidate when Rudy won his first term in 1993 (and became the city’s first Republican mayor in more than two decades — in nearly half a century if you don’t count the ultra-liberal John Lindsay).
Those who know and support Rudy cite examples of his courage and candor: His position on the abortion issue may not please many Republicans, but, the theory goes, at least he has the courage to stick to his position. But has Rudy Giuliani been consistent on abortion? Not exactly.
Donna Hanover, Giuliani’s former wife, confirmed Marlin’s point: “On social issues I would call both of us liberals,” she told New York’s Newsday at the height of the ’93 race. “I asked [Rudy] on our second date what his position was on abortion, and it was pro-choice and always has been pro-choice.”
In a recent interview with Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, Giuliani said of abortion: “I hate it. I think abortion is something that, as a personal matter, I would advise somebody against. However, I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I think you have to ultimately not put a woman in jail for that.”
The 1993 election wasn’t his first run for New York City’s top job. He also ran in 1989 and lost, in part because — Hanover’s memory notwithstanding — he’d said during the campaign that he hoped Roe v. Wade would be overturned. (He also told Newsday: “I’d give my daughter the money for [an abortion].”)
Four years later, he had changed tack and was aggressively pro-choice, a position mostly unchanged for the past 20 years but with a notable caveat: He now promises to appoint strict-constructionist judges to the federal bench. Judges who may restrict abortion practice, if not to actually abolish Roe itself.
Some commentators have called Giuliani’s newfound passion for judicial restraint an example of Clinton-style “triangulation,” the process whereby contradictory positions on a single issue are advocated by a candidate for purposes of attracting disparate, usually opposing elements in the electorate. Trouble is, this can be risky business.
Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm (the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission), is skeptical. “To say [as Giuliani does] ‘I think it’s morally wrong, but I think it’s a woman’s choice.’ is like saying, ‘I’m opposed to segregation but it ought to be left up to the store owner to decide,’” Land told The New York Times. “That’s a preference, not a conviction.”
Indeed, as one New York Catholic priest, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Newsmax: “His position on abortion is what Rudy has instead of a conviction.”
Flip Flop or In Sync?
“Giuliani's current position — personally pro-life, politically pro-choice, constitutionally anti-Roe — is, in fact, a perfectly coherent one,” according to Columbia University legal scholar Michael C. Dorf.
Perhaps so, but Dorf also acknowledges that making his “case to the American people will require [Giuliani] to explain some important nuances.”
Explaining positions, nuanced or otherwise, is what political races are all about — that, and attacking the positions of your opponents.
It remains to be seen if Giuliani will succeed — in the primaries and, if he is triumphant there, in the general election — in convincing conservative voters that the promise to appoint judges who believe in judicial restraint is sufficient, on the one hand, to win their support and, on the other, if the promise itself is even credible.
A great many conservatives recall President George H. W. Bush’s 1990 appointment of David Souter to the Supreme Court. Souter has hardly turned out to be a strict constructionist. Bush said at the time that he wanted a judge “who will ably and fairly interpret the law across the range of issues the Court faces,” and perhaps that’s what he got, but a traditionalist Justice Souter is not.
In 2008, voters will surely want to know if the man who has a history of flip-flopping — advocating overturning Roe in ’89, vigorously pro-choice in ’93, and today wants the Court populated by more Scalias and Thomases (as he told a National Rifle Association meeting) — is really to be trusted on appointments.
Political commentator Stuart Rothenberg is convinced that, just as the Democrats would never choose a presidential nominee who is remotely pro-life, the GOP will never opt for one who has the aura of pro-choice.
“Giuliani’s strong showing in GOP polling reflects his celebrity status and the reputation he earned after the terrorist attacks,” Rothenberg has said. “But if and when he becomes a candidate that will change. He will be evaluated on the basis of different things, including his past and current positions and behavior, and he’ll be attacked by critics and opponents.”
Rothenberg even believes that a pro-life, third-party candidate may enter the race if Giuliani is the Republican nominee.
Remembering that a president has precious little, in a practical sense, to do with abortion in the U.S. and that many other constitutional issues may loom larger (gun control, for instance) in the election, the key test for Rudy Giuliani will be his ability to seem credible about his pledge of sound judicial appointments, which, in any case, will likely be as much up to Senate Democrats as to any Republican president.
Dorf of Columbia can’t help wondering how Rudy will manage to publicly reconcile his new, apparently conservative view about the legal process with regard to abortion and his longstanding, clearly liberal positions on drugs, gay rights, and other issues. It won’t be easy, as Dorf puts it, “absent further explanation.”
He quotes the Ralph Waldo Emerson aphorism that, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
“Could that be,” Dorf asks, “the slogan of the coming Giuliani campaign?”
It could be, but if Giuliani is the GOP nominee, his position on abortion may turn out to be a much bigger inconsistency in the general election than it has seemed in the lead up to the primaries.
Although it had surprisingly little political traction at the time, Pope Benedict XVI made a very strong statement back in May concerning the abortion issue and Catholic politicians. The Pope was in Latin America when he confirmed the Church’s teaching that those publicly advocating abortion should be refused communion and even excommunicated.
Asked about it then, Rudy said: “I do not get into debates with the Pope.” Odd stance, considering in 1996, Mayor Giuliani had very publicly challenged Pope John Paul II by declaring that “direct involvement [by the Vatican] in politics is not a good idea because I think it confuses people.”
Of course the current Pope would surely counter that it is pro-choice Catholic politicians who are bewildering the electorate. Recall it was the Pope’s trusted confidante, Bishop Tobin of Providence, who branded Giuliani’s abortion rhetoric “pathetic and confusing.”
Pope Benedict will visit New York in April, but it’s unlikely the pontiff will meet with the former mayor to dispute the question face to face. That’s a good thing for Rudy, because it’s a debate he simply cannot win.
Brad Miner is a former literary editor of National Review and the author of five books, including the just published “Smear Tactics: The Liberal Campaign to Defame America” (Harper).
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