Thursday, January 20, 2011

Roe and Dred Scott

Man-on-Dog Santorum is taking a lot of heat for this statement:

Potential 2012 presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) doesn't understand how President Obama could not answer whether a "human life" is protected by the Constitution from the moment of conception: "The question is -- and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer -- is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says no. Well if that person -- human life is not a person, then -- I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, 'we're going to decide who are people and who are not people.'"

Jamelle Bouie is dismissive of Santorum drawing a straight line between slavery and abortion, writing:

Of course, it should go without saying that this is unadulterated bullshit. It's one thing to oppose abortion -- reasonable people can disagree -- it is something else entirely to compare the practice to chattel slavery, or worse, the Holocaust. Even if you grant fetal personhood, there is nothing in the "experience" of a fetus that compares to the extreme violence and depravity of slavery, and its effect on people -- children, teenagers, and adults -- with hopes, dreams, and desires.

On some level, anti-abortion activists know this; otherwise, they'd be in armed revolt. That they aren't is revealing; far from an accurate take on the situation, the abortion/slavery analogy is a fantasy for self-righteous ideologues, who want to believe that theirs is a great moral crusade, when in truth, it's nothing of the sort.

But while I agree that the moral equivalence is false, I also recognize that this is nothing more than my personal opinion. I'm not sure how many pro-life fanatics that Bouie or other progressive writers know, but I have known more than a few, now and going back to my childhood. And Bouie sells them short when calling this "unadulterated bullshit." Santorum may be doing this cynically. But most certainly there are millions of Americans who do believe it.

In fact, there's a lot of similarities between abolitionists and anti-abortion fanatics. Progressives don't like to admit this because we revere one group and loathe the other. But it's true. Like abolitionists, anti-abortionists believe in the deepest part of their soul that abortion is the greatest evil the world faces, an abomination in the face of God. Moreover, they believe that those who are pro-slavery or pro-choice are facing an eternity burning in the fires of Hell.

This is why I'm so ambivalent about John Brown and outright scared over how people use his memory today--those who love John Brown today aren't usually my friends.

Moreover, the idea that if anti-abortionists really believed their rhetoric that they'd be engaging in violent insurrection both misremembers the Civil War and doesn't provide a very subtle understanding of human nature. With the exception of John Brown, no abolitionists committed violent actions to overthrow the slave power before 1861. Moreover, it was the South who committed violence against the nation to protect slavery, not the North invading the South to end the peculiar institution.

For the vast, vast majority of abolitionists and anti-abortionists, personal violence is beyond the pale of acceptable behavior. They might support other people doing it. They might even give money toward it. But they are not going to pick up a gun themselves.

It does progressives no good to ignore the fact that anti-abortionists are in fact engaged in a moral crusade. It's not up to us to decide what is a moral crusade and what is not. I think they are crazy and that Santorum's statement is offensive, but that's beside the point. Anti-abortionists do in fact believe in their own rhetoric. For them, this is the greatest moral crusade since abolitionism. And we need to deal with this.