Topic Can Romney/Ryan get elected?
14 Oct 2012 14:10
Since people are posting interesting opinion columns, I thought I would add this one from "The New Yorker".
Of Babies and Beans: Paul Ryan on Abortion
By Adam Gopnik
Watching the political debates this season always puts this writer, perhaps irresponsibly, in mind of seventies movie comedies: Romney seems like the smug country clubber in a hundred National Lampoonish movies, the one Chevy Chase takes the girl away from, while Paul Ryan last night seemed exactly like the authority-pleasing, solemn student-body president who either gets pantsed midway by the stars of “Porkys” or else blissfully turned on to grass in the final reel by Bill Murray. Joe Biden watching Ryan, meanwhile, put me in mind of nothing so much as the great, grouchy, aged Eddie Albert in Elaine May’s matchless original, “The Heartbreak Kid,” narrowing his eyes in disbelief as he listens to the slick, oleaginous (and already married!) Charles Grodin courting his beautiful blond daughter: “ I heard everything you said… and I will tell you, quite honestly, I was very impressed. Very impressed. And I think I can also say, quite honestly… I have never heard such a crock of horseshit in my life.”
But beyond the horseshit something genuinely disturbing and scary got said last night by Paul Ryan that is, I think, easily missed and still worth brooding over. It came in response to a solemn and, it seemed to some of us, inappropriately phrased question about the influence of the Catholic Church on both men’s positions on abortion. Inappropriately phrased because legislation is made for everyone, not specially for those of “faith.” (And one would have thought that, at this moment in its history, the Catholic Church would not have much standing when it comes to defining the relationship between sexual behavior and doctrinal morality. However few in number the sinners might be, the failure to deal with them openly casts doubt on the integrity of the institution.)
Paul Ryan did not say, as John Kennedy had said before him, that faith was faith and public service, public service, each to be honored and kept separate from the other. No, he said instead “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.” That’s a shocking answer—a mullah’s answer, what those scary Iranian “Ayatollahs” he kept referring to when talking about Iran would say as well. Ryan was rejecting secularism itself, casually insisting, as the Roman Catholic Andrew Sullivan put it, that “the usual necessary distinction between politics and religion, between state and church, cannot and should not exist.” And he went on to make it quietly plain that his principles are uncompromising on this, even if his boss’s policy may not seem so:
All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
Our system, unlike the Iranians’, is not meant to be so total: it depends on making many distinctions between private life, where we follow our conscience into our chapel, and our public life, where we seek to merge many different kinds of conscience in a common space. Our faith should not inform us in everything we do, or there would be no end to the religious warfare that our tolerant founders feared.
Ryan then went on to say something oddly disarming in its inherent lack of self-awareness. He talked about how, looking at a first sonogram of his daughter, he was thrilled by the beating heart in the tiny “bean” on the image, so much that he and his wife still call that child “Bean.” As someone who is not often accused of being indifferent to the joys of fatherhood, I recognize the moment—and in fact still have that same early ultrasound picture, two of them. But Ryan’s moral intuition that something was indeed wonderful here was undercut, tellingly, by a failure to recognize accurately what that wonderful thing was, even as he named it: a bean is exactly what the photograph shows—a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.
The fundamental condition of life is that it develops, making it tricky sometimes to say when it’s fully grown and when it isn’t, but always easy to say that there is a difference and that that difference is, well, human life itself. It is this double knowledge that impacts any grownup thinking about abortion: that it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience (and the individual conscience’s doctor). The cost of simplifying this truth is immense cruelty—cruelty to the bean when, truly developed, it becomes a frightened teen-ager who is to be compelled by law to carry her unwished-for pregnancy through with all the trauma that involves. This kind of cruelty—cruelty to real persons, killing the infidel in order to hasten him into heaven, stoning the fourteen-year-old girl in pursuit of some prophet’s view of virtue, forcing the teenager to complete her pregnancy to fulfill a middle-aged man’s moral hunches—is the kind of cruelty that our liberal founders saw with terror.
Ryan talked facilely of what “science” says in this case. But what real science has to tell us, of course, very different; it says that life has no neat on and off, that while life may in some sense begin at conception, the moment when the formed consciousness that distinguishes human life from bean life arises is a very different question, not reducible to a dogma or a simple claim. A bean isn’t a baby; a baby was once a bean, and between those two truths it is, or ought to be, every woman for herself.
What is unquestionable is that the kind of fully conscious life that everyone claims to prize already belongs to the woman who happens to be pregnant, and it should be her individual moral conscience that, in a society devoted to the individual, ought to rule. One reason we prize life is because it makes minds. And women, who have them, should be free to make up their own.