And Now For Something Completely Different
So last night I watched maybe 30 minutes of the GOP debate. First, any debate with 10 candidate, the majority of whom are just enjoying their 15 minutes in the (sort of) national spotlight is not going to be super enlightening. (Heck, the only thing I learned from the Democratic debate is that Dennis Kucinich is not the craziest Democrat running; come on down, Senator Mike Gravel.) I will say that Sam Brownback truly scares me--I thought he was about to start discussing fire and brimstone at several points. I actually like Huckabee (insert I [heart] Huckabee joke here). If nothing else, he lost 100 pounds, ran a marathon, told a few good jokes, seemed quite comfortable on the stage, and he usually doesn't come of as completely crazy (although he has his moments).
Yet the thing most people are talking about (if they are talking at all) is the answer of Rudy Giuliani to a question about Roe v. Wade. For those who missed it, here is the full exchange:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Would the day that Roe v. Wade is repealed be a good day for Americans?
[All the other candidates say yes with, my favorite, Sen. Brownback stating "Be a glorious day of human liberty and freedom."]
MR. GIULIANI: It would be okay.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay to repeal?
MR. GIULIANI: It would be okay to repeal. Or it would be okay also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent, and I think a judge has to make that decision.
MR. MATTHEWS: Would it be okay if they didn’t repeal it?
MR. GIULIANI: I think that -- I think the court has to make that decision, and then the country can deal with it. We’re a federalist system of government, and states could make their own decisions.
The obvious flack Giuliani is getting is that in the GOP primary anything less than absolute fealty to the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the banning of abortion seems to be a big problem. And Giuliani has a problem with the GOP base not only with his abortion views but also with his views on other hot bottom [n.b.: that should read button, but it is too funny just to correct; thanks, A.J.] social issues.
But let's look at this answer and how inane it is. The first part indicates he doesn't really care one way or another what happens. This seems like he's just saying that he doesn't think it should be overturned but knows his audience does. He then says to himself, throw in the line about strict constructionist but he again tries to have it both ways. Okay, maybe there is something here about how a judge can be a strict constructionist but also give strong deference to precedent but I can't imagine there are many potential justices who call themselves strict constructionists and think Roe should be affirmed.
Even more bizarre is the second part of his answer. He says that the Court can do what it wants but we live in a federalist system and states can do what they want. But a central criticism of Roe is that the states (or the federal government) can't regulate abortion (or can only in limited ways). In other words, by constitutionalizing the issue, the political branches can't legislate about them. As long as Roe remains good law, the states can't make their own decisions, so Giuliani's answer makes no sense. (I'm not saying that this is a good or bad thing; only pointing out that his answer is ridiculous. I guess this is what happens when you're not good at pandering.)
Perhaps what the Mayor was trying to get at--and perhaps what he should have said--is that he thinks Roe should be overturned returning the abortion question to the states. And, if he wanted to look like he wasn't flip flopping (or at least only in a minor way), he could say (although he would have no need to in response to the question) that he thinks states should make abortion legal at least in certain circumstances . (This is actually what Jim Gilmour said (kind of).) This is a perfectly respectable position to take but unfortunately today's politics make such a position difficult to take--if you are pro-choice, you basically have to support Roe and visa versa; you can't argue that it is a bad decision but abortion should be legal.
As a guy who practiced law for years and is supposed to be pretty smart, it was a very weak answer, appealing to no one and tying himself in knots. In general, I thought he was very unimpressive (and having lived in NYC during his mayorality, there is a lot I like about him although the idea of him as President with his views of executive power and dealing with those who disagree with scare me to no end). He hurt himself with the GOP base with the abortion issue but, moreover, seemed very unimpressive (and not just with this answer) and not the heroic figure for the hours and days after 9/11.
Finally, I enjoyed the setting of the debate--under Air Force One at the Reagan Library. The last time I was at the library (don't get me started on presidential libraries; I've hit 'em all), the complex was almost complete, and it is a fascinating addition that offers visitors something available nowhere else.
And now we return to our regularly scheduled pop culture programming.