Friday, March 22, 2013

Rand Paul is 100% pro-life, same as always

Another firestorm has resulted from another television interview with Senator Rand Paul in which people on both sides of the political spectrum have misunderstood his words and jumped immediately into attack mode. Despite the hysteria, this one will calm down very quickly and I think a very useful and productive conversation will come about as a result of it.

Rand was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, who asked about Rand's proposed legislation defining personhood as beginning at the moment of conception. You will hear the question from Blitzer about whether or not Rand has changed his position on abortion, but what happens after that is, I think, the beginning of a real discussion that transcends the usual talking points on the issue.

Rand isn't even talking about abortion. That's the key point causing confusion. He's talking about defining the beginning of life in order to protect it. Watch the video and see if you can make that distinction. You may have to watch it twice to catch it.

It didn't take long for a reporter with Louisville's second-largest newspaper, LEO, to start the following email conversation which I've reproduced below with my replies:

Joe: Rand's switching his abortion position, too? Man, he's starting to act like McConnell.
Me: He has the same position he has had on abortion. Talking thoughtfully about the issue's unusual cases out on the margins as he was doing will always create a hubbub like this. It's just the nature of the beast. Here is what's different: Rand has introduced again a thoughtful approach to a thorny issue and, again, he will be given the stage long enough and often enough to try to move the country more to a pro-life position with a greater understanding of liberty. People can look all day long for a 'gotcha moment' here, but not only will they not find but Rand will come out of this with more fans and a higher profile. Keep swinging at him, though. That helps too.

Joe: How does advocating for no exceptions (public statements and candidate surveys), then saying there should be "thousands of exemptions" and "privacy between families and doctors" not a switch? conservatives are the ones swinging at him right now, fyi
Me: You have to view any proposed law way out on the margins in terms of the most extreme possible unintended consequence. If we define life as the very moment of sperm penetrating egg, that opens all kinds of problems with regard to the law. Without being too graphic, you can use your imagination to think of any number of privacy issues there that don't have anything to do with deciding to terminate a pregnancy. I know the response ultimately from the other side will be that this is why government should not be involved at all in any part of the reproductive process, but government has to be involved now because those same people are the ones who dreamed up the idea  that it is okay to kill a child if he or she hasn't yet exited the birth canal.

Joe: Right, so he used to think there should be no exemptions, and now he does. That's an obvious change, David.
Me: This isn't about a woman going to her doctor and explaining that she has been raped or a victim of incest or learning that her pregnancy may put her own health or life at risk. If the law is to state that life begins at the first moment of conception, there will be many cases involving death that shouldn't involve the government but might with a law stating that it does. Fixing that weakness in such a law is a very complex topic of discussion. We'll get past the political gamesmanship soon on this and more people will discover that they agree with the pro-life position. 

Joe: If Rand truly thinks that this is a private decision between a woman and her doctor, and is now open to exemptions for rape and incest, that would certainly be a welcome (and ideologically consistent) change. But you can't honestly think that this is the same position he's always had. A fertilized egg is either a person with rights, or it isn't, yes?
Me: He hasn't said that at all. According to his proposed legislation, a fertilized egg is a person which has been as position at least as long as he has been speaking publicly and answering candidate surveys.

Joe: Yes, and now he thinks there should be "exemptions" to "kill" this "person," in certain circumstances. Unless he didn't mean anything he said on CNN.
Me: No, he's not talking about "killing." Your mistake is that you are trying to turn this into a gotcha moment and it just isn't one unless you put words in his mouth. I see another round of attack ads with tiny sound-bites designed to create a false impression, but that's all this amounts too. Again, once we get past this distraction it will be a very interesting philosophical discussion and more people will come toward the pro-life position.

Joe: He either meant what he said and softened his position, or he didn't and hasn't changed. You can't have it both ways
Me: Slow down, Joe. Breathe. This isn't a discussion about abortion. This is a discussion about the moment life begins and how to protect that life without going to absurd lengths. Given that the entire "pro-choice" movement is based on the absurd idea that a baby deserves protection at some magical moment in which he or she suddenly becomes human but not before, it may take you a while to get here with us. We'll be waiting.

Joe: David, I may sound like a broken record on this, but if Rand now thinks there should be an exemption for rape, that is a clear an unambiguous switch from his previous position. 
Me: You aren't a broken record, you are just playing on the wrong track. Blitzer's question was the standard one about when abortion should be allowed. Rand's answer, which he began with "I think that puts things in too small of a box," did not involve the standard way of looking at the issue. Again, this is about defining life at a precise moment and not about deciding to abort or not abort a pregnancy. Go back and watch the interview as if you are trying to understand his point of view rather than as if you are trying to find the next Todd Akin and I think you will get it pretty quickly.

Joe: you're in knots David. 

Rand Paul 2010: no exemptions for rape (clear and unambiguous) 

Rand Paul 2013: exemptions for rape (your words) and whoknowswhatselse (unless he doesn't really believe that)

you're the only one talking about gotchas and "philosophical" questions. This is a clear cut policy change.
Me: I hope you are going to blog this whole conversation. I am.

Joe: David, slow down and take a breath, you're getting really worked up. The point is not that he's suddenly "Todd Akin," because Rand Paul has always agreed with Todd Akin. The point is that he's no longer in the Todd Akin no rape exemption crowd, if he meant what he said. To quote Rand Paul: "Comprende?"
Me: I understand that you are trying to make the conversation about abortion procedures but that is not what it is. This is about the difficulty in defining the moment life becomes a thing for which protection is necessary and how we go about it. Difficult discussion made more so by people trying to score political points.

Joe: also, your contention that the discussion with Blitzer had nothing to do with abortion is hilarious
Me: Keep laughing. That's still my contention. The reductio ad absurdum argument is often applied to abortion, so let's apply it to this conversation. This one is about a personhood definition bill that specifies the beginning of personhood as beginning at conception. If we are to protect two-cell humans, there will be literally thousands of exceptions necessary in the law to protect people from all kinds of unusual circumstances unless we want law enforcement officials literally climbing in bed with couples checking for any signs of a productive coupling. Is that clearer? 

Joe: David, I've never seen you so defensive, take a deep breath. l, for one, welcome Rand Paul's move towards the middle on abortion. You still agree with him on a lot of other things though, so don't be too mad at him.
Me: Now I'm laughing, Joe. Thanks

Joe: David, that position remains 100% clear. Just like it is 100% clear that Rand has switched to this position. Which I welcome! I hope he continues to move more towards my way of thinking in the future, as well.
Me: Not a chance. 

Joe: Tell me how his new position is 100% consistent with this: