Polic­ing preg­nan­cies

The Covington News - - Opinion -

The un­in­vited par­tic­i­pa­tion of a hur­ri­cane at next week’s Repub­li­can con­ven­tion would be su­per­flu­ous. Buf­feted by pow­er­ful in­ter­nal winds, the party may be flooded with cash, but it’s al­ready kind of a de­bris-strewn mess.

Who would have imag­ined that Topic A, in the days be­fore GOP del­e­gates gather in Tampa, would be abor­tion? Cer­tainly the thought never crossed the minds of the con­ven­tion plan­ners who in­tended this four-day in­fomer­cial to be a non­stop in­dict­ment of Pres­i­dent Obama’s per­for­mance on the econ­omy. But the old line about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and their can­di­dates — “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line” — is so last cen­tury.

Party lead­ers will blame Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., for air­ing his ap­palling views about “le­git­i­mate rape.” But if you dis­count Akin’s bizarre no­tions about fe­male re­pro­duc­tion, he was only stat­ing of­fi­cial Repub­li­can pol­icy on abor­tion as laid out in the plat­form that del­e­gates will be asked to ap­prove on Mon­day: “The un­born child has a fun­da­men­tal in­di­vid­ual right to life which can­not be in­fringed.”

Pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney, who once was pro-choice, now said he is against abor­tion ex­cept in cases of rape or in­cest, or when the mother’s life is en­dan­gered. But his party claims to be­lieve, as Akin does, that there should be no ex­cep­tions. Rom­ney’s cho­sen run­ning mate, Paul Ryan, agrees with Akin but now has switched into “what­ever Mitt says” mode.

There is no way to tidy up these con­tra­dic­tions. For decades, since the Ron­ald Rea­gan era, the Repub­li­can playbook has been to pa­tron­ize so­cial con­ser­va­tives in the pri­maries and the party plat­form on is­sues such as abor­tion — and then, upon tak­ing of­fice, do lit­tle or noth­ing for the cause. But so­cial con­ser­va­tives turned their frus­tra­tion into ac­tivism and even­tu­ally gained a mea­sure of power within the party that the GOP es­tab­lish­ment finds highly in­con­ve­nient.

Anti-abor­tion cru­saders ex­pect the party to prac­tice what it preaches, even though abor­tion rights are guar­an­teed un­der Roe v. Wade and pub­lic opin­ion is strongly op­posed to an ab­so­lute ban.

Sim­i­larly, evan­gel­i­cals ex­pect GOP ac­tion on their be­lief that the wall be­tween church and state should be de­mol­ished. All right, that’s my phras­ing, not theirs. But I don’t know how else to in­ter­pret the aim of of­fice-hold­ers such as Akin, who has spent his 12-year ca­reer in Congress fight­ing to in­crease the role of re­li­gion in gov­ern­ment. “At the heart of lib­er­al­ism,” he once said, “re­ally is a ha­tred for God.”

The Repub­li­can Party also wel­comed the en­ergy, en­thu­si­asm and votes of the tea party move­ment. Was the GOP es­tab­lish­ment ever re­ally se­ri­ous about stag­ing a “sec­ond Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion” or slash­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment back to what it was in 1789? Not on your life. The re­cent pat­tern is that gov­ern­ment grows much faster un­der Repub­li­can pres­i­dents than un­der Democrats. You can look it up.

Pa­tron­iz­ing the tea party and en­list­ing many of its ad­her­ents as can­di­dates helped the GOP win an im­pres­sive string of vic­to­ries in 2010 and take con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. But Speaker John Boehner has been strug­gling ever since to con­trol un­ruly fresh­men to whom the un­think­able — trig­ger­ing a cat­a­strophic de­fault on U.S. gov­ern­ment debt, for ex­am­ple — sounds like a plan.

Ten­sion be­tween ideal­ists and prag­ma­tists is in­evitable in pol­i­tics, but the strug­gle tak­ing place within to­day’s Repub­li­can Party is ex­treme. The GOP be­lieves in lim­ited gov­ern­ment that stays out of our busi­ness and lets us live our lives — but also wants to po­lice ev­ery preg­nancy in the land. The party says it wants to cut waste­ful fed­eral spend­ing — but also in­sists on show­er­ing the Pen­tagon with bil­lions for weapons sys­tems the gen­er­als don’t even want. The party says it wants to bal­ance the bud­get — but en­dorses a plan, au­thored by Ryan, that cuts taxes for the wealthy with­out spec­i­fy­ing the off­set­ting bud­get cuts that would be re­quired to keep deficits from bal­loon­ing out of con­trol.

Be­ing a “big tent” party is never easy. The GOP, for all its di­vi­sions, is full of en­ergy and pas­sion. What unites the var­i­ous fac­tions is the task of de­feat­ing Obama, and on this point there will be no dis­sent in Tampa.

But why does the Repub­li­can Party seek power? What does it re­ally stand for? What does it hope to ac­com­plish? What kind of Amer­ica does it en­vi­sion?

Keep an eye on that storm track as Isaac plows to­ward Florida. Maybe the elu­sive an­swers to those ques­tions are blowin’ in the wind.

Eu­gene Robin­son is a Pulitzer Prize win­ning colum­nist and writes for The Wash­ing­ton Post. He can be reached at eu­gen­er­obin­son@wash­post.com.

EU­GENE ROBIN­SON COLUM­NIST

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