Last week two unrelated events served to reflect the apparent priorities of President Obama. In the first, when gun legislation failed in the Senate, the President said the vote cast shame on the nation. In the second, a Philadelphia abortion doctor, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, was in his fifth week of trial for murder, with scanty reporting from mainstream media.
The details of the grand jury’s report and comments from eyewitnesses were finally beginning to be reported. The story is sickening – babies born alive that had scissors stuck into the back of their necks to sever the spinal cord. Despite the horrifying nature of the crime, the President, when asked to comment, chose not to do so, hiding behind the trial.
The President’s plate was overflowing last week – the terrorist attack in Boston on Monday; the disastrous fire and subsequent explosion in the West Fertilizer plant in West, Texas that killed fourteen and left at least 200 suffering burns, lacerations and broken bones, and the (temporarily forgotten) ongoing nuclear threats in North Korea and Iran. While it took him a day, Mr. Obama did refer to the Boston terrorists, as terrorists – something he has not yet done regarding the Fort Hood shootings, when Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed thirteen, while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” God is great! That terrorist attack is still referred to as “workplace violence.”
Nevertheless, the gun and abortion issues manifest the President’s ideological biases. Mr. Obama could have forged a compromise in an attempt to contain gun violence. The President’s has vilified the NRA as an organization that promotes gun violence by denying governmental authorities the right to restrict magazine capacities and to ban certain types of automatic weapons. Keep in mind, membership in the NRA by gun owners is relatively small, at just over four percent, but it is a convenient and recognizable target. Not surprisingly, Mr. Obama’s Presidency has been good for membership growth.
The Senate vote was a classic case of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. An up or down vote on a deal struck by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WVA) and Pat Toomey (R-PN) would have prevailed with 54 Senators voting aye, according to the Wall Street Journal. But that would have opened the measure for up to 30 hours of debate. So the White House demanded, and Senator Harry Reid agreed that the bill be passed without a debate – a procedure requiring 60 “yes” votes. It failed, garnering only the 54. A vote against restricting magazine capacity lost 54 to 46, with 10 Democrats voting against such restrictions. A vote to ban certain types of automatic rifles failed 60 to 40, with fifteen Democrats voting with the majority. If Mr. Obama had allowed the Manchin-Toomey vote to proceed, it would have represented a symbolic victory. If he had co-opted Republicans, and officials from the NRA, Mr. Obama might well have a bill that might have helped prevent the purchase of guns by known criminals, terrorists and the mentally unstable. The President put politics ahead of the American people and then described the defeat as a “shameful day for Washington.” It was a shame, but the shame is Mr. Obama’s.
In the case of Dr. Gosnell, politics again ruled the day. Dr. Gosnell activities were not unknown to the media or to the Left. He did what he did because of a conspiracy of silence – the title of Jonathon Capehart’s op-ed in the April 16th issue of the Washington Post. First, it should be understood that Dr. Gosnell’s clients were poor, mostly African-American women from Philadelphia’s inner city – in other words, women with very little political influence. Apart from a woman who died on his operating table, the victims were infants often aborted in the third trimester and, at times born alive.
Criticism of abortion, no matter the circumstances, is taboo among the Left. Gosnell had been approved to perform abortions in 1979. Subsequent site reviews detected violations, but there was no follow up. Complaints to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health went unheeded. The police eventually raided his practice, not for the murders, but for “illegal drug activity.” Toward the end of his otherwise enlightening article, Mr. Capehart does his profession a disservice when he writes: “Ultimately, the conspiracy of silence lies not with the press.” He places the blame on co-workers, members of the community and city and state officials. The fact is, all are guilty, including the Press. The Press exists, in part, to prevent such tragedies. It was a refusal by the media and others to confront a politically sensitive subject like abortion that allowed Dr. Gosnell to kill for so many years. It is outrageous and shameful that the President was not outraged.
In many respects, both incidences are examples of the danger of political correctness. Our fears of offending the sensibilities of others can damage society. Consider the reluctance of mainstream media to use the term Muslim or Islam when reporting on the brothers Tsarnaev. Most Americans, including 99.9% of gun owners, are normal, sane, law-abiding citizens. There are a few who are criminals, a few who become terrorists and a few who have some form of mental sickness. Mass murders are not committed by criminals. Apart from acts of terrorism, mass murders, such as school and college shootings, are almost always the consequence of a deranged person with a weapon. Chicago is proof that strict gun laws don’t keep guns out of criminal’s hands. Connecticut’s relatively strict gun laws did not prevent Adam Lanza from having guns at home and practicing at licensed ranges. While Adam’s classmates described him as crazy, school officials used politically correct euphemisms, like “troubled”, “reclusive” and “painfully shy.” If school officials had described him as “crazed” or “deranged,” he might never have been allowed access to guns, either by his mother or gun sellers, and twenty-one children and adults might still be alive. We certainly do not want to return to an era of fortress-like lunatic asylums that dotted our landscape from the mid 19th Century to the 1950s, but neither should we be releasing into society those seriously in need of mental help.
Criminals will always find weapons, and crimes of passion will always result in someone getting hurt. The nation has done a generally good job in thwarting terrorism at home, but we persist in letting the crazies roam the streets. The focus of gun control should be to get guns out of the hands of the mentally deranged, and my guess is that the NRA would support such measures. If it means tagging people with politically incorrect terms, we should do so. Do their rights to privacy have precedence over our rights to safety?
President Clinton once said that “abortion should not only be safe and legal; it should be rare.” That was a sensible statement, as it suggests that “choice” should not be entered into lightly. There are justifiable reasons for abortion – rape, incest or a child whose defects may put an undue emotional or financial strain on the mother. It should not be seen as a form of birth control. As a State Senator in 2003, Mr. Obama voted against a bill that would ensure medical care to babies born alive after botched abortions. Perhaps it was that thinking that motivated Dr. Gosnell, who referred euphemistically to the severing of spinal cords of babies born alive as “ensuring fetal demise.”
It is proper for a President to avoid commenting on a trial in progress, when an accused stands charged, or when an incident has occurred with no clear cause. But that did not stop the President from commenting on the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case a year ago last March – “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” When the Cambridge police arrested Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates for “breaking into” his own house, the President’s first reaction was to assume the police were racially profiling. As we all know, Mr. Obama’s immediate reaction to the murders in Benghazi was to blame a video, and then he continued to have his people tout the same story after it was abundantly clear that the attack was a consequence of Muslim extremists. It is not obeisance to legal etiquette that held back the President in the case of Dr. Gosnell. It was politics.
Abortion is a complex issue and many people, including me, are conflicted. I have enormous respect for a woman’s rights and determination regarding her body. There are times when abortion is necessary and appropriate. But conditions vary, and what is right for one person may not be so for another. Abortion, as President Clinton said many years ago, should be safe, legal and rare. Unfortunately Mr. Clinton’s words were dropped from the Democratic Party’s 2012 platform. Professor Leon Kass, in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, admitted to being agnostic as to whether an embryo is “a human being equal to your grandchild,” a sentiment with which I agree, but there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that life begins at conception. A problem with Roe versus Wade is that it never addressed the question as to when life begins, but to argue that life begins at some point other than conception is to deny science. Questions of health and mental well-being must be addressed when abortion is being considered, but so must questions of morality and ethics. If an embryo is to be destroyed, we cannot hide from the truth of what will be done.
America is a unique place. Our priorities help define us. Words and actions have meanings. There was nothing shameful in what the Congress did in turning down the President’s gun bill. His words afterward were simply petulant. The mistake was the President’s, in that he apparently had more interest in handing the NRA a defeat than in trying to prevent a repeat of the terrible incident in Newtown. And, his failure to not show disgust at Dr. Gosnell’s crimes, indicate that politics for him prevail over what was an obvious moral wrong.
“The thought of the day” by Sydney Williams
The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.
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