A Belated Reply to Ramesh Ponnuru on Kavanaugh and Roe

Ramesh Ponnuru has responded to my column last week at LifeSite, in which I take issue with his defense of Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony regarding Roe v. Wade. I appreciate the opportunity for a serious exchange on the subject; hopefully we can clarify some of the Right’s thinking on a tradition that’s caused so much trouble.

Ponnuru accurately summarizes my position; I think he can be fairly summarized as believing nominees shouldn’t commit to overruling specific precedents, but should be more willing to discuss a precedent’s strengths or flaws (from which senators and voters would obviously be able to draw more useful inferences).

Certainly, I agree that it would be improper for a judge to promise, for instance, “I’ll always rule however the National Right to Life Committee wants me to.” I also recognize the legitimacy of certain qualifiers, such as noting that a case involving abortion in some way doesn’t necessarily mean Roe’s legitimacy will be the question it hinges on.

Beyond that, though, I have never heard a persuasive reason why it would be improper for a nominee to commit to ruling certain ways on known legal questions. If a precedent is in fact illicit, I’ve never gotten a good answer why it’s wrong in principle to make reasonably sure that a nominee would overturn it.

Obviously, I can see potential danger in a judge agreeing to deliver a particular outcome in exchange for an appointment, but a bad ruling is hardly mitigated just because its signatories honestly believe in it. So shouldn’t the legitimacy of a pre-confirmation commitment depend entirely on whether the judgment being committed to is correct?

It seems perfectly straightforward to me that a judge’s explanation for his position would demonstrate to fair-minded observers whether it’s rooted in illicit partisanship or defensible legal philosophy, regardless of what conversations he and the president might have had beforehand as to whether they’re on the same page.

It also seems to me that consistently applying the no-commitment principle would take us to some pretty absurd places. Is anyone who’s ever openly criticized Roe, like William Pryor or Michael McConnell, automatically disqualified from joining SCOTUS? Sitting justices who’ve previously declared themselves for or against Roe in majority or dissenting opinions also have a “commitment” on the record that will telegraph their disposition in future abortion cases; how is that meaningfully different?

What’s the limiting principle to the no-commitment rule, and what do the above questions say about the rule’s merits for judicial nominees?

Finally, I’d like to make clear that despite my reservations about nominating Kavanaugh in the first place, I fully support confirming him in light of the Left’s vile campaign to destroy him.

It’s all-but inconceivable that withdrawing him at this stage would lead to confirming anyone better, his powerful testimony calling out “the Left” by name for its “calculated and orchestrated political hit” gives me some hope that he’s more of a movement conservative than he let on during the first round, and most importantly, the Left’s tactics of demonization and intimidation cannot be rewarded.

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Jonah Goldberg Fires at Me, Somehow Shoots Own Foot

Last month, I called out Jonah Goldberg’s foolish Twitter declaration that “you can support abortion and still be a conservative” at LifeSiteNews, and reacted here to his subsequent tweetstorm about a LifeNews piece compiling unfavorable Twitter reactions to him. This was one of his follow-ups that most stood out to me:

The issue, of course, is that Goldberg has never been shy about touting National Review’s record of kicking out beyond-the-pale apostates.

So I replied:

Goldberg never responded, directly or indirectly, to my article or any of my rebuttal tweets. I don’t know whether he simply missed it or he decided to concentrate fire on the easier target, but given his Twitter habit of responding to softballs from anonymous fringe types while strenuously ignoring substantive counterpoints, I have my suspicions.

Anyway, he displayed his selective support for kicking out apostates once again with a recent G-File. Here are some key quotes:

  • From the very beginning, NR has stood against the ‘irresponsible Right.’
  • And with the advantage of hindsight, one can argue that NR dawdled in excommunicating other elements of the irresponsible Right.
  • Like water seeking its level, bogs claim whatever they are allowed to claim until stopped by nature or man. That “supposedly” is the rhetorical device that says, “Let the swamp grass grow, it’s not my responsibility to prune it.”
  • My view then, and now, is that everyone should not only be forced to choose between traditional conservatism and the alt-right but that they should force that choice on others.
  • Buckley understood, as he put it in Up from Liberalism, that “conservatism must be wiped clean of the parasitic cant that defaces it.”
  • By refusing to defend conservative dogma against “supposedly” racist and nativist forces, our dogma is being erased like the battlements of a sand castle when the tide comes in.

Huh. Apparently there is a “thing” apostates can be kicked out of after all.

As should be needless to say, I fully support excommunicating white nationalists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, etc. from conservatism (I’ve written plenty about that myself). Where I and Goldberg’s other critics differ is that we believe that defenders of violence against children deserve the same treatment, on both conservative dogma and human decency grounds.

So, in response to the G-File, I reminded Goldberg of his own words (again). This time finally got a response:

As funny as it was to see Jonah slap the “gibberish” label on a tweet that’s mostly one of his own quotes, the invocation of his podcast was more interesting. Had he finally confronted the meat of the issue? Did he put me in my place with a superior review of embryology, natural law theory, conservative history, or the Founders’ thinking?

After listening to the podcast he cited…not exactly. During the segment (starting at 50:40) devoted to complaining about the pushback he got with New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (not exactly an authority on conservatism), Goldberg merely says that “a pro-life website went hammer and tongs after me” (presumably LifeNews) and mentions a couple writers at The Federalist. 

At no point do Goldberg or Douthat address, directly or indirectly, anything I said on the matter or any variation of the objections I raised (they don’t get specific about anything any of Goldberg’s other critics said, either). So how does he know I “made a fool of” myself? How does the podcast demonstrate it? Apparently Goldberg either (a) confused me with the LifeNews author, (b) didn’t know my reasoning but lazily assumed it was probably covered in the exchange, or (c) did know and was deflecting with simple ad hominem.

None of these possibilities are a great fit with the image of one of “serious” conservatism’s best and brightest.

As for the points Goldberg did make, none of them vindicated his original thesis. If anything, they reinforced my own observations at multiple points (you might even call it gibberish):

As a matter of political strategy it is insane to me for pro-lifers to say “you have to be a conservative to be a pro-lifer.” Because that way you’re basically telling every socialist, every good Catholic, every Nat Hentoff type, everyone who wants single-payer healthcare, that they also have to be pro-choice, right? You want to make it a separate track.

That would be insane…if any of Goldberg’s critics had said it. Maybe he heard it from some random troll (he does love his random trolls), but “pro-lifers must be conservatives” is a pretty glaring reversal of the actual proposition in dispute, “conservatives must be pro-life.” Of course pro-lifers should want non-conservatives to oppose abortion, but simply stressing that abortion is incompatible with American conservatism’s first principles hardly implies otherwise.

There are so many different kinds of conservatism, many of which I despise, right? I mean, read Friedrich Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” something the libertarians love to quote the title of, but never quote the essay […] He says that America is the one place in the world where you can call yourself a conservative and still be on the side of liberty, because we’re trying to conserve a fundamentally liberal institution, which is the American Founding […] a “conservative” in America means something profoundly different than a “conservative” in Portugal, you know? A conservative in Portugal might want to restore the throne; a conservative in America wants to uphold the principles that overthrew the crown. Very different things. Radicalism and conservatism are the two most contingent ideologies; they depend entirely on where and when you’re talking about.

In retrospect, I should have expected the Hayek tangent to make an appearance here. I enjoy a good chat about what conservatism conserves across different nations and eras, but…we’re not in Portugal. It’s not the seventeenth century. The “where and when [we’re] talking about” is 2018 America, where conservatism is generally understood to have something to do with conserving the principles of the American Founding.

So why rest his defense on some rambling about what conservatism might mean in other parts of the world? Why completely ignore the intellectual tradition and first principles that could shed light on the question? Perhaps because (as I showed) where American conservatism falls on the right to life is so utterly straightforward that Goldberg knew he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if he did anything other than obfuscate.

The reason abortion makes me uncomfortable at the second and third trimester is because I think it’s a moral horror. The reason why abortion makes me uncomfortable in the first two weeks of conception is, I don’t like the state being involved in the process of deciding who is and who is not a human being. So it’s a very libertarian point on the beginning of life. I cannot muster anything like the moral horror I have for things like partial-birth abortion for the aborting of blastocysts. The morning-after pill doesn’t shake me to my core and fill me with a sort of morally-generated disgust the way essentially infanticide does in the eighth or ninth month. And so I’m just willing to admit my intellectual weakness about the beginning of the argument.

Alternate headline: Jonah Goldberg admits he’s not qualified to be commenting on abortion in the first place.

This is pure emotion. There’s no appeal to evidence, no attempt at reasoning, and no serious application of conservative dogma…on one of the most fundamental, most straightforward natural-rights questions possible. Didn’t the Right use to pride itself on following reason over feelings, in contrast to the Left?

There are lots of people who came after me, including people I’m friends with, who see conservatism as a sort of industrial analogue to the Republican Party, that it’s a movement, that it’s a network of institutions. And so, to me what they were doing is they were replacing an intellectual, philosophical conception, with the Young America’s Foundation and the NRA, this network of institutions, right? And those are just different things to me.

First, conservatism quite obviously is a movement (whether specific organizations are effectively reflecting its first principles are a different story). Second, where does Goldberg get off claiming he sees conservatism as an “intellectual, philosophical conception” and his critics don’t, when his critics are the ones arguing philosophy and he hasn’t made a single philosophical counter-argument?

He strenuously avoided any exploration of any concept or work — purpose of government, natural-law theory, individual rights, constitutional interpretation, American conservative thought since the Founders, etc. — that would have produced a reviewable argument as to whether there can be a conservative case for legal abortion.

What an inspiring example of the intellectual caliber that apparently merits a slice of a $2.4 million grant for “reconciling individual freedom with cultural values that make freedom and progress possible” these days…

A lot of these outlets and institutions thought I was the better target of their ire than Tomi Lahren, because there is this unbelievable deference to clickbait warlords out there. And so I’m throwing her under the bus for saying something stupid, that is contrary to the strategic argument, that is contrary to the moral argument, and instead, because I made some rhetorical concession to something that they didn’t like, and because I’m in this anti-Trump box for a lot of these people, they’d rather attack me than attack her, even though they didn’t realize that I was actually carrying water for them. And that’s part of the weird moment that we’re in.

This is, to use one of Goldberg’s favorite terms, horseshit.

Sean Davis, Kimberly Ross, and Micaiah Bilger were among the voices to criticize both Goldberg and Lahren (I tweeted about her latest stupidity herehere, and here, and wrote about her here, here, and here last year). The conservative commentariat torched her Roe comments (for instance) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and in countless tweets. So it’s not as if taking some time to slam Goldberg’s comments somehow detracted from holding her accountable.

As I said at LifeSite, in the grand scheme of things the stupidity of a provocateur pandering to the lowest common denominator is less concerning than someone who supposedly knows better, speaking with the perceived credibility of one of the Right’s most esteemed publications. If anything, the Right focused too much on Lahren’s poison and not enough on Goldberg’s.

So what’s the root cause of all this nonsense? Why is Jonah Goldberg so hellbent on carving out space for pro-aborts under the conservative umbrella, and why is he so abysmal at backing it up?

Like I’ve acknowledged in the past, I appreciate that he has written insightful pieces on abortion, and that he takes his uncertainty as a call to err on the side of caution rather than a license to kill. But between the above, his April admission that he disagrees “to some extent” with the “moral, practical, [and] legal grounds” for thinking “abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such”; and his suggestion last year that there’s some substantive moral difference between Doug Jones supporting abortion-on-demand and Roy Moore being “the more evil man in his personal conduct” for his alleged crimes, it all paints a distinctly squishy picture.

I believe there are ultimately two things going on here, neither of which are intellectual. The first is that Goldberg simply doesn’t want to give up any of his own claim to the conservative label (not that his stance makes him not a conservative, but it does make him less conservative). The second is that he doesn’t want to admit that more than a few of his personal friends in this industry hold a position every bit as repugnant as the worst the John Birch Society peddled at its height.

This whole affair is another example of what so many of Cruise-Ship Conservatism’s lectures to the Results-Oriented Right boil down to: double-standards. None of it is about upholding first principles or wiping clean parasites. It’s about tearing down competitors for the soul of the movement by any means necessary, while insulating themselves and their allies from criticism for the exact same offenses.

Abortion, Jonah Goldberg, and the Integrity of Conservatism

On Thursday, I responded to a foolish, revealing statement by Jonah Goldberg asserting that “you can support abortion and still be a conservative.” You can read the whole thing at LifeSiteNews; here’s the gist:

[The Declaration of Independence] establishes that the core purpose of government is to secure the unalienable rights God has equally endowed on every human being – and among those rights, “life” is the first one listed. It’s the obvious prerequisite to exercising any of the other freedoms for which conservatism stands.

If you accept the Declaration’s premises, the only question remaining is one of fact, not philosophy: are the preborn the same kind of “life” Thomas Jefferson was writing about? The inarguable answer is yes.

According to all the established criteria of modern biology, a whole, distinct, living human exists once fertilization has occurred.

On Friday, Goldberg responded…not to me or the case I made, but to a LifeNews article that merely highlighted his comment and rounded up a handful of disapproving Twitter responses. As a result, his tweetstorm largely missed the substantive problems with his claim:

That last one here is key. Jonah identifies as “essentially pro-life” and has written valuable material on abortion in the past, though he also displays some muddy thinking on the subject that undoubtedly informs his level of comfort with “conservatives” who embrace it.

But at the end of the day, he is comfortable with them wearing the label, and not because he or anyone else in the more, shall we say, Beltway-sympathetic cliques of the Right is some absolutist for accommodating any and every deviation from first principles. Goldberg (rightly) says it “helped the cause” when National Review “purged the Birchers.”

So why don’t those who endorse legalized violence against children deserve to be similarly purged? What makes such a barbaric view any more respectable? Why doesn’t it carry a similar risk of morally and intellectually diluting the movement?

I’ve mentioned before a couple other instances of Goldberg demonstrating that he doesn’t consider abortion support beyond the pale, such as when he revealed that NR has “pro-choice” writers who “just don’t typically make that case in our pages” and that he disagrees “to some extent” on “moral, practical, [and] legal grounds” that “abortion is the taking of a life and should thus be treated under the law as such”; and when he suggested that Roy Moore was “the more evil man in his personal conduct” than pro-abortion Doug Jones.

In other words, he draws an arbitrary distinction between “personally” doing evil and doing evil through government, and/or fails to recognize some evils as evil at all.

It can’t be repeated often enough: the idea that most #NeverTrumpers were acting out of concern for the election’s long-term impact on conservative principles is exactly backwards. They were more comfortable with surrendering the presidency to Hillary Clinton because they weighed the issues at stake, including but not limited to abortion, less heavily than those of us who desperately wanted a different nominee yet recognized the stakes remained the same.

Keep that in mind the next time you see one of their lectures to the rest of us, which should be any minute now.

New at LifeSite: Our GOP Congressional Leaders Are Lousy on Life

Here’s my latest piece, highlighting some of the details NRLC and SBA List left out of their statements slobbering all over Paul Ryan:

Over the years, Ryan voted for and presided over multiple budget resolutions that continued the more than $500 million Planned Parenthood receives from taxpayers annually. Pro-life leaders called onthe GOP to make defunding Planned Parenthood “non-negotiable” in budgets passed under Barack Obama, but Ryan defended not doing so on the grounds that “in divided government, no one gets exactly what they want.”

Last month, Ryan said that supporting the most recent budget was necessary to fund the military. But critics like Rep. Thomas Massie, R-KY, argue that under Ryan, the House forbade lawmakers from voting on amendments concerning Planned Parenthood or any other conservative objections to the bill.

“A more complete betrayal of the electorate I have not witnessed,” Massie tweeted.

Moreover, while Ryan’s House passed several pro-life measures, only the one letting states defund Planned Parenthood ever became law.

There’s a lot more at LifeSiteNews. And here’s a snippet of my piece from earlier this week detailing how ostensible Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (for all intents and purposes, Chuck Schumer is really calling the shots) continues to let Democrats slow-walk judicial nominees, in the hopes of delaying as many as they can until Donald Trump no longer has a GOP Senate majority to confirm them:

An October 10 memo signed by more than one hundred conservative leaders, including Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, and Tea Party Patriot’s Jenny Beth Martin, blames part of the problem on the McConnell Senate’s “continued insistence on working no more than 2 ½ days a week – arriving on Monday evening for a handful of votes, and departing, on average, by 2:30 p.m. each Thursday afternoon.”

Even under the 30-hour rule, the leaders add, McConnell could “easily make this painful for them by forcing continuous session overnight and through the weekend.” They estimate this would enable the Senate to confirm up to five nominees per week even with the added hours of debate.

On a related note, the insipid myth that McConnell is the real hero in getting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court continues to make the rounds, even among people who should know better like Matt Walsh:

New at LifeSiteNews: The Atlantic Hypocrites Fire Kevin Williamson

Here’s my latest commentary at LifeSiteNews. Spoiler alert: Jeffrey Goldberg isn’t the only one I have words for.

Well, that was quick. After publishing just one piece at his new gig, liberal magazine The Atlantic has already fired conservative columnist Kevin Williamson.

On March 22, Williamson announced his departure from National Review, saying he viewed the new job as an opportunity to “be an apostle to the Gentiles,” taking his commentary to an audience where exposure to conservative ideas was the exception.

That might have been a nice theory, but how it fared in practice was entirely predictable. A left-wing mob immediately swarmedThe Atlantic, ostensibly outraged that a “reputable” publication would allow an extremist to supposedly darken its door (though Huffington Postwriter Noah Berlatsky let slip liberals’ real motivation with the simple declaration that “conservative ideas aren’t worth debating”).

The mob has gotten its wish. A memo to Atlantic staff has gone public, in which editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg confirms that the publication has fired Williamson. Goldberg said some of Williamson’s past “intemperate” tweets were not initially deal-breakers, but that was before the left-wing Media Matters unearthed a 2014 podcast in which Williamson doubled down on one of his most controversial remarks: that women who have abortions should be hanged (pro-life leadersdenounced Williamson’s comments at the time).

“My broader point here is, of course, that I am a – as you know I’m kind of squishy on capital punishment in general – but that I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code,” Williamson elaborated in the podcast.

Read the rest at LifeSiteNews.

Related reading: Ace on what Williamson’s original writing said about the “respectable” Right, and Victor Davis Hanson refuting a swipe Williamson made at him in his only Atlantic piece.

New at TFPP: Pro-Life? Why Voting Your Conscience Means Voting Trump

This is it. Election Day is tomorrow, and despite what #NeverTrumpers will tell you, the differences between a Trump administration and a Clinton administration will be enormous.

At the Washington Examiner, Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List and Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life have an incredibly important editorial urging pro-lifers to vote for Donald Trump. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s the bottom line:

If Clinton and the Democratic Party get their way and repeal the Hyde Amendment, as many as 60,000 more babies would be aborted every year, paid for by taxpayers. We must not cross that Rubicon.

Then there are the estimated18,000 children a year who would die in painful late-term abortions. This would go unimpeded by Clinton, who says a baby on its due date has no constitutional rights. That adds up to 312,000 human lives lost over one presidential term.

The fact that this even needs to be said—to other pro-lifers, no less—at this late date is downright scandalous. But it does, because the maniacal sophistry of the #NeverTrump movement has convinced a sizeable minority of conservatives that protecting their self-image is more important than the election’s impact on the lives, freedoms, health, safety, and prosperity of more than 324 million Americans.

On abortion alone, one need not like, respect, or trust Trump (speaking just for myself, I certainly don’t) to understand that there’s an enormous difference between him, a candidate who may not have personal ideological investment in the pro-life cause but has every incentive to listen to the right people, sign the right bills, and appoint the right judges (and no incentive not to), and Hillary Clinton, a candidate who:

Read the rest at the Federalist Papers Project.

Steinem Smears Pro-Lifers as Anti-Gay; Here’s How to Respond

Today at Live Action, I have a response to recent comments by Gloria Steinem at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser, the first of which was:

“Why is it that the same people who are against birth control and abortion are also against sex between two women or two men?” Steinem asked her audience, reports the Memphis Flyer. She continued that those people “are against any sex that cannot end in reproduction.”

Unfortunately, an editorial judgment was made to cut out part of my response, so I am presenting an expanded version of the rest here, where hopefully it will help equip pro-lifers to deal with this line of pro-abortion attack.


How does this strawman complaint fail? Let us count the ways. First, plenty of people—and not just pro-lifers—have acknowledged that antipathy toward abortion doesn’t automatically correlate with views commonly maligned as “anti-gay,” as evidenced by polling that indicates public opinion simultaneously becoming more accepting of homosexuality and same-sex marriage yet unchanged or less accepting of abortion.

Gee, it’s almost as if abortion and same-sex marriage are two different issues with distinct pros and cons that can be evaluated separately! Yes, most pro-lifers are also conservatives and/or Christians, but there are plenty of other pro-lifers all over the religious or ideological spectrums. There are even pro-lifers who are gay themselves, so good luck trying to use this argument on them, Gloria.

Second, it is true that conservatives (religious and secular alike) tend to oppose both abortion and the redefinition of marriage. For some people that’s may be because the Bible frowns on both; but for the most part it’s because both violate the Founding principles which conservatism exists to conserve: the right to life, and marriage’s function as a societal building block.

But by framing it as being “against sex between two women or two men,” Steinem gives the slanderous impression that we would take control of their private lives and punish them for what they do in their bedrooms, which couldn’t be further from the truth. There is no real movement in the United States to criminalize gay sex, relationships, cohabitation, etc. The only real gay debates going on today are civil recognition of same-sex marriage, which is entirely separate from the question of tangible benefits, and Steinem’s allies attempting to force private citizens—under penalty of law—to participate in ceremonies that violate their convictions.

Finally, endlessly repeating the clichéd “controlling sex is pro-lifers’ secret ulterior motive” conspiracy theory won’t change the fact that our stated reason for opposing abortion—it kills innocent people—is scientifically, objectively, irrefutably, obviously true. Anybody claiming not to understand that recoiling at violence against children is one of the average person’s most basic human intuitions—which anyone who dismisses this obvious motivation to oppose abortion is doing—is lying.

These days, there seems to be an increasingly-vocal minority of pro-lifers who don’t recognize that the abortion lobby and the radical gay lobby are two factions of a common agenda. But while their friendship and support in protecting the preborn is valuable, all pro-lifers should be able to see through Steinem’s attempt to smear our movement with these falsehoods.