Sunday, September 07, 2008

Free Choice and Choosing Rightly

What does it mean to choose?

In the wake of last week's revelation that Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol "chose" to have her baby at age 17, much has been made in progressive circles that Bristol had the right to choose. One such example from the Huffington Post:
There was one overlooked part of Sarah Palin's announcement of her daughter's pregnancy. She said that her daughter had decided to carry the child to term. She later remarked that no one had pressured her daughter to do so.

I take Sarah at her word. Is it not wonderful, and will this not be a happier baby and marital circumstance, that they all had these unpressured choices? The issue is not abortion vs carrying to term, it is who gets to make that choice. Sarah Palin would have the government choose. My vote is for Bristol Palin.
What scares me the most about the abortion debate is that there is no more real debate on the issue. We've walled ourselves into two camps: those who believe in the right to choose, and those who believe there is really only one choice. We've stopped debating, and decided that shouting real loud is more cathartic and fun.

Maybe we ought to review the orginal debate. On the one side, Pro-choice/abortion advocates frame the issue thusly: abortion is a choice best left to individuals, not the government. On face value, it's a great libertarian argument. Why should the government get involved in medical decisions best left to individuals and the family?

The argument cracks, however, when you frame the debate as the Anti-abortion/choice camp does: abortion is, at its core, murder. Why should the government get involved? Because the government has been tasked to protect the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of all Americans; especially, it could be argued, those Americans who are marginalized, oppressed, and out of sight.

With that being said, the debate over Bristol Palin having a choice vs. making the right choice amounts to two side shouting "CHOICE" at each other without first agreeing what "choice" means. For the left, "choice" is the ability to choose what's best for the individual-- it's a celebration of the free will of the individual. For the right, "choice" is the ability to choose rightly -- it's a celebration of the choice to put the rights of the unborn over the physical pain, emotional turmoil, and social pressures of pregnancy and birth.

This is why politicos and pundits ought to shut up four-fifths of the time when they have the urge to speak about abortion and choice. The two sides are using such wildly different vocabularies that only under careful moderation can any headway be made. We need facilitators of debate, not talking-heads shouting at each other for ratings or political points.

What I wish progressives would understand is that there are many thinking-religious-types who want to see change in Washington, who can stand with progressives on issues like health care, the economy, the environment, crime, drug policy, campaign finance reform and America's foreign policy. But every time progressives take a swipe at how if Sarah Palin had her way, her daughter wouldn't have had the ability to choose in the first place, they miss the point:

Free choice is a wonderful concept. But as soon it impedes on the rights of others, choice can and should be limited. I can choose to drive my car to the grocery store, yet if I choose to drive down on the left side of the road, I break the law. I can choose to own a gun to protect my home from burglars, yet if I choose to shoot someone on the street for no reason, I break the law.

When thinking-religious-types hear from talking-heads that Palin's a hypocrite because she praises her daughter's choice but doesn't want to allow choice in the first place, they hear something like this: Palin's a hypocrite because she praises Americans when they don't kill their co-workers over missed deadlines but wants to legislate against Americans killing their co-workers over missed deadlines. Hypocrite city!

I don't know how else to say it, but every time progressives bring up this BS argument, I find myself one step closer to voting for Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, or no one at all.

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