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Man of Steele, Mind of Jello

Kresta Commentary

March 13, 2009

By Al Kresta

Round and round and round he goes where the charming and witty and bright-eyed Michael Steele lands nobody knows…least of all pro-lifers.

Mr. Steele is chair of the Republican National Committee. That is, he is the leader of the GOP and responsible for raising money, clarifying electoral strategies, and maintaining party unity by upholding the party platform. In a fun and revealing interview this week with GQ, the Catholic and reportedly pro-life Steele seemed to go out of his way to acknowledge a woman’s right to choose abortion. But maybe I’m mistaken. Here’s how it went:

GQ: How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your Catholic faith but by the fact that you were adopted?

Steele: Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that – I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it…Uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.

GQ: Explain that.

Steele: The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.

GQ: Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?

Steele: Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.

GQ: You do?

Steele: Yeah. Absolutely.

GQ: Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

Steele: I think Roe v. Wade – as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.

GQ: Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?

Steele: The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states let them decide.”

Huh? This is the first time I’ve seen collective state action painted up as the choice of the individual. Okay. So it’s a woman’s choice which is made by the states. I’ve always liked Michael Steele and so let’s go the extra mile. Maybe he was referring to his mother’s choice to release him for adoption rather than abort him and he simply wants the issue of abortion returned to state referenda. But read it again and see if you finally agree with me that the head of the Republican Party grows quickly confused on what is the morally defining issue of this generation. Does he want to overturn Roe v. Wade? A yes or no answer usually moves the discussion along directly so we can explore shadier areas.

How about this? Could his incoherence mask a clever improvement? Let’s ask the primary victim of abortion, the preborn. “Imagine this, little one: Would you prefer death and dismemberment by courtesy of the state of Wyoming or the United States of America?” Maybe we can involve both federal and state authorities. Let’s get the USDA to stamp the fetal meat so we know what state withheld its protection.

Doublespeak is unbecoming a party leader. When asked if pro-choicers have a place in the Republican Party, the confusion instantly subsides. “Absolutely!” Is that the same “Absolutely” he used when asked above if women had a right to choose abortion?

Later he issued a clarification: “In my view, Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be repealed…I support our platform and its call for a Human Life Amendment.” That sounds good and it is unhealthy to live with chronic suspicion of those who are supposed to be on your side. Maybe his convictions do run deep. Or on the other hand, he realizes that his job requires his support of the platform.

Here’s why I am suspicious. On Meet the Press in 2006, while running for a Maryland Senate seat, Mr. Steele explicitly rejected a Human Life Amendment. Later in the interview when asked by the late Tim Russert if he wanted to sustain or overturn Roe v. Wade, he said that it was his desire that “we follow what stare decisis is at this point, yes.” “Stare decisis” is the Latin legal term meaning “to stand by that which is decided.” Stare decisis is the principal that courts should follow past precedent – which in this instance would be Roe v. Wade.

So in the course of two interviews and a clarification, the leader of the Republican Party managed to affirm just about every conceivable position on abortion. Let me try and clarify his stunning feat of semantic gymnastics: Abortion is an individual woman’s choice that should be determined by state governments even as he prefers the wrongly decided Roe v. Wade to both be repealed and remain the precedent that should sustain us as we work together for a Human Life Amendment that would deny women the individual choice to kill their preborn babies. Maybe this is what’s meant by the “spirituality of the labyrinth”? Or maybe it’s political Zen. It certainly is a strange brew concocted of almost equal parts timid pandering, wishful tentativeness, and befuddled groping. It is for such a time as this that Jesus said: “Let your yes be yes and your no be no. For anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

The ancient rabbis insisted on the paramount obligation of telling the truth. “The world stands fast on three things, on justice, on truth, and on peace.” Or: “One who has given his word and who changes it is as bad as an idolater.” The rabbinic school of Shammai was so wedded to the truth that it sometimes forbade the customary courteous politenesses of society, as, for instance, when a bride was complimented for her charming appearance when in fact she was plain. I used to think Mr. Steele was an attractive and winsome choice for the RNC. Now I see that he is just plain…just plain confused and in no position to lead his party on the most significant domestic social decision since the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964-65.

This is just one more piece of evidence that Republicans have a crisis of talent and a complete void of leadership. This type of failure may be troubling but certainly shouldn’t derail us from our ultimate concern: to bear witness to the priorities of Christ’s Kingdom. This is a mission well beyond the “pay grade” or professional competence of any secular political party. We’re good neighbors and we seek the good of the city of man in which we live all the while knowing that this isn’t our permanent home. Our votes, our activism, our stand on the issues are themselves pointers to the Gospel we are called to serve. We may win, we may lose, but we are always bearing witness.

This is why the Psalmist sang during a troubled time in his nation’s political history:
“Put not your trust in princes…in whom there is no help. [Rather] Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the just. The Lord watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin…” (Psalm 148)

Al Kresta is President and CEO of Ave Maria Communications.

His afternoon radio program is heard on over 200 stations as well as Sirius satellite radio.

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