October 26, 2007

On religious matters, Father Richard John Neuhaus comes as close to anyone on today’s scene in serving as a modern day Chesterton. In his monthly “The Public Square” column in First Things, the magazine on religion and public life that he serves as editor in chief, Neuhaus offers excellent insights on politics, culture and faith with a passionate, informed, often humorous and sometimes cutting style. Not only is Father Neuhuas one of the most persuasive public intellectuals on today’s scene, he is also one of the most entertaining.


On Fridays at First Thing’s website, Father Neuhaus offers brief comments on various topics, much as he does at the end of his “Public Square” column. In his comments published at the site on October 19, Neuhaus calls our attention to James Hitchcock’s article “Abortion and the ‘Catholic Right’” which appeared in the latest issue of The Human Life Review and has already been examined by Scott Richert in an excellent essay for this site.


Focusing on Father Neuhaus’ comments on the article, one finds that Neuhaus is in agreement with Hitchcock that the Catholic Right argues that “the Republican party is merely using pro-lifers to perpetuate the neocon-capitlaist oppression and is as bad as, if not worse, than the Democrats.” Noting that both liberals as well as, to use Neuhaus’ phrase, certain “exotic varieties of conservatives” are opposed to the war in Iraq, Father Neuhaus mentions that liberal writers like Noam Chomsky as well as conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran had essays in the same book; summons up the ghost of Father Coughlin; makes an aside about the Lefebrevists; and expresses surprise that “Howard Zinn and Joe Sobran” are “locked in a common cause. Who would have thought it?”


Despite Neuhaus’ nimble mind and dexterous inclusion of the Radio Priest’s influence among the factors in creating the opposition to the war in Iraq, Father Neuhaus’ admiration for Hitchcock’s points seems misplaced. While Hitchcock and Neuhaus are correct that a number of conservatives willingly abandoned the cause of life for the sake of the Iraq war, they fail to correctly identify the guilty culprits. Despite what Father Neuhaus and Prof. Hitchcock maintain, the likes of Pat Buchanan and Joe Sobran have not abandoned the cause of life. However, certain members of the conservative establishment have.


William Bennett serves as an excellent example. Through his speeches, his bestselling books, his radio show and frequent media appearances, Bennett has been a leading voice on the need for traditional ethics, morals and values in the public square. Pro-lifers should be disappointed that this leading figure of American conservatism has decided that the war in Iraq is more important than the cause of life. Bennett stated as much during his appearance on CNN’s “The Situation Room” back on January 17, 2007. Discussing Sen. Sam Brownback’s opposition to the surge and how this would affect his presidential campaign, Bennett stated to Wolf Blitzer and debate partner Paul Begala:


You’re right about Brownback. I think he was speaking from the heart, more from the heart than the head. But I—at this point, even though I’m a conservative Republican, I will trade Sam Brownback for Joe Lieberman…


While traditional conservatives may have problems with Sen. Brownback’s positions on a host of issues ranging from immigration to the need for the American Congress to apologize for slavery a century and a half after the close of the Civil War, even his fiercest critics would concede that the Kansan has been one of the most passionate leaders against abortion in the Senate during the last decade. On October 19, 2007 at the Family Research Council’s Values Voters summit in Washington, just before heading back to Topeka to withdraw from the presidential contest, Brownback said that Rudy Giuliani would not win the Republican nomination due to his stance on abortion. Lieberman on the other hand has continually supported abortion, including favoring partial-birth abortion. Bennett’s indication that he would trade Brownback (and Brownback merely opposed the surge and did not support immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the forces in Iraq) for Lieberman indicates that the Iraq war is more a priority than protecting life.


Nor is Bennett alone. Other conservatives have abandoned opposition to abortion in favor of the war. One needs only look at recent posts at National Review Online to see the likes of William Simon and Deroy Murdock ignore Giuliani’s previous positions and gleefully repeat promises for the future. Even worse, at the website at a group called Social Conservatives for Rudy Giuliani, one can read the likes of Sean Hannity and Pat Robertson ensuring us that a Giuliani presidency will be agreeable for opponents of abortion and reminding us of Rudy’s character. Apparently these conservatives seems to think that President Giuliani’s abandoning political positions that he has held for years reveals great strength of character. One can’t fault only the Giuliani supporters for these beliefs. Mitt Romney seems to have attracted a number of social conservatives who think the same thing.


Father Neuhaus is one of the leading and most elegant voices against abortion in public life. The Roe vs. Wade decision was pivotal in his transformation from a liberal to a conservative. But Neuhaus, like Hitchock, fails to understand the danger the right to life movement faces as social conservatives increasingly support presidential candidates with poor records on abortion. If conservatives abandon the cause of life, it will not be due to Pat Buchanan and Joe Sobran. It will be because too many conservatives abandoned their principles in order to continue the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq and to defeat Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.


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