Life and Liberty

September 23, 2010

[The following is a speech I delivered on September 11 & 12 at Lutherans for Life conferences in Iowa.]

The date was January 23, 1973. I was in Washington, D.C., walking the corridors of Congress, hunting for a job. I had my resume in hand and my list of contacts to see. I was having no success.

And I had just been crushingly defeated the previous November in my race for the state legislature in New York. It was a race everyone said I could not lose. But when Democratic Party fundraisers in Albany learned I was anti-abortion, they pulled back the $25,000 they had promised me, and my sure-thing became a sure-loss.

My spirits could hardly have been lower. I was not a Christian believer in those days. So I didnt cry out to the Lord to sustain me.

Then, I picked up that Tuesday mornings edition of the Washington Post. The big, stunning news of the day was that former President Lyndon B. Johnson had died of a heart attack. And the end of the Vietnam Warcoming just days after President Nixons second inaugurationdominated the capitals attention.

Then, lower down in the Post on that gray and grim January day, was the news of Roe v. Wade. Abortion laws throughout the nation had been overturned by the Supreme Court, the story read. The long fight over liberalized abortion was over. All the editorials in the Eastern press said the Court had the final say and that it had done the right thing.

I thought it was over, too, and I was miserable about it. On top of my own defeat, on top of my struggle to get a job, now came this.

I finally landed a job. The Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party hired me as a fundraiser. I drove all over Northern Minnesota for a year. There, I met folks at the grassroots of politics. In the agricultural western part of the state, up north on the Iron Range, in the lake city of Duluth, people told me over and over they were against this abortion ruling. Couldnt the Minnesota DFL do something about it?

No, the DFL could not, would not. But Minnesotans in both parties organized to work against liberal abortion. They are organizing to this day.

I offer that story to thank you folks here. Not until I came to the Midwest as a young man did I realize that it was actually possible to resist a Supreme Court ruling so obviously unjust, so obviously wrong. Not everyone here reads the editorial pages of the Washington Post or the New York Times. And if you do, that doesnt mean you have to obey what they say.

In those days, 1973 and 1974, those newspapers wielded great power. They were the ones who essentially drove President Nixon from officejust a year and a half after he had won forty-nine states.

They have many thousands fewer readers today. People get their news from many different sources now. We Americans are much freer today than we were then.

As we sweep forward through the years, I recall that Charles Krauthammer, resident really smart guy at the Washington Post, and a pretty conservative columnist, proclaimed the end of the pro-life movement. That was back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was elected president with a pro-abortion Congress. Despite Clintons early popularity, pro-lifers battled back in 1993 and 1994. The Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortions, was thought certain to be repealed. It was not. The so-called Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)which would overturn every restriction on abortions seemed sure to pass Bill Clintons Congress. It did not pass.

Now, we come to 2008. Barack Obama won the strongest victory of any Democratic candidate for President since Lyndon Johnson in1964. He brought in strong, pro-abortion majorities with him in both houses of Congress.

He began his new administration by revoking President Reagans Mexico City policy. That meant that U.S. tax dollars could once again flow to Planned Parenthood around the world. U.S. funds could once again support abortion-on-demand in Third World countries and we could even find ourselves paying indirectly for Chinas forced abortion policies through the UN.

Then we came to health care. As a candidate, Barack Obama went before the Planned Parenthood convention and told them he thought reproductive health care must be a part of any national health care legislation before he would support it. We who have been laboring in these vineyards for thirty-seven years knew what that meant: abortion-on-demand subsidized with federal tax dollars. The Hyde Amendment, in effect, would be repealed.

But a strange thing happened in the year it took to pass ObamaCare. Pro-lifers kept pointing out that if it did not explicitly ban abortion funding, then abortion funding would be in there.

President Obamas White House team kept denying that it was in there. Americans would not be forced to pay directly for abortions, they countered. Right. Not directly, but indirectly. Taxpayers would pay for the coverage and the coverage would include abortion. Without a sentence in the bill that said no funds appropriated under this legislation may be used for abortions.... bureaucrats from HHS and liberal judges in the courts will force the plans to pay for abortions.

President Obama started out in the high 60%, low 70% approval ratings. It seemed anything he wanted, he would get. Over the course of the year and a half, however, his approval ratings slid to the low 40% range. And he is having a harder time getting what he wants.

He was able to get Congress to pass his signature health care legislationonly by assuring his own team members that the bill would get more popular after it was passed, that voters would warm to the plan once they learned all the good things it promised them.

None of that has happened. Now, the Presidents team members are running for re-election and running scared. They dont even talk about the health care bill they passed. They try to change the subject. The already-passed health care legislation is more unpopular now than when it was passed in March.

And most Americans know that it will force them to subsidize abortions. This, in a country the Gallup Poll tells us is 51% pro-life. This, at a time when 71% of Americans told pollsters they did not want to be forced to pay for abortions.

Pat Cadell was President Jimmy Carters public opinion pollster. He had the sad duty of bringing the embattled Carter the news thirty years ago that Ronald Reagan was going to beat him and beat him badly. Cadells reputation is that of a straight shooter, good news or bad.

Pat Cadell thinks President Obama is in deep trouble with the American people. You cant get this far from what you promised, especially when people invest in hope. You must understand that obligation. When you are elected on expectations, and you fail to meet them, your decline steepens. Cadell refers to the Presidents biggest problem: He calls it disingenuousness.

What a fine Washington Beltway word. The dictionary says it means: lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity; falsely or hypocritically ingenuous; insincere: Her excuse was rather disingenuous.

I doubt any of us here have ever used disingenuousness to describe what a child tells us about the mess left on their bedroom floor, or that dented fender on the new car.

Pat Cadell meant that President Obama sold himself to the American voters as a post-partisan, post-racial, uniting, not dividing, reasonable and reliable leader.

I suggest to you that at the heart of what Cadell calls disingenuousness is this whole matter of this administrations stealth support for abortion funding.

President Obama says theres a tradition in Washington that we dont pay for abortions.

Well, who campaigned against staid tradition and as the one who would bring fundamental change?

He says he wont put a requirement for abortion funding in his legislation.

No, the bill says that decision will be made by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The bill says in hundreds of places as the Secretary shall decide...

Who is the one whom Barack Obama named as his Secretary of HHS? Why, its Kathleen Sebelius, the former governor of Kansas, the most pro-abortion governor in U.S. history.

When she was governor, she invited two of the most notorious of late-term abortionistsLeroy Carhart and George Tillerto have dinner at the Kansas Governors Mansion. Most governorseven ardent pro-choicershave the good sense not to be seen breaking bread with these men who break heads.

So, we would not be cynical. We would not tell the President of the United States he is lying. But we would tell him we have trouble believing that abortion funding is not in his bill.

He has said to Planned Parenthood and others that the right to choosehis euphemism for abortionis a fundamental human right.

If you believe that, how could you possibly approve a health care bill that excludes the choice of abortion?

If the President really wanted to exclude abortion coverage, then why did the White House firmly reject the Stupak Amendment. That amendment passed the House with 240 votes, the most bi-partisan vote ever achieved by health care legislation.

We now know, tragically, that Congressman Stupak flinched when crunch time came. But the whole sad episode proves once again: If there is nothing in the bill that says abortions cannot be fundedthey will be funded.

Barack Obama says hed like to see fewer abortions.

Why? Is there any other right that is a fundamental right that you want to see less of?

You say you want fewer abortions, Mr. President, but your health care plan would make them free. We have suffered 52 million abortions without federal payments. How many will we have to suffer when it is free?

The good news is that hundreds of candidates are running for Congress and the state legislatures this year pledged to repeal the Presidents health care legislation. And those provisions that subsidize abortion would be one of the first items to go if these candidates are successful.

Pat Cadell points to some more disturbing poll numbers out this fall. He notes a Rasmussen poll that says just 21 percent of voters believe our federal government rules with the consent of the governed. And equally disturbing, he cites a CNN poll in which 56% of Americans say the federal government is a direct threat to their freedom.

These are troubling numbers. They suggest dissatisfaction with both parties, with all our institutions, with American government in general.

Pat Cadell should recognize this glum mood among Americans. Its the very one he and President Carter faced thirty years ago this fall. Carter said Americans were suffering from a crisis of confidence. Even liberal reporters lampooned his address as his malaise speech.

Americans in 1980 concluded that Jimmy Carter was simply not up to his responsibilities. They decided to go strongly for Ronald Reagan.

Reagan ran as a pro-lifer. But mostly, he ran as one who could get the economy back on track, as one who would not back down before foreign dictatorswhether in Moscow, or whether they were holding Americans hostage in Iran.

Ronald Reagan was widely put down as not very smart. Democratic Party wise man Clark Clifford met Reagan and called him an amiable dunce.

No small part of the liberal intelligentsias opinion that Reagan was dumb was the fact that he was a Christian. According to a study done at the time, 91% of journalists never attend worship services of any kind.

Something else Reagan did that annoyed the liberal media. Reagan was forever quoting Americas Founding Fathers. A recent study by the Heritage Foundations Andrew BuschB-U-S-C-Hfound that Reagan cited the Founding Fathers more than any of the four Presidents who preceded him. Thats Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter.

I have been in Washington since President Reagan was in office, and I can assure you that he quoted the Founders more than any of the four Presidents who succeeded him, too. Thats Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama.

What does this matter? Why should we care whether a President reaches back to study and quote the Founders?

Ted Kennedy was toasting another Democratic Party Wise Man, Averell Harriman on Harrimans 90th birthday. Now, Averell, you are actually very young. You are only half as old as Ronald Reagans ideas.

Informed of this jibe, President Reagan answered not in anger but with typical wit and grace. Why thank you, Senator Kennedy. Thats true. The Constitution is nearly two hundred years oldand thats where I get all my ideas.

Reagan did get his ideas from the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Reagan believed strongly in American institutions. Thats why he favored cutting back the federal government to what he regarded as its proper role.

On his many working vacations at Rancho del Cielo, Reagan would take chain saws to the thick undergrowth that was forever threatening to overrun the beautiful seaside mountaintop ranch. His vacations on the ranch were working vacations. He said he got practice there for hacking away at useless bureaucracy and unnecessary regulation.

What were some of those ideas that Reagan got from the Founders? Clearly, they did not have the contentious abortion question to face. But they did have a world view. They did express themselves on population and the future of free government.

  • It was young Thomas Jefferson who wrote The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. That was two years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
  • In the Declaration, Jefferson wrote all men are created equal...they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • He further stated that it was to secure these rights that governments are instituted among men.
  • As he left his second term in the White House, President Jefferson went further. He was not talking about abortion in this case, but about maintaining peace. But his words still apply:

The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government.

How can President Obama say that the fate of millions yet unborna favorite phrase of George Washingtonis above his pay grade?

President Reagan looked to the Founders and to Abraham Lincoln when he wrote his 1984 book,

Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation. It was the only book written by a sitting President. Reagan spoke of abortion as a wound in the nations soul. He regularly described the attacks on the unborn as a slaughter of innocents.

Typically, President Obama, who has written not one, but two autobiographies, has not addressed the abortion question at length in his writings.

Reagan was not the only President who looked back to the Founding Fathers for inspiration. Abraham Lincoln praised the Declaration of Independence. He said we must interpret the Constitution in light of the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Citing Proverbs, he said a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. So it is that the Declaration is the golden apple fitly framed by the silver of the Constitution. It was poetic, and it was right. Today, even some conservative judges dismiss the Declaration of Independence as mere fluff. They should not.

For Lincoln said all his political ideas come from the Declaration of Independence.

He once said the Declaration teaches us that Nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon.

We at Family Research Council welcomed President-elect Obama to Washington with a banner ad quoting President Lincolns words. Our ad respectfully asked the new President:

Are not unborn children so stamped? We have not gotten an answer yet. But every policy emanating from this administration and this Congress suggests the answer is NO.

This is tragicfor themas it is for us. No one wants another failed Presidency. But no one can pray for the success of an administration bound and determined to slaughter the innocent.

Ill close with a hopeful vision from one of my favorite Founding Fathers. When the first manned balloon flight went up over Paris in 1783, our elderly, gout-ridden ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin, was driven in his coach to see it. As the Montgolfier Brothers beautifully decorated balloon ascended high above the 400,000 Parisians who came to marvel, one in the crowd was heard to ask a skeptical question: But of what practical use is manned flight?

Ben Franklin was the most practical man in the world. He smiled and asked: Of what practical use is a newborn baby?

That, my friends, is the welcoming spirit of our Founding Fathers. Their spirit of faith, optimism and practical invention was the spirit of `76. Their love of liberty was the original spirit of hope and change.