SYMBOLIC VICTORIES

Posted in Rants on June 10th, 2009 by Ed

Our Dear Leader former President George W. Bush had a fetish, as is common among Republicans, for "looking tough" and sending the Right Message. When American interests are attacked we must respond with force; to fail to do so will invite further aggression against us. We can never negotiate with aggressors, lest the message be sent that a little pressure will cause Uncle Sam to cave to one's demands.

To a certain extent, Bush and his Republican ilk have a point. When terrorists attacked targets in New York and Washington, D.C. a forceful response was necessary and justified. If the response had been to accede to the demands of the aggressors – the withdrawl of the American presence in the Middle East and Israel – it's not hard to see how that would set a dangerous precedent. Even if one considers such a withdrawl to be appropriate, to do it in response to the demands of a terrorist would send an unequivocal message: blow up a plane or two and America will grab its ankles for you. A response was certainly called for, although I would have preferred a useful one rather than a tangential misadventure in Iraq. But I agree with the former President that one cannot bend to the demands of a violent loner or group of extremists.

It is in this spirit that I am deeply disturbed by the news that Women's Health Care Services of Wichita, KS, the clinic of recently-murdered Dr. George Tiller, is being closed. Like many Americans, I have a real hard time condoning the practice of third-trimester abortion. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, however, the bigger problem here is the message being sent here: murder the right person and your demands will be met. If President Bush was ideologically consistent (*guffaw*) he'd emerge to remind us all that if we bend to terrorists' demands, they've already won. In this case I can't see the decision doing anything but convincing the fringes of the pro-life movement that they've found an effective way to achieve their ends: lone wolf-style terrorism.

These people have already convinced themselves that murder is morally justified regarding this issue. If we follow that with positive reinforcement, then from a rational choice perspective there's very little reason for pro-life zealots not to kill a doctor who performs abortions. They see it as trading one life to "save" thousands more. Closing clinics provides a symbolic victory if not a practical one, a victory which lets them know that if they are willing to go to prison (a small price to pay, certainly, for saving the lives of thousands!) they can get what they want.

Now, if we really wanted to go President Bush on this problem we'd pre-emptively arrest every pro-lifer and apply some "enhanced" interrogation techniques. I'd settle for a simpler and more rational response, a response that doesn't tell an unhinged group of fanatics with the voices of God and the Virgin Mary rattling around in their heads that if one kills enough of these people, access to abortion will disappear.