The state of Alabama still carries the guilt and shame of its legacy of oppression in the civil rights wars of the twentieth century. Images can be recalled at a moment’s notice. Bull Connor and his vicious police dogs. George Wallace barring the entrance to the University of Alabama with an axe. Martin Luther King, Jr. writing from a Birmingham jail cell. The place called “the heart of Dixie” paid a price for being on the wrong side of history. Atlanta took Birmingham’s spot as the capital of Southern economic development and now has a population equivalent to the entire citizenry of Alabama.
But history is full of tales of redemption. Perhaps that’s why it is fitting that a white Attorney General from the state nominated himself to strike a major blow for a new civil rights movement on Wednesday, June 11, 2003. When Bill Pryor faced hostile questioning about Roe v. Wade from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was expected to do the dance perfected by scores of Republican judicial nominees answering similar questions. Even the adamantine Clarence Thomas resorted to the old shuck and jive when pressed on Roe during his confirmation hearings. Pryor chose a decidedly different strategy.
Having referred to Roe v. Wade as a constitutional abomination in the past, the nominee surely expected to be hard-pressed by the Bowery Boy Combo of Schumer and Kennedy. When Schumer asked whether Pryor stood by his previous comments about Roe, Pryor did something astonishing. He told the truth. “I do,” he said simply. In later questioning, he went even further out on the limb to say, “[Roe] has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children.”
Although he assured the committee of his commitment to upholding the current law (as a member of a lower court, he would be bound to do so anyway), Pryor’s surprise performance marks a new day in the most important civil rights battle of the past thirty years, the right of unborn children to be recognized as Constitutional persons. Schumer said he appreciated Pryor’s candor, perhaps believing the nominee was mortally wounding himself in an attempt to be honest. But that view would be a misreading of the situation. Pryor was not allowing himself to be crucified for the sake of refusing to tell a white lie or to hide the full implications of the truth. Instead, his answer represented the confidence of a man certain he is standing on the right side of history.
Ultrasound technology’s widespread use has already planted the seeds of destruction for the abortion on demand movement currently dominating the Democratic Party. Al Gore’s campaign consultant and super-feminist Naomi Wolf admitted as much in an article she wrote for the New Republic back in 1995 warning of cognitive dissonance from personalizing wanted babies in ultrasound films and dehumanizing unwanted children as “masses of protoplasm.” Grainy black and white ghost images floating across a screen are being replaced by the crystal clarity of unborn baby photos like the ones seen in last year’s astonishing General Electric advertisements. A stark, pro-choice position is beginning to assume an ugliness that will only deepen with time. This is the dynamic that emboldens a man like Bill Pryor.
So why do the Democrats insist on making abortion a litmus test for judges? Wouldn’t they be better off hedging their bets by protecting abortion legislatively, but allowing judges to rule based on the law and their own consciences? The smart money might rest there, but the party can’t do it. The continued legality of unfettered abortion is a block in an abstract edifice of happiness liberals believe they’ve constructed for humankind through their ceaseless project of “reform.” They can’t walk away from it and they’ll be damned if a bunch of unenlightened Catholics and Evangelicals (like Pryor) are going to undo their work.
But regardless of their hard-set jaws and refusal to see a world beyond the parameters of Ted Kennedy’s clouded vision, maybe a reminder will help. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky has brothers Ivan and Alyosha debating life’s biggest questions. In talking about the evil in the world, they grimly discuss balancing the happiness of many for the suffering of a few:
[L]et’s assume that you were called upon to build the edifice of human destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquillity. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have to torture just one single creature … and that on her unavenged tears you could build that edifice, would you agree to do it? Tell me and don’t lie!
No, I would not.
And do you find acceptable the idea that those for whom you are building that edifice should gratefully receive a happiness that rests on the blood of a tortured child and, having received it, should continue to enjoy it eternally?
No, I do not find that acceptable.
Like Alyosha Karamazov, Bill Pryor has asked and answered that question for himself and is not afraid to tell the world. The Democrats need to re-examine their own answer to the question and not in the wishy-washy Dennis Kucinich style. If more nominees show the same gut-level conviction Mr. Pryor did when they face “Grand Inquisitors” of the left, who knows how quickly concrete blocks will begin to fall like so many dominoes?