Over at The Corner, John Podhoretz and Ramesh Ponnuru have been debating the utility of conservatives focusing on Rudy Giuliani’s abortion heterodoxy. Podhoretz says conservatives are being counterproductive when they spend so much time talking about the Hyde Amendment — a view some of our regular commenters here at this blog would likely share — and Ponnuru disagrees.
I think Podhoretz’s argument would have more force if we were arguing about, say, the human life amendment instead. The human life amendment isn’t going to pass but, in a Democratic Congress, legislation repealing or weakening the Hyde Amendment might. And while only a minority of Americans supports a constitutional ban on abortion, a majority opposes publicly funded abortions. Given that the Republicans could win the general election with a candidate opposed to taxpayer-funded abortion, this hardly seems like an unreasonable litmus test.
But there is also a difference between being in the business of promoting ideas as opposed to the business of winning elections. If I think taxpayer funding of abortion is a bad idea, as a conservative writer I should say so. I leave it to the Republican strategists to determine how to attract swing voters. That doesn’t mean commentary should be completely divorced from political reality — I’m not going to spend too much time railing against candidates for failing to do the politically impossible — or that the election of one candidate versus another wouldn’t have implications for the ideas I care about. But it does mean we shouldn’t try to confine our debates to whatever is politically feasible at the moment, even during an election season.
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