As Joe said below, Fred Barnes’ article today at the Weekly Standard is great reporting on a very important topic, and a great service to the cause. It highlights the tremendous strides for pro-lifers made under the leadership of people like Marjorie Dannensfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List and Charmaine Yoest at Americans United for Life.
There is a point Barnes touches on several times, though, that should be instructive for conservatives well beyond the pro-life movement [my emphases added].
The incremental strategy pursued by most pro-life groups is based on the idea that antiabortion laws, even if narrow, build on one another. Fetal pain laws focus on the suffering of the baby, an asset in opposing a woman’s right to choose. And who in the pro-choice lobby is eager to gainsay the pain experienced by an unborn child? Dispute it and you’ll come across as cruel. The ultimate goal of pro-lifers remains what it’s always been: overturning Roe v. Wade. They’re reconciled to jumping through as many hoops as necessary to get there.
This is very important. Far too many conservatives these days demand immediate, comprehensive results. They want everything done NOW! Despite claiming to be constitutionalists, they do not respect the very Madisonian and Roger Shermanesque part of the constitutional design that is deliberately intended to ensure that most political/governmental change is gradual and difficult to achieve. Such difficulties promote stability — the “ordered” part of “ordered liberty.”
History has proved again and again the incrementalism works. Incrementalism allows gain to be built on top of gain, without scaring people or causing a major backlash. People get accustomed to one change, see that it works without major drawbacks, and are then willing to take the next step — and so on. The key thing is to win a consistent string of victories, even if small — and then IMMEDIATELY to set to work both to consolidate those gains and to build on them, pushing for further gains, calmly and reasonably but still insistently.
Except in times of crisis, that is the way that long-lasting improvements are most effectively realized.
This is not to say that conservatives should “settle” for merely incremental gains when bigger gains are clearly acheivable. When conservatives hold the presidency and both chambers of Congress, larger gains are possible than when they barely control one House while the left controls the other chamber and the presidency.
The key is to match means with ends, and to perfect the art of the possible, while never losing track of, or energy for, the ultimate goals and the long, hard slog that is required to accomplish most goals that are truly worthwhile.
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