George W. Bush and Richard Cheney made an unusual pair as they worked the rope line after Mr. Cheney’s anointment in Austin, Texas, last week. Mr. Bush was all motion, smiles and sex: Lee Atwater playing Chicago blues back in the old days. Mr. Cheney tagged along, bald and portly as the Soviet dignitaries that Brezhnev and Chernenko used to send over to lie to us. Mr. Bush might have been explaining to him what good barbecue and private-sector dentistry can do for young people in the best country on God’s earth.
The tie between George W. and Mr. Cheney, it has been explained, is fundamentally cliquish. Mr. Cheney served George Bush the elder; he was with President Bush in the war room during the Persian Gulf War; therefore, he is a made man in the Bush family. It is true that politicians and voters tend to value significant military experience at whatever level. The future President Bush bailed out of his stricken World War II bomber to be rescued by a submarine, and he mentioned that from time to time. John Kennedy gallantly escaped from his sinking PT boat, and I have heard that Camelot considered that a relevant detail. Ulysses Grant proved himself to be the greatest general in American history, one of the greats of all time, and his partisans were mindful of that fact. Andrew Jackson killed 2,036 British soldiers at the Battle of New Orleans, including three major generals, and this was considered, then and since, a factor in his rise to power.
Wars are important; they concentrate the mind. Mr. Cheney, as Secretary of Defense, was an integral part of the team that forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. George W. is right to be impressed with that. So would anyone.
Mr. Cheney had a conservative voting record in Congress, which liberals are now trying to pick apart. He voted, for example, against a nonbinding resolution calling for Nelson Mandela to be sprung from prison. Mr. Mandela is now a saint, a combination of George Washington and Bill Cosby. Yet Mr. Cheney’s vote was right at the time. No one foresaw that Mr. Mandela would rule with the tact and firmness that he showed. His allies were Communists; he had gone to jail for mining roads (i.e., terrorism). Some terrorists grow into statesmen, like Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Most remain bloody-minded thugs. It is ahistorical to criticize Mr. Cheney for refusing to take long odds on a pro-Soviet bomber.
But he is most vulnerable to liberal attack on his strong pro-life record. His selection ended the long dalliance with possible pro-abortion picks like George Pataki, Colin Powell and Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge. Mr. Powell would have been swallowed by some pro-lifers on the grounds that he would have been tapped, not for the balancing effect of his liberal views, but because of his iconic status. Governors Pataki and Ridge, however, would have been deeply disappointing. Not that they ever had much support within the Republican Party. Their candidacies, especially Mr. Ridge’s, were the creations of the media, and of the noisy pro-abortion minority in the G.O.P., which consists mostly of rich women. I’ve run into the type in the cocktail hour after many a panel discussion. When they get a few gin-and-tonics in them, their bosoms and their pearls heave with indignation, and they speak of abortion opponents as they would of someone who spilled red wine on the decorator sofa, or ate with his hands.
The idea that there is a sullen, punitive pro-abortion majority out there, waiting to punish pro-life politicians, is unsupported by the evidence. A decade ago, The Boston Globe (which is not exactly The Wanderer ) did a poll on abortion attitudes and concluded, in its headline, that most Americans oppose most abortions. This summer, the Los Angeles Times did its own poll and found similar answers. Sixty-five percent of respondents said abortion should be illegal in the second trimester. Roe v. Wade permits states to restrict abortion only in the third trimester, and then only if they allow abortions when the woman’s life or health is at stake. Since “health” is defined to include “mental health,” that means that Roe in effect requires the states to permit all abortions, all the time.
This includes abortions that occur during birth. The Supreme Court, riffing on its previous abortion decisions, recently struck a Nebraska law opposing partial-birth abortion. Though the Court held out the hypothetical possibility that it might approve some other law, somewhere, that banned the barbarous practice, Court watchers know this is a come-on. The majority, which means in effect Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is the swing vote, will find some nit to pick, so that caregivers will still be able to induce the delivery of late-term fetuses and, before the head emerges, suck out the brains.
Pro-lifers in Congress have lately proposed a statute banning full-birth abortions-declaring that the handful of babies, fetuses no more, who manage to survive the abortionist’s attacks can be allowed to live. It might be sporting, as when prisoners tough enough to endure the torture ordeals of Native Americans were taken into the tribe. But in the video game of abortion, that is an unacceptable outcome. Once the sawbones and the judges start playing, the elusive little Pac-man or Pikachu must be zapped.
Abortion zealots fight for the death of every last pre- and just-born human being, on the quite reasonable ground that once anything is forbidden, where would the process stop? Why don’t we take the courts out of the equation, and see where the process does stop? I doubt the voters would let the reclamation of life go as far as I would like to see it go-certainly not after decades of instruction at the hands of cowardly politicians and judicial zealots. But I am willing to snatch every life off the pyre of Moloch that I can. Most Americans will go along with me partway. I am content to work for their support, if given the chance.
Henry Clay, who was himself a slaveholder, said that the great evil of slavery was that it blew out the moral lights around us. By holding men as chattel, we came inexorably to think of them as less than men. By picking Richard Cheney, George W. Bush shows that some light, at least, still shines on him, and the great majority of the G.O.P.