The wrong way to be right about women’s rights
Posted by metaphorical on 12 May 2007
I would grant women the right to make that choice. — Republican presidential candidate Rudi Giuliani.
Rudi Giuliani made a key speech last night defending views that were popular enough when he was mayor of the epicenter of American sin, six years ago, but put him at odds with the Republican base all candidates must win, or at least neutralize, in order to buy a ticket into the general election, at which point defending sin can once again have its benefits.
“If we don’t find a way of uniting around broad principles that will appeal to a large segment of this country, if we can’t figure that out, we are going to lose this election,” he said.
While the media focuses on how much good, if any, Giuliani did for himself by honestly describing his disagreements with the social activist wing of the conservative movement on abortion, gun control, and gay rights, I’d like to look at the language he used. Because while others are busy praising his candor (and rightly so), I think he still found a way to pander to the Republican base. In doing so, he managed to find a way to be wrong even as he was being right on women’s rights.
The NY Times has at least three articles with Giuliani’s speech variously exerpted, but both of the quotes I want to look at can be found in today’s front-page article. The first is this:
“Where people of good faith, people who are equally decent, equally moral and equally religious, when they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very very personal, I believe you have to respect their viewpoint,” he said. “You give them a level of choice here.”
In the first part of the sentence he seems to be talking about all of us, the people in favor of abortion rights and those opposed. But at “I believe” the sentence pivots to us and them, where “their” viewpoint is suddenly that of those in favor—even though Giuliani is one of “them”!— and therefore “us” is those opposed—even though he’s not one of the “us” in question!
He continues with this odd us/them distinction, where somehow he says “us” when he himself is one of “them,” and enriches it by mining the deep vein of paternalism that runs through right-wing activist politics.
“Because I think ultimately even if you disagree, you have to respect the fact that their conscience is as strong as yours is about this, and they’re the ones that are most affected by it,” he said. “So therefore I would grant women the right to make that choice.”
Now the “they” is even more isolated—not all abortion rights defenders, but women who defend abortion rights— “the ones that are most affected by it.” And now that he’s only talking about women, Giuliani can apply the paternalistic coup de grâce:
“In a country like ours, where people of good faith, people who are equally decent and equally moral and equally religious, where they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very, very personal, I think you have to respect their viewpoint,” he said. “I would grant women the right to make that choice.”
“It’s okay,” Giuliani wants to tell the Republican base. “Yes, you have the right to withhold abortion; I’m not saying otherwise. But like children coming of age, these women have to be allowed to make their own mistakes. And I as your father-figure president would grant them that right to make that mistake.”
“We agree,” Giuliani is telling the base, “philosophically, even if we don’t politically. We agree that abortion is wrong, but just as importantly, we agree that we have the right to determine the legality of things like abortion, gun ownership, and gay partnerships.”