Monday, February 23, 2009


Which was the stupidest passage in "This Is the Way the Culture Wars End," William Saletan's op-ed in yesterday's New York Times? So many choices....

1. Saletan thinks it's critical to reduce the number of abortions. In reference to that, he writes, sneeringly,

The liberal answer is birth-control availability.

Well, no, it isn't. It certainly isn't the only answer. Saletan cites a Guttmacher Institute study to make the point that there's plenty of birth control around and it isn't being used often enough, or isn't being used consistently by those who wish to avoid pregnancy -- but the Guttmacher Institute itself argues that this proves the need for more education about birth control. Real sex ed in schools would help. So would more and better information from doctors and health-clinic workers. It's not an availability problem -- yes, most of the drivers have access to cars, they just haven't been properly taught how to drive.

And some of us would argue that a lot of women and girls are experiencing unintended, unwanted pregnancies because they lead hopeless dead-end lives. That's a liberal answer -- a bit economic hope and opportunity.

2. Regarding abortion, Saletan writes,

Mr. Obama, like many other pro-choicers, doesn't like to preach on these issues.

Would that be the same Barack Obama who said this in a speech at Jim Wallis's Call to Renewal conference on June 26, 2006?

I think that we should put more of our tax dollars into educating poor girls and boys.... I also think that we should give them the information about contraception that can prevent unwanted pregnancies, lower abortion rates, and help assure that that every child is loved and cherished.

But, you know, my Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. So I think faith and guidance can help fortify a young woman's sense of self, a young man's sense of responsibility, and a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.

Not preachy enough for you, Billy Boy?

3. Saletan writes,

Conservatives, in turn, need to face the corollary truth: A culture of life requires an ethic of contraception. Birth control isn't a sin or an offense against life, as so many girls and Catholic couples have been taught. It's a loving, conscientious way to prevent the conception of a child you can’t bear to raise and don’t want to abort. It's an act of responsibility and respect for life.

Oh, is that all? We simply need to demand that the Pope and other religious conservatives abandon line-in-the-sand core principles? Gosh, I thought Saletan was going to suggest something unreasonable and unimaginable.

4. At the end of the op-ed, Saletan turns to gay marriage, and writes this:

To liberals, same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights. To conservatives, however, marriage isn't just another right or benefit. It's a moral anchor, a lifelong commitment, a foundation for raising children....

This issue, like birth control, requires both sides to accept the practical and moral importance of responsible choices. Commitment, unlike sexual orientation, is a choice and a virtue. Same-sex marriage binds gay couples to the same ethic of mutual support and sacrifice that Mr. Obama has praised in straight marriages. The cultural imprimatur of marriage makes the gravity of the bond stronger than a civil union or domestic partnership.

Is he arguing that gay people who want the right to marry (and straights who support them) aren't yet accepting the notion that marriage is "a moral anchor, a lifelong commitment"? Doesn't nearly every impassioned assertion of the need for marriage equality invoke long-established couples, many of them with children, who already regard their relationships as lifelong commitments and moral anchors, and in many cases have done so for a decade or two or three or four or five, and would just like the state and the society to recognize the lifelong commitment to a moral anchor that they've already made? What the hell does Saletan think this fight is about?

I realize that every Saletan essay has to built on a structure of "first I chide one side, then I chide the other," but what actual lack of desire for mature commitment does he think gays need to be chided for?

All in all, a dreadful piece of work.

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