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"We should always err on the side of life."
If President Bush actually believed in those words he's been saying so often lately, then there'd be at least one thing he and I agree on. Because I do think that phrase is one worth living by.
Personally, I think it should be used like a guiding principle. Life should be valued, and the decisions we make should reflect that as much as possible. Everyone should be considering the impact to the lives of all people in the course of deliberating about a whole host of issues, from birth control to health care to foreign policy.
Instead, President Bush uses this phrase as a code. It signals to his religious conservative supporters, the pro-life fanatics, that he's on their side. Saying it that way lets him appease them without having to publicly take any positions that the majority of Americans wouldn't agree with.
That's what all this "culture of life" talk is about for them - it's about political cover instead of an actual ethos. They use these phrases as a semantic trick in order to gain support for unpopular stances about abortion and euthanasia. Their assumption is to present the nation with a rhetorical question; Who would be against a culture of life? Wouldn't anyone who opposes a culture of life be, by default, in favor of a culture of death?
This is politics at its most nakedly ugly, and its most unfortunate, and President Bush and his ilk are particularly at fault in its practice. When it serves to further various parts of their agenda, they come out in favor of this "culture of life." However, if it does not suit their interests, they feel perfectly free to ignore the "culture of life" ethos. They only "err on the side of life" when it is politically advantageous.
When it comes to President Bush, it is almost always the case that he is long on rhetoric and short on actual action towards that rhetoric. There is no exception with all of this "culture of life" talk. In rhetoric, he makes an impassioned and eloquent argument about a way to frame many debates on a variety of issues. In practice, though, he is not consistent in this belief in "always erring on the side of life."
The first issue always associated with the "culture of life" is abortion. The President would like to see a reduction in abortions, and thinks the fact that people can choose to have one is wrong. Even if one thinks that people should always be free to choose, no one serious could disagree that a reduction in abortion would be a good thing. It is a choice that should be incredibly difficult for an individual to make, and the goal for everyone should be helping to make sure that there are fewer instances where the choice even has to be considered at all.
That is where part of Bush's rhetoric about the "culture of life" falls apart. He clearly doesn't want people to have abortions, but he does nothing to address the issue of prevention of unwanted pregnancies, except to advocate abstinence-only policies, which have proven ineffective. If the President was truly serious about the "culture of life" he would be actively pursuing every proven method that reduces unwanted pregnancy, which includes allowing for education about and distribution of birth control.
But he does not, because his ultra-religious supporters don't agree. They either think birth control is a sin, or they think access to birth control means that people will have more sex (a notion thoroughly disproved by study after study.) The President coming out in favor of anything other than an abstinence-only policy would have these people in an uproar. So Bush instead embraces what is politically convenient. If Bush was truly committed to the idea of a "culture of life" he would defy these supporters and not worry about what they think when he embraces every idea that is proven to help reduce the unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions in the first place.
Abortion isn't the only issue that proves Bush isn't serious about embracing a "culture of life." As governor of Texas, he presided over a virtually unprecedented number of state executions. Many reports have shown that the Texas justice system is fraught with corruption and abuse, and there is at least the chance that some of the people executed were wrongly convicted, or at least improperly tried. To "err on the side of life" Governor Bush could have suspended the death penalty until the flaws of the judicial system were fixed, like the governor of Illinois did under similar circumstances.
Bush did not, however, and would never even have considered such a thing, for it would have been wildly unpopular in Texas. If Bush was truly committed to a "culture of life" he would have taken the lead on ending the death penalty in his state, no matter how much the people of Texas would have protested. In these cases, though, Bush was not as interested in making sure he "erred on the side of life."
There are so many more questions one could ask the President about his so-called embrace of the "culture of life." Why did he feel the need to rush into war with Iraq, which inevitably would lead to many deaths? If he was truly committed to "always err on the side of life" then why would he go to war so quickly when the intelligence used to justify the war was so obviously shaky? Wouldn't "erring on the side of life" mean taking more time with inspections and intelligence gathering and diplomacy?
What about the genocide currently going on in Darfur? They say that there is a reluctance to be too aggressive in getting a peace-keeping force on the ground to prevent the killings and rapes and beatings - it might cause the Sudanese government to be upset, and then it would perhaps break off talks that would end a long civil war in that country. But isn't that erring on the side of diplomacy, and not on the side of life?
What could be more antithetical to the "culture of life" than genocide? Wouldn't the "culture of life" in fact insist upon the protection of the Sudanese people who are being ethnically cleansed? If so, and the President truly was serious about the "culture of life" then why isn't the President making more noise about this? He is the leader of the most powerful nation in the world - if he was talking about Darfur every day, the world would be listening, and be called to action.
By way of his actions, President Bush has shown he is far from serious about his new rhetoric on a "culture of life." This is tragic, as the world would be a much better place if everyone was to truly adopt this ethos. The President has a fantastic opportunity in history, as a powerful leader of a uniquely powerful country, to set the standard by which many could follow, and truly transform this society, and maybe even the world, for the better. If he was to for once attach meaningful action to his hopeful rhetoric, America could really live up to the image it has of itself of a benevolent and positive force in the world.
Instead, Bush decides to adopt phraseology that suits a narrow political purpose, and it is obvious to anyone who pays attention. He cynically politicizes that which should be most important to all citizens. As per usual, he decides to err on the side of power and self-interest.
Dan Filowitz is Toronto-born, New-Jersey-raised, Indiana-University-educated, and Chicago-residing. In addition to his Lost At Sea contributions, Dan is a senior staff writer for political humor site TalkStation.com and the president of ChicagoImprovAnarchy (The CIA) a Chicago-based improv theatre company. We are not mentioning the 9-5 corporate job. Apparently, Dan does not sleep much. Dan Filowitz is the perfect dinner party guest - fun, witty, intelligent, with wide-ranging interests, ecclectic tastes and a winning smile. Just make sure you have coffee available.
See other articles by Dan Filowitz.
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