The delusion of sincerity
If there’s one thing Americans always say they want from politicians, it’s sincerity. Everyone claims to hate polished talking heads who delivery focus-grouped poll-tested talking points. But moments of bracing honesty are not often rewarded, or even recognized.
Look at Indiana Republican Senate Candidate Richard Mourdock. The media whipped up a national firestorm around his explanation for why he doesn’t support abortion for children conceived in rape. “The only exception I have to have an abortion is in that case of the life of the mother,” he said during a debate this week. “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”
This answer is nothing if not heartfelt. He spoke about a difficult moral decision with candor. It’s the opposite of the flash-fried extra-greasy McTalkingPoints everyone claims to hate. He wasn’t pandering to anyone – he knew perfectly well that his views are not within the comfortable orbit of majority opinion, not even in a pro-life state, where both his Democrat and Libertarian competitors also profess pro-life views. Mourdock probably could have avoided this topic entirely – it wasn’t the kind of debate where the candidates relentlessly grill each other – and no doubt various political professionals are clucking their tongues at his folly in bringing it up. But he thought it was important to be candid, and so he was.
Mourdock’s reward has been to watch his words twisted into absurd accusations that he thinks rape itself is divinely ordained… and one of the principle twisters has been his Democrat opponent, Joe Donnelly, who claims to be a good Catholic, but apparently missed all that stuff about bearing false witness. None of Mourdock’s critics are rationally debating the point he made. At this point, they’re barely even paying attention to what he actually said. They’re just scribbling “TODD AKIN” over his nametag, and trying to handcuff him to Mitt Romney.
The media is doing its best to help, inserting Mourdock into every story about the national political race. The Associated Press managed to cut-and-paste Mourdock into the announcement of their latest poll numbers, which looked good for Romney… “but now his campaign is grappling with the fallout from a comment by a Romney-endorsed Senate candidate in Indiana, who said that when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape ‘that’s something God intended.'”
Every election season, pundits marvel at the surely unprecedented viciousness of the campaign. It’s always the most bitter and hateful campaign ever, until the next cage match rolls along in four years. It seems like these last few elections have been defined less by angry rhetoric than tribalism. The electorate has been divided into tribal groups, whose taboos must be respected, and self-appointed leaders must be obeyed.
That’s the problem facing Mourdock – he fell right into the Democrats’ “War on Women” narrative, one of the most purely tribal strategies ever unveiled. All women are presumed pro-abortion; designated liberal leaders announce what “all women” think; opposing any aspect of the leadership’s agenda is “hatred of women.” Favored organizations like Planned Parenthood are now utterly synonymous with “women’s health,” so questioning their grip on the public treasury is literally interpreted as a violent assault against women.
The Democrats have eagerly embraced the Sandra Fluke formulation that refusing to buy politically favored products and services for other people is “denying their access” to those items… the functional equivalent of banning them. That’s why Obama rallies have lately featured the absurd spectacle of the man who forced the incredibly coercive ObamaCare legislation down America’s throat claiming that he doesn’t think politicians, especially male politicians, should be making women’s health decisions for them. It’s breathtakingly Orwellian, but it makes a certain kind of sense if you remember that Obama thinks the decisions he and his cronies have made for women are absolutely pure and good, officially sanctioned by the liberal chiefs and witch doctors of the Woman Tribe. “Making women’s health decisions for them” is his term for dissent from the decisions he and the tribal leadership have already made.
In reality, women are strongly divided on the abortion issue, and have actually been trending a bit more pro-life over the past few years, but that doesn’t matter. They have all been conscripted into the largest identity tribe ever constructed. Their individual opinions and convictions don’t matter. Such an environment is not healthy for those who venture sincere opinions contrary to the manufactured and enforced consensus. Viewed objectively, Richard Mourdock and Barack Obama are almost exactly the same distance from “the center” in their abortion positions, with roughly equivalent levels of popular support for their views. You’d never know it from watching their media coverage.