Hot potato.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Aug. 31 2007 5:57 PM

Hot Potato

Republicans can't drop Larry Craig fast enough.

80_thehasbeen
(Continued from Page 29)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Multiple Choice: In 1960, JFK went before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to put the Catholic issue behind him. Today, Rudy Giuliani spoke at Houston Baptist University in yet another attempt to put the abortion issue behind him. JFK wanted to prove that in America, there is no religious test to become president. As he labors to explain his ever-changing heart on choice, Giuliani seems determined to prove that there is no history test, either.

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Giuliani is not alone. Mitt Romney doesn't want a religious test or a history test. His about-face on abortion is even less convincing than Giuliani's. Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, and Tom Tancredo, who don't believe in evolution, want to prove there's no science test. All the Republican candidates are supply-siders, hoping to prove there's still no math test.

As a last resort, Giuliani now wants to turn his abortion stand into a badge of honor. The press will give him credit for setting up a showdown with social conservatives. Today's Times gave the Giuliani campaign the headline they want: " Can the G.O.P. Accept Giuliani's Abortion Stance?" But Giuliani's abortion stance is such a muddle, the issue is not whether a pro-choice candidate can win in a pro-life party. It's whether a campaign predicated on leadership can survive a candidate who has already said he was for Roe before he was against it.

Emily Bazelon made a good case for why voters have a right to judge Giuliani's presidential bid by his disastrous home life. Here's another reason: His presidential bid is rapidly starting to mirror his disastrous home life. Giuliani seems to have the same attitude toward his abortion positions that he has shown toward marriage—who's counting?

The Times offers a helpful interactive timeline of " Giuliani on Abortion." In 1989, he was for public funding. In 1993, he called choice a constitutional right. In 2000, he opposed a ban on late-term abortions. Last month, he divorced himself from his previous stands on public funding and late-term. This month, he sought to annul his position on choice as a constitutional right. Now he's of three minds: Abortion is "morally wrong," women should be able to make their own choice, and so should conservative judges.

Giuliani's decision to buck his party on abortion would be refreshing and courageous, if he hadn't already tried so hard to have it both ways on the issue. He tells conservative audiences not to worry about his pro-choice record because he personally "hates" abortion and will appoint judges like Scalia, Roberts, and Alito. He boasts that during his tenure as mayor, abortions dropped 16 percent—but doesn't mention that abortions nationwide dropped 15 percent over the same period or that New York City still has an abortion rate three times the national average.

The Giuliani campaign trotted out the perfect man to vouch for the mayor's credentials: Steve Forbes, who was pro-choice in his first presidential bid and pro-life in his second. "Thanks to Giuliani's success on welfare reform, where rolls were cut 60%, the abortion rate in New York City fell faster than the national average," Forbes told RealClearPolitics. "Rudy may be pro-choice—and I happen to be pro-life—but the policies he pursued help the pro-life cause."

Welfare reform has done a great deal to promote work, demand responsibility, and reduce poverty, but even ardent proponents like me have trouble crediting it with short-term reductions in abortion. Most conservative welfare reformers had the opposite worry—that a concerted effort to reduce illegitimacy might cause a spike in abortions. During the 1996 welfare reform debate, Senate Republicans rejected House plans to deny benefits to unwed teen mothers and cap benefits for mothers who had additional children on welfare for that very reason—Catholic conservatives feared those provisions would make abortion go up. A plan to reward states for reducing out-of-wedlock births was rewritten to deny the bonus to states where abortion rates increased at the same time. Of course, Giuliani urged Clinton to veto the 1996 welfare reform bill, so don't be surprised if he now claims his moral opposition to abortion as the reason.

Why does the choice issue so often manage to turn grown men into pretzels? Conservative doubts over Giuliani's abortion position were hardly a surprise attack. Yet judging from his halting response so far, the same man who knew just what to do on 9/11 would have been stumped for months if al-Qaida had simply sent him a NARAL questionnaire.

Charles Krauthammer says the fault is with Roe, not Giuliani. But that's letting him off the hook too easily—akin to Giuliani saying, "the court made me do it, and the justices I appoint may or may not undo it." Rich Lowry of the National Review offered a more persuasive explanation of Giuliani's troubles with the issue: "One of the big ironies for him is he doesn't care about abortion." If Giuliani had the courage to say that, we might start to believe him. ... 3:23 P.M. ( link)

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