The emergence of social moral issues

The media don’t quite know how to handle this.

GOP presidential candidates are talking, and more boldly, about the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, human dignity and ‘rights endowed by the Creator’, especially in their debates. Partially because they’re being prodded by media moderators.

Shortly after last weekend’s ABC debate, some top stories on my news aggregator recounted a particularly odd and persistent exchange between questioner George Stephanopoulos and candidate Mitt Romney. That story disappeared quickly and was replaced by boilerplate rundowns of the debate and especially from the angle of who was attacking whom on stage over political and business track records. Where did that story go?

It turned up here, which is pretty thorough in describing the snip and then publishing the video and transcript.

During Saturday’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, hosted by ABC, co-moderator George Stephanopoulos bizarrely pressed candidate Mitt Romney on whether the former Massachusetts governor believes the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn a 1965 ruling that a constitutional right to privacy bars states from banning contraception.

And that’s the key to what should be the focus whenever this topic is raised. Whether it’s intended as a ‘gotcha’ question or whatever. NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez brings clarity to the media distortions and confusion.

The problem with the headlines is that they are untrue.

What Santorum has said is that the Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut — which dealt with a case that was a Planned Parenthood official’s stunt — was a bad precedent and bad law. It created a constitutional right for married persons to use contraceptives. Writing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas declared that ”specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance,” and that “various [of these] guarantees create zones of privacy.” That would be the basis for the Roe decision eight years later, which relied on a similar constitutional stretch.

All of which provides another opportunity to point to this critical understanding of Roe as bad law and wrongly-decided law. Let’s just look at the first three ‘pro-choice scholars’ quoted here:

Laurence Tribe — Harvard Law School. Lawyer for Al Gore in 2000.
“One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”
“The Supreme Court, 1972 Term—Foreword: Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law,” 87 Harvard Law Review 1, 7 (1973).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
“Roe, I believe, would have been more acceptable as a judicial decision if it had not gone beyond a ruling on the extreme statute before the court. … Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict.”
North Carolina Law Review, 1985

Edward Lazarus — Former clerk to Harry Blackmun.
“As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to the right to choose, as someone who believes such a right has grounding elsewhere in the Constitution instead of where Roe placed it, and as someone who loved Roe’s author like a grandfather.” ….
“What, exactly, is the problem with Roe? The problem, I believe, is that it has little connection to the Constitutional right it purportedly interpreted. A constitutional right to privacy broad enough to include abortion has no meaningful foundation in constitutional text, history, or precedent – at least, it does not if those sources are fairly described and reasonably faithfully followed.”

Let’s have this debate. But let it be honest, respectful, and open to core beliefs and truths.

Catholic Charities in the presidential debate

Three days ahead of the New Hampshire primary, ABC moderated yet another debate Saturday night among the GOP candidates. Questioners asked about the economy and foreign policy. But they provoked candidates pointedly on social moral issues. In response, they got an earful.

Especially from Newt Gingrich.

He siezed the opportunity to blast the media for anti-Christian bias. Which moderators teed up with their pointed questions.

New Hampshire TV’s anchor Josh McElveen first posed the question to former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum:

“Your position on same-sex adoption, obviously, you are in favor of traditional families, but are you going to tell someone they belong in — as a ward of the state or in foster care, rather than have two parents who want them?”

Mr Santorum answered, “My — my feeling is that this is an issue that should be — I believe the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue, that we can’t have different laws with respect to marriage. We have to have one law. Marriage is, as Newt said, a foundation institution of our country, and we have to have a singular law with respect to that. We can’t have somebody married in one state and not married in another.”

“Once we — if we were successful in establishing that, then this issue becomes moot…

Speaker Gingrich, however, answered the question another way asking the media:

“I just want to raise — since we’ve spent this much time on these issues — I just want to raise a point about the news media bias. You don’t hear the opposite question asked. Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done? Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won’t give in to secular bigotry?”

He went further:

“Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration?

“The bigotry question goes both ways. And there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concerning the other side. And none of it gets covered by the news media.”

Mitt Romney noted that Massachusetts Catholic Charities was out of the adoption business because of the Church’s fundamental beliefs. Rick Perry jumped in and criticized the Obama administration for stigmatizing Catholic Charities because of its principles on marriage and abortion, driving them out of important social services.

At the end of the debate, ABC moderators George Stephanopoulos and Diana Sawyer turned to a panel of pundits in their studios for analysis. She addressed one of them saying ‘You’ve spent a lot of time covering these charac….’ and then caught herself and adjusted her comments and said ‘covering these candidates’…and proceeded to ask the question.

The candidates debate again on NBC Sunday morning.

The Gingrich bump is persisting

So it’s more than a bump. And it’s the darndest thing…media pundits presumably on the same side of the political equation are on opposite sides of the Gingrich calculus.

There’s a tenacity to Newt Gingrich’s hold on the top position right now,  in spite of all the armament being fired at him. In spite of what reason tells us should be happening. Although this year, nothing is happening along predictable lines…(and I recall saying that about the Democrats in 2008).

Like it or not, Gingrich is beating Romney in his own back yard, the early primary Romney was supposed to have wrapped up a long time ago.

New Hampshire is supposed to be Mitt Romney turf, but Newt Gingrich was the one with the Granite State magic Monday night.

The former House speaker locked the attention of the 1,000-person overflow crowd at Windham High School here with the serious, controlled manner of a nominee holding a general election town hall.

Classic Gingrich was on full display.

“You will not see me bow to a Saudi king,” he said to deafening applause.

“Tomorrow morning I’ll release a letter to my staff, to any consultants and to any surrogates we have indicating our determination to run a positive campaign,” Gingrich said, in a call for civility at the end of a day when he and Romney had veered sharply to the negative.

Gingrich pledged to “publicly disown” and “urge people not to donate to” any super PAC or group that went negative on his behalf.

But Gingrich remained on the attack, saying that while he’s been consistently positive, he said he doesn’t expect others to be, continuing to cast the campaign as a contest between his candidacy of big, positive ideas, and an opposition which is willing to play dirty to weaken his support.

What is going on here?

A Gingrich staffer said the event — capped off by a mob of fans looking for Gingrich and his wife to sign baseballs and even spiral-bound notebooks, and of course their books — was the former House speaker’s biggest of the campaign cycle so far.

“We’re on a roller coaster for which they do not issue seat belts,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said, following the town hall.

It can be a wild ride just to watch the news shows try to analyze these events, with all the spin they throw in. But this was the hairpin turn where no one expected it.

Derek Kittredge, a Rochester, N.H. lawyer who previously supported Herman Cain and Sarah Palin, called Gingrich “the sharpest pencil in the box.”

“Most Americans are really tired of bullet-point politics – they want an adult at the picnic,” he said.

Jack Kimball, a former New Hampshire GOP chairman who recently endorsed Gingrich, said the former House Speaker is gaining ground – rapidly.

“Newt’s really closing the gap here in New Hampshire. This is going to be nip-tuck,” he said.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting that believable analysts claim the Obama team is throwing their influence behind getting Gingrich elected, since they see him as eminently more beatable than Romney. While comedians and media ‘strategists’ on Obama’s backup bench have been ridiculing and excoriating Gingrich as not remotely in touch with modern voters and culture.

This is a free for all, and that’s fine at this point. It engages voters to pay attention to the sharp division between the real opposing sides in this election, the worldview and ideology of the two parties on the size and role of government in America, and the role of America in the world.

Gingrich gets noticed

Ever since the media started the game of guessing who the current ‘not-Romney candidate’ is in the GOP field, they’ve enjoyed playing it. Perry and Cain have gone in and out of the revolving door to that game room, but who could the serious challenger be, pundits have been wondering.

Sooner or later they were bound to notice Newt Gingrich. In round after round of GOP debates, sponsored and televised by different media outlets but largely run the same, news cycles focused mostly on who won, who got the better of whom, which ‘gotcha’ questions or zinger answers stood out and whether Perry or Cain did as well as or better than Romney. But consistently, the sharpest responses were coming from Gingrich.

So it seemed inevitable that he’d rise a bit in the polls. Still, Dorothy Rabinowitz’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal was an attention grabber, starting with its headline ‘Why Gingrich Could Win.’

The Gingrich effect showed dramatically at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition forum last month—an occasion for which most of the candidates had, not surprisingly, prepared addresses focused on the importance of religion in their lives…

There were two exceptions to the lineup of speeches embracing religious themes. One was Herman Cain, who concentrated on the meaning of American freedom and admonished the crowd to stay informed, “because stupid people are running America.” The other was Mr. Gingrich. No one else’s remarks would ignite the huge response his talk did.

He began with the declaration that Americans were confronting the most important election choice since 1860. America would have the chance in 2012, Mr. Gingrich said, to repudiate decisively decades of leftward drift in our universities and colleges, our newsrooms, our judicial system and bureaucracies.

He would go on to detail the key policies he would put in place if elected, something other Republican candidates have done regularly to little effect. The Gingrich list was interrupted by thunderous applause at every turn. The difference was, as always, in the details—in the informed, scathing descriptions of the Obama policies to be dispatched and replaced, the convincing tone that suggested such a transformation was likely—even imminent.

Now this is interesting:

Finally, Mr. Gingrich announced that as the Republican nominee he would challenge President Obama to seven Lincoln-Douglas-style debates. “I think I can represent American exceptionalism, free enterprise, the rights of private property and the Constitution, better than he can represent class warfare, bureaucratic socialism, weakness in foreign policy, and total confusion in the economy.”

I’d love to see those debates happen. Who wouldn’t?

His greatest asset lies in his capacity to speak to Americans as he has done, with such potency, during the Republican debates. No candidate in the field comes close to his talent for connection. There’s no underestimating the importance of such a power in the presidential election ahead, or any other one.

Why has he largely been overlooked or marginalized until now? Partially because the media control the narrative and create the perception that becomes the reality, and they’ve been negative on the former House Speaker since the nineties.

But in part, many of Gingrich’s fellow Catholics have personal issues with him as the ‘ideal candidate’, though they don’t necessarily find one in the rest of the field either. There’s an interesting exchange on this over on’s blog.

The first post was by Josh Mercer.

Right now we are in the middle of a national debate on what the nature of marriage is. The Republican Party’s platform calls for keeping marriage solely as a union of one man and one woman. President Obama, by stark contrast, has refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act and he has strongly opposed state marriage amendments.

Imagine what supporters of same-sex marriage will say if Newt Gingrich becomes the GOP nominee? “Newt Gingrich has been married three times, but he won’t let gays get married once.”

Is that fair? Maybe not. Does it matter if it’s fair? No.

Just so everyone is clear. I think there’s no doubt that Newt Gingrich is a brilliant man, with considerable talents. I think he would make a great Special Adviser to the President. I just have deep reservations of him becoming the standard bearer of the Republican Party.

Tom Crowe replied.

We believe that marriage is, by definition, between one man and one woman, and that this definition is unchangeable. Newt’s offense is in having three different wives, all of whom are still alive.

But given a culture that accepts divorce, and recognizing that until his 2009 conversion he accepted this bug of our culture, his offense was not against what we are at present trying to defend in law regarding marriage—after all, he only had one wife at a time, and all of his wives were women. As Catholics we hold that divorce is a severe problem…

But in today’s fight to defend marriage we are not fighting the divorce fight.

Since the case we’re making at present is not against divorce, Newt’s marital issues are not a reason for him to recuse himself from the battle over marriage. Nor, in my opinion, are they a good enough reason for us to hesitate to support him as a standard bearer. He’s flawed, just like the rest of us. Opponents will undoubtedly use them as a cudgel with which to beat him about the head and shoulders, but I think that line of attack will have limited traction, especially if we at whom it is aimed shrug it off as a red herring “gotcha” attack. And it certainly will not throw Gingrich off his message—he wouldn’t be running if he and his wife didn’t expect that sort of criticism.

Those who ardently push for gay marriage do not honor the “man and woman” part of the definition, nor do they think divorce is particularly a problem, given the separation rate among gay couples, including the “marriages” that have taken place in those jurisdictions that have approved gay marriage laws. And you’re not going to win over those who simply reject the traditional definition of marriage anyhow, even if your candidate married his high school sweetheart at 20 years old, is still madly in love, and hasn’t even looked at another woman since.

I’m often asked which GOP candidate I think is best, and I don’t know. I’m still listening, closely.

But I do think this…Now that the standard objections to Gingrich are being aired and addressed, it would be great to get to some Lincoln-Douglas style debates over the size and role of government, what constitutes a free, just and moral society, America’s place in the world, and how best to lead…and serve.