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America's Moral Tradition -
A Cultural Paradox

by James Hitchcock
June 2, 2002

EVER SINCE ABORTION BECAME A POLITICAL ISSUE about thirty years ago, pro-lifers have found themselves in a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with the Republican Party. As early as the presidential campaign of l976 prolifers were already receiving the message that their viewpoint was unwelcome among Democrats, and eventually they were all but excommunicated from the party to which most of them had belonged.

In effect turning Republican has had its own problems, most of them due to the fact Republicans are by no means of one mind on the issue, so that he party is always engaged in a juggling act. Pro-lifers find that they are often given verbal support which does not translate into anything very effective.

But a recent development puts the Bush administration in a very favorable light so far as abortion is concerned. The United Nations delegates appointed by President George W. Bush were largely responsible for the fact that the final document issued by the recent UN Child Summit did not include abortion as a fundamental "right".

There were some anomalies here, such as the fact that America's chief allies on the issue were certain Muslim states, some of which have distinctly chilly relationships with the US. (Liberals who accuse us of failing to respect Muslim culture never mean by that that we should respect Muslim beliefs on sexual matters.) But even more interesting was the fact that, in taking the position it did, the United States found itself in opposition to practically all the advanced industrial nations of the world, the very nations with whom ordinarily we are aligned. What accounts for that extraordinary fact?

Much credit must be given to President Bush himself. He understands the concerns of his pro-life constituents, and he has responded to them unwaveringly so far as the UN is concerned. The United States was a similarly lonely voice during the administration of President Bush's father, but that stance was reversed under President William J. Clinton.

Some Americans are driven almost frantic by the very fact that we find ourselves out of step with "the rest of the world", by which they mean primarily Western Europe. They find it an acute embarrassment that French, Germans, and other Europeans regard our position on abortion as neanderthal. (Liberal sensitivity to the "third world" ends at the point where such sensitivity would require Western liberals to revise their own liberal ideas.) It thus takes a certain amount of courage for President Bush to support this lonely stance.

As far as I can see he is also trying to appoint Federal judges with a responsible view of the Constitution. I do not of course know the personal views of most of his nominees, but the Democrats in the Senate fear those nominees and have prevented many of them from even being voted on.

There is something deep in American culture which makes all this possible. It bears frequent repeating, because it is so improbable, that the United States is now the most religious nation in the Western world, for reasons which are complex and not even fully understood. That reality in turn creates the constituency to which President Bush responds.

Along with the abortion issue, the US also recently helped defeat a clause in a UN document which would have defined the family to include homosexual couples. It is an intriguing fact indeed that the world's most technologically advanced nation, the nation supposedly the most deeply immersed in modernity, is also the nation which stands almost alone in the Western world in its defense of traditional moral value nominees, but the Democrats in the Senate fear those nominees and have prevented many of them from even being voted on.

James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, writes and lectures on contemporary Church matters. His column appears in the diocesan press. His two-volume book on religion and the Supreme Court has just been published by Princeton University Press. E-Mail: Dr. James Hitchcock

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