GOP has a bad day

January 18, 1998|By George F. Will

WASHINGTON -- The Republican establishment, which has the prominence and utility of a figurehead, had a bad day Tuesday when voters spurned its anointed candidate in California congressional race. Perhaps -- this is just a guess -- it was unwise to anoint a man particularly distinguishable from his Republican rival by his tolerance of a form of infanticide. This contest became a skirmish in the abortion wars, wherein the celebration of tolerance is the first refuge of the intolerant.

When Rep. Walter Capps of Santa Barbara, a Democrat, died, his widow entered the special election for his seat. So did two Republican state assemblymen, Tom Bordonaro, a conservative rancher of modest means, and Brooks Firestone, a liberal and wealthy winegrower.

Predictably, but probably to the surprise of Speaker Gingrich and other prominent Republicans who endorsed Firestone, a crucial distinction between Bordonaro and Firestone was the former's support for, and the latter's opposition to, banning partial-birth abortion.

In Tuesday's election, Lois Capps finished first, as expected, but with less than 50 percent of the vote, so she will face a runoff with the second-place finisher, who is Bordonaro, even though Firestone outspent him at least 3-to-1. And even though the local affiliates of ABC, NBC and CBS banned certain independent ads on Bordonaro's behalf.

One ad pictured a newborn, and said: ''This baby was born just a few weeks early. Even at that age a partial-birth abortion can still be performed. This procedure starts with the entire body being delivered except for the head. An incision is then made into the skull and the brain removed.''

The other ad pictured a group of conversing women, one of whom said: ''First the baby's legs are pulled into the birth canal and the entire body is delivered except for the head. Then an incision is made in the skull and the brains are removed. After the head shrinks, the entire body is removed.''

But ABC World News Tonight described the procedure this way: ''A living fetus is partially withdrawn from the womb, then the skull is vacuumed out.''

NBC Nightly News reported:

''The fetus is pulled partially out of the birth canal, feet first. Then the skull is punctured, and the brains suctioned out.''

The manager of NBC's affiliate said the banned ad was ''a little too vivid, a little too graphic'' and ''pretty tough. I can see it scaring little children to death.'' See? The censorship was to protect little children, not to protect partial-birth abortions of little children.

The affiliates ran censored ads which included the words ''we don't describe this gruesome procedure.'' No independent ads by pro-choice Republicans praising Firestone were banned or censored.

Many people who call themselves ''pro-choice'' demand tolerance of the right to choose to kill almost-born babies, but are intolerant of the right to choose one's public school, to smoke, to own a gun, to rent your basement apartment to whom you chose, to drive a sport utility vehicle or to broadcast a truthful description of one way of killing almost-born babies. Republican opponents of Republican supporters of partial-birth abortion are called intolerant.

They are, in this sense:

They do not think infanticide is a mere ''matter of opinion'' the way, say, tax reform or NATO expansion is. Hence their attempt to deny national party assistance to supporters of partial-birth abortion.

Critics say those who would ban party assistance should be more like the first Republican president, who detested slavery but made the goal of ending it subordinate to the goal of preserving the Union. However, the slavery controversy had two extremes, those who demanded immediate abolition, and those who demanded the right to expand slavery into the territories. Lincoln tolerant, up to a point opposed abolitionists but countenanced civil war to stop expansionists.

Suppose the newly founded Republican Party had, in the name of tolerance, eschewed what today are disparaged as ''litmus tests'' and said that even slavery expansionists could expect party support. What would have been the point of founding such a party?

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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