Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Dangerous Game," part II

First of all, thanks, Aaron and Steve, for the responses, both of which are helpful in clarifying this parallel for me. Wilberforce and his “willingness to play the game of politics” is especially interesting to me. Was he influential in drafting laws abolishing slavery? Was he for gradual or sudden (a la our own Emancipation Proclamation) abolition? How entrenched was slavery (not merely the slave ‘trade’--which the U.S. stopped participating in 1808) in England at the time?

But let me bring this back to the United States. At the time of the Lincoln/Douglas debates, there was a range of opinions regarding the issue of slavery. I see four main positions cropping up: 1) slavery is a moral good, justified by the Scriptures (this would be what I would call the true “slaveholder’s position”); 2) slavery is a “right” that citizens of states and territories should be able to “choose” for themselves (Douglas’s position, and one that never answers or thinks one should answer whether slavery is right or wrong); 3) slavery is a moral wrong, but one that nevertheless requires us to have “due regard for its actual existence among us, and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way and to all the constitutional obligations thrown about it” (the official position of the Republican party at the time of the ‘58 debates, and thus Lincoln’s own position); and 4) slavery is wrong and thus should be abolished immediately, more or less regardless of circumstances (the extreme “abolitionist” position).

Is this range of positions, this spectrum applicable to our current abortion debate? I think so, and, in fact, without recognition of it, I think any reference to slavery in the abortion debate is destined to be fruitless. For example, Alan Keyes’s dabbling in the “dangerous game” of historical comparisons--his assertion that Obama is “holding the slaveholder’s position”--is clearly a misrepresentation. Obama’s position most closely resembles Douglas’s (2): he has never (to my knowledge) presented abortion itself as a positive good, but rather stated that the “right” to choose it is something he will always protect (as Douglas vowed always to protect the right of states and territories to choose whether or not to make slavery legal.)

It would seem, then, on the topic of abortion, that we have plenty of “abolitionists” and plenty of Stephen Douglases (positions 4 and 2). Where, though, are the Lincolns in all this? Where is “position three“?
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