[Are you feeling all right? You’ve seemed to be pretty remote as of late.]
What are you talking about? We just had a conversation the other day.
[That’s not what I mean, and you know it—and your deliberate attempt at misdirection ought to go an awfully long way to proving my point. Your eyes have gone cold and your face hangs low, lower than it has hung in a year. It doesn’t take a clinical psychologist to observe that something is amiss, and somehow, I doubt your issues issue exclusively from the trouble brewing down in Venezuela.]
I guess I’m lost in thought. Actually, “lost” refers to a state of bewilderment. I’m not bewildered, nor am I confused. Maybe you could say I’m stuck in thought, unable to process a troubling idea.
[And what is the idea that troubles you today?]
This morning, I’ve been thinking about an op-ed written by Mike Pence.
[His review of the film Mulan, which he described as the work of a “mischievous liberal”?]
No, I’m not talking about that, but thank you for reminding me that, at some point, we do need to attempt a modern reevaluation of Mulan. No, I’m talking about something he wrote this week for National Review. He wrote an op-ed titled “Life is Under Attack”.
[This pertains to the Reproductive Health Act, recently signed into New York law by Governor Andrew Cuomo?]
Yes. You’ve probably heard about the controversy.
[Yes, I have. Word on the street is, this legislation expands the legal protections for abortion and permits the procedure up to the moment of birth—which is to say, as far as is conceivable. Alas, I must confess I haven’t exactly combed through the law, and so, I can’t speak to the validity of these more shocking reports.]
Well, you can color yourself astonished when you learn that the language of the law is a little bit more nuanced than that. The Reproductive Health Act allows for elective abortion up to or until the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, and it allows for abortion beyond that point only if one of two criteria is met: either the life of the mother must be endangered, or there must be an absence of fetal viability.
[Oh, I see. In other words, you can’t get an abortion at seven months just because you want to: if you want to have an abortion so close to the deadline, then you need a valid medical reason to do so. Unfortunately, right-wing media outlets, and all too many left-wing commentators, have read only part of the law, simplified the language, and republished their misinterpretation as if it were a direct quote.]
Which brings us to Mike Pence: the Vice President of the United States has prepared an op-ed in which he describes how heartsick he was to hear of the passage of this Act. He was devastated to learn that Governor Cuomo had legalized infanticide, and he laments the moral demise of this great nation. However, our analysis proves that Pence either did not understand the Act at all, or he lied about it in order to craft a statement that amounts to a non-sequitur. Either way, the Vice President is responding to something that doesn’t exist, to something make-believe.
[Okay—but why is this getting you so down in the mouth? How is this different from any of the other instances of political perfidy we have discussed in the course of the last few months? How is this any different from the manufactured controversy over “partial-birth abortion”, a fictitious concept devised by the Republicans under George W. Bush? You talk a lot about how liberals try to convince themselves that Trump is fundamentally different from previous presidents, when he isn’t; it seems to me you have similarly overreacted to this phony scandal.]
I’m not upset about the inaccurate coverage of the Reproductive Health Act. I’m upset about this op-ed of Pence’s.
[Why? Isn’t his op-ed just an elaborate example of erroneous reporting? How is it any different from whatever claptrap Mitch McConnell uttered on the same subject?]
It isn’t his take on the Act that gives me pause. It’s the general perspective that permeates his op-ed. It’s the philosophy of the affirmation of life that I find so frightening—not because I oppose the affirmation of life, but because such an affirmation directly contradicts Pence’s own moral ideology.
[How do you mean?]
Pence begins his op-ed with a description of the horrific implications of the Act, as well as those of a similar bill that was just passed in Virginia. He concludes that this callous indifference to life is part of a broader societal disease, evidence of ubiquitous moral decay. “This shameless embrace of a culture of death is startling to every American who cherishes life,” he observes, recycling a term—“culture of death”—that became momentarily popular in 2005, when a legal battle ended in a vegetative patient named Terri Schiavo eventually being taken off of life support.
[According to this writer to whom you just referred us, it was social conservatives who identified the “culture of death” in the mid-2000s. Was this because of Terri Schiavo exclusively, or was it because of the American invasion of Iraq, as well?]
It wasn’t because of Terri Schiavo exclusively, but it had nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq: social conservatism was a cornerstone of Bush the Younger’s popular appeal, and if the people’s dogged applause for the great warmonger was sincere, then there is no reason to think those clapping hands held the violence in Iraq as a symptom of any national illness. No, they believed “the problem in America” had nothing to do with our limitless capacity for imperialistic carnage and everything to do with our taste in entertainment, with “violence in movies and sex on TV”, to quote a certain theme song. The problem was not an American soldier killing an Iraqi civilian, but Jessica Alba wearing a leather bikini in Sin City.
[That’s a time-honored sociological error: in Shakespeare’s day, religious fundamentalists feared that the public would become immoral if it were exposed to men dressed as women onstage. It’s certainly possible that our bloodlust, which culminates in war, steers us toward violent films and the like, but to blame these films as the cause of our bloodlust is ludicrous—or, in Bush’s case, dishonest. Does Mike Pence forge a similarly tenuous connection in his op-ed?]
No, but the moral inconsistency exposed by the controversy over Terri Schiavo, which lent itself to the dumbfounding misplacement of the charge of the “culture of death”, was on my mind as I read Pence’s piece. As you might expect, Pence spends much of his time in the op-ed making the usual threadbare references to “the sanctity of life”. He is trying to convince us that he can never say enough in defense of life—“life” being a term requiring no special explanation or definition. He writes that “a child who can survive outside the womb deserves a chance at life” and opines that “a society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, and it would be unconscionable for us to let this moment pass in silence”.
[He scrawls his words upon solid layers of cheese. This is plain fact, but I still don’t understand why this is so preternaturally disturbing to you—or, for that matter, where you find a parallel to the muddled diagnosis of “the culture of death”.]
Do you recall our conversation about the controversy threatening to boil over in Venezuela?
And what did we conclude about America’s involvement in this boiling-over?
[We concluded that the United States is sponsoring a coup and lying about its reasons for doing so.]
And if the United States is successful in its plot to overthrow the Venezuelan government, what will be the consequences?
[The consequences will be manifold, but they will consist of myriad forms of tragic suffering for the Venezuelan people, up to and including mass death.]
And what is Mike Pence’s stance on this matter?
[He is unambiguously supportive of the coup.]
And would he object to any of the forms of suffering you have mentioned, including mass death?
[He would not.]
Is death the opposite of life?
Then Mike Pence is supporting a cause that will result in the extinction of many forms of life?
So, can it be said that Mike Pence is truly pro-life?
[It cannot. If it could, then he would not support a cause that will result in violence, lethality, and death.]
Yet, what does he say about the sanctity of life in his op-ed?
[He says, and I quote: “A society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable.” If that’s the case, then the United States can be judged by how it treats the exceptionally vulnerable people of Venezuela—and they are vulnerable: how can they ever hope to defend themselves against our weaponry, our tanks, and our firearms?]
They can’t, which is why the United States is so eager to invade: there would be little hope of any practical resistance, and there is much oil and wealth to be seized from that country, to be stolen by the American imperialists, the same raiders who executed Bush the Younger’s assault on Iraq—and, for that matter, Bush the Elder’s!
[Unfortunately, these undertakings—which are most assuredly not pro-life, but pro-death or anti-life—are seldom contemplated by the American people. The American people are much more interested in the Reproductive Health Act—or, perhaps more accurately, the sensationalized summaries of the Act. The death of a fetus holds sway over the collective moral intelligence as an international bloodbath never could, hence why Pence can describe Trump as “the most pro-life president in American history”. He applauds Trump’s success in “ensuring that our foreign-aid dollars don’t go to groups that promote or perform abortions abroad”, even as we continue to coordinate apocalyptic military campaigns overseas.
[And, for that matter, as we continue to practice capital punishment at home.]
No kidding. It’s this lack of basic moral perspective that I find so astonishing: abortion inspires the most rococo criticism from the Vice President, moments before and after he facilitates mass murder abroad. The hypocrisy is nauseating, especially when he wraps up his op-ed by making a bizarre and awkward reference to the eleven American fetuses who perished on 9/11.
[Hold up: does he actually talk about the unborn as if they were Americans?]
Yes, he does: apparently, someone went through the rolls of the deceased and discovered there were eleven pregnant American women who died on that day. There were probably more, but the final figures will never be known, and the numbers are irrelevant to Pence: what matters to him is the saccharine sentiment he is trying to evince, even when it is so insincere and so ridiculous as to pass the point of intelligible parody. It’s the sloppy pageantry of American government for the modern, tasteless age. Insipid, creatively bankrupt, and toxic: we can expect these features of the political culture to endure as long as we prove that we deserve nothing better.
[This, then, is why you’re feeling so depressed?]
Yes, but I do have good news.
Mike Pence is so thoroughly pro-life, he made sure no one died in this week’s “polar vortex”. Oh, wait . . .