Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Assessing the 2012 GOP Field, Another NY Special Election, A Rational Abortion Discussion

The GOP 2012 Field
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has announced that he will not seek a third term in 2010. It is widely believed that this is a precursor to a 2012 Presidential run. Although Pawlenty certainly could have run for a third term and still run for President, the primary campaign would have effectively started on day 1 of his third term in office. Also, he was no shoe-in to win re-election and running and losing would have effecively knocked him out of the Presidential race.

So, let's add him to my list of Republican contenders who are "probably" running. Here is my list:

Declared Candidates -- None
Probably Running -- Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich
Possible Running -- Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Rudy Guliani
Long Shots to Run -- Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Mitch Mcconnell, John Boehner
Doesn't Really Matter if they Run -- Tom Tancredo (the GOP Dennis Kucinich sans the hot wife)

Of the probable candidates, I think Pawlenty and Romney hold a huge advantage over Gingrich and Huckabee in terms of their electability. Gingrich is universally hated by the left and center and not particularly well-liked on the right, although he is fairly well respected across the political spectrum as a clever tactician and a guy with substantive ideas. Romney holds a moderate record on social issues (that he spent most of the 2008 primaries trying to talk away) and strong credibility on economic issues. Huckabee is the most charismatic of the four, but his appeal is limited by his fairly radical views on things like evolution.

Of the possible candidates, Palin and Jindal both hold some executive experience and strong appeal with the right wing, but both flopped fairly badly on the national stage. I predict that in the end, neither runs. Rudy Guliani already crashed and burned against Romney, McCain and Huckabee, I can't imagine him trying again or being more successful on a second run.

Of the long shots, McConnell and Boehner have absolutely zero positive name recognition with the general public. Conversely, Rice and Powell are both widely beloved. They would both present serious threats to Obama if they were nominated. But it doesn't appear either is particularly interested and both may be too moderate to win the nomination, even if they were (Powell, after all, endorsed Obama, supports abortion rights and affirmative action and Rice has virtually unknown social views.)

I hope Tom Tancredo runs again, not because it will matter, but just for the entertainment value.

Another Special Election
The selection of Rep. John McHugh (R-NY) as Secretary of the Army will create another New York special election in another swing district. NY-23 is extremely similar to NY-20 (NY-23 went for Obama but was 3% more Republican than the nation as a whole.) A date has not been set yet, but will likely be in Mid-July. Expect another nail-biting close race, unless one party fields an extremely strong or weak candidate. A decisive win by either side could be a bellweather of changes to come in the 2010 cycle.

Trying to Bring Logic to the Issue of Abortion
The murder of a late-term abortion doctor this past Sunday reopened the discussion of abortion across the news and talk circuit. As I've often said, this is probably the most divisive issue of our time and there are no easy answers.

Let me take a moment to share my logic and my views.

First, let me state that my views are not derived from religious sources. If you have a particular religious belief about this issue, there is nothing that I can say that would sway you. I don't have a response to "God said..." I can only approach this from a scientific and logical point of view.

My view is derived from trying to understand the arguments of the two extremes and formulate a view which is consistent with the moral judgements that we apply for people who are already born. Pro-life forces would want us to outlaw abortion from conception -- "life begins at conception" is a popular rallying cry. Their argument centers on the fact that there is a living, independent organism from the moment of conception, one that is "human" even if only a basic form for the first few months.

Pro-choice advocates (the most fervent ones) would have legalize abortion throughout all 9 months of pregnancy. The principal moral argument they make pertains to the right of a woman to make determinations that impact her own body.

I find both constructs unsatisfying. Sure, "life" begins at conception. But a cockroach is life and we don't afford it legal protections (I'm not calling a fetus a cockraoch, just making a point about what "life" means, but go ahead with the hate mail.) Similarly, we don't allow a woman freedom over her body if her body is wielding a gun pointed at her husband's head.

To me, I come back to the old adage that my freedom to swing my fist ends at your nose. So if abortion does kill a person that we consider worthy of legal protection, it should be illegal, if it does not, it should be legal.

So when is a fetus worthy of legal protection? I'm not willing to accept that it is totally unprotected for 9 months and then magically is a full person when it is born (nothing magical happens in that moment.) I also can't accept that a sperm and egg separate constitute nothing, but that the second they combine, you have a full-blown human, desrving of all the rights of any citizien.

To me, the moral standard should be sentientce. When is it that we are killing a thinking, feeling human being? For weeks 1 through 24 of a pregnancy, a fetus has no brain activity. It cannot think on any level, cannot feel pain and therefore should not be entitled to legal protection. Around week 25 of pregnancy (approximately the start of the third trimester), a fetus starts to gain brain activity. By week 30 or so, it has brain-function close to that of a normal infant. I could attempt to delve deeper into the level of brain-function to set a standard, but I believe in this case, we should err on the side of caution and consider a fetus worthy of basic human rights as of the start of the third trimester.

Third trimester abortion kills a thinking, feeling creature. It should be illegal (unless such a procedure is necessary to save the life of another thinking, feeling creature, the mother.) First and second trimester abortion kills cells that have no brain contained in them. They inflict no pain and cut off no thought. They should be legal and universally available.

As for the popular "rape and incest" exceptions, it does not matter to me, the law should be the same. HOW a woman got pregnant doesn't impact the morals of this issue to me. If a fetus is thinking and feeling, no reason WHY a woman is pregnant would justify abortion. If a fetus is not thinking and feeling, no reason why a woman is pregnant would make it immoral, in my view.

So what of this murder of a late-term abortion provider? I do not advocate violent action against a democratically elected government. I believe it is almost always wrong and counterproductive. I do however, understand the thought process that this killer followed. If you believe that abortion is murder and that by killing someone you would save the innocent, I can see where he convinced himself to "take matters into his own hands". I don't condone or advocate such a course of action, obviously, but I probably understand it more than most who possess a fairly pro-choice disposition. I just wish everyone would stop the violent rhetoric that incites this kind of violence and join a reasoned discussion.

Regrettably, I think far too few think through their position on this issue. There is too much emotion and not enough reasoned discussion.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on this thorny topic.

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