ABORTION DISTORTIONS

Truth in advertising is a legal requirement in the United States. But truth in advocacy often gets a pass. The polemics surrounding the abortion issue makes that manifest.

Abortion is in the news again, thanks to the live coverage of the Supreme Court oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson, a case testing the constitutionality of a Mississippi statute banning most abortions after 15 weeks.

Few issues arouse as much passion as abortion. It’s not hard to see why. Depending on one’s perspective, abortion is about a woman’s right to control her own body, free of governmental interference. Or it is about an unborn child’s right to survive and to avoid physical extermination. As the late constitutional law professor John Hart Ely noted in his often-cited 1973 Yale Law Journal article on Roe v. Wade, “the moral dilemma abortion poses is so difficult as to be heartbreaking.”

This essay does not attempt to evaluate the merits of either side of that moral dilemma. Rather, it examines how each side uses language to legitimize its positions and denigrate those of its opponent. Some might excuse such textual manipulation as zealous advocacy. But it borders on dishonesty, and makes this inherently contentious issue even more inflammatory.

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TRUTH, JUSTICE, AND THE AMERICAN WAY OF SELF-DOUBT

Last week, Jim Lee, publisher of DC comics, announced that Superman’s motto would “evolve” from “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” to “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow.” The announcement followed Superman’s earlier renunciation of his American citizenship.

Some have welcomed these changes as “a pointed statement that the Man of Steel is a hero for everyone.” As Wired blogger Scott Thill put it: “The genius of Superman is that he belongs to everyone, for the dual purposes of peace and protection. He’s above ephemeral geopolitics and nationalist concerns, a universal agent unlike any other found in pop culture.”

But of course it’s possible to be “a hero for everyone,” while at the same time serving as a champion for the American Way. The Statue of Liberty – that “mighty woman” — is a heroine for everyone, lifting her lamp to welcome the huddled masses and wretched refuse from the world’s many teeming shores. But at the same time, she is quintessentially American – perhaps even more American than Superman. Certainly, she is more venerable.

The sad and uncomfortable truth is that removing “the American Way” from Superman’s slogan has nothing to do with extending his appeal beyond our shores to the world at large. That global appeal already exists and has for generations. “The American Way” has been deleted, not because the phrase was limiting Superman, but because it was embarrassing Superman’s owners.

They were not alone in their discomfit.

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MAKING RBG PC AGAIN

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously quipped: “We are not final because we are infallible, we are infallible because we are final.”

The ACLU decided that a statement by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on women’s rights wasn’t sufficiently enlightened.  So they deemed it not truly final, and proceeded to change it to make it more infallible.

In her 1993 Senate confirmation hearings, the future Justice stated: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity.… When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

In 2021, on the anniversary of her death, the ACLU tweeted this modified version, attributing it to her:

All references to women and to female pronouns had been erased, replaced with gender neutral terminology.

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SEPTEMBER 11, 2021 IS COMING

For the past 19 anniversaries of 9/11, we have commemorated that national tragedy with a certain sense of relief and vindication.  On the first anniversary, even as we mourned the 2,977 victims, we could derive some measure of comfort from the fact that we had hunted down their killers, smashed their hideouts, and ousted the 7th century Taliban fanatics who had sheltered and nurtured them.  

By the 10th anniversary, we could mark the death of Osama Bin Laden.

What emotions will we experience on the 20th anniversary?

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IN THE HEIGHTS — OF INANITY

Four years ago, Lin-Manuel Miranda portrayed Salman Rushdie, opposite F.Murray Abraham as Ayatollah Khomeini, in the hilarious Curb Your Enthusiasm “Fatwa!” episode.

Sometimes life imitates art. The real Rushdie apologized in a futile effort to evade a death sentence. Last month, the real Miranda apologized to evade a cancellation decree.

Salman Rushdie’s trouble arose from the publication of The Satanic Verses. Miranda’s arose from the broadcast of In the Heights, the movie version of the stage musical of the same name.

In the Heights follows a group of residents of Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, as they pursue their individual dreams. The story is uplifting, even patriotic. The central character, Usnavi, dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic to revive his late father’s bodega. But ultimately he chooses to remain in Washington Heights and remodel his local bodega there. His decision is based on the realization that his true home is America.

The highly successful stage musical established Miranda’s reputation, winning Tony Awards in 2008 for Best Musical, Original Score, Choreography, and Orchestrations. But the world changed between 2008 and 2021. When the movie version was released, Miranda was immediately condemned for “colorism;” namely, favoring light-skinned Hispanics over darker-skinned ones for the leading roles.

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BARRETT v. SOTOMAYOR

Occasionally, the stars align to illuminate important civic matters for all to see and understand. Such an alignment occurred last week in the June 18 hard-copy edition of the New York Times, in the form of two articles running just pages apart.

The first was a front page news story on the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision in California v. Texas, upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from a challenge by 18 states and two individuals. The second was an opinion piece in the same edition entitled “Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court’s Truth Teller,” authored by Linda Greenhouse, the retired legal affairs writer for the Times.

Taken together, the two stories illustrate the difference between the philosophies of judicial restraint and judicial activism.

Adherents of judicial restraint see the judge’s role as modest. Judges should be umpires, calling balls and strikes, regardless of who wins the game as a consequence of their calls. Judges should recognize the boundary between judging and legislating, and take care not to cross it. Judicial activists, on the other hand, expect judges to do more than merely apply the law to the facts, disregarding the result. Instead, they believe judges should strive to reach the “right” result; i.e., the result embodying their vision of a just and moral society.

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THE EQUIVALENCY MYTH: ISRAEL AND HAMAS IN THEIR OWN WORDS

As fighting flares in the Middle East, many in the American media establishment and commentariat  have adopted the familiar crouch position known as “equivalency.” The New York Times, for example, faithfully includes both sides’ latest casualty figures, and carefully juxtaposes photos of bombing damage in Gaza with rocket damage in Israel — as if efforts to kill civilians are equivalent to retaliatory efforts to prevent the killing of those civilians.

In that same newspaper, Hamas terrorists are never called “terrorists” because that would undermine the equivalency narrative. Instead, the terrorists are called “militants” –to distinguish them, one supposes, from the imaginary Hamas “moderates.”

The problem with equivalency is not that it adds extraneous information to the mix. Arab lives do matter. Destruction in Gaza is newsworthy. It is proper to report on those subjects.

Rather, the problem with equivalency is that it doesn’t report enough information. It provides no perspective. It doesn’t tell the reader anything about the actors, other than their respective suffering. It would be acceptable for media outlets to present both sides’ casualty figures, and both sides’ property damage — IF those outlets also presented both sides’ values, motives, and aims.

But they do not.

Fortunately, that information is readily available. One need not guess or argue about it because it is there, in the parties’ own words.

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THE SHAMING EPIDEMIC

An epidemic has swept over the country, spread by the cancel culture. It is called “shaming.”

Shaming comes in many forms. Some are acceptable, even wholesome. For example, long before they were prosecuted in court, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were shamed in the public arena for their deeply immoral, as well as criminal, conduct.  

Other forms of shaming are troubling, such as shaming for obnoxious statements made years earlier, when the speaker was young and immature.

Mimi Groves was 15 years old when she sent out a private snapchat video of herself celebrating her driver learner’s permit. The video contained a racial slur which, as she explained later, “was in all the songs we listened to, and I’m not using that as an excuse.” When the video surfaced, the University of Tennessee rescinded her admission.

Alexi McCammond was 17 years old when she tweeted messages with anti-Asian and homophobic content. She later apologized, and deleted the tweets. But screen images of her tweets remained. When she was named editor of Teen Vogue, at the age of 27, those ten-year old images resurfaced, and McCammond was forced to resign.

Shaming for youthful indiscretions is relatively rare. It runs counter to widely accepted beliefs in forgiveness and redemption. It also exposes the stone-throwers to the peril of being outed as glass house inhabitants. Christine Davitt, the Teen Vogue senior social media manager who led the shaming campaign against Alex McCammond for her 2011 tweets, now faces demands for her own ouster after her own tweets containing anti-black racial slurs, dating back to 2009 and 2010, surfaced.

But the most widespread and pernicious variant of shaming involves punishment for insufficient wokeness.

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FREEING AFRIDI

President Joe Biden came into office promising to unify the country. So far, unity has proved elusive. On confirmations, immigration policy, Iran, and countless other issues, the parties seem as combative and disunited as ever.

But if unity is elusive, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s just a matter of finding issues on which both parties can unite.

Here is one: Freeing Dr. Shakil Afridi.

His is not exactly a household name. But it should be. Millions of Americans who watched the 2012 Academy Award winning Zero Dark Thirty caught a glimpse of a Pakistani doctor who set up a polio vaccination program in an effort to secure DNA samples from the residents of the compound which the CIA suspected housed Usama Bin Laden. That character, unnamed in the movie, is based on Dr. Afridi.

Dr. Afridi as depicted in Zero Dark Thirty
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THE REPUBLICANS’ DANGER — AND OPPORTUNITY

John F. Kennedy famously (and incorrectly) observed that the Chinese word for “crisis” consists of two brushstrokes: one signifying “danger” and the other “opportunity.”  As the dust and debris of the desecration of the Capitol subsides, the Republican Party confronts just such a two-faceted moment.

Since 2016, when he accepted the Republican nomination for the presidency, Donald Trump has been the Party leader. And not just in a titular or ceremonial sense. He has demanded and received almost complete loyalty from Party members. He effectively engineered the early retirements of critics and of supporters whose support was merely tepid, including, to name just a few, Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Luther Strange of Alabama.

Now, as the nation reacts in shock and revulsion at the mob violence, the Republican Party faces a grave danger due to its association with Trump.

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