Jewish World Review March 4, 2004 / 11 Adar, 5764

Peter A. Brown

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Abortion, gay marriage show hypocrisy | A foolish consistency, observed one far smarter than I, is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Without Ralph Waldo Emerson's seeming endorsement, the current hypocrisy from both ends of the political spectrum might make one wonder how many Americans with political opinions could claim even an average intellect.

It is almost entertaining these days to watch true believers on either side of the ideological spectrum squirm to square their philosophy with their politics.

Of course, the emerging change in how the two parties and their supporters view key issues stems from each side evaluating how its views play in public opinion, both nationally and on a regional basis.

The ideological song and dance over the two most vexing lifestyle issues - abortion and gay marriage - are perhaps the most instructive, although by no means the only, examples.

Liberals, who instinctively see the federal government as their friend and national solutions to problems as their preferred forum for action, have vigorously grabbed the mantle of states' rights on the question of whether homosexual marriage should be allowed.

That's because they know gay marriage will be banned if a federal constitutional amendment were passed that would overrule state decisions, be they legislative or judicial, that legitimized same-sex unions.

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Liberals would prefer for gay marriage to be available in the limited number of states where there is sufficient public support.

For the first time they are chanting the mantra of states' rights after a lifetime of thinking that yokels outside the Beltway can't be trusted. They've switched their stance because they see this as the best deal available for gay voters, who are mostly in their political camp.

Yet most of these same folks still cling to the notion of federal supremacy on the abortion issue.

That is, they will fight to the political death to uphold the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that prevents states from banning and, in many cases, limiting a woman's right to end a pregnancy with abortion.

That's because, on the abortion issue, they have the numbers to keep the national rules in place, and the abortion-rights lobby is a cornerstone of the Democratic Party. Democrats generally consider the "right to choose" only slightly less important than the right to breathe.

Conservatives and Republicans, however, are on the same ideological quicksand, partly because of their ties to Christian conservatives, the GOP's largest core constituency.

They decry Roe v. Wade, and many vow to overturn it, either through a constitutional amendment or a rejiggering of the Supreme Court, so states wanting to ban abortion may be able to do so.

No matter that they are unwilling to allow states to take the same approach on gay marriage.

They, too, can count and would be happy to allow only the minority of states where a majority of voters agrees with them to prevent abortions.

Instead, they want a constitutional amendment so a state such as Massachusetts, where gay marriage is now a legal certainty, won't be able to allow same-sex unions. They're not the least distressed that they are taking the approach on gay marriage that they abhor on abortion.

Actually, this divergence from type is not confined to these sticky social issues.

On many other matters, the traditional Republican/conservative skepticism about national solutions and the liberal/Democratic preference for them is also being re-evaluated.

Education quickly comes to mind. Republicans were not happy with the Democratic-led creation of the U.S. Department of Education because they saw it as a step to inject the federal government into schools, which have long been under local and state purview.

But now President Bush's education reforms contain the federal requirement that students be tested, schools evaluated and, to a degree, funded based on the performance of their students on those exams.

That is the type of national mandate conservatives have long opposed. Yet they created it because they believe that injecting accountability into education is more important than their philosophical preference for local decision-making.

Democrats/liberals, largely because of their joined-at-the-hip relationship with the teachers unions, which hate the idea, are no models of consistency. They have suddenly become staunch defenders of the philosophy that those at the local level know better than the federal bureaucrats.

Perhaps that is because Republicans pretty much run the show in D.C. these days. It's no surprise that, during those long years when Democrats were in charge in Congress and sometimes the White House, they, too, thought the federal government knew best.

Ain't politics grand?

Peter A. Brown is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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