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May 04, 2006

The Party of Death.

[If Roe vWade and issues like it bore you to tears - scroll down quickly!]

Update: I see that Ramesh noticed the review, and labels me a moderate pro-choicer (in a nice way, mind you). Hmmm. Looked at from his perspective, maybe. I think I'm a *barely-by-the-skin-of-my-teeth* pro-choicer - one of those who can live with 1st trimester and "rape and incest" exceptions. I'm very much anti-POD on the issues of selective abortion, "killing for medicine research" and unplugging inconvenient patients who don't have the grace to get out of the way. You won't find NARAL and NOW and Planned Parenthood on my charitable giving list. Catholic Charities and Catholic Community Services, by contrast, are. And I'm not Catholic. Just sayin'.

A non-expert, non-policy wonk late-to-the-issue guy reviews The Party of Death, a book by Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor of National Review magazine. This blogging thing has turned up a few perks. I get books for free to review. And I get to keep 'em! I've got to get a lot more before it covers the cost of hosting, however...

Bottom line up front: I liked it.

The MSM has provided plenty of the "pro" sides of the argument about Roe v. Wade, stem cells, and euthanasia. They haven't done a good job presenting the anti-side of Roe (nor has the anti-side always had a very usefully-crafted message). The record on stem cells and euthanasia is more mixed where the MSM is concerned. Many of the anti-side of the argument, especially on Roe, have been so strident as to be repugnant to me (I am, after all, in the great mushy middle). But as someone who has been involved in the taking of life, and the giving of orders to others to do so, I have more than an academic interest in the subject. Along comes The Party of Death.

Sure, it's a polemic. The title alone, leave aside the content, will drive rabid lefties and NOW-types into spittle-flecked, full-goose bozo mode. We're used to that, and the book isn't really aimed at them anyway. It's aimed at the... great mushy middle. The book is written clearly, it's concise and it's footnoted. It's easy to read, and conveys a lot of information and analysis quickly. Make no mistake, it's not "balanced" nor does Ponnuru pretend to be. Ramesh marshals his facts and argues his position. But it *does* provide a useful apothegmatic response to all the pro-death forces.

Part 1 of the book is titled "What Roe Wrought" and covers the rise of Roe, and how the basic underpinnings of the decision leaked out into other areas of life - by essentially establishing a concept of non-personhood for a specimen of homo sapiens, and argues how that has given traction to the elites who now seemingly want to judge the rest of us by our utility and expense, and if they don't like what they see, pull the plug. It includes a discussion of how the 'sanctity' of Roe has been used to develop the tools and procedures for silencing dissent, and how it has twisted the Democratic Party in ways that have contributed to it's decline – I would argue to the detriment of politics in general, not too mention the polarization of the electorate. We need a robust discussion. We need a marketplace-like driver in our politics. Absent that, we get what we have now, the Republicans of ’06, and while casting about wildly for a replacement all there is on offer is the Radical Wing of the Democratic Party. Locally it’s not so bleak.

Ponnuru doesn't spare the extreme right-wing, either, though it simply isn't a prime subject in the book. That is well-covered by the anti-forces, and Ponnuru doesn’t waste space trying to show us what a balanced and hip guy he is. (Though he is…) Unlike this writer, Ponnuru either has a good editor or can keep himself focused.

After establishing the baseline, Ramesh goes on to lay out how Roe and other factors have combined to bring us to Part II, the Bioethics of Death, with the opening chapter of The Doctor Will Kill You Know to the closing chapter of What's So Bad About Infanticide? with Stem cells in between to let you know where Ponnuru stands on the issues involved.

Part III is Life And The Parties, where Ramesh analyzes how the issues have affected the political debate and development of the parties in dealing with the electorate on this issue.

So, I liked the book. Why?

Not because I'm a rabid Pro-Lifer. I'm not. I'm in the mushy middle that can accept a compromise of what the press has told us Roe means - 1st trimester abortions on demand, increasingly more regulation as the pregnancy progresses. Oops. Except that *isn’t* what Roe really means, is it? More honestly, I like the book because it lays out the pro-life position and history of the last 30-odd years in a openly-biased fashion that isn't just incoherent rantings of rage - nor a dense, thick, dry tome suitable for a doorstop - without muddying the water trying to be “balanced.” Sometimes, you just need a clear statement of the position and argument of same, as happens in a debate - vice trying to pretend you are all things to all people.

I remember, back when Roe v. Wade passed in 1973, being mildly relieved. I was 16, in good shape, a brainy-jock, and girls were looking pretty good. The legalization of abortion had exactly the effect on me that has been attributed to it by various opponents.

It lifted a burden about certain aspects of my hopefully-about-to-explode sex life. While my sex life went on to develop in a satisfactory (and generally morally acceptable) fashion, I'm glad to say that no situation ever developed that would have caused me to be earnestly interested in the provisions (and unintended consequences) of Roe.

Then there is that whole 20-odd years in the Army thing, where my focus was that of the Watcher On The Walls. I was focused externally, with the Soviets and other things - I didn't have a huge interest in domestic politics etc, with the exception (d-uh) of 2nd Amendment issues and a general conservative bent.

Our son has not presented us with any surprises, and there is no daughter about whom to be concerned, and while there are the three nephews and two nieces, nothing has happened to make the imminent practical issues of Roe a suddenly burning issue.

I've had two grandparents do the slow dying bit (one was 103 when she finally passed) but none of the drama of the Terri Schiavo situation, much less the ongoing travesty that is the Andrea Clarke furore in Houston.

But I have grown more interested in The Party of Death as my parents age, and I move into that stage of life where the young ones are interested in sex and the elders are shuffling ever closer towards the end of their mortal coil - and as the one in the middle, certain realities are simply mine.

And, as my life and job responsibilities have changed, I've watched with greater and greater unease the ease with which people seem willing to kill, or at least let others die, for seeming ever more selfish reasons. And more and more, that 20-odd years of looking outward, loss of context, has loomed large, leaving the gap in my understanding that it did. The issues are not simple, nor, as the extremes at both ends of the issue believe, are they reducible to black and white stark, easy choices. There's plenty of gray in the margins. For me, the book helped limn things and understand how we found ourselves in this situation. Which will inform my voting, blogging, and politician-gigging.

Readers of this space span the gamut on these issues. We had a mini-meltdown over Terry Schiavo, but we hung together and agreed to disagree. I'll be happy to provide space for anyone who is a regular here who'd like to read the book and whack at it. Heck, I'll entertain input from you lurkers, too.

Just remember the rules. Attack the argument, not the arguer. And no spittle-flecked rants. Ya gotta have *full* posting privileges to do that.

Party of Death, by Ramesh Ponnuru. Copyright 2006, published by Regnery Publishing. 248 pages of text, with another 50 of footnotes and index. $27.95 cover price. Free if yer kewl.