Nicole was her name. The tall, willowy woman with the Ralph Lauren sunglasses. Nicole, the self-described feminist, would probably be disappointed--even horrified--to learn that I was drawn to her booth for The People's Alliance of Durham because I thought she was hot. Relax Nicole, they had hotties at the Bush/Cheney tent, too, and I didn't hang around to talk to them. Actually, I didn't go to the CenterFest Arts Festival to get into a political debate with anyone. It was a beautiful, crisp September afternoon and I felt like seeing some art, maybe meeting some artists, listening to some music, taking some photographs. But in even-numbered years it's impossible to attend any kind of public event without the inevitable assault of sound bites from supporters and detractors of one candidate or another. It's especially impossible to escape if you happen to be standing within shouting distance of representatives of any organization that's even remotely political.
Now, as far as I could tell, People's Alliance isn't in the Kerry-for-President movement beyond an endorsement and a few of the obligatory free buttons and bumper stickers. At least not that day. The bulk of the material on display in the booth was about PA and its mission. Recruiting posters, if you will. Apparently, though, that's enough to put them on the watchlist of some of our more outspoken citizens. One such citizen became known as "Our Friend in Pink." "Our Friend" didn't hang around to lend her name to her cause. She didn't hang around long enough to do much of anything other than hurl a (presumably) self-styled slogan: "If you vote for Kerry, you're voting for murder!" No prizes for guessing her "hot-button" issue.
I was too stunned to do anything other than congratulate Nicole on her restraint. Stunned, disappointed and even afraid when I stopped to consider the danger in making a political process--any political process, but especially the election of an American president--a single-issue matter.
Have we really fallen so far that we must distill everything down to the lowest common denominator? Or is it simply that we've become accustomed to a 30-second encapsulation of "the news" as presented by the talking heads as the whole story? Does the average American voter really base a decision about whose lever to turn in November on the rhetoric surrounding a single issue? If so, then I weep for the future.
But average or not, "Our Friend" has apparently done exactly that. Which might not bother me quite as much if the logic behind her argument weren't so fatally flawed.
According to crosswalk.com, a presumably anti-abortion organization dedicated to "building up the Church" (though it doesn't say which church), abortion numbers reached their peak in 1980 and 1981 and have been on the decline since then (www.crosswalk.com/news/1181796.html ). In other words, the highest rates were in the opening years of the Reagan administration, and the rate has declined ever since, regardless which party held power or who occupied the Oval Office. According to this same article, the low point in the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 occurred in 2000. Does that mean that Bill Clinton brought the number down to its lowest point since Roe?
I can only imagine the furor that would erupt if anyone had the audacity to suggest this to a militant pro-lifer like "Our Friend." The fact is the president doesn't have the authority to affect these statistics one way or the other. The president cannot make law. The Supreme Court justices he appoints cannot make law. The job of the executive branch of the government is to enforce the laws already in existence. Enforcement means to make sure the law is obeyed--regardless whether the enforcer believes the law to be correct or just. But don't take my word for it. Ask any cop. And contrary to what extremists on both sides would have us believe, the job of the judicial branch isn't to make law, either. Their job is to interpret the laws that already exist. Interpret, in this context, means to decide what law applies and how that law is to be applied in a particular case.
High school civics lesson aside, if the president actually had the power to stop abortion, surely at least one of them in the last 31 years would have thought to do so. But the president doesn't have that power, thus the idea that "voting for Kerry is supporting murder (by abortion)" collapses under its own weight. What the president can do--and in fact this is the only executive authority that truly frightens me--is wage war for a period of up to 90 days without the approval of Congress. We've seen the current administration at work for the last three years playing cowboys and Indians with real bullets. It doesn't require a great leap of imagination to consider what "W" and his cronies might do with the pressure of another term in office rendered moot. (Try as I might, I simply can't force myself to use the term "re-election" here.)
According to the Department of Defense's Directorate for Information Operations and Reports, the total number of military fatalities arising out of "Selected Military Operations" between the Iranian Hostage rescue attempt of 1980 and Operation Uphold Democracy (Haiti) in 1996 was 741 hostile and non-hostile deaths. (For a more complete look at these summaries, visit web1.whs.osd.mil/mmid/casualty/castop.htm). During the period Oct. 1, 2001, through Sept. 4, 2004, hostile deaths in Iraq alone were listed as 596. Add to that the number of non-hostile deaths (an oxymoron if there ever was one) in Iraq plus the total number of hostile and non-hostile deaths in Afghanistan for the same period, and the number rises to 963 (though the DOD lists it as 979). In other words, in four years as commander-in-chief, George W. Bush has gotten more American service members killed than the last four presidents combined managed to do in the preceding 20 years. That's only the American combatants that have fallen victim to this war. This number doesn't even suggest how many enemy combatants and non-combatants have joined them. And this is the man that "Our Friend in Pink" would have us believe is pro-life?
Apparently there is no life after birth.
For more information on The People's Alliance, visit www.durhampa.org . For a different perspective on abortion statistics, see politicalcritic.blogspot.com/2004/08/doing-abortion-math.html .
And Nicole, you've got my number. Call me (wink).
James Bengel is a computer geek who lives in Raleigh and works for the state of North Carolina.