On Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Obama Corrupts Political Language

Source: Contentions | Peter Wehner

On the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s pro-choice decision in Roe v. Wade, President Obama said in a statement that Roe “affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.”

To which one might ask: since when is lethal violence used on the defenseless and the most vulnerable members of our society considered an intrusion on “private family matters”?

This line of argument is absurd. Would the president argue that our laws should be silent on matters of spousal and child abuse? After all, based on the Obama Criterion, those, too, might qualify as “private family matters.”

The president’s statement that abortion on demand affirms a “fundamental principle” is evidence of a man who is willing to corrupt the English language in order to advance an ideological agenda — and in this instance, a particularly vicious and brutal agenda.

In his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell wrote, “In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.” He spoke about “the decadence of our language” and how “language can also corrupt thought.” And he alerted his readers to the fact that “Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Pure wind is not solid — and taking the life of the innocent unborn is neither a “fundamental principle” nor a “private family matter.”


  1. While I fully agree that this is an egregious example of the bending of language for the sake of hiding the truth, it is also true that those on the “pro-life” side of things can be just as guilty of language manipulation. After all, if one is for the death penalty and supports every war the US government manages to land the US military in, then one can hardly be said to be “pro-life.” Why not just call ourselves “anti-legal abortion” on one hand, and “pro-limited legal abortion” on the other? After all, those are basically the two positions people take on the issue.

    With that said, I am not holding my breath when it comes to an ethos of honesty invading the language shaping and discourse of politics in the US any time soon.

  2. Michael Bauman :

    Issac, sorry to say you are mixing up two very different things: the power of the state used to protect and defend (however imperfectly) and the power of the state used to kill its most innocent and vulnerable.

    The Orthodox Church is not pacifist and there is a lot of evidence that there is a true vocation of arms within the Church.

    The Holy Scripture is quite clear that the state has the power of the sword to punish and keep people safe from the viscious. There are some people who won’t even bother to consider repentance until they are faced with loosing their own life.

    Of course there are restrictions on such matters within the Orthodox tradition and the Western Christian tradition as well plus there are existential difficulties: rich people are almost never given the death penalty even when they murder; mistakes are made due to bias; hasty convictions occur due to the need to convict ‘somebody’ and laziness of the prosecutor, defense and judge. Modern weapons, global ideological politics and the increase of asymetric warfare in which most casualties are civilians (even if they are combatants) makes war even more dicey than ever. Both the range and power of technological weaponry and the immediacy of bombs such as the one recently in Russia distort what it means to defend ones country.

    That being said, it muddies the water unneccesarily to lump opposition to abortion with the death penalty and war. Both war and the death penalty can promote an ethic of life in certain circumstances so they are not intrinsically evil but a necessary, even righteous, response to gross sin and evil. Abortion always assaults or kills an innocent human being, spiritually rapes the mother and creates a lust for destruction in the heart of the abortionist and in the culture which approves of abortion.

  3. As Chesterton said, “the only defensible war is a war of defense.” Or, as Metropolitan Jonah wrote in a letter, “pro-war is not pro-life.” It is annoying to me that you assume I am a pacifist or was arguing for pacifism just because I wouldn’t go along with the current US wars of expansion and see a hypocrisy inherent in people who claim to be “pro-life” but are pretty amendable to state inflicted deaths in forms other than abortion.

    As far as muddy waters go, the whole problem lies in people who, on one hand, bemoan the death of the unborn and, on the other, turn a blind eye to children destroyed a few mere months later by American bombs.

    But none of that really matters in terms of my main point, which is that there is language manipulation across the political spectrum. That is why I am inherently distrustful of both positions simplistically described as “conservative” and “liberal” in the US. It is nearly impossible to speak sense to a person who has bought into either of these narratives. As soon as euphemistic and misleading slogans like “pro-life” are dropped from the discourse I will have much more respect for those who wish to see abortion criminalized under US law.

    • Michael Bauman :

      Sorry I irritated you, but the vast majority of Orthodox people with whom I have spoken on the war topic over the years take an essentially pacifist stance when they begin with lumping together abortion, war, and the death penalty.

      In our society all political language (indeed most language of any type) is debased, destorted and deranged by ignorance, technology, nefarious intent and ideology passing as thought. The only way to avoid it is to be silent altogether. Clearly the phrase ‘pro-life’ is shorthand for being against abortion. It is Quixotic to try to make it anything else especially if you are attempting to expand the notion of what it means for a policy to be in support of human dignity and life. If you wish to expand on the notion, you are always free to do so but it usually works better if one accepts the language of those with whom you are attempting to communicate then tell them the rest of the story so to speak. If you really want to communicate that is.

      In any case, lumping abortion with any other issue is to miss the point regardless of the precision of the language.

      BTW what do you mean by a war of defense? Defense from whom or what and what means are allowed. Is a war of attrition that drags on and on better than one in which a massive strike (even against titularly civilian targets) pretty much ends things? From a macro perspective, there is no such thing as a just or defensible war. Why not just surrender without a fight? That would cost the fewest human lives wouldn’t it?

      One can entertain the same sort of ethical exceptions and mental gymnastics when considering the death penalty.

      Abortion is abortion and there is nothing good about it and there is no way that it achieves any righteous end (even if you consciously aborted Adolf Hitler).

      Stop lumping the three together and you might find more clarity in the language.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      But none of that really matters in terms of my main point, which is that there is language manipulation across the political spectrum. That is why I am inherently distrustful of both positions simplistically described as “conservative” and “liberal” in the US. It is nearly impossible to speak sense to a person who has bought into either of these narratives.

      It depends on how you tackle it. Ideas don’t arise in a vacuum. They have a lineage, a pedigree of sorts. You have to know where they came from. Once you understand that, you understand why the “narrative” has taken the shape that it has, and you also figure out how to speak to it.

      Not to be offensive, but I think the implied dismissal in your complaint oversimplifies the reality and also diminishes the very real responsibility we have to speak to culture. These narratives, while certainly incomplete in places and sometimes poorly understood, still shape and direct our culture. They have some kind of explanatory power. Even your the meaning of your complaint relies on some rudimentary understanding of them.

  4. cynthia curran :

    Well, i agree that one doesn’t have to support every war. But unlike people on the left, I don’t see Bush as a great warmonger. I believe that the man made a mistake. A lot of people make mistakes concerning warfare. And the US is probably less expansive than the Byzantine world was under Justinian, that tried the reconquest of the west. I also don’t see Justinian as a warmonger, he is also apart of his culture and was trying to bring North Africa and Italy back into the Empire. People can make miscaluations concerning war. Also, Justinian opposed child exposure and abortion, did that make him a hyprocrite since he supported the overthrow of the Vandals in Africa with arms and the Ostergoths in Italy.


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