Speaking of Fred Barnes and the faith factor, there is a great Fred moment in his op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal. In effect, it opens with Sen. George F. Allen of Virginia trying out his "cultural right" soundbites for the most influential "cultural right" journalist in D.C. journalism. This audition is taking place during lunch at the Monocle, one of those networking places on Capitol Hill that is also a restaurant.
George F. Allen is staring at me. The normally loquacious Virginia senator is not saying anything and neither am I. Silence hangs in the air for a few seconds.
The impasse, like so many other things in American politics, was owing to Roe v. Wade. Mr. Allen's position is carefully demarcated: He would like to see the decision "reinterpreted" to allow states to decide the legal status of abortion. Does that mean he would like to see it overturned? He won't say. So I suggest that Mr. Allen's "reinterpretation" would produce precisely the same result as overturning the ruling: States would decide the fate of abortion. I pause for a response. Nothing. I get more direct. "Why won't you say you want Roe reversed?"
Again, Mr. Allen is mum, and eventually I give up.
OK, does anyone remember that statement by Godtalk scribe Michael Gerson, right after the 2004 election, about the divisions in the White House caused by abortion and other social issues? He said that, time after time, the key to debates in this White House is the tension between those advocating a more "Catholic" (with a large C) approach to public life and those taking a more libertarian (with a small L) approach.
So here we go again. We live in a libertarian age and, clearly, Barnes is using the ultimate social issue to find out where Allen falls, when it comes to the big split in the GOP. Of course, the public -- muddled on anything absolute -- wants compromise, which is something the Democratic establishment cannot allow for its elites and the GOP has little motive to seek, because of the large motivation factor that a strict abortion stand provides for consistent cultural conservatives (in both parties). Neither party has reason to do the dangerous political work of overturning Roe and, thus, getting to compromise.
It cannot be said enough: The elite Democrats are united on abortion. The elite Republicans, in their big tent, are divided. The classic article on this is still that Atlantic Monthly piece in 1995 by George McKenna describing "A Lincolnian Position" on abortion.
So back to Barnes and Allen at lunch. Barnes is doing what other journalists on the political beat will have to do -- push the major candidates to move beyond mere words and describe what they mean when they use words such as "moderate," "conservative" and "libertarian."
As Rod Dreher is saying in his Crunchy Cons book, one party worships libertarian morality and the other libertarian economics. It's the party of lust vs. the party of greed. And under the surface are the fault lines, with the Democrats seeking new semi-religious language (with no compromises on policy), while worrying about the practicing Catholics. Meanwhile, the Republicans keep trying to use their same old religious language that has worked for a long time, while doing as little as possible in terms of actual policy so as not to run off the Dick Cheney wing of the party.
So here is Allen talking about the size of government. Note the almost magical use of the word "freedom," which, on abortion, is a word that the pro-abortion-rights crowd has to use early and often.
... (Allen) disagrees with Mr. Bush on the scope of the federal government. The president accepts its size as a given and advocates using it for conservative ends. Mr. Allen says he has "a libertarian sense." He describes himself as more in sync with Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan than with George Bush. "I'm one who dislikes limits. I don't like restrictions. I like freedom. I like liberty. Unless you're harming someone else, you leave people free."
Unless you are "harming someone else." OK, Allen is going to have to answer the abortion question sooner or later.