The fire and fury of America’s abortion debate

14 May 2022

9:00 AM

14 May 2022

9:00 AM

I wonder at times how some of my fellow hacks in America get out of bed in the morning. The leak of a draft of a Supreme Court decision on abortion rights last week prompted what can only be called a collective nervous breakdown. ‘My teeth have been chattering uncontrollably for an hour,’ New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister vented. ‘Bodies/minds are so weird. Like, not euphemistically – actually chattering. Audibly. And full shaking body. Though otherwise wholly, rationally, well and truly expecting it.’ Well, I wouldn’t say wholly rational, Rebecca, but you do you.

The terrifying ruling would send the abortion issue back from a single court to democratic debate and discussion – where it is in every other western country. The case before the court was a law that would put limits on abortion after 15 weeks – three weeks more liberal than the law in, say, Germany and most western countries. Polling shows big American popular majorities for legal abortion with some restrictions, so you’d think the Democrats would be psyched to have an issue in November where the Republicans are on the defensive.

But nah. Hysteria ruled. ‘Seriously, shout out to whoever the hero was within the Supreme Court who said “Let’s burn this place down,”’ wrote a senior correspondent at Vox. The New York Timeseditorialised that various states would even now reimpose bans on interracial marriage – which has 94 per cent support. President Biden, who used to be a more conventional Catholic on the abortion question, harrumphed: ‘I’m not prepared to leave [abortion policy] to the whims of the public at the moment in local areas.’ Whims of the public! You may remember those as, well, democracy. Yes, a few states are likely to reimpose bans on abortion, if the draft ruling stands. So why not go to the voters and encourage them to rise up against this new draconianism? It sure is a better bet than running on your inflation record.

But Democrats, if they were honest with themselves, simply believe Americans are too ‘deplorable’ to govern themselves. They believe in their hearts that the rubes and the rednecks need correction by benevolent elites in the bureaucracy or the courts. So the Dems and their interest groups stick to manoeuvring to get benign court decisions and then have meltdowns on Twitter if they get reversed.

The wonderfully named Midge Decter died this week at the age of 94. Decter was one of the original neoconservatives and exemplified one core aspect of that movement: its spectacular nepotism. Decter married Norman Podhoretz, who edited Commentary, and was the mother of John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, a tiny magazine that nonetheless pays him $400,000 a year. Ferociously anti-communist, increasingly alienated from the left, Decter was a pioneering woman intellectual, helping frame the right-wing movement that gave us Reagan, Gingrich and now Trump. But I remember her best for an amazing Commentary essay she wrote in 1980 about the homosexuals she ‘spent a good deal of [her] free waking time watching’ on Fire Island, a resort off the Hamptons. Like David Attenborough among a herd of meerkats, Midge talked of the gays with near clinical exactitude. They had ‘hairless bodies. Chests, backs, arms, even legs, were smooth and silky’. They ‘dressed themselves in the garb of storm troopers and equip themselves with all manner of coated mail’. She even took a moment – in a legendary footnote – to describe the lesbians on the beach: ‘They were, or seemed to be, far fewer in number. Nor, except for a marked tendency to hang out in the company of large and usually ferocious dogs, were they instantly recognisable as the men were.’

All of this proved too much for Gore Vidal, who replied in the Nation a few months later, with this gem: ‘Well, if I were a dyke and a pair of Podhoretzes came waddling toward me on the beach, copies of Leviticus and Freud in hand, I’d get in touch with the nearest Alsatian dealer pronto.’ There were plenty of other zingers too. Decter, Vidal wrote, ‘writes with the authority and easy confidence of someone who knows that she is very well known indeed to those few who know her’. And he finished his dissection of her frank loathing with a well-aimed dart at the Jewish intellectual: ‘For sheer vim and vigor, “The Boys on the Beach” outdoes its implicit model, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.’

I’d much rather live now than then. But I preferred the pointed prose of 1981 to the banal blandishments of the pathologically inoffensive woke era. Every now and again, it made you laugh.

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