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something about Anna

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 19, 2005

Rallying the garrison in the abortion wars , Anna Quindlen lashes out at irrational bickering and asks: why can't we compromise and do it my way?

Imagine how it could transform the landscape if somehow abortion were absent from government intervention or interference. Those who believe it is a moral wrong could fight through hearts and minds, not laws that would resurrect the Lysol and the garden hose. Those who believe it is a woman's personal decision could choose either to end a pregnancy or to continue it and have a child. How much money could be raised for safe abortions for poor women and for prenatal care, too, if it didn't need to be poured into the incessant pinball game of partisan politics. And judges could return to those issues that lend themselves to jurisprudence instead of puzzling out the singular fact patterns of the womb.

Taken at face value, this is an argument against any and all laws ("those who believe kidnapping, incest, or treason are moral wrongs could fight through hearts and minds...") but of course the point of the article is not to advance an argument at all. Quindlen is not an arguer but a cheerleader, bucking up flagging liberal spirits by chanting stereotyped boasts in the hope that sympathetic spectators will pick up the refrain.

When a cheerleader gives her pom-poms a shake and shouts, "We're Number One!" you don't stop her and say, "Prove it." She'd look at you blankly. Were you to present her with hard stats on the number of missed trap-blocks and failed third-down conversions, she would not be inclined to alter her message. Nor does her unwillingness to change indicate a lack of intelligence. She's a cheerleader. Truth is not what she's there for.

Unlike arguers, cheerleaders address themselves only to one half of the audience. They neither expect nor desire to make converts from among the opposition. Picture a spectator who overhears the other side's chants, strokes his chin thoughtfully, thinks, "Yes, yes. There's a lot to what they're saying," and changes allegiance. Were such a man to announce the basis of his "conversion" to his new mates, they'd probably be more wary than welcoming. Those pom-pom girls who were students of Habermas would sit the convert down and patiently explain that the proposition "We're Number One," though formally assertoric, was not advanced as a "criticizable validity claim."

I doubt Quindlen herself believes she's addressing all disputants in the abortion debate. No one who held opinions contrary to hers could imagine that she had engaged them. I fancy Quindlen would be put off by a reader who told her, "I used to be anti-choice. But thanks to your brilliant essay in Newsweek, I now think that killing the innocent is the murderer's private decision and government interference should be abominated." It would entail a misreading as grave as that made by our football fan apostate. Re-read her concluding paragraph. She's a cheerleader. Truth is not what she's there for.

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