Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sometimes they bring baby dolls as props. Other times they raise signs with depictions of children aborted late-term. They fund billboards outside of cities in western Iowa, telling us every child matters.

Representatives from the Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage and pro-life lobby ride “values buses” and hit towns before events like the Iowa Straw Poll.

Some anti-abortion activists even affix a Holocaust analogy to abortion in America.

Yes, yes, Mr. Carville, it is the economy stupid.

But a separating issue in the Iowa Republican caucuses remains there for the taking: anti-abortion. It is a determinative factor for many social conservatives who will brave cold Sundays to line highways in Iowa, joining mittened hands in “life chains,” putting the face of abortion before motorists. The passion is there.

The GOP presidential candidate who can capture the trust, the fire, the sure votes, of a significant portion of the anti-abortion movement can gain 3 or 5 percentage points, maybe a little more, in the Iowa caucuses. With a four-way race at the top in Iowa now — Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney — that could be a difference-maker.

And right now Newt Gingrich is best-positioned to seize the anti-abortion support. He’s adopted and can offer compelling testimony about options other than the termination of an unwanted baby. Adopted kids talking about abortion are like Vietnam veterans talking about war: they have more credibility — especially those born in a pre-Roe v. Wade United States.

“I come out of a background where my father was adopted and I was adopted,” Gingrich said in an interview with The Daily Times Herald a few weeks ago. “We have a very deep sense that this culture has made it all too easy to end a life than to find a way to encourage a life.”

Meanwhile, Cain equivocates on abortion, seeming to be at once for a woman’s right to choose and the criminalization of abortion as if he’s living in what Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson might call a “reality distortion field.”

Ron Paul’s eccentric libertarianism makes him a suspect carrier of the anti-abortion mantle. After all, a small government that stays out of our bedrooms can’t be counted on to corral the aborters and their enabling physicians. Stylistically, Paul speaks dispassionately about abortion, as if he’s talking about the Federal Reserve or the gold standard. He comes from a generation in which abortion was something about which polite society looked the other way, which clearly makes it hard for Paul to summon the words to make one believe he can get past clinical speak and see the outcome of current American law as dead babies, not purged fetuses.

And then there’s Mitt Romney. One gets the impression that if Romney, a political bird that only seems to take flight in the prevailing winds of public sentiment, saw a poll showing 61 percent support for a woman’s right to choose he may very well scrub his current narrative, don scrubs and perform an abortion in public himself.

Which leaves Newt Gingrich.

His attacks on Planned Parenthood resonate more than the anti-abortion volleys of other GOP contenders. After all, Gingrich could have been “planned” out of his life before it started outside his biological mother’s womb. Additionally, no one doubts the former U.S. House speaker’s knowledge of the levers of funding and flow of bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. You sense that if Gingrich truly wanted to kill Planned Parenthood he’d get the job done, or make one helluva show trying.

In the interview, Gingrich said he wants to take federal money away from Planned Parenthood and funnel it into an adoption-promotion program.

“When you realize at Planned Parenthood you are 340 times more likely to have abortion than you are to have a child adopted it’s gotta be seen as something fundamentally wrong with that imbalance,” Gingrich said.

On the campaign trail in rural Iowa Gingrich, a convert to Catholicism, should use this line more, and unabashedly discuss his own history as an adopted kid.

Gingrich declined in the interview to specify what he believes the penalties should be for doctors who perform abortions and women who obtain them. But it’s clear he’s thought about it, which is more than one can say for most politicians, from Tim Pawlenty to Kim Reynolds.

“I don’t know at the present, but I do know that the country wants to move in the direction of recognizing life and recognizing that life begins at conception or pretty close to conception,” Gingrich said. “I think that we have to have that conversation as a country.

Gingrich said he was not prepared today to set penalties for abortions.

The early stages of an anti-abortion strategy, Gingrich said, should be to outlaw late-term procedures and create a climate in which abortion is not seen as the best solution.

Gingrich has also shown a willingness to spend political capital, court PR catastrophes, in the name of ideological ends.

Take for instance Gingrich’s 1994 call for the development of “children’s homes” (originally referred to in Republican welfare-reform legislation as “orphanages”) to remove children from certain homes.

Gingrich told me he was talking about a narrow section of the population, drug-addicted parents, and that he should have developed the argument with different language.

“What I should have said at the time is ‘Maybe we need prep schools for the poor,’” he said.

Now that is he terming President Obama the “food stamp president,” is it time to resurrect the mid-1990s orphanages idea to yank kids from poor homes?

There are places where young people are at real risk from parents with addiction issues, Gingrich said.

“I challenge you to go to any big city in the country and talk to the public-health people about the tragedies that show up on their doorstep, and then you tell me what you would do to help those children,” Gingrich said.