Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rudy puts his own money where his mouth isn't

Given the latest news, about Rudy Giuliani’s monetary gifts to Planned Parenthood, the next clarification of his abortion stance might sound something like this:

“I hate all abortions. I hate the idea that any woman would choose to have an abortion. I would counsel women to adopt instead, rather than support the groups that perform abortions. But I also hate the idea that Americans should not have the right to choose to support groups that advance the ideas that they hate. And I am one such American who chooses freely to give money to such groups. I may personally hate, or at least claim to hate, everything that these abortion groups stand for, but this does not mean that I should not be free to make personal donations to advance the causes that I personally would prefer not to see advanced, because I also happen to respect the right of women to have a personal or emotional reason for choosing to disagree with me on this issue. And if impoverished women choose to have abortions paid for by the taxpayers, I respect the right of states to perform such abortions, unless those women reside in states that choose not to perform taxpayer-funded abortions - in which case I respect those states, as well. In other words, my overall position on abortion is consistent, it always has been consistent, and that is the essence of what leadership in the 9/11 era is all about.”

How else, perhaps, can Giuliani seek to reconcile his personal hatred of abortions (which he reiterates at every turn on the campaign trail), with the fact that he and his then-wife Donna Hanover personally donated money to Planned Parenthood in 1993, 1994, 1998, and 1999? This is the same Planned Parenthood that, according to the latest available figures, performed roughly 260,000 abortions in 2005; the same group that is viewed as a symbol of evil in the evangelical community; the same group whose clinics are picketed on a regular basis by anti-abortion activists.

Is there a disconnect between Giuliani’s professed personal beliefs and his personal actions? Maybe not, if you accept the notion that there is nothing inconsistent about a candidate who expresses personal hatred of guns, for instance, yet decides to personally donate money on multiple occasions to the National Rifle Association. Assuming that such a candidate would ever exist.

This Giuliani disconnect – which was fed yesterday to the website by a rival GOP campaign – is just the kind of wedge that the other ’08 Republican candidates hope to exploit, as they seek to erode his top-dog standing in the nomination race. They see it as a potential two-fer. They think that the abortion disconnect - underscored by Giuliani's fence-straddling at the May 3 GOP debate (see Friday's post)- can be used to discredit Giuliani’s leadership creds, and they think that the Planned Parenthood donations might help turn off the religious conservatives who tend to vote heavily in the early Iowa and South Carolina contests.

Until quite recently, Giuliani didn’t talk about personally hating abortions; rather, he stressed his belief that respecting the abortion option was totally consistent with GOP philosophy. As he told an abortion rights luncheon just six years ago, “the Republican party stands for the idea that you have to restore more freedom of choice…more opportunity for people to make their own choices rather than the government dictating those choices.”

Yet the GOP platform has long decreed that government should dictate a lack of choice. In 1980, the senior George Bush dropped his abortion-rights sympathies in order to make himself acceptable as Ronald Reagan’s running mate, and no serious GOP presidential hopeful has subsequently dared to defy the party orthodoxy (conversely, no serious Democratic hopeful has dared inveigh against abortion rights).

Hence, Giuliani’s challenge: He’s the first major GOP candidate in memory with an abortion-rights track record, albeit with tortured verbal caveats, and his rivals will argue – as John McCain sought to do yesterday – that the “choice” stance should be a deal-breaker for GOP primary voters.

At least one prominent conservative tastemaker, Rich Lowry, is turned off by Giuliani's wordplay. He wrote yesterday: "Rudy Giuliani is supposed to be the candidate of authenticity, the tough-talking former New York City mayor who sticks to his beliefs no matter what. But he is repeating a line that is so flagrantly insincere, it makes any of Hillary Clinton's canned talking points seem free and natural by comparison. Giuliani claims he 'hates abortion.' Oddly, this hatred didn't manifest itself until Giuliani realized he had to have something to say to pro-lifers besides that he supported abortion on demand in any circumstance. Giuliani has been pounded by pundits for his answers on abortion at the first GOP debate. But he didn't commit a gaffe. He only suffered from the contradictions of a position that appears to be the product of poorly thought-out political calculation."

Yet Giuliani might surmount this alleged deal-breaker; we shouldn't assume that most GOP primary voters will view abortion as the most important issue. This is especially true in the northeast, where Giuliani is potentially strongest, where memories of 9/11 are most visceral, and where moderate “pro-choice” Republicans are quite numerous. Moreover, New York and New Jersey have rescheduled their GOP primaries for the earliest available date, Feb. 5.

By the way, a Giuliani spokeswoman did contend yesterday that the candidate’s personal hatred of abortion and personal donations to abortion groups are very much in sync: “Mayor Giuliani has been consistent in his position – he is personally opposed to abortion, but at the same time he understands it is a personal and emotional decision that should ultimately be left up to the woman. From the start, Mayor Giuliani has been straight with the American people about where he stands on the issues and saying exactly what he thinks…It’s a sign of leadership to stand by your position in the face of political expediency.”

And when Giuliani was asked yesterday by a radio show host to explain his personal donations, he said he liked the fact that Planned Parenthood provided information about adoption. Is that good enough to play in Iowa - or perhaps Iowa won't matter in the end?


But, in terms of verbal screwups, Barack Obama wins yesterday's award. In Virginia, he said this about the Kansas tornado:

"In case you missed it, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died — an entire town destroyed."

He was totally accurate about the death toll, as long as you subtract 9988.


Here's a pop quiz. In last Sunday's episode of The Sopranos, name the book that Carmela was reading in bed:

a) The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright (a 9/11 book; Carmela once lamented to Tony that "everything comes to an end")

b) Living History by Hillary Clinton (Carmela once said that Hillary was an inspiration, because she stuck it out with her husband and got something for herself)

c) Rebel-in-Chief by Fred Barnes (a cheerleading biography of President Bush; Carmela once remarked in passing that she voted for Bush in 2004)

The answer tomorrow. Those of you with high-definition TV have an advantage.