The Republican Party ought to distribute a list of rhetorical no-no’s that officeholders and candidates should avoid at all costs. Topping the list should be the slavery analogy.
In recent months, Republicans have compared food stamps, Obamacare, gun control and the national debt to the “peculiar institution” of human bondage that flourished in the South until 150 years ago. What those comparisons were supposed to signify, other than the cluelessness of the speaker, is unclear.
Still, the slavery analogy occasionally hits home. Consider the state of the state address delivered Wednesday by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
Brownback flattered his ultraconservative followers by equating Kansas’ gun- and Bible-toting abolitionists from the 1850s with the extremists who staged virulent anti-abortion protests in the state in 1991.
“The chains of bondage of our brothers rubbed our skin and our hearts raw until we could stand it no more and erupted into ‘Bleeding Kansas,’ ” Brownback intoned, invoking the deadly skirmishes between free-staters and pro-slavery border ruffians that prefigured the U.S. Civil War. He then continued, referring to the abortion protests of 1991, “The Summer of Mercy sprung forth in Kansas as we could no longer tolerate the death of innocent children.”
The so-called Summer of Mercy protests brought thousands of abortion protesters to Wichita and are credited with launching the most desperate and ultimately violent actions within the anti-abortion movement. The most prominent target was George Tiller, the late-term abortion doctor who was murdered in 2009.
The book “Wrath of Angels,” by Kansas City Star reporter Judy Thomas and James Risen of The New York Times, details the Summer of Mercy and the role of the group Operation Rescue in organizing the protests, which lasted for 46 days.
But far from accomplishing its goal of shutting down Tiller’s clinic, Thomas and Risen wrote, the episode “would serve as a warning of the movement’s coming slide into extremism and violence.”
It’s hardly something to praise, no matter what your opinion of abortion. But Brownback tried to draw a moral parallel with Bleeding Kansas and John Brown, the legendary antislavery militant, immortalized in a mural at the Kansas State Capitol, who led a murderous foray that butchered five men at Pottawatomie Creek.
We give Brown a pass — he’s an American hero — and so we must give the bombers and shooters of the pro-life movement a pass, too. Hey, they’re fighting for the lives of the unborn, which is the same as fighting for the freedom of a race of people enslaved for the benefit of another race.
Is it the same thing? I’m not convinced it is — and I personally believe that abortion is wrong. A fetus is human life that deserves to be protected. How that is best accomplished is where I differ from many of those who stormed Wichita that summer. Prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, instead of harassing women and rising to a level of violence against the doctors who try to help them.
Slavery was a brutal economic system. And the forces that benefited from it fought on well into the 20th century to maintain African-American peonage.
Abortion, whether you consider it permissible or not, is a personal dilemma, pitting the rights and welfare of a woman against the rights of the fetus she is carrying. Conception after rape or incest, pregnancies that risk the mother’s life, and extreme malformations of a fetus are some of the circumstances that can seriously complicate this dilemma.
The abortion question is not the slavery question. Abortion is not a crime against a class of people for the benefit of another. The zealots Brownback praised — and upon whom he no doubt depends in his upcoming election — are not doing their cause or the victims it claims to protect any good by pretending that this weak analogy holds.