16 May 2009

Civil Libertarians Please Note

There have been arrests in South Bend, Indiana, on the Notre Dame campus, in response to protests against the President's appearance there tomorrow to accept an honorary degree and deliver the commencement speech. The protesters are conservative Catholics who don't believe a Catholic university should confer degrees on anyone who supports abortion rights. Dislike them all you want. But please recall that whenever protesters were arrested for trespassing during demonstrations against the Bush administration, the reaction from some quarters was as if fascism was on the march. I suspect that most of the same people are unlikely to draw the same conclusions now, but if they call themselves civil libertarians they ought to be quite sensitive to anything that looks like an excessive reaction to citizens exercising their right to protest. If protesters trespass, they should be taken off the campus if the campus authorities wish it, but to jail people for an otherwise (as far as I know) nonviolent protest sends the wrong message and allows people who don't really deserve the status to declare themselves martyrs.

As it happens, these protests take place on the heels of a Gallup poll that appears to show that, for the first time in the history of their polling, a small majority of Americans consider themselves "pro-life" on the abortion question. This was probably an inevitable result of the pro-lifers having the propaganda field mostly to themselves, as the other side has been increasingly squeamish about affirming women's sovereignty over their bodies at fetuses' expense. It should also be noted that this news appears at a time when shrinking numbers of Americans call themselves Republicans. This should be a rebuke to those Republican strategists and tank-thinkers who've been urging the party to shore up its social-conservative credentials, since a pro-life stance doesn't seem to correlate with support for the GOP. Social conservatives may well be economic liberals in hard times, and may stay so despite becoming more conservative on social issues. Republicans who see this poll as good news are fooling themselves.

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