Column: In modern politics, if you can’t beat ’em, attack ’em


For the Valley News

Published: 04-12-2023 10:32 AM

If there were a Shakespearean stage direction for the arch-conservative wing of American politics as it is currently constituted, it would be: “Exeunt stage right, scattering petards.”

How in the world any group can expect to prevail consistently among the majority of the electorate with nothing but negative responses to the normal flow of progress is a mystery. Unless, like the National Socialists of the 1930s, it manages to poison the well with repeated and ever-larger lies that become pervasive and persuasive.

At the moment, our nation is divided almost down the middle by a clash of mainly domestic issues (our peers have mostly moved on and left us in the mud) focused largely on values and personally held beliefs. You have only to spend half an hour on the internet — the vehicle for carrying opinions wise and otherwise — to appreciate the vehemence of many of them. And you have only to have had a decent education to perceive how utterly wrong-headed many of them are. I characterize it as the ancient battle between science and religion. My hero is Galileo Galilei, and my guiding mantra is, “Give me questions that can’t yet be answered, and preserve me from answers that can’t be questioned.”

In the news this week are the contradictory decisions of two federal judges, one in Texas and the other in the state of Washington, regarding the continued sale and use of mifepristone, a drug used in more than half of all abortions (Were you as surprised as I was to learn this?) in the United States. It was approved some 20 years ago by the Food and Drug Administration, is safe and effective and is used in other applications as well.

But now a judge — not a scientist or physician — has ruled, clearly on his beliefs, that the FDA erred in approving its use. In this climate, this is an ominous provocation.

Repeating any action over and over, it is said, while expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Yet, faced with the fact that abortion has been a fact of life for millennia and won’t be abolished by any proscriptions, opponents insist on them. Wouldn’t it make more sense, if the goal truly is the elimination of abortion — instead of strong-arming that which we find personally objectionable — to consider the places where it’s been markedly reduced? Check out Colorado and the Netherlands.

We’re also engaged in a great civil war over firearms, with the main focus on those designed as weapons of war and intended to kill and maim as many human beings as possible in the shortest amount of time. This contentious debate is clouded by glowering bullies clinging to an arguable Constitutional amendment as open to interpretation as holy scripture. Yet history is clear: When so-called assault weapons were banned, some years ago, mass killings became less frequent. This week, while we’re regretting the loss of life at a school in Nashville, Tenn., here comes another, at a bank in Louisville, Ky. You’d think we’d dig a little deeper than our personal beliefs. But we don’t. Our guns are like Linus’ security blanket.

A large part of our reluctance has to do with the power of the manufacturers’ lobby, the fear-stoking remarks of the National Rifle Association and politicians’ craven unwillingness to offend the recent past president and his stupefyingly loyal base of low-information supporters. Profiles in Courage truly has been consigned to the dustbin of history. And even history is now being challenged and confined.

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Our children, according to many concerned parents, are being polluted, debased and “groomed” by books like “Huckleberry Finn,” like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” one of the most powerful indictments of slavery in America. Drag shows, too, come in for hysterical vituperation. The claim is that they cause gender confusion among the innocent young. Look at history again, not at your personal disgust. The Globe Theatre’s female roles were played by men; Ronald Reagan in drag had little effect on me, as far as I can tell; and Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon acting as members of a girls’ band in “Some Like It Hot” were nothing but risible. Marilyn Monroe, though, in the same movie … well, now, that was a different matter. Ruined me for life.

Neither you nor I likely feel that any arguments for science (“That Dr. Fauci, he kept changing his message!”) will prevail against deeply held personal convictions. Those who disagree with information or arguments presented by a specialist on any subject simply attack or threaten the specialist. I don’t doubt that security has been tightened around the family of the pro-mifepristone judge in Washington state. “Pro-life” is a tricky position in practice. Our national mascot might well be the kid with his eyes closed and his hands over his ears, shouting, “Nananana! I can’t hear you!”

Willem Lange can be reached at