Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Ramesh Ponnuru on the Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert's guest last night, 2006-08-14, was National Review columnist and author of the book The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life, Ramesh Ponnuru. Even though Ponnuru clearly watches The Colbert Report regularly, he didn't seem to grasp the ridicule to which Stephen subjected him.


Stephen Colbert: My guest tonight is a National Review columnist who calls the Democrats "the Party of Death"; I assume he's been reading the voter rolls in Chicago. Please welcome Ramesh Ponnuru! [applause] Ramesh, thanks for comin' on.

Ramesh Ponnuru: Thanks. I saw what happened to Joe Lieberman when he didn't take your invitation, so....

Colbert: Are you running for something? (No.) Because, if you were, you've got a catchy little slogan here: The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life. I'm 100% behind you here. Democrats are the Party of Death. You know, I think they're behind [Ned] Lamont, right — so are the al Qaeda. (That's what I hear.) Vice President Cheney said al Qaeda supports Lamont. (I did hear that.) Well, good; I thought I might've been crazy. You got a great blurb on the cover from Ann Coulter; that's some credibility right there. Now, tell me why the Democrats are the Party of Death.
Ann Coulter has about as much credibility as Geraldo Rivera or Britney Spears. Enough said.
Ponnuru: Well, one of the stories I tell in the book is how the Democrats started out as the relatively "pro-life, anti-abortion" party, and then became nearly monolithically "pro-choice," and they stopped being the majority in this country at the same time.

Colbert: Now, when you say abortion, you're not using that in a comedic way, right? You're using it very seriously. (Right. Yes.) Because I want to make sure we don't make any abortion jokes tonight, because — it's a funny word, I understand that, like guacamole — but you are being serious right now. (Right.) You're being serious? Okay, good.

Now, you make a good point: the Democrats are the Party of Death. Please explain to my audience — I have to explain to them all the time the Democrats are the Party of Death — explain to them how raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare, and pulling out of Iraq makes them the Party of Death, 'cause I've shouted myself hoarse about that to these people.
Blowing things up and killing and torturing civilians and ignoring the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the poor, sick elderly — now that's what I call "a culture of life."
Ponnuru: I know you have. Well, first I need to explain that not all Democrats are part of the Party of Death, and some Republicans are part of the Party of Death. I'm using that phrase really to refer to all the forces in our politics and culture —

Colbert: Does it say some Republicans on this? No, it doesn't: it just says "The Democrats, the Media, the Courts" — just probably ran out of ink at some point.

Ponnuru: There's a lot about the Democrats, a lot about the media, and a lot about the courts in the book.

Colbert: Now, why do you think some people troop out Reagan's name for things like stem-cell research, which I assume you're opposed to. (I'm opposed to some kinds of stem-cell research, sure.) Are you opposed to embryonic stem-cell research?

Ponnuru: If it involves killing a human embryo, yes.

Colbert: So why do you think people troop out Ronald Reagan's name to try to get that passed?

Ponnuru: Well, because there are some members of his family who support it — of course, some members don't — and they're just trying to establish this as something conservatives and Republicans can support, you know, by using a dead man. [arches his eyebrows]
"Some members of his family," yes, that would be his wife and his son and namesake, for starters, specifically the two people best qualified to speculate what Reagan's position on the issue would be if he were alive today. Sometimes, Mommy really does know best.
Colbert: What if they — I would say the only reason I would support cloning and embryonic stem-cell research, is if we could clone Ronald Reagan, and then if we could just get him back, and then just end it right there, that would be great.

Ponnuru: Well, you wouldn't be able to debate yourself any more, either, though.

Colbert: You know what, I could get a couple more of me; that'd be pretty good. Now, you're against activist judges, correct? (Yes.) I am, too. Tell me, what is your argument? Why do you think that they're part of the problem? You say the courts; how are the courts part of the problem?

Ponnuru: Well, I mean, the Supreme Court imposed on this country a policy of abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy, for essentially any reason. That is a policy that — certainly when put in those terms — only about 10% of the American public supports. That is the #1 reason why this has become such a divisive issue for the last 35 years in this country. Other countries that don't have judges imposing pro-abortion policies, haven't had anything near this amount of strife over the issue.
Well, there are just a couple of little problems there, Mr. Ponnuru. Apparently you've never bothered to even skim through the actual Roe v. Wade decision. It says, in relevant part, with emphasis added:
(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.

(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.

(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
That's nothing remotely close to "a policy of abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy, for essentially any reason." I'm not quibbling over jots and tiddles here, either. The Supreme Court imposed a policy of abortion on demand prior to fetal viability for essentially any reason. In practice, viability means roughly the end of the second trimester, after which time states may completely outlaw all elective abortions, so long as they allow a reasonable exception for the health of the mother.

The point about other countries where the courts have imposed pro-abortion policies against the will of the people is also worthy of examination. Take, for a clear example, the Republic of Ireland. In the early 1990's, a court — and a foreign court at that, the European Court of Human Rights — struck down Ireland's absolute prohibition against all abortions, even when the mother's life is in immediate danger due to the pregnancy, struck down the prohibition about disseminating information about legal abortion services available elsewhere in the E.U., and struck down the prohibition against travelling outside the Republic for the purpose of obtaining an abortion. The ECHR acted after cases in which, for example, a young woman and her parents were criminally prosecuted for leaving Ireland to obtain a legal abortion. True, the ECHR's ruling was not automatically binding upon Ireland; it was necessary to amend the Irish constitution. However, the amendments were pushed through mostly by the weight of the ECHR decision, against the weight of a population that is, nominally at least, 90% Roman Catholic. There was a great deal of hemming and hawing, and tut-tutting by the church, but the amendments were ratified by a popular referendum (also legalizing divorce for the first time in the Republic of Ireland) and there was far less civil strife over the issue than we see in the United States; indeed, there was less strife after the court's decision than before it. The Roe v. Wade decision didn't sow strife because it decided the issue, it sowed strife because it decided the issue clumsily.
Colbert: How do they do it differently? How could this be handled differently?

Ponnuru: Well, in every European country, for example, there are some time limits. In many countries — even Scandinavian countries that we tend to think of as very liberal — it's much harder legally to get an abortion after, say, the 12th week of pregnancy. In this country, thanks to the Supreme Court, it's an absolute and unlimited right, all through the third trimester.
There you go again! If your fact-checking is this sloppy, why on earth would I bother to read your book? The Supreme Court has never held an absolute and unlimited right to abortion.
Colbert: The judges are making this decision, and not the legislatures, not the duly elected people. Doesn't that upset you?

Ponnuru: I think we would have a healthier politics in general if these decisions were put back into the democratic arena. The outcomes wouldn't be completely the ones that I would favor, but everybody would have a say, it wouldn't just be the judges arrogantly, you know, on the basis of nothing in the actual Constitution, substituting their judgment for the people's.
That's an absurd argument to put in such black-and-white terms. Fundamental rights must never be left to the whim of the majority, they must be protected by the courts against the majority's efforts to undermine them. That's why the Supreme Court in 1954 substituted its judgment for the duly elected representatives who passed the Jim Crow laws, for just one obvious example.
Colbert: Yeah, I think whenever possible we should have the legislature make the decisions and not the judges — except in cases like Oregon and their Right to Death statute, which the Supreme Court held up, and that's a case in which I think that neither of them should be listened to.

Well, now you've called the Democrats, the media, the courts, "the Party of Death," what's next? How do you ramp it up from here?

Ponnuru: I might do something on cannibalism next time.

Colbert: Cannibalism? Okay. The party that eats its children.

Ponnuru: Well, stem-cell research, there's a little tie-in.

Colbert: Please come back with that next book, I appreciate it. Ramesh Ponnuru; we'll be right back.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a sloppy, lazy fool who got batted around by Stephen Colbert like a sock full of catnip in the paws of a crazed, half-deaf tabby cat.

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