Monday, June 5, 2006



By Ramesh Ponnuru, Regnery, $35.95, 303 pages

Let’s get straight to the controversy about this book. Liberal journalist Kevin Drum, writing recently in the Washington Monthly blog, put it this way: “Why does everybody obsess about the title of the book?”

His answer: “Because in 100-point type it blares ‘The Party of Death,’ and the subtitle makes it clear who [Ramesh Ponnuru is] talking about: ‘The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life.’”

All true. Mr. Drum continues: “[I]f you decide to join the Ann Coulter school of book naming, you shouldn’t complain when people get [upset] at the title of your book.”

But “party of death” is not exactly a Ponnuru original. As he explains, the words are an adaptation of liberal (and pro-choice) philosopher Ronald Dworkin’s honest summation that “abortion…and euthanasia…are both choices for death.”

Nor is Mr. Ponnuru’s use of the phrase to describe in large measure the Democratic party unique. One Democratic operative warned Democrats gloating over the Republican failure to save Terri Schiavo’s life that “We can’t just be the party of death.” So for Mr. Drum and others to complain that the title is too biting for the fragile nature of their liberal constitutions is a shameless dodge.

Next question: “Why aren’t serious lefties giving it serious reviews?”

Answer: “[I]t looks to most of us like standard issue Regnery stuff, right down to the Ann Coulter quote on the cover.” (Again with Miss Coulter.) Mr. Drum concludes, “there’s just nothing new here.”

Not true, which Mr. Drum would know if he had read more than a chapter before making such a spectacularly false statement. Yet it’s the argument being made by many “serious lefties,” who — and one can’t help but smile — decline to engage Mr. Ponnuru on the merits.

Their obstinacy should indicate that there is indeed something in “The Party of Death” that is new and devastating to the pro-choice crowd. After all, liberal publications have given ample space to critics of — to draw a conservative at random — Miss Coulter’s books, proving that title or tone have nothing to do with it. But for Mr. Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, not a word. Could he have asked for a more ringing endorsement?

Alas, it does little to answer the remaining question: What would abortion advocates say about “The Party of Death,” if they bothered to read it? Could they, for instance, offer a detailed rebuttal of Mr. Ponnuru’s takedown of Justice Harry Blackmun’s opinion in Roe v. Wade, with all its “emanations” and “penumbras,” given that even liberal legal scholars admit it was a travesty of constitutional law?

We don’t know, but we can divine the responses from the more honest set, who, while conceding Roe was poorly reasoned, nevertheless argue for its continuation on the grounds offered by Sen. Arlen Specter — because it is a “super-duper precedent.” A more refined position holds that Roe reflects the opinion of an American public that is generally pro-Roe.

Neither argument, however, withstands Mr. Ponnuru’s analysis. As he records, what the public thinks it knows about Roe is wrong. The “health” exception, offered in Roe and expanded on in its sister case, Doe v. Bolton, essentially allows abortion during all three trimesters, making U.S. abortion law the most liberal in the civilized world.

The public rarely hears this, because the media continues the 30-year myth that Roe restricted abortion rights to the first trimester. As for Roe’s “super-duperness,” Mr. Ponnuru makes a persuasive case that without Roe, at least initially, the country wouldn’t look much different.

Yet these observations aren’t what make “The Party of Death” a welcome contribution to the culture wars. The title alone suggests that Mr. Ponnuru is talking about more than just Roe or abortion. Relying on liberal philosophers like Mr. Dworkin and Princeton professor Peter Singer to make his case, Mr. Ponnuru argues that the increasing tolerance for euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, even infanticide, are logical extensions of a mind that accepts the killing of an unborn baby.

Infanticide advocate Mr. Singer, in particular, correctly reasons that the law, being a logical exercise, is currently at odds with itself. This paradox works on the pro-choice mind incrementally: Yesterday, it tolerated the killing of unborn babies; today, the limitless destruction of human embryos; tomorrow, infanticide for babies born with undesirable traits.

Too far? Perhaps, except that the Democratic Party is the party of embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia and the gruesome killing of babies partially born. If the partial birth of a baby doesn’t bestow “personhood,” surely it doesn’t require a logical leap to deny it to one already born.

To follow Mr. Ponnuru on his logical journey into the “party of death” mind is a Stygian experience: The sites en route are heartbreaking, the destination horrifying. No wonder Mr. Drum refuses to buy a ticket.

Blake D. Dvorak is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.

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