It's taken me a little while to get around to blogging this myself. By this time it is no longer the hottest news. But I have to admit to being still astonished, still shaking my head.
As far as I know, this is a first: The National Right to Life Committee is officially endorsing a candidate who has recently (as in, last week) said that he doesn't think abortion should be illegal. Let that sink in for a minute.
News outlets aren't always reporting this very clearly. The major issue is not federalism, nor even a Human Life Amendment. The major issue is criminalizing abortion, even at the state level. This is what he said.
"People ask me hypothetically, you know, OK, it goes back to the states," said Thompson. "Somebody comes up with a bill, and they say we're going to outlaw this, that, or the other. And my response was, I do not think it is a wise thing to criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents as aiders and abettors or perhaps their family physician. And that's what you're talking about. It's not a sense of the Senate. You're talking about potential criminal law."
Well, yes, we are talking about criminal law, Mr. Thompson. What did you think protecting the unborn meant? Making nice noises? Here Thompson makes it very clear that if Roe v. Wade were overturned and the issue returned to the states, he opposes criminalizing abortion--in his words, "outlawing this, that, or the other."
And contrary to the spin given by NRLC's representative in the interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez, Thompson did not merely say that he thinks women should not be put in jail for procuring abortion. He shows sympathy for the doctors, too, and thinks they, too, should not be subject to criminal saction: "Perhaps their family physician" would have his actions criminalized. Heaven forbid! I guess it should be legal to tear children limb from limb, then, so long as you are Marcus Welby, M.D., or a reasonable facsimile.
So why did they do it? Lopez tries her darndest to get an answer to the "why not Romney" question, but she doesn't manage to obtain one. (I'm astonished that it isn't Romney myself, not because I'm a Romney booster, but because I thought Romney had tied it up in late January with Bopp's enthusiastic endorsement.) And Daniel Larison has pointed out the falsity of their claims about Thompson's ability to win both the primary and the general election. So why?
The obvious, and probably the only, answer is this: Once you are the friend of the folks at NRLC, you are their friend forever. This has certainly proved to be the case with George W. Bush. It wasn't all that long ago that NRLC was passionately opposing McCain-Feingold. Yet when Bush signed it--and even became a real fan of "campaign finance reform"--he got not a single complaint. I remember it well. The headline on NRL News was, "Senate passes McCain-Feingold." You really had to comb the article to find a single, wincing mention of the fact that Bush had signed it. And that fact was never once mentioned again. But Bush had been the NRLC's poster boy since he was governor of Texas. They whipped their members unrelentingly in 2000 to get him elected, they were ecstatic when he won, and they weren't about to admit that their beloved candidate had, contrary even to his own campaign promises, betrayed them on an issue that had been so important to them.
Thompson, as we hear over and over, has a 100% voting record with NRLC. How little this really means on, for example, the little matter of whether it should be legal to abort babies, is evident to anyone who thinks about what the Senate really gets to vote on these days when it comes to life issues. It's all about parental consent, embryonic research funding, and the like. Oh, and partial-birth abortion. Fred apparently thinks Marcus shouldn't be allowed to do those, anyway. (But what if a "young girl and her parents" really need one, Fred? Shouldn't they be able to get help from their family doctor?) But a 100% voting record is a 100% voting record, to the NRLC. It's payback time. And Romney hasn't paid in, so he doesn't get paid back.
There is just one other little thing that keeps knocking around in my mind. Thompson's campaign representative has said that there were no "last-minute meetings" with NRLC. But it might depend on how you define "last minute." My mind goes back to the 2000 campaign. NRLC was desperate to elect GWB. But some people were a bit unhappy about the fact that he never talks about abortion. (This is still true, by the way.) Writers for NRL News were contemptuous of this complaint. The articles are not, as far as I know, easily accessible on-line, so you'll have to rely on my memory for this. But the express statement was made that we should support candidates based on NRLC endorsement even if they didn't talk about our issues, because we should understand that there could be "back-channel communications" with NRLC on the subject. That was the exact phrase.
Now, suppose, just suppose, that Fred met with NRLC representatives before that Meet the Press interview and told them something of what he was going to say, checking to make sure it wouldn't lose him the endorsement. This is blatant conjecture. I'm not saying that I believe it. But it would fit. That would be at a minimum several weeks before the endorsement, so he could still claim there hadn't been any last-minute meetings.
I still get NRL News. I'll pay more attention to it over the next few months than I usually do, and we'll see if the phrase "back-channel communications" comes up again. If it does, I think we'll know.