THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 485, September 21, 2008
"The American Empire, like all empires, is about to end."
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
[Publisher's Note: Hope is a "political thriller" Aaron Zelman and I wrote and saw into print several years ago. It concerns the election of the first libertarian president, Alexander Hope, and what he does with the presidency through two terms in office.
So you'll know what's going here, "Dana" is Alex's wife, Dana Li, a young, beautiful Internet reporter the long-widowed candidate met during his first campaign. "Katy" is one of the college students who call themselves the "Austrian Mafia" and encouraged him to run in the first place. "Faith-Anne" is Alex's daughter and chief of staff.
And for what it's worth, Alex was brought up Roman Catholic and personally opposes abortion. However...]
* * * * * *
"Your visitors are here, Mr. President."
Alex sighed inwardly. It was a cold and soggy April in DC. He missed his good old Austrian MafiaKatie wouldn't have called him 'Mr. President', she would have called him by his first name. He also missed Danashe was off suffering through some kind of physical therapy and planned to do some First Lady work afterward. His only consolation was that Faith-Anne was here to help him deal with 'visitors' this morning.
She still called him "Daddy".
He arose and walked around his desk. "Please send them in, will you, Louise?"
There were three of them this morning, and even if he hadn't been expecting them, their faces were extremely familiar. They were the assistant Republican leader of the United States Senate, the assistant Republican leader of the House of Representatives, and the Republican Senator to whom the topic of this morning's discussion was the be-all and end-all of his political existence.
"Good morning, gentlemen!" He strode forward and took each of their hands in turn, as warmly and sincerely as he could manage. "Congressman Blue, Senator Commack, Senator Peters, good to see you. You all know my daughter and good right hand, Faith-Anne? Excellent. Would you all care to join me over here, where it's more comfortable, at the coffee table?"
Blue was a tall man in his late 30s, with strong features, deeply sunken eyes, and prematurely white hair. Alex found himself thinking of the man as "young Boris Karloff". Commack, Blue's opposite number from the Senate, was fiftyish, short, plump, and florid, with a low, rasping voice.
Petersthe individual who'd organized the meeting this morningwas of medium build, appeared to be in his early 60s, and had what Alex thought of as that "lean and hungry look". Peters had founded a national anti-abortion lobby group and led it since his earliest days as a state legislator. He still published a weekly newsletter on the subject.
Coffee had been poured, sugared, creamed, and the first sip taken. Cigars had been offered and refused. All of these social amenities having been taken care of, it was time, Alex thought, to get down to business.
"Now what can I do for you gentlemen today? Perhaps I ought to inform you that CNN is already reporting that a delegation of 'irate Republican leaders' is visiting the White House to remonstrate with the President over what they refer to as his 'lackadaisical' position on abortion."
There was an embarrassed silence, which was exactly what Alex had intended. These three, of course, were the ones who had planted that story with CNN and he was letting them know that he knew it. It was interesting to him that straight talk, an extremely rare commodity in this cityin an apparent contradiction of the basic economic theory known as the Law of Marginal Utilityhad no value at all to most of its inhabitants.
The first of them to recover his aplomb was Senator Peters, who shook his head. Alex realized that Peters reminded him of the columnist Robert Novak, whose mortal enemies had called him the Republican "Prince of Darkness".
"No, Mr. President, that's not why we're here. I'd never call any of your policies 'lackadaisical', I'm sure they're all extremely well thought out and energetically pursued. We're here because the nation has arrived at an important crossroads in history. You see, we Republicansalong with a small handful of conservative Democrats in each chamberwe Republicans believe that we finally have garnered enough votes to outlaw abortion altogether..."
"And?" Alex asked.
"Not 'and'," said Senator Commack. "But. But certain conditions have been imposed on us by our potential supporters both Republican and Democratic. Among the conditions, many of those supporters don't want to risk exposing themselves publicly on this issue, only to have you veto the effort. Which means that we can't get this work done without your endorsement."
"I see." They didn't have enough votes to override his veto.
As Commack looked on, Congressman Blue handed out a single Xeroxed sheet to each of them. Faith-Anne glanced over the sheet Blue had given her with a carefully neutral expression, and stuck it in her notebook.
Alex read the proposed bill before he commented. "Well, if nothing else, gentlemen, its brevity is commendable. It simply bans abortion anywhere within the United States, their territories, on US military bases overseas, or on American ships at sea. So where's the rest of it?"
Senator Peters looked confused. "The rest of it, Mr. President?
"That's right, Senator, the rest of it. When I was a schoolboy, before the Roe vs. Wade decision, something like 50,000 women a year were dying from botched abortions of one kind or another, either self-inflicted, or at the hands of some back-alley butcher. What that tells us is that, whatever the law may decree, women will still take huge risks to control their own destinies."
"Excuse me, Mr. President, I'm afraid I don't follow you."
Alex nodded. "Well for example, you don't want American women skulking off to Canada or Mexico to get their abortions, do you? So where's your provision for physical examinations at the borders to detect pregnancies leaving the country, or terminated pregnancies coming back in?"
The man reddened. "I... we never thought of that, Mr. President."
Alex nodded. "I wondered whether you gentlemen had thought this matter through completely. Here's another thing: if you seek to outlaw abortions, you're going to have to add an enforcement clause to this legislation, aren't you? And you may even have to create a whole new federal bureaucracy to do the enforcing. I certainly can't imagine any existing law enforcement agency that I'd care to see doing it, can you?"
Alex was morally certain that they had thought of those two points, hoping the president would overlook them. The looks on their faces tended to support his suspicions. Whoever had said the devil was in the details had been right. Heaven knew what details these three had in mind.
"And then," he added, "there'll have to be agency regulations that go along with the law and sustain it. To begin with, I suppose you gentlemen realize that you'll have to insist on mandatory monthly pregnancy testing for every female in the country, from puberty to menopause."
"M-mandatory" Peters sputtered to a stop.
"I don't know what it'll cost, gentlemen, but it's going to be horrendously expensiveand extremely unpopular," Alex mused. "Maybe you'll want to require women to show up once a month down at the local offices of the... well let's call it the 'Pregnancy Enforcement Administration', shall we? Or maybe you can just issue them a home pregnancy test kit every month and they can use it and send in the resultsalthough can you trust them to be that honest? You'll also have to accept the fact that you'll be creating a whole new underground market for false test results."
"Mr. President, I"
Alex interrupted. "All pregancies, of course, will have to be registered immediately with the PEA, and every pregnant woman in the country will be required to undergo frequent psychological evaluation to determine whether she's become an abortion risk during the past couple of weeks. And of course she'll have to report for regular compulsory physical examinations to make sure she and the baby remain healthy. Here I thought you three gentlemen were against socialized medicine."
Commack tried to say, "Well, that's not so"
"Naturally," Alex went on, "the mother-to-be will be criminally prosecuted if she drinks or smokes while pregnant, or exposes herself or her baby to secondhand smoke or to any other politically incorrect influenceperhaps even if she eats too little or too much of the currently right or wrong thing. It will probably be called 'unborn child abuse'."
"Mr. President!" Congressman Blue was furious. He held up a hand to stop Alex, who raised his eyebrows, pulled his battered old pipe from a jacket pocket, tamped it with a tool made from a .30-06 shell, struck a match, and puffed it into life. Sweet-smelling smoke filled the room.
"Yes, Congressman Blue?"
"Mr. President, we didn't write any of these things you're saying into the bill. They don't have anything to do with what we're trying to accomplish."
"Ah, but there we disagree, Congressman Blue," Alex puffed. "How can you outlaw a thing without taking steps to make sure that people don't do it? Even if you don't write those provisions into your bill, others who come along later will try to make political hay of their own by tightening up all the 'loopholes' that you left for them so thoughtfully."
"'Loopholes'," For the first time, Faith-Anne spoke up, "being a technical term for the few remaing freedoms that the government hasn't gotten around to crushing yet."
"Well, I certainly don't"
"I know you don't," said Alex, "But there's no way you can avoid it, Senator. Here's another example: a woman who's obviously pregnantinvoluntarilyor has a history of attempted abortions, or who happens to fail a psychological evaluation will have to be subjected to various kinds of physical restraint, ranging from house arrest with an electronic anklet to keep tabs on her whereabouts, to the local jail where she can be watched, to a federal prison, to forced hospitalization, to a padded cell in some lunatic asylum, to a straitjacket. She might even be forcibly sedatedturned into some kind of zombiefor the term of her pregnancy."
Peters protested, "But that's not"
"Yes it is," Alex replied. "You just don't realize it yet. Of course you'll have to outlaw all wire coathangers, knitting needles, chopsticks over a certain length, or anything else that can be used to induce a self-abortion. Maybe registering these items and licensing their owners will be enough. Although in that case, the coathangers, knitting needles, and chopsticks will all have to have serial numbers."
Faith-Anne stepped in again. "Any contact between a woman and her health providers will naturally be suspect. If she goes to her doctor, even to have an ingrown toenail removed, they'll have to be ready to prove they weren't planning an abortion, possibly by recording every word they say together. If she discusss the weather for too long with her pharmacist at the drugstore, they'll be subject to interrogation by PEA... greenshirts... who'll want to know if what they talked about was RU486."
"Greenshirts?" asked a puzzled Congressman.
Faith-Anne said, "As in medical greens."
"Likewise, each and every miscarriage, however tragic, innocent, or accidental," Alex said, "will have to be investigated like a homicide, with all of the invasions of privacy and violations of rights any homicide investigation entails. And there's plenty of room in there for another kind of miscarriagea miscarriage of justice. If a woman can be shown to have taken one vitamin pill too fewor one vitamin pill too manywhen she was pregnant, some ambitious prosecutor will make her life even more miserable than it is, by trying to nail her for manslaughter."
Peters tried again. "Mr. President, this is"
"The direct consequence of what you're trying to do, Senator, nothing more, nothing less," Alex told him. "But it gets much worse. The Democrats will fight this legislation tooth and nail, but once it gets passed, you can count on your opposite numbers in that party to exploit what you've done, and use it as a springboard to push through little items like the parental licensing laws they've wanted at least since the Clinton Administration."
Faith-Anne said, "When that happens, when couples fail to qualify for a government licensemaybe because they own guns, or drive an SUV, or smoke, or like to barbecue red meattheir unlicensed kids will be seized by the state and raised in the creches socialists are so fond of."
"Think it can't happen here?" Alex stood, walked around behind the chair he'd been sitting in, and put his hands in his jacket pockets. "Folks probably thought Prohibition couldn't happen. But a million marching moronswell-meaning dogooders and busybodiescouldn't be wrong, could they? Never mind that they were screwing people's lives up beyond all recognition. Never mind that it brought us the first turf wars, drive-by shootings, poisoned booze, cement overshoes, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Never mind that, once it was repealed, the enforcement boys still needed their jobs, so we got the war on guns, the war on drugs, and eventually, the war on tobacco."
He shook his head. "Gentlemen, I will not allow this bonnet-bee of yours to be represented as simple-minded 'feelgood' legislation that makes you look noble to your right-wing constituents, while it ruins the lives of countless individuals whom you never have to look in the eye. The only way I know to keep liberty from being destroyed is by making the governmentin this case, that means youaccountable for all of the consequences of all of its actions, intended or otherwise."
There were grim expressions all around the table. Alex believed that he had failed to win them over or to move them even an inch. He'd been resigned to it from the outset, but that didn't make it any easier to bear.
"No, gentlemen," he told them, "if you outlaw abortion, you'll have to pay a price for seeing your convictions into the law: you're going to have to live with the unintended consequences as well as those you had in mind. If you bring me a bill that fails to cover even one of the points I've made, I'll veto it in a New York nanosecond. You might as well go all the way; I'm going to tell the public it's what you propose, because you can't claim to outlaw abortion without it. There's a midterm election coming in seven months. How's that going to go over with the voters?"
All three looked incredulous. Commack said, "You want to pass these laws?"
"Of course I don't, Senator. It will give rise to a reign of terror like nothing seen before in America. You'll be enslaving no less than half the population. It will create a new army of armed and armored nannies. It will devour your wives, your sisters, your daughters, and your grandaughters. It will destroy all that's left of what America was supposed to be about. But you'll have made your point, you will have passdd your law, and you and your constituents will be happy."
Now it was Peters who stood up. "So we're to assume that you're pro-choice."
"You're to assume nothing of the kind, Senator Peters. I've never said where I stand on the issue personally, because it doesn't matter. Outlaw abortion, andno matter what anybody hopes or thinks or fearsthat's where the country's headed, right into the black abyss of totalitarianism."
There was a long silence. Alex and Peters stared at each other without blinking.
Then: "As I said in my book Looking Forward several years ago, abortion is the issue that the Left counts on, gentlemen, counts on to keep the freedom movement divided. And here we all are today, proving it."
Another long silence.
"Look: I shouldn't have to be the one to tell you that you're going to have to grow up, swallow hard, and do your best accept the fact that, as fervently as you loathe abortion, a great many other people in this country disagree with you just as fervently. It's absolutely vital that we shut down this endless, pointless argument, and move on with our real workfulfilling the promise of the American Revolution."
Blue stood, then Commack. "Maybe that Revolution went too far."
"As I recall, Senator Blue," Faith-Anne told him, "the last one to say that was Bill Clinton.
Commack said, "Even a broken clock is right twice a day."
Alex was ignoring the byplay between the politicians and his daughter. "I plan to end this debate forever, gentlemen, in a manner that will probably be satisfactory to everybody but the leaders on both sides."
Senator Peters stiffened, but said nothing.
"Abortion," Alex said, "will remain legal. But not one red cent of federal tax money will ever be spent on it again, and I will do my level best to persuade the authorities at the state, county, and municipal levels to follow my example. As you know, gentlemen, I can be pretty persuasive."
But not with this lot, Alex thought.
In a few more moments there were hands shaken all around, promises made to think over what had just been discussed, and goodbyes said. The three Republicans left, and the President breathed an audible sigh of relief.
"Momma would have been very proud of you, Daddy," Faith-Anne told him with teardrops threatening to fall. "I know I am, and Dana will be, too."
Alex shook his head. "I'm going to brush my teeth, sweetheart. If I'd said 'gentlemen' one more time to that crew, I'd have thrown up for sure."