Law | Politerate

July 23, 2005

Judge John Roberts, Satanist?

Gelf recommends some background reading to get up to speed on the abortion debate.

Aaron Zamost

Pro-choice advocates are upset about President Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Within minutes of the nomination, NARAL Pro-Choice America issued a statement pronouncing, "If Roberts is confirmed to a lifetime appointment, there is little doubt that he will work to overturn Roe v. Wade." The group's fears might be a little premature, but they're not totally baseless: As an attorney for George the Elder's administration, Roberts helped write a brief for the Supreme Court that stated, "We continue to believe Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled."

The abortion issue will likely take center stage as the confirmation debate heats up. Gelf knows it's good to have some background knowledge of major issues, if for no other reason than to impress people with your lively cocktail-party banter. There are several ways to become more familiar with current events. For example:

To learn more about the secret conclave to select a successor to Pope John Paul II, many aspiring religious scholars read Horace Mann's papal history The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages.

Others, including some at Fox News, read Dan Brown's bestseller Angels and Demons.

As a service to our readers, Gelf's very own book nerd, Aaron Zamost, will present two books relevant to the abortion debate: one for people who enjoy reading Tom Robbins—and another for those who like Tony Robbins. It's a lot like the "What's Hot" fashion section of US Weekly, but without all that crap about Lindsay Lohan.


Our Gang, by Philip Roth

Political takedowns are too frequently mischaracterized. Just because something is a coincidence, it doesn't make it ironic. And just because something is a comedy, it doesn't make it satire. Real satire isn't just funny, it's meant to promote contempt. (Dave, starring Kevin Kline, was a comedy, but it wasn't political satire.) Real satire shows a U.S. president sending U.S. troops to fight the Boy Scouts.

Our Gang is real satire. In 1971, President Nixon said, "Unrestricted abortion policies, or abortion on demand, I cannot square with my personal belief in the sanctity of human life—including the life of the yet unborn. For, surely, the unborn have rights also..." In Our Gang, Philip Roth takes Nixon to task for what he saw as the incompatibility of the Nixonian promotion of the "sanctity of human life" and the indiscriminate manner in which he sent young men to die in Vietnam.

Roth's novel is written from the perspective of President Trick E. Dixon, and is structured as a collection of transcripts from several presidential addresses, press conferences and newscasts. In the novel, President Dixon wants to bring the right to vote to the unborn, despite the "fantastic mechanics" of doing so. When a reporter asks President Dixon how "embryos on the placenta, who haven't even developed nervous systems yet, let alone limbs," will go about casting their ballots, the president responds, "Let me remind you that nothing in our Constitution denies a man the right to vote just because he is physically handicapped."

As Roth has gotten older, his newer novels ( The Human Stain, American Pastoral) have strayed from the acerbic wit and laugh-out-loud insanity of books like The Breast and the The Great American Novel —you're not going to find many masturbation references in Roth's recent The Plot Against America . But Our Gang, written over 30 years ago, is incredibly funny (almost a political Portnoy's Complaint). And with a Bush administration hell-bent on spinning everything in its path (Karl Rove isn't a traitor, he's a "whistle-blower"), the book is once again relevant. It is a brutal rebuttal to those pro-lifers whose other philosophies clash with their promotion of a so-called "culture of life."

Rosemary's Baby, by Ira Levin

Rosemary's Baby presents readers with the a truly terrifying problem: If Republicans severely restrict the availability of abortions, what would a woman do if she suddenly discovered that her unborn child was the son of Satan? Would this meet the "undue burden" standard of Planned Parenthood v. Casey? Or would she be forced to carry the child to term, so that he may be used in the demonic rituals of the weird old people in her co-op?

Readers are probably more familiar with the eponymous 1968 film, starring Mia Farrow, than Levin's classic horror novel. But Rosemary's Baby: The Book does have its moments. It's very casually written (and not in a sloppy, redundant, Michael Crichton way), and it doesn't resort to Stephen King blood-and-guts violence to generate fear.

Levin's novel can also teach expectant mothers a great deal about the politics of pregnancy. For example, (1) it is unfair to require a woman to notify her husband (let alone obtain his consent) before having an abortion, especially if the husband previously sold his wife's soul to the devil; (2) it might be difficult for a woman to trust that her physician will give her honest, apolitical advice, if he happens to lead a coven of witches; and (3) pro-choice advocates would better control the abortion debate if they spun pro-lifers as pro-Satanists—just ask George Lakoff.

Post a comment

Comment Rules

The following HTML is allowed in comments:
Bold: <b>Text</b>
Italic: <i>Text</i>
<a href="URL">Text</a>


Article by Aaron Zamost

Contact this author