Now that John Bolton’s nomination as ambassador to the United Nations is heading to the Senate floor, albeit without a positive recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrats have a fresh and final chance to make a case against him that doesn’t reinforce every GOP-fed stereotype about whiny “global test” liberals whose first concern is to placate “world opinion.” I understand the “Mean Man” argument was dictated by Foreign Relations Committee politics, and especially the need to give Republican waverers like Chafee and Voinovich a reason for opposing the nomination that did not involve a broad attack on Bush administration policies. But now, on the floor of the Senate, Democrats need to understand that this debate has implications beyond the question of whether or not Bolton gets his job. As Kenny Baer and I, among others, have argued earlier in this process, Democrats need to make a national security case against Bolton, and fortunately, there is a clear case to be made.I strongly urge everyone interested in the Bolton nomination to read a report by Michael Hirsch and Eve Conant that appeared in Newsweek last week. Through extensive interviews with current and past Bush administration officials, they learned that Bolton completely botched preparations for a critical five-year review of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. They also cast new doubts about Bolton’s involvement in the one (if inadequate) big advance the administration has made in preventing nuclear terrorism, the Proliferation Security Initiative. In other words, as the point man for what Bush and Cheney have repeatedly called the most important front in the war on terror–the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists–Bolton has done a dangerously lousy job. He’s not just a Mean Man–he’s a Mean Man blinded by ideology and ambition from promoting the steps we need to take internationally to prevent a nuclear 9/11, or for that matter, a fully nuclear Iran and North Korea. And the question Democrats need to finally start asking on the Senate floor is why this administration has entrusted Bolton with this crucial responsibility, and why it is now insisting on making him our country’s most visible representative in world affairs. If that’s not enough of an argument to make, then maybe Senate Democrats should also raise a question about U.N. reform that barely got mentioned in the Foreign Relations Committee: does Bolton, and does the Bush administration, support or oppose the Annan Commission recommendation to amend the U.N. Charter to make it clear “sovereignty” does not extend to the right to commit genocide within one’s own borders? Given Bolton’s much-expressed contempt for risking any U.S. lives or dollars in preventing ethnic cleansing in Kosovo or Rwanda, it’s a very pertinent question as the debate over Darfur continues.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Always on the lookout for a new wrinkle on ancient battles, I drew attention to a recent legal development at New York:
Though the constitutional law of “religious liberty” is a murky field, we are all accustomed to hearing anguished claims from conservative Christians that laws requiring them to provide or pay for reproductive-health services or treat LGBTQ employees and customers equally are an unacceptable violation of their beliefs. Now that the Supreme Court has struck down the federal right to an abortion, it’s clearer than ever that the Christian right and its Republican allies are aiming to construct a system where they are free to live their values as they wish, regardless of the impact on others.
But as a new lawsuit in Florida shows, what’s good for the conservative goose may also be good for the progressive gander. A group of religious officials are arguing in state court that the new anti-abortion law enacted this year by Florida Republicans violates their right to religious expression. The Washington Post reports:
“Seven Florida clergy members — two Christians, three Jews, one Unitarian Universalist and a Buddhist … argue in separate lawsuits filed Monday that their ability to live and practice their religious faith is being violated by the state’s new, post-Roe abortion law. The law, which is one of the strictest in the country, making no exceptions for rape or incest, was signed in April by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in a Pentecostal church alongside antiabortion lawmakers such as the House speaker, who called life ‘a gift from God.’”
The plaintiffs in these suits most definitely want to rebut the idea that forced birth is the only authentically “religious” perspective on abortion services. After all, as United Church of Christ minister Laurie Hafner explains, the anti-abortion cause has little biblical sanction:
“Jesus says nothing about abortion. He talks about loving your neighbor and living abundantly and fully. He says: ‘I come that you might have full life.’ Does that mean for a 10-year-old to bear the child of her molester? That you cut your life short because you aren’t able to rid your body of a fetus?”
The legal theory in the lawsuits focuses specifically on the counseling of pregnant people and their families that clergy engage in routinely, and that under the new Florida law may be treated as the illegal aiding and abetting of criminal acts. Hafner’s suit alleges that this violates both federal and state constitutional rights, along with Florida’s version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a 1993 federal “religious liberty” law):
“The dramatic change in abortion rights in Florida has caused confusion and fear among clergy and pregnant girls and women particularly in light of the criminal penalties attached. Given her general duties and work as a Pastor, Plaintiff intends to engage in counseling regarding abortion beyond the narrow limits of HB 5 and, therefore, risks incarceration and financial penalties.”
It’s unclear how this argument will fare in the courts. Conservative judges may stipulate that anti-abortion laws impinge on religious-liberty rights that are nonetheless outweighed by the state’s “compelling interest” in fetal life. But at least, for once, the judiciary and the public will have to come to grips with the fact that many millions of pro-choice religious Americans passionately oppose what is happening to our country in the name of “life.” During the run-up to this week’s resounding “no” vote on a constitutional amendment removing any hint of abortion rights in the state’s constitution, a Presbyterian Church in Kansas displayed a sign that read, “Jesus trusted women. So do we.” This was likely an allusion to the “Trust Women” motto of the famous Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who in 2009 was assassinated in the foyer of the church in which he was serving as an usher. His legacy lives on in houses of worship and now in the courts.