A President for Life and Peace?
[Administrator’s Note: This is a guest commentary by Mary Meehan, a writer and speaker who was present at CL’s founding conference and has remained a friend of ours ever since. This was originally published at her site on The President We Need. It is reproduced here with her permission.]
Defend Life and Peace
We need a president who will be brave and consistent in defending our lives. All of our lives: Born and unborn. Young, old, and in-between. Healthy, sick, and disabled. The free and those under arrest or in prison. The men and women of our military. Citizens of other nations who suffer deeply when we wage war.
The Need for Consistency and Honor
With the exception of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), our recent presidential candidates and presidents have not been consistent in defending human life. Indeed, some have been far more involved in taking lives than in defending them. Most have been hawkish on foreign policy, supporting our recent wars or even calling for more war. Many have been hawkish on abortion, too, rejecting even small efforts to restrict it. Most have supported the death penalty.
Both at the presidential level and below it, some politicians claim that they are “personally opposed” to abortion or doubtful about the death penalty, yet still vote to support those practices. Some claim that they “hate war,” yet vote consistently to support it.
Politicians–and the rest of us–should not try to have it both ways. Especially on matters of life and death, our personal and our political positions should be the same. We should live out in our lives the many-splendored words of “honor” and “integrity.” We should speak out for those whose lives are endangered–especially those who cannot defend themselves.
Why the President Must Defend Life
Our Declaration of Independence says that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are unalienable rights. It makes sense that life is first on the list, because taking someone’s life destroys all of their rights. Congress long ago recognized the Declaration as part of the “organic law” of the United States. The Declaration is the first document in the U.S. Code, the official collection of federal laws.
The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution provide that no person may “be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” And the Constitution assigns the power to declare war to Congress–not to the president. It says that treaties we make with other nations are part of the “supreme Law of the Land.” This is a key point, because treaties such as the Geneva Conventions require protection of both civilians and military prisoners in wartime.
All of this means that the president, who swears an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” has major obligations to protect human life. Sometimes the president can defend life and the Constitution by challenging the government’s judicial branch. One example is urging the Supreme Court to overturn a previous Court decision when the president is convinced the decision was wrong.
The Supreme Court has interpreted “due process of law” with increasing strictness in death-penalty cases, thus giving some protection to death-row prisoners. Yet in Roe v. Wade, it stripped unborn human beings of the right to life–essentially by suggesting they are non-persons, or else partly persons and partly non-persons.
Roe is based on many errors of both fact and legal interpretation. It has major mistakes about both English common law and American law. Roe should be at the top of the list for review and overturn.
No More Regime Change
and No More Torture
The president can protect life in our foreign policy by:
✓ Rejecting any effort to overthrow the government of another country, or intervene in its civil war, unless we are openly at war with that country–in a war declared by Congress, not by the President
Many Americans don’t realize that our problems with Iran date back to 1953, when a coup organized by our Central Intelligence Agency overthrew an Iranian prime minister. The U.S. then supported the repressive regime of the Shah of Iran for many years. Another example: The CIA’s 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and its plots to assassinate Fidel Castro poisoned our relations with Cuba for over 50 years.
The CIA overthrew–or helped overthrow–leaders of Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and South Vietnam. It made failed attempts to overthrow governments elsewhere.
Presidents use the CIA when they don’t want to admit what they are doing. Although many Americans are only dimly aware of U.S. overthrow efforts, citizens of target countries know about them and deeply resent them.
Presidents have seen coups as quick and relatively cheap ways to solve foreign-policy problems. Actually, though, each new president inherits problems–sometimes huge ones–that trace back to the supposedly quick-and-easy overthrows.
After the end of the long Cold War with the Soviet Union, emboldened U.S. leaders turned more toward open efforts to overthrow rulers of other nations. They now use economic sanctions, war, and bombing raids to achieve “regime change.” Meanwhile, the CIA is still quite active and now runs its own bombing raids, using drone planes armed with Hellfire missiles.
We Americans have always taken pride in our self-government. How, then, can we deny other nations the right to their own governments? What gives us the right to toss their leaders in or out of power? Or to bomb their countries at will?
✓ Emphasizing that, unless we are in a just and declared war with another nation, overthrows “will not happen on my watch.” Besides keeping that promise, the president must press Congress to write into law an explicit and permanent ban on them. The CIA must give up its war-making and focus only on its original mission: providing first-rate intelligence to government leaders. That is a major job all by itself, and a crucial one.
Also needed is repeal of the 1973 War Powers Resolution. That law gives presidents power to start wars–a power that the Constitution gives to Congress alone. We must end presidential wars.
✓ Making it clear that the United States strongly opposes torture and will not use it again
The use of torture against terrorism suspects after 9/11 was, as Sen. John McCain has said, a “stain on our national honor.” It was also a violation of our Constitution, federal law, and treaties we have ratified. The president has to make sure that all key personnel, both civilian and military, understand that any involvement with torture will result in criminal charges.
The “Obey the Constitution” page offers more ideas about preventing torture and presidential wars.
Use Diplomacy in a Constructive Way
Instead of starting more wars, the U.S. should focus on ways to prevent them. The president can pursue this course by:
✓ Offering the assistance of U.S. diplomats in negotiating cease-fires and peace settlements in disputes where the U.S. is not involved and thus can be an “honest broker”–and encouraging other nations to do the same
President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated an end to a war between Russia and Japan, and President Jimmy Carter achieved a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. A president need not be the actual mediator, but can have the Secretary of State assign first-rate U.S. diplomats to help where they are wanted. The president should suggest that other heads of state make their best diplomats available in the same way.
The Chinese-Japanese dispute over ownership of islands in the East China Sea is a case in point. Expert mediators might help the two nations reach a settlement that both can live with–perhaps a split of the territory or one side’s buying out the other. But if there is no settlement and the dispute festers, it might lead to a war. That war could involve the United States, which has a mutual defense treaty with Japan.
✓ Working with other nations to negotiate an end to the nuclear weapons that threaten every nation and every person on earth
While there has been success in placing some limits on nuclear weapons, a huge number still exist and are ready to be launched on command. All nuclear nations should be able to reach agreement to phase them out by using the “trust but verify” principle that has worked in U.S.-Russian nuclear agreements. The United States should take the lead in making it work on a worldwide scale
Defusing the major danger spots in the world, as suggested above, would greatly help efforts to get rid of the nukes. And getting rid of them would be a huge step forward for all humanity.
Defend Unborn Children
In domestic policy, the president should protect human life by:
✓ Strongly urging Supreme Court reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which prevents states from protecting the unborn
That decision is so wrong in fact and in law that it’s a classic example of a “result-oriented decision”–one in which judges decide the policy result they want and then rummage around for anything they can think of to justify it. Overturn of Roe would free the states to protect the unborn, as most of them did before Roe.
✓ Urging Congress to end federal funding of abortion and of research on prenatal testing that’s oriented toward eugenic abortion
The president must use the veto power on these issues if needed. The funding is a corruption of medicine, which is supposed to protect human life and health. Eugenic abortion (that is, ending the lives of unborn children because they have handicaps) also undermines our efforts to end discrimination against people with disabilities. Taking someone’s life is, after all, the most radical kind of discrimination.
✓ Making the case to libertarians, feminists, liberals, and non-religious people on why they should protect the unborn
There is a compelling case to be made to these groups. Explaining it will greatly enrich a debate that has grown stale and repetitive.
Libertarian pro-lifers emphasize that parents, having brought their children into existence, have a responsibility to protect them when they are too small and weak to defend themselves. They stress that this responsibilty applies to men as well as women. That’s a crucial point, because many abortions result from a man’s pressure or his abandonment of mother and child. Sometimes abandonment is the worst, most devastating form of coercion.
Pro-life feminists say that women are strong enough to handle pregnancy and children. They stress the pro-life views of early American feminists such as Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Alice Paul. With the leadership of Feminists for Life of America, they call for changes in universities and workplaces to make them more mother-friendly and child-friendly.
Pro-life liberals stress the liberal tradition of always standing up for the little guy/little gal and of protecting children against abuse. There is also a liberal/left tradition of optimism about life. This need not be naive optimism, but just confidence that tough problems can be overcome when we have the will and the courage to overcome them.
Non-believing pro-lifers use reason to conclude that human beings have both the right to be free from assault and the obligation to do no harm to others. Because they don’t think that injustice done today can be remedied in an afterlife, they have a special sense of urgency in protecting this life that is at stake right now. As civil-libertarian Nat Hentoff has said, it is “a lot easier for an atheist–at least, this atheist–to be against abortion because all I have is life, this life. All I can believe in is life.”
End the Federal Death Penalty
✓ Urging Congress to end the federal death penalty
This would end, at the federal level, one type of government violence. The most widely-accepted abolition argument is based on the many cases of death-row prisoners who eventually were found innocent on the basis of DNA or other evidence. The risk of executing innocent people is just too great, and there is no way to correct a wrongful execution.
Abolition also would respect the consciences of prison staff who believe they should not take part in executions. And federal abolition would give a good example to the 31 states that still have the death penalty.
✓ Using the presidential power of clemency to commute death sentences of federal prisoners to life in prison without parole
This certainly does not mean a life of leisure. Except when security problems interfere, able-bodied federal prisoners are required to work. And when courts have imposed fines or have required restitution to prisoners’ victims, that money must be deducted from prisoners’ wages, which usually are quite low in any case.
Stress Positive Alternatives to
Suicide and Euthanasia
The president should emphasize the dangers of efforts to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. Those dangers include the likelihood that some heirs will encourage deadly choices in order to protect their inheritance or to end burdens of care. Some medical professionals and insurance companies might encourage–and even pressure–patients toward suicide.
The president’s main emphasis, though, should be on positive alternatives. For example:
✓ Meeting with and encouraging staff who are working on the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (a program of the U.S. Surgeon General’s office)
There is need for special stress on what friends and family members can do when they see signs that someone is considering suicide (including assisted suicide). Professional help often is needed–but is not enough by itself. Help from family and friends is also crucial.
✓ Ensuring that Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements go only to home-healthcare and hospice agencies that provide the services they promise
News reports indicate that some hospice agencies, especially for-profit ones, are not meeting their ethical and legal obligations. Those agencies should be penalized rather than paid! On the positive side, there should be recognition and honor for the agencies that do their work well.
✓ Encouraging the good work of the Eden Alternative and other programs that change nursing homes into real homes.
The Eden homes, and others like them, have gardens and pets. They encourage residents to engage in cooking, quilting, gardening and similar activities. Some have child-care centers so the seniors can talk and play with children and read to them.
✓ Having the Department of Health and Human Services research ways that hospital intensive-care units can make the ICU experience less of an ordeal for patients and their families.
Is the constant beeping of machines really necessary? Could chimes be used instead? Shouldn’t there be a place for gentle, soothing music in ICU? Is there so much focus on record-keeping that caregivers don’t have enough time for actual care?
✓ Ensuring that federal health and medical-research programs follow high ethical standards in respecting life, yet do not promote unneeded tests or treatment
Sometimes unneeded testing and treatment occur for the financial gain of health professionals, and sometimes just because the technology is there. Patients should know they have a right to reject tests and treatment they don’t want and that, when they are dying, they will have good pain control and be able to die in peace.
A presidential candidate who champions the consistency ethic can put together a powerful coalition. It should include both individual voters and organized groups who oppose abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, suicide, torture, and/or war. What each group cannot accomplish on its own might be done if all the groups back one candidate.
It would be hard to find a better campaign slogan than a phrase we celebrate on the Fourth of July: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Beth Baker, Old Age in a New Age: The Promise of Transformative Nursing Homes (2007 review)
Radley Balko, “Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty,” Washington Post, May 1, 2014
Ira Byock, “Democrats Shouldn’t Endorse Suicide,” politico.com, June 7, 2015
Daily Caller News Foundation, “Innocent Man Wrongly Jailed for 39 Years Becomes Cleveland’s Newest Millionaire,” March 20, 2015 (includes video)
“Euthanasia: We Can Live Without It…” CNN.com, Nov. 27, 2013
Serrin M. Foster, “The Feminist Case Against Abortion,” America, Jan. 19-26, 2015
Doris Gordon, “Abortion and Rights: Applying Libertarian Principles Correctly” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy (1999)
Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (2006; see Amazon.com customer reviews)
Mary Meehan, “In Harm’s Way: Childen, Born and Unborn, Trapped in Wartime,” America, Jan. 16, 2012
Mary Meehan, “Why Liberals Should Defend the Unborn,” Human Life Review, Summer 2011
Justin Raimondo, “We’ll Never Limit Government Unless We Ditch Foreign Interventionism,” Antiwar.com, April 15, 2015
Peter Whoriskey and Dan Keating, “Dying and Profits: The Evolution of Hospice,” Washington Post, Dec. 26, 2014