Life Watch: “What is His Name?”

During the Second World War, Josef Stalin was persistently suspicious about the motives of his Western Allies, particularly about their willingness to open a second front in Western Europe to relieve pressure on the Red Army in the East. At the conference at Teheran in 1943 Stalin forced the issue on his allies in the form of a question: “What is his name?” What was the name of the man who would be responsible for Operation Overlord, the cross-channel invasion? To name the man was the point of assurance for Stalin that his allies were serious, that planning was under way, that the commitment had been rendered operational.

The name brought forward, of course, was “Eisenhower.” As the mists settle over a past growing more distant, there may be a tendency to forget that the ascent of Eisenhower marked a high-level political decision about the diplomacy and design of that great war. All of this came to mind recently when a friend in Washington, a man serious in all things, began putting to me some severe questions about the pro-life cause in politics. He himself had taken a partial leave from his own business; he was committing a day or two each week to the Family Research Council and Gary Bauer, working on the “life issues.” He was working, that is, politically, in helping to promote pro-life candidates for Congress, as they were supported by the PAC (or political action committee) formed by Bauer. In an odd twist, Bauer was not using the money in this PAC for himself, but for the support of pro-life candidates. And now, my friend, with his usual combination of passion and clear-headedness, was weighing in heavily on the side of Bauer making a run for the presidency. For one thing, the candidacy of Gary Bauer would guarantee that the pro-life issue would be talked about, that it would be at the center of the discussion. Of course, with Alan Keyes or Pat Buchanan, there were pro-life candidates who could speak. But the question was whether they could draw a following, or whether they were given a serious chance of gaining the nomination. If Bauer could ring in with a substantial vote in the primaries, then other candidates would be compelled to speak to the same issues that he was addressing.

But Bauer was still a longshot. On the other hand, Steve Forbes had already drawn enough attention and support in the country that he often ranked first or second among the choices of people who voted in Republican primaries. Forbes had come a long way, and he had begun to make himself quite credible, even compelling, as a pro-life candidate. Most notably, he had gone out of his way to commit himself, explicitly, to the overruling of Roe v. Wade. Forbes had recently shot himself in the foot, however, with his “exceptions” for rape or incest, exceptions that tended to call into question the coherence of his position. My own sense was that Forbes had come to understand the issue well enough that he would understand why this recent flap over “exceptions” would have to be resolved. In my own reckoning, he probably has the wit to accept some counsel on this issue and repair his position. There was, evidently, a passion in the public for accepting abortions in the case of incest and rape. And as Lincoln once observed, a sentiment deeply held in the public cannot safely be ignored. A candidate may have to make his accommodation with the passions that demand exceptions in the case of rape and incest; but there are ways of making that accommodation as a prudential matter while making it clear, nevertheless, that the “exceptions” cannot be justified, that their principle cannot be endorsed.

My friend took in all of that, but he put to me a sterner question. These candidates, like Steve Forbes: Are they willing merely to sign pro-life measures, if the rest of us can summon the support in Congress to pass them? Are they, in that respect, in the mold of George Bush and his natural successor, George W. Bush? Or are they willing themselves to take the lead in framing the argument in public? Are they willing to come forth themselves with a scheme of legislation—a virtual ensemble of measures—and draw on political capital themselves in an effort to pass those measures?

That is a fair question—but more than that, a clear, crisp question, that begins to divide the field of candidates in a telling way. And it seemed to me that this test is confirmed, and rendered operational, in a variant of the question that Stalin once posed to his allies: “What is his name?” What is the name of the man in charge of the strategy of litigation at the Department of Justice or at the White House?: Who is the person in charge of designing a sequence of steps, to unfold a policy in a logical train? Will a new administration simply respond in an ad hoc way to the issues that arise, some by accident, some by the initiative of others? Or would the administration try to shape things with its own hand, setting in place the premises or the groundwork, with one step preparing the way for the next? Will there be anyone, then, at the Department of Justice, perhaps in the Office of Legal Policy, whose distinct mission would be to design that strategy of litigation? What is his name? And what is the name of his or her counterpart in the White House? Who will be the person in charge of framing the agenda of legislation on the pro-life issues, from appropriations bills dealing with international agencies to measures that would actually restrict abortions and extend, for unborn children, the protections of the law?

But then, moving on naturally from these questions, what is the name of that person who will be in charge of screening and selecting nominees for the federal bench? For that matter, what is the name of that person who would be attorney general in a new administration, the person in charge of selecting all of these other people working in concert? In the days of Presidents Reagan and Bush, it made a difference that the attorneys general were William French Smith, Edwin Meese, Dick Thornburgh, and William Barr. Those men managed, to recruit, to these kinds of positions, people of the the right persuasion and the most wholesome reflexes. Why not recruit now from the same people, in Justice, who were dubious from the beginning about Anthony Kennedy and David Souter? That the department, or the administration, made occasional mistakes is the cause of no wonderment. But that the veterans know precisely where they made their mistakes is now a source of wisdom and political capital.

As Lincoln once said, we know how to save the Union, and the world knows that we know. In our own case, we know how to arrange the selection of judges and the design of a pro-life strategy in legislation and litigation—and the world should know that we know. Therefore, why should we not begin our assessment of candidates with the assumption, among worldly people, that we know these things? And why does it not make sense then for us to put, in another form, that practical question, “What is his name?” By this date, there are many accomplished lawyers, writers, activists, quite experienced in the pro-life cause, any one of whom would inspire a wide trust. For the office of legal policy—if he is not appointed to the federal bench—Robert Cynkar. Or, the razor-sharp Lincoln Oliphant, who sees around corners. Or, if Princeton can spare him, Robert George. For the selection of judges: If he would do it again—or if he could be spared from his own new firm—the savvy Michael Carvin, who never lets himself be fooled or lulled. At the White House: Jeffrey Bell or Frank Cannon, or Kay James, or Ann Coulter.

These people are so versatile that they could serve in any of these places, if the lawyers among them are not busy being solicitor general. But the point is that the candidates begin putting themselves in the frame of mind to pose and address the question, “What is his (or her) name?” Not now, perhaps, but by the spring of 2000, as the primaries are heating up: By that point, the pro-lifers would betray a want of reflection—or a want of confidence—if they were not prepared to put the question seriously. And if a candidate is taken aback by the question—if he has not even begun to think about it—there would be no need any longer to ponder the mysteries of character, or to spin out ingenious conjectures, woven of guessing and hope, trying to imagine the course of a new administration headed by Steve Forbes or George W. Bush. There would be no need for that, for we would have, in a flash, a measure of things that foretells the future with a cold sobriety.

By

Hadley P. Arkes (born 1940) is an American political scientist and the Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions at Amherst College, where he has taught since 1966.

Join the conversation in our Telegram Chat! You can also find us on Facebook, MeWe, Twitter, and Gab.

MENU