The Pitfalls of Progressive Rhetoric

“It’s about a woman’s right to choose what to do with her
body!” “A woman’s choice to use birth control is her own business!” “No person
is illegal!” All of these phrases hit
the “right notes” to garner support. They cleverly paint the opposition as “the one who is against choice,
against rights and against people.” Unfortunately, though, all of these phrases do little if anything to
address the issues presented by ideological opponents. And it’s not just the catch-phrases
that fail in this regard. It’s
the discussion, too. Almost all the progressives whom I’ve met prefer talking around to directly answering their opponent’s
points. While I’m sure that this
also holds true in many cases for conservatives, the problem is particularly pronounced
in progressivism at Pomona where non-progressive hesitancies, questions and
concerns are generally marginalized.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an example: the abortion debate. Pro-lifers contest that fetuses are human beings with a
right to life, and thus, abortion is murder. To this, the pro-choice crowd usually responds in unison:
“Women should have a right to choose what to do with their bodies!” But this is a meaningless
response. Pro-lifers are
contesting that this particular act with one’s body is harmful (murderous, in
fact) to another human being. They
are simply extending a principle that we all (I hope) accept: I can close
my hand whenever I want, so long as it is not around your neck. In this case, according to pro-lifers, a
woman can do what she wants with her uterus so long as doing so doesn’t deprive
another human of its right to life. As one friend put it to me: “If it were a pig growing there, nobody
would complain.” So, it is pretty
clear (to me, at least) that the issue here isn’t really about rights to do things
with one’s body. The issue is whether or not that particular collection of cells growing inside someone’s
uterus has rights that are being violated when a woman metaphorically closes
her hand around its throat.

If a pro-choice
advocate wanted to give a meaningful response to pro-lifers, they would have to
argue one of the following: (1) a fetus is not an individual human being, (2) a fetus does not have rights independent of the mother, (3) an
abortion doesn’t violate any of the aforementioned rights or (4) such
rights do not (or should not) fall under the protection of the state or federal
government. Further, they would also
be required to answer for (or alter) apparent inconsistencies such as the fact
that it is sometimes considered a double murder if one kills a pregnant
woman. But almost nobody bothers
to do any of this. Why? Because it is harder to meaningfully
address your opponents’ concerns than simply to paint them as oppressors.

Similar deficiencies are found in progressive arguments on
topics ranging from provision of birth control to gay rights to illegal
immigration. However, I am not
writing this article because I want progressive Pomonans to change their
opinions. In fact, I actually
agree with them on many fronts, including abortion. I write this article because I want my
fellow Pomonans to ask and answer the hard
questions—not to settle for trite catch-phrases—and to promote a truly
meaningful dialogue on the issues.

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