Narration: The country has renewed the abortion debate. Will New York’s new abortion law backfire on the Democratic Party?
Thomas Reston: I am not sure what to say about that. I think it probably depends on who you are asking.
Narration: Can Democrats justify the ultimate rationale of late-term abortion?
Simone Gao: So it comes down to whether you think the mother’s right to choose how to live her life is more important than the baby’s right to live. Which one of the two is more imperative?
Thomas Reston: People are uncomfortable with it. And I think Democrats ought to listen to their opponents about this and realize that there are legitimate moral questions about abortion.
Narration: President Trump said America will never become a socialist country. Are the Democrats with the president?
Simone Gao: Do you think the far-left element of your party speaks to the soul of your party?
Thomas Reston: Yes, I do.
Simone Gao: Welcome to “Zooming In.” I’m Simone Gao. In this country, we’re having a heated debate over the path to the future: border security, abortion, drug addiction, socialism and so on. Oftentimes, such debates are reduced to short partisan soundbites connected or disrupted by commercial breaks. That is not helpful. I happen to believe that a Socratic dialectic in which both sides strive to bring out the best of their reasoning is a much better way, and perhaps the only way, we as a nation can come to sound solutions to the problems we face. I know dirty politics exists beyond the realm of words, but when words go deep, truth also comes out. This is what Socrates did 2500 years ago. At “Zooming In” we try to follow in his footsteps. The last edition of “Zooming In” focused on Thomas Del Beccaro, author of “The Divided Era,” from the Republican side. In this edition, I interviewed Thomas B. Reston, author of “Soul of a Democrat.”
Narration: On January 17, 2017, New York State passed the Reproductive Health Act. The act amends the public health law regarding abortion. With a medical professional’s “reasonable and good faith judgment,” the Act permits abortions when “the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
However, New York’s new law does not explicitly define “health.” In the Doe v. Bolton case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This leads people to think any of these factors could be used as a valid reason to abort a moving and feeling baby.
When asked on a radio program what happens when a woman is going into labor who desires a third-trimester abortion, Virginia governor Ralph Northam said that in this scenario, “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” He also noted that this kind of procedure only occurs in cases of severe deformities or nonviable pregnancy.
Simone Gao: New York passed a law to allow potential abortion of a moving and feeling baby. Virginia governor Ralph Northam said a baby could be aborted after being born. Where are you in all of this?
Thomas Reston: Well, this question of abortion is a very difficult one for the Democratic Party. It has always been a difficult question for the Democrats to come to grips with. And I think it is now reviving again because of the change in the composition of the justices on the Supreme Court. There are many people in this country who now believe that the Supreme Court might actually overturn Roe vs. Wade, which is the national Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion throughout the United States. In my judgment, I think it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court is going to overturn its precedent legalizing abortion. I think most people in this country want to keep abortion rights, but they might want to cut back on the circumstances where abortions are available, ever so slightly. But as people on both sides of this debate become more afraid that the Supreme Court will do away with Roe vs. Wade, I think both the conservatives who are against abortion and the liberals who favor continued abortion rights in each of the states where they have the political majority, they are trying to get the state legislatures to either enact more restrictive abortion laws or less restrictive abortion laws than Roe vs. Wade might have allowed. And therefore, I think you’re going to have a renewed debate about it in the United States now.
Simone Gao: Abortion to me goes beyond politics. I wonder how people really feel about it. Do you believe an unborn baby has the right to life? I mean, an unalienable right to life?
Thomas Reston: You know, I think people are troubled by this. I think people on all sides of this debate, in the privacy of their own hearts, are troubled by it. And I think you find all kinds of odd polling results about it. For instance, I’ve seen polling figures that indicate that, of all the communities in the United States, Latinos are the most opposed to abortion. And yet the statistics show that the Latino community in this country is the heaviest user of abortions of any of our ethnic communities. So I think there’s a lot of deep grappling going on among individual Americans about the morality of this question. And I think in trying to reach a resolution to it, I think all Americans should be trying to understand and be more sympathetic to those on the opposite side of this debate from them rather than snarling at them and calling them names and essentially making everybody dig in even more than they’re already dug in.
Simone Gao: I agree. We need to listen to both sides. But for each individual, when a decision needs to be made, you can’t accommodate both sides. So it comes down to whether you think the mother’s right to choose how to live her life is more important than the babies’ right to live. Which one of the two is more imperative?
Thomas Reston: Well, you see, this is the problem with the debate. And I’m not—this—both of these sides of the debate have a strong moral claim: the right of the unborn child and the right of the mother to decide whether she wants to carry the baby through or not. It gets down to the rights of individuals that come into conflict.
Simone Gao: When you have to choose, which one is imperative?
Thomas Reston: Well, as a matter of where Americans are these days, I think most people in the Democratic Party would say to you that they believe, ultimately, under most circumstances, not all circumstances, but under most circumstances, certainly in the early part of a pregnancy, it is the mother’s right to choose which should predominate over the other side of the debate. Toward the end, I think that’s a different question. It becomes more and more troublesome for people to sort out that question toward the end of a pregnancy. And I don’t think the Supreme Court is going to wind up overturning Roe vs. Wade, but people are uncomfortable with it. And I think Democrats ought to listen to their opponents about this and realize that there are legitimate moral questions about abortion.
Simone Gao: Do you think this law will hurt or help the Democrats?
Thomas Reston: I can’t really answer that on a nationwide basis. I think, again, what is happening is people are afraid that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. And I think in various different states people are trying to get ready for that. And in states which are very pro-abortion, I think you might see a loosening of rules. And in places where people are very much against it, I think you might see a restricting of the rules on abortion, if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. But as I say, I don’t believe that it will be overturned. And I think the vote of Mr. Chief Justice Roberts yesterday indicated that he is very cautious about moving the Supreme Court too far in the direction of overturning Roe vs. Wade.
Narration: Coming up, is America becoming a socialist country?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly elected representative from New York, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib are the first two members of the group in Congress. She advocates for a progressive platform that includes Medicare For All, a federal jobs guarantee, guaranteed family leave, establishing a Green New Deal, abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, free public college and trade school, infrastructure projects for renewable energy, and a 70 percent marginal tax rate for incomes above $10 million.
Simone Gao: Some newly elected democratic house representatives, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, believes in socialism. So do you think the Democratic Party is moving far left? Is this helping or hurting the Democrats?
Thomas Reston: I think it’s true that the Democratic Party in the last several years has slowly been moving further left than it had been for most of the last generation. I think that the Democratic Party, essentially since the 1950s, has been dominated by a centrist group of politicians who are very interested in the details of policies and the details of legislation. And they have exercised a very heavy dominance over my political party. In the last two or three years, there have arisen new centers in the Democratic Party to challenge the domination of this traditional group. And Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is one of them on the left who has said, look, the national political debate in the United States for too long has remained stuck in a situation where the rich and powerful in this country have been getting most of the benefits out of the system, and large segments of the American people have been left behind. And we have to turn our attention now to trying to redress this balance. I think she is a very gifted politician. And I think she is changing the debate. There are other people, more conservative than the centrists, who are also rising in the Democratic Party now to say wait a minute, we’ve got very conservative instincts which we think also need to be served by the Democratic Party. So I think there’s a real debate that is now emerging inside the Democratic Party for the first time in a generation, and she is part of that debate. I don’t think that it is a foregone conclusion that my party is going to move farther to the left. What’s going to happen is we’re going to have an honest debate inside the party about who we are and what we should be saying about our country moving forward.
Simone Gao: Do you think the far-left elements of your party speaks to the soul of your party?
Thomas Reston: Yes, I do. I think that the essence of the mission of the Democratic Party in American history and today is the fight for the outsider. Be it an outsider of religion or an outsider because of economic status or an outsider because of geography or because of race or for whatever reason that many Democrats see our politics as a fight between insiders and outsiders. And I think what you’re seeing now is a renewal of determination inside the Democratic Party to once again serve the interests of all kinds of outsiders. And I think that’s a healthy debate for the party to have.
Simone Gao: And you welcome the far-left elements of your party?
Thomas Reston: I welcome the debate. I am not afraid of the debate at all. I think this is a great time to be a Democrat in this country because of these emerging power struggles. And I’m very interested to see how they’re going to turn out. And I think the party has been too long just kind of keeping on keeping on. And I think they need to address these fundamental issues of fairness in America.
Narration: On February 5, President Trump pledged in his State of the Union that America will never become a socialist country.
Donald Trump: Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country. America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free and we will stay free.
Audience: USA! USA! USA!
Donald Trump: Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
Audience: USA! USA! USA!
Simone Gao: The president said we would never become a socialist country. Do you agree with the president that we should never become a socialist country?
Thomas Reston: Yes. My understanding of what socialism is, is state control of the economy and state control of business. And I don’t—I reject that notion. I have always been for capitalism and free enterprise. I think 99.99 percent of people in this country would reject that premise as well. I regard the president’s raising it in his State of the Union address as a kind of a cheap political trick because there is no one in this country who wants to do away with the free enterprise system. But I do think that—these labels aside—I do think the country could use a good debate about fairness and the economy. I think there is a difference between fairness for all people in our economy in the United States versus this kind of crazy idea of doing away with the free enterprise system.
Simone Gao: So you do not think we are on track to become a socialist country.
Thomas Reston: No, I don’t. I think that’s ridiculous.
Simone Gao: Welfare state is not a warm-up for a socialist country?
Thomas Reston: No, I don’t think so. I think that’s also a very crude, simplistic description of what is going on. We’ve had a welfare—we’ve had welfare and state support of those who are in deep trouble in this country ever since the 1930s. That’s 75 years ago. It has—we’ve had that system in place, an even more robust system in the 1950s and ‘60s than we have now of state support for welfare, which coincided with the gray period of economic expansion for free enterprise in this country. I don’t think that because you take care of people who are out of work, because the community expresses its determination to not allow people to step off the last rung of the ladder and fall into an abyss where they can’t support themselves or can’t find enough to eat, I think that is a proper thing for the American community to do. And I think it has nothing to do with restricting people’s freedom to own their own businesses whatsoever.
Narration: Coming up, is “The Wall” immoral?
On February 15, ten days after his State of the Union address, President Trump declared a national emergency on the southern border, tapping into executive powers in a bid to divert billions for border wall construction. At the same time, he signed a funding package that includes just $1.4 billion for border security which is sufficient for building 55 miles of fencing. The move is expected to face a legal challenge that could stall the attempt in the courts for the near future.
On Dec. 6, Nancy Pelosi said that additional barrier construction, as demanded by the president, would be “immoral still,” even if the Mexican government paid for it. On Jan. 3, in responding to reporters, Pelosi said, “A wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation.”
In his State of the Union address, the president said, “The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized. It is immoral to have the illegal immigrants.”
Simone Gao: In his SOTU address, the President said it is immoral to have the illegal immigrants coming over to kill and harm the American citizens. Nancy Pelosi said it is immoral to build the wall. Which one is immoral to you?
Thomas Reston: I think the whole way of discussing this problem is wrong. I think we have to step back and have a different kind of discussion about securing our borders on the southern side of the United States. I don’t think we’re necessarily getting anywhere with these charges of immorality back and forth. Obviously, it is unacceptable to have people coming illegally to the United States who harm our citizens. And I believe that the building of the wall, as proposed by President Trump, a complete wall across the southern border of the United States, is also sort of very much against the ethos of the American nation. I think there’s got to be a compromise about this. And the government has to be able to function and move forward. And I think the way the president has framed the debate, and he is by and large framing the national debate more than the Democrats are. I think is a very destructive way to set up a conversation about the health of the nation.
Simone Gao: It might be a destructive way to set up a conversation about the safety of our nation. But it is not president Trump, but Nancy Pelosi who set up this conversation. She first characterized the wall as immoral in December last year, and said it again in January. Then President Trump responded in his February State of the Union Address.
Simone Gao: What about Nancy Pelosi? She started this whole immorality back and forth by describing the wall as immoral.
Thomas Reston: I think the wall is un-American. That’s the way I would describe it. And I think the discussion should be what makes sense on the southern border rather than these very, very inflammatory words. It seems to me that if the Democrats are simply buying into the kinds of terms has suggested for the national dialogue, it’s not going to turn well for the Democrats. We should be using our own terms to try to frame the national discussion.
Simone Gao: So you disapprove both sides?
Thomas Reston: I am. But I think the president is largely responsible for the tenor of the domestic political discussion in the United States. He, more than the Democrats, has framed the way we talk about our politics these days.
Simone Gao: Reston brings up an interesting point. The president himself, especially thorough his tweets, and a newly robust conservative media are dwarfed in size by the left-leaning mainstream media. And yet, Trump remains the unmoved mover in American and even international media. He framed every discussion and the opposition media is always reacting to him. Let me know what you think by tweeting at us at @ZoomingInSimone. You can also join the conversation on our Facebook page and subscribe to our YouTube channel: “Zooming In with Simone Gao.” Goodbye until next time.