Hillary Rodham Clinton was an enthusiastic advocate for the cluster bombs that now litter the Serbia and Kosovo landscapes, set to kill or cripple for the next half century. But memories are short. Perhaps we will soon see HRC clutching some Balkan infant, bent over the maimed tyke. Who then will recall that she bears some responsibility for that lost limb? "I urged him to bomb," she confided to Lucinda Franks in Talk magazine. "You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?"
In fact, it's scarcely surprising that Hillary would have urged President Clinton to drop cluster bombs on the Serbs to defend "our way of life." The first lady is a social engineer. She believes in therapeutic policing and the duty of the state to impose such policing. War is more social engineering, "fixitry" via high explosive, social therapy via cruise missile.
There's not much of a left anymore. But there are plenty of therapeutic cops around and HRC is their leader, the very quintessence of social worker liberalism. All it takes to usher in the New Jerusalem are counselors, community action programs and tougher gun laws, which is what Hillary Clinton called for after Columbine. As a tough therapeutic cop, she does not shy away from the most abrupt expression of the therapy: the death penalty.
As far as I know, the first lady has as yet made no comment on it, but it would be interesting to get her reaction to a recent study that is now provoking spirited debate. Steven Levitt, an economist at the University of Chicago, and John Donohue III, a law professor at Stanford, have been circulating a paper--reported in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 8--that says the legalizing of abortion in the early 1970s has contributed to the falling crime rate in the 1990s. Indeed, they claim that legalized abortion may account for as much as half the overall crime drop between 1991 and 1997. Levitt says abortion "provides a way for the would-be mothers of those kids who are going to lead really tough lives to avoid bringing them into the world."
The authors cite statistics from five states that legalized abortion before the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973. These five states with high abortion rates in the early 1970s had greater crime drops in the 1990s. The Trib's story quotes Cory Richards, a policy wonk at the Guttmacher Institute, as saying, "This is an argument for women not being forced to have children they don't want to have. This is making the point that it's not only bad for the women, but for children and society."
So, from the social-engineering, crime-fighting point of view, the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1977 had the legalization of abortion in 1973--the Roe vs. Wade decision--as its logical precursor and concomitant. And the death penalty for undesired embryos has had the advantage of being a lot more certain, and cheaper to administer, than the death penalty for undesired adults.
Feminists, of course, see the abortion issue primarily in terms of freedom to make choices about their own bodies. This is a progressive premise. But American progressivism has some dark corners, not entirely unrelated to this issue. It was the liberal social-engineering tradition that sponsored the great sterilizing boom earlier in the century, whose rampages in Vermont are only now coming to light. As in many other states, progressives with a devout belief in the ability of science to improve Vermont's gene pool lobbied successfully for passage of a sterilization law in 1931. The law targeted poor, rural Vermonters, Abenaki Indians and others deemed "unfit" to procreate.
Now, the first lady, as anyone who has read "It Takes a Village" will know, is a social engineer. How does she react to Levitt-Donohue study? It's important, because if the study's implication--that abortion is beneficial social cleansing--is not vigorously contested, then the progressive mind-set that smiled on sterilization is still with us.