Everyone clings to something, and we now know what liberals cling to: guns and abortion.
By Daniel Henniger
Atop the quotable Barack Obama there will be this: "And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them."
Everyone clings to something. But when it comes to criticizing unseemly political dependencies, it's almost always liberals accusing them of clinging to positions and ideas that an enlightened society would have abandoned.
But what do liberals cling to? Recent events have revealed two things. Gun control and abortion.
The gun-control cling we know about because rarely a day passes without a news story about the Senate's gun-control legislation. Then there's the Kermit Gosnell abortion trial, which until recently few people knew about because there was little media coverage of it. The rise of the Web notwithstanding, it's still true that unless the mainstream press covers a story, it pretty much doesn't exist.
Kermit Gosnell is a Philadelphia abortion doctor who has been on trial the past five weeks on accusations that he murdered a pregnant woman and a number of fetuses who emerged from the abortion procedure still alive.
By now, many details of the accusations against Dr. Gosnell have become known. One will suffice. The Philadelphia grand-jury report, which is a hard read, says: "The way he ensured fetal demise [Dr. Gosnell's phrase] was by sticking scissors into the back of the baby's neck and cutting the spinal cord. He called that 'snipping.' Over the years, there were hundreds of 'snippings.'" Most were third-trimester babies. Eight of his clinic staff have pleaded guilty.
In these times of a media that need to fill a bottomless electronic news hole, a story as sensational as the Gosnell abortion trial should be everywhere. But as conservative bloggers and a few liberal writers such as Kirsten Powers have established in recent weeks, most major newspapers and TV networks have produced little or cursory coverage of this trial. The two exceptions are the Associated Press and Fox News.
The basic conservative criticism here is that the media have underplayed the Gosnell story because its details might undermine support for the abortion status quo, or at least cause people to ask what exactly that status quo is these days. Rather than risk that, the Gosnell story was demoted.
In response, some have said the conservative bloggers are wrongly seeing a conspiracy of silence where there is only a difference over news judgment. By now, this response is implausible. It is hardly a revelation anymore that the media play the news in subtle but tilted ways to protect what they think is a settled social good, such as access to abortion, no matter what.
Another question raised by the trial of this abortion doctor is the matter of reactionaries clinging to the past.
Mr. Obama's remark about rural Pennsylvanians clinging to guns and religion is the coin of the realm in his crowd. But let's put their shared consensus another way: Somehow it became a conventional view in contemporary American politics that it is non-urban conservatives who in every case have to accommodate their beliefs to a national culture created by people who live somewhere else. "They" must adjust on abortion, guns, school prayer, sexual mores and all the rest of it. Liberals, meanwhile, not only feel no need to concede anything but use the commanding heights of the press and academia to define anyone who dissents from their ever-evolving national culture as a political fringe obsessed with people, one might say, who aren't like them.
The gun-control bill is collapsing in the Senate because its liberal sponsors, led by Barack Obama and California's Dianne Feinstein, lost the support of Democratic senators from states with traditional hunting cultures, such as Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mark Begich of Alaska or Max Baucus of Montana. Why so many people in these states and many others to this day still distrust public authorities on guns is a good, but untold, story. Kentuckians recently voted the right to hunt into their constitution. Instead, gun-control's failure will be spun as a win for mindless Neanderthals "out there."
But what about Kermit Gosnell? This story suggests something Neanderthal-like may have developed around the fringe of abortion practice in the 40 years since Roe v. Wade. But rather than re-examine and even reform those practices, the curtain will be pulled on the Gosnell case. They'll cling to Roe, no matter how unseemly its status quo.
Political correctness—the silent code that decides whose side of the story gets elevated and whose side gets buried—has been a blunt but effective weapon, which the dominant liberal culture has used to achieve a lot of victories over "them" the past 40 years. But the wins have come at a price. That price is the return of an unmistakable, growing and potentially destabilizing bitterness in American politics.
A fairer-minded media would be the best way to level the playing field. Absent that, our politics will be leveled by other means. What the major media think then, if they're still around, won't matter.