Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Moral Quarrel
One of the most infuriating aspects of modern conservatism is its selfishness: Conservatives want what they want, and that's the end of the discussion. What somebody else wants doesn't make a damn bit of difference to them. Compromise is bad because it requires them to take something other than what they want, which is just like getting nothing at all. This selfishness comes in two flavors: A) the two-year-old-tantrum variety; and B) the moral absolute variety. The recess appointment of John Bolton is an example of the former. Regarding the latter--for all their talk about personal responsibility, conservatives often use moral absolutes to get them off the hook. What they want is (supposedly) all about what God or the Constitution or common sense demands, and neither they (nor you) have any control over it.

So it is with the ongoing controversy over pharmacists' "right" to refuse to fill prescriptions, which has been raging up here all year. A pharmacist who believes (contrary to established medical standards) that birth-control pills cause chemical abortions was disciplined by the state pharmacy commission for refusing to fill a college student's prescription. So the Repug majority in the Wisconsin legislature is helpfully rushing to make such moral judgments legal, claiming that it's only right for people to be able to follow the dictates of conscience--and good luck to those whose consciences dictate differently. The legislative battle over the bill will come this fall. If it passes, Jim Doyle's expected veto will come just in time to become an issue in the 2006 campaign for governor--which is already shaping up as a debate over sin and righteousness.

The "conscience" debate is taking place in the larger context of the abortion fight--and the under-the-radar wish of some right-to-life groups to ban not only abortion but contraception as well. The state's best-known anti-abortion group, Wisconsin Right to Life, officially takes no position on contraception, although it's pretty clear where their stand would be if they took one. A more virulently wingnutty anti-abortion group (and to be more virulently wingnutty than Wisconsin Right to Life takes some effort), Pro-Life Wisconsin, came out of the closet this week and admitted that it's opposed to contraception, too--at least of the chemical variety. (They've taken no position on rubbers or the rhythm method. Yet.) They'll probably be unsuccessful in getting contraception banned entirely, but they will certainly work to make it difficult to get wherever possible--by forbidding student health services at state universities to prescribe contraception, for example.

Behold the selfishness of moral absolutes--then extend it to its logical limits. If a pharmacist can refuse to fill a prescriptions with which he has some sort of moral quarrel, where will it end? Can he refuse to fill a prescription for an anti-AIDS drug if he thinks the disease is God's punishment of homosexuals? Can the pharmacy manager refuse to sell hair color if she thinks coloring your hair is dishonest? If the mechanic at my local auto repair shop thinks your SUV gets an insufficient number of miles per gallon, what's to stop him from refusing to work on it? If the clerk at my neighborhood convenience store is a vegetarian, what's to stop her from refusing to sell me a roller dog?

There are some universal absolutes in this country--they're in the Bill of Rights. What's not there is the absolute right to conform to your own moral code no matter what, even when that code infringes on the right of others to conform to their own moral code. Is that moral relativism? On the contrary--it's the only way our country has lasted this long, and if we abandon that social contract in favor of legislating morality by majority rule, we won't last much longer.

Truth in Labeling:
At last, our local reactionary rag, the Wisconsin State Journal, tells it like it is. Their headline this morning over the story of Bolton's appointment: "Bush Tells UN, World to Buzz Off."

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