TAMPA, FLA. — I always feel sorry for telemarketers and pollsters who happen to catch me at home. I'm polite, but they usually get a lot more than they bargained for.
Unfortunately, many phone campaigns are designed to push a particular agenda and force those called to express their deeply held convictions in terms that support that agenda.
Too often in polls as well as solicitations, questions are framed in a way that any answer other than the one the caller is looking for appears improbable, foolish, or un-American.
One great for-instance is the Concerned Women for America solicitation call I received recently.
The opening question was: "Are you pro-life?"
"Yes," I replied, because I believe that abortion involves taking a life and should be avoided with few exceptions.
Having offered the hook, the woman on the phone attempted to reel me in with fear. She suggested that this is a critical time in America. That forces are aligning against life as never before.
And she said that if concerned citizens like me don't join her organization in the fight to ensure the confirmation of President Bush's Supreme Court nominee Judge John G. Roberts Jr., then all will be lost and we will slip further down the slope to moral decay, indecency, and - gasp! - liberalism in general.
Essentially, the pro-life group wanted $100.
I proceeded to tell the unfortunate caller why her organization was going about it all wrong.
"I'm a moderate Christian," I said. "I'm so much in favor of life that it concerns me when fearmongering is used to distort the debate and make a solid jurist look like an extremist. Intelligent, thinking people don't want extremists anywhere near a Supreme Court bench.
"Why are you limiting the scope of the selection process to such an irrelevant litmus test as Roe v. Wade?" I asked.
"Such red herrings tend to distract reasonable people from the factors that really count. I believe Roberts should be confirmed in relation to his commitment to the Constitution, his intellect, his jurisprudence, his history of making clearly reasoned decisions, and his moral character.
"Roe v. Wade is not a workable issue anymore," I said gently.
"Like it or not, that particular judgment is not going anywhere. The decision is enshrined in law and - no matter what your position on abortion - Roe v. Wade is immaterial compared with the responsibility we have to educate, influence, persuade, and provide viable alternatives.
"I mean no personal offense," I said. "But you asked for an opinion, and you called me in my home. The rhetoric of fear, especially when it is so obviously unfounded, will simply alienate moderate people of faith.
"Overstated fright and panic buttons will only distract moderates from the legitimate and important business of moving Americans away from the routine practice of aborting babies before they are born."
After my original answer of, "Yes, I'm pro-life," what disturbed me most about the phone call was the series of tacit - not so logical - assumptions that popped up:
• That being pro-life makes me a Republican.
• That being Christian makes me a Republican.
• That being Christian makes me susceptible to a single-issue pitch, and my faith absolves me from critical thought.
• That all liberals are pro-abortion.
• That being pro-life puts me in lock-step with those who confuse Christianity with the political right.
The confirmation of Judge Roberts is an opportunity to find out if he holds the peculiar combination of qualifications necessary to perform the signal duty of interpreting law in the sometimes murky light of the Constitution.
I do not yet know if Roberts is the right judge for the job.
However, I'm very sure that I don't want a justice who I have predetermined will always agree with me.
If Roberts should be confirmed by the Senate, my greatest prayer will be that this newest addition to the Supreme Court will be a jurist who is committed to personal growth and learning; someone who is not afraid to admit that he may be wrong on occasion; and someone whose reference point is always the Constitution - not an interest group that has already made up his mind for him.
• Derek Maul writes for Tampa Bay-area newspapers.