Policies and Consequences

A FUNNY thing happened on the way to the Republican Convention. Two candidates got asked a question, but two fathers answered.

What would Dan Quayle and George Bush do if a daughter or a granddaughter wanted to have an abortion? The Republican platform on which the two candidates must stand is unequivocal: no abortion for any reason, not even rape or incest.

Yet both men broke away from their official position when confronted with the agonizing hypothesis. The decision to have an abortion, they said, should rest with the woman - at least if she happened to be a Quayle daughter or a Bush granddaughter. Referring to the choice, the President said, "Well, who else's could it be?"

Cynics may argue that a canny straddle is being conducted here - a strategy to have it both ways on a sensitive issue. But Mr. Bush's added words seem to express genuine emotion. If he couldn't talk his granddaughter out of the abortion, he said, "I'd love her and help her, lift her up, wipe the tears away, and we'd get back in the game."

This does not sound like the calculating speech of a candidate. For the moment, "family values" of a very private sort are being voiced from the heart.

Should more questions be addressed in this manner, forcing politicians to respond on the basis of direct involvement, real or imagined?

A couple of follow-up questions: If a grown daughter of the vice president's did carry her baby to term, would he also revise his position on parental leave?

If a brother or a sister fell through the cracks and ended up on the street homeless, would elected officials acquire a new sympathy for programs helping the poor?

Call this a test for trickle-up morality - granting no VIP exemptions, making the highest in the land pay the same price levied on the lowest. Call it democracy. For their own good, for our own good, politicians need a reality check. Is it playing games to ask policymakers to put themselves in the shoes of those who will be affected by their policies?

On the contrary, it may be playing games to set policies without imagining in the most heartfelt way the consequences of policies for ordinary people.

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