John Zmirak received his B.A. from Yale University in 1986, then his M.F.A. in screenwriting and fiction and his Ph.D. in English in 1996 from Louisiana State University. He has taught at Catholic and secular colleges, including Tulane University. He has contributed to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought. He has served as Senior Editor of Faith & Family Magazine and a reporter at The National Catholic Register. His new book, The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism, is now available. Check his new blogs and archived columns at The Bad Catholic’s Bingo Hall.
My prolife friends and I had gotten our hopes up after Ronald Reagan won. Then came Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992), when Sandra Day O’Connor (a Reagan appointee) joined the majority in grounding the “right” to abortion not on the fictitious sands of the invented right of “privacy,” but on the Constitutional rock of “liberty.” Some months later, we marked New Year’s Eve together in the home of Manhattan’s Latin Mass church lady, sharing a fifth of Jameson’s and months’ worth of impotent rage. Just what would it take to pull the abortion issue from the tabernacle of “constitutional rights” and restore it to the reach of democratic governance—a Christian revolution? I observed:
“The Court ruled that Americans now take abortion for granted as back-up birth control, so now it’s part of the right of ‘liberty.’ If that’s true, it’s hard to see how we could ever pass any pro-life legislation. You might as well rename our country,” I said with disgust, “the United States of Abortion.”
At that, the drunkest Hibernian in the room (let’s call him “Andrew”) said, “So you want to kill unborn babies?” and punched me in the jaw. He was a full foot taller than me, and built like a rugby player, so when he jumped on top of me and tried to choke my life out, I was forced to reach down and squeeze really hard. He was halfway to joining the Church Father Origen as a eunuch for the Kingdom when his friends peeled him off, and sent him to stumble down the stairs in search of ice.
I ran into this fellow next on the subway two years later. He asked what I was doing for the summer. “Telemarketing, to fund my dissertation on Walker Percy.”
He retorted: “I’m fighting the Protestant work ethic and the Freemasonic economy, by drinking, and refusing to work. And I’m getting arrested for Operation Rescue. Are you doing rescues?”
“I’ve been praying the Rosary outside the clinics, but I can’t get arrested. I don’t have the bail money—I’m just a grad student.”
“I see!” he said. “So I your Ph.D. is more important than unborn babies…!”
I got off at the very next stop.
The last I heard of him, “Andrew” was tossed out of the Dubliner in D.C. in the wake of the March for Life. After a dozen pints of Guinness, the bartender cut him off. So he jumped the bar and started sucking from the keg. It took five cops with nightsticks to subdue this hero of the Culture of Life.
Whenever I read of Catholics who urge us not to vote for the most electable pro-life candidate, I mutter: “Andrew.”
How manly it feels, refusing to “compromise.” How satisfying it is to flounce away from the playground with your marbles tight in your whitening hand: “That will show them. I won’t be fooled again by the party that holds out the carrot of Roe v. Wade to make us jackasses pull the cart. I’ll write in Ron Paul. Or Pope Pius IX. Or Eamon de Valera. I won’t compromise—I’m too much of a man for that.”
I felt that way and voted that way in 1996, 2000, and 2004. It helped that I lived in New York State—where any candidate much to the right of Saul Alinsky was already doomed.
But the first year I lived in a “swing state” (New Hampshire) where my vote might actually make a difference to the outcome—to the question of whether the next Supreme Court justice proposed would be a Scalia or a Sotomayor—my fun was over.
It was time to grow up. I actually had to choose between the alternative of doing my (little) best to push back against the gigantic evil that had overwhelmed my country, or toddling off like Onan to spill my vote upon the ground.
Those of you who live in one-party states like New York and California are still free to join my old pal Andrew (and the old me) out on the pavement outside the Dubliner. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling, there flat on your back, and self-satisfaction is foaming, free on tap.
The rest of you, who can actually do something to restore our Constitution and our liberties, I hope you will pretend, for a moment, that 3,300 innocent unborn lives a day might rest on your decision. As they do.