Memo To: Gerald R. Seib
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Steve Forbes and Abortion
Your "Capital Journal" political column yesterday suggests there are two Steve Forbes's on the question of abortion — one who did not talk about it in the '96 campaign and one who talks about it a lot now, in preparing for the 2000 race. Although I expect to be supporting Jack Kemp in 2000, whatever Steve decides to do, I must protest your assertion that: "The Steve Forbes who ran for president two years ago seemed fixated on pushing the flat-tax system and showed little interest or comfort in discussing social issues or abortion." This statement is false, and the political columnist of The Wall Street Journal should not be making it. I do acknowledge that it is the current stereotype of Steve, but if you want to rise above a stereotypical column, you should not be trafficking in this kind of stuff.
In the '96 campaign, Steve made hundreds of speeches that developed cultural themes. He addressed the abortion issue hundreds of times as well. And I mean hundreds. He spoke out forcefully against abortion, but argued that it would not be possible to instantly change the law at the federal level given the clear majority support that some forms of abortion had in the electorate at large. His position was well reasoned and responsible — and politically acceptable to the Right-to-Life people. In the earliest days of the campaign, I talked to Jeff Bell, who is as maniacal as anyone on the issue, and he told me Steve's position was acceptable and realistic.
What happened next was that Steve fell into the clutches of an incompetent campaign strategist from North Carolina, who was not interested in the issue in the Iowa caucuses. Steve, of course, is to blame for allowing that to happen. He was a neophyte and deserves some slack on that account. But I must remind you that it was the Christian Coalition, which had committed itself to Bob Dole, which spread the word in Iowa that Steve Forbes was "pro-abortion," a truly ridiculous charge. Nobody is "pro-abortion." What I am telling you, Gerry, is that Steve Forbes has not changed his view of abortion one iota from then to now. It is the press corps that is led around with a ring in its nose reporting events in the most superficial way. What Steve is doing now is kissing up to the Christian Coalition the way Bob Dole did in 1995-96. You can say that is pandering, but it is better than taking off one suit of principles and donning another, in order to get ahead in the world. That, Steve is not doing and I believe he will never do. Even if he would be tempted, he is constitutionally unable to eat that much crap to get ahead. His position on the litmus test for the RNC on abortion is consistent with everything I know about him. I don't agree with it, but I believe without any hesitation that it is hones.
I'm writing this to you, Gerry, mostly to set the record straight on Steve. I'm also hoping that you will see that I am holding you to a higher standard in your commentary than you may feel comfortable with, I do, though, honestly think you can hit that standard if you tried. All you need to do is make a few more phone calls to check things out, before you right them down as gospel.