Here are some facts about American abortion politics.
The view of the majority of Americans are a hopeless muddle. And to hold the extreme position in either direction poses some real difficult questions.
There are well-funded, politically powerful constituencies on both extremes. And since swing voters typically don't decide their vote on the basis of abortion politics, many politicians adopt extreme positions in order to placate these interest groups.
This makes politicians, and especially presidential candidates, ripe for tough questions on their abortion stances. Obviously that's fair game.
Here's another fact: America's national press corps is overwhelmingly pro-choice. In one poll, 90 percent of journalists agreed with the pro-choice position, 79 percent agreeing strongly. A landmark LA Times study showed how pervasively and consistently news coverage of abortion is skewed towards the pro-choice perspective through the use of the techniques that skew a story even while maintaining the appearance of objectivity (framing, angle, vocabulary, who to interview, how much space to give to each perspective and how to portray it, etc.). Famously (to social conservatives, although this event scarcely made any noise outside conservative blogs), then-New York Times editor Bill Keller, in an unguarded moment, rejected charges of bias in the paper of record on most issues — except on social issues, where he unabashedly boasted of his paper's liberal bias.
This means that while, again, in theory, it's perfectly fair game to ask politicians hard questions about the tough choices implied by their abortion positions, in practice only pro-life candidates ever get asked hard questions.
For example, as a national candidate, Barack Obama benefited from a veritable media blackout on his votes in favor of infanticide as an Illinois state senator. His explanation for the vote was taken at face value (including by supposedly neutral fact-checkers), even though it was false.
The standard pro-choice line — that it's all a big mystery when life begins, and therefore (somehow) the government should allow abortion — is left unquestioned by reporters even though it isn't backed by science. And we all know how much reporters otherwise love to hold politicians' feet to the fire when it comes to the all-important issue of their scientific literacy.
And because politicians are not perfect people (and are often not very good at communicating, which is strange given that it's the biggest part of their jobs), they often make a mess of it, even if not always of Mourdockian proportions.
Perhaps this is because the Republican consultant class, which is overwhelmingly pro-choice, has convinced them that abortion is a losing issue for the GOP (even though women, Latinos, and millennials, three crucial constituencies, are more pro-life than the average voter), and so they prefer to evade and downplay.
Or perhaps this is because they know that they are held to a double standard and that anything they say will only ever be interpreted in the worst way possible without any assumption of good faith.
In any case, most conservative politicians tend to play defense on abortion, even though playing offense is the right thing both morally and politically.
Now, enter Rand Paul. At a press gaggle in New Hampshire, the physician was asked about his pro-life position, and he gave the right answer, as Bloomberg News' excellent political reporter Dave Weigel reports:
Why don't we ask the DNC: Is it okay to kill a seven-pound baby in the uterus? You go back and you ask Debbie Wasserman Schultz if she's OK with killing a seven-pound baby that is not born yet. Ask her when life begins, and you ask Debbie when it's okay to protect life. When you get an answer from Debbie, get back to me. [Rand Paul, via Bloomberg News]
As a journalist, I hate to say this, but being tough on journalists works. Most of us are squishes. Only one side gets asked tough questions. Pro-life politicians should demand that journalists commit an act of journalism once in a while.
Paul asked that reporters ask DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz whether she thinks the abortion of a 7-month-old fetus should be legal. She gamely answered: "I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story."
So now the head of one of America's major parties is on record as supporting the legality of killing children who are fully viable and conscious. In the grim battlefield of our culture wars, call it progress, of a sort.