A few months ago a friend who is active in the pro-life movement told me something surprising. In his opinion the Republican Party had no real interest in overturning Roe v. Wade. It was really just lip service. As I told him at the time, I disagreed because the agitation didn’t look insincere to me. Still, I had to take his opinion very seriously; he’s whip-smart, politically savvy, and as attuned to abortion as to any other political or policy matter. Like a majority in the hardcore pro-life movement, he’s a Republican-leaning swing voter; pro-lifers appear partisan from a distance, but that’s mainly because Democratic politicians rarely say anything critical of abortion, while Republicans excoriate it all the time. He’s no sleazeball or hypocrite, either; he really walks the walk and leads by example, not sanctimonious admonition. So I took notice when he told me that in his view Republican rhetoric about Roe, the political keystone for both sides of the abortion debate, was just pandering (although he put it in slightly less cynical words).

There’s a common refrain from the left that of course it’s just pandering, that Republicans don’t care about abortion and are only using it as a wedge issue to rile up useful idiots. The problem with this critique is that the pro-life movement is exceptionally free of useful idiots. I have plenty of complaints about the pro-life movement. It is often monomaniacal, strident, unable to process relevant nuances and ethical dilemmas, and interested in subverting representative democracy by establishing a de facto corporate franchise on behalf of churches. It is not, however, a movement of useful idiots. The left grossly underestimates its intellectual firepower, and not because its brain trust is hiding behind idiots and wing nuts. The intellectual leaders of the movement, a very smart group indeed, are constantly publishing, broadcasting and lecturing for anyone who will listen–that is to say, not for the left, which is studiously deaf to their logic.

The way this plays out electorally is that with rare exceptions ardent pro-lifers vote for Republicans by supermajorities. If any single constituency put Bush over the top in 2004, it was pr0-lifers. Bush looked like hell on the Iraq war, but Kerry really looked like hell on abortion. My friend put it succinctly: Bush was stupid to pretend to be such a military hero, and Kerry was stupid to pretend to be so religious. The thing was that even as he made Bush look like a shifty, incompetent Pinocchio on Iraq, Kerry made him look like William Wilberforce on abortion, by mere virtue of being so stunningly condescending, pedantic and weaselly himself.

It didn’t have to be that way. Kerry could have made their debate on abortion a draw and simultaneously crushed him on the war. Had he done that the pro-life constituency would have respected him, and more than a few would have gladly voted for him. There is a very heavy concentration of pacifists in the pro-life movement; these people voted for Bush in spite of the war, not because of it. Kerry was unable to earn their support because he couldn’t imagine an intellectual world beyond New England and campaigned accordingly, which was just stupid.

That said, I think pro-life voters misjudged George W. Bush. It wasn’t really their fault; they knew what they wanted in a president–staunch opposition to abortion–and voted accordingly. What happened was that they got punked. Bush, the country’s most famous dry drunk, looked credible from a distance. If anyone is known for rapturous, heartfelt conversions to righteousness, it’s the dry drunk. As a professed born-again Christian, Bush was able to bring about a trifecta, his faith, political values and abstinence all buttressing one another.

It looked good to social conservative outsiders, but, at least according to David Kuo, his faith-based initiative policy wonk, Bush and his top aides professed very different things in private, viciously ridiculing religious conservatives. Like any bog-standard political operative, these people responded to Kuo’s publicizing their duplicity by accusing him of having sour grapes and, disgustingly, of showing poor etiquette. There is no disingenuous, hypocritical, morally repulsive smear that the creatures of that Machiavellian swamp won’t make for partisan or personal gain. To their way of thinking, privately making snide comments about a key constituency to which they pander is fine, but when a member in good standing of that same constituency blows the whistle on their lying sleaze, it’s a shameful breach of etiquette and confidence.

Rule of thumb: if you don’t want to be criticized for saying duplicitous, meanspirited things about a core constituency, to the effect that it’s a bunch of useful idiots, shut your damn mouth. Read the Book of Proverbs for ideas. Have the chaplain read from Proverbs at your next prayer breakfast, preferably while you stuff your trap full of pancakes and sausage, the better to: A) listen, and B) spend fifteen minutes not saying dumbass shit that will reflect badly on you among the  constituency that you’re insulting.

There are some constitutional problems with what I’m about to propose, but I’ll propose it anyway. Political sleazeballs who smear upstanding staff for exposing sleaze should be taken out front, handcuffed to the White House fence, and summarily flogged as a deterrent measure against asshattery. Peter Moskos will approve, as will James Traficant, although a rent-a-fence might be appropriate; when Traficant suggests flogging someone, the miscreant is always handcuffed to a chain-link fence.

Since Republicans talk so about our being a Christian nation, let there be no mistake that this is a Christian form of discipline and edification. Well, maybe more a Mosaic Jewish form, but the GOP tends towards Old Testament vengeance, anyway, not that soft-on-crime, liberal New Covenant forgiveness and shit. Spare the rod, spoil the child; amen, this model is, as the Economist wrote about the Blagojevich corruption convictions, the Rod unspared.

The constitutionally sound alternative might be for decent insiders, people like David Kuo, to take to soapboxes and cuss out the greasy rats. It might look undignified, even Qaddafian, but it isn’t just personal dignity that’s at stake. The country’s political future is, too. Rectification of names is the first step to rectification of policies: “You claim to be a pious Christian, but you’re really just a condescending, malicious, greedy, two-faced asshole!” This can be viewed as rendering to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s, pointed insults being one of Caesar’s stocks-in-trade. It’s like Prime Minister’s Questions, but with a slander allowance and more syntactical latitude. More importantly, though, the alternative is to spare the rod, or the Rod. Silence before such people is not fucking golden. When the grandiose or the sociopathic are in charge, they give up power only under duress, meaning that the meek do not inherit the earth. Jesus and his disciples tried that, and they got a lot worse than the chain-link fence treatment for their efforts.