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Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War First Edition, With a New Preface Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520243361
ISBN-10: 0520243366
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A fascinating and detailed history of many of the high profile political battles in which choice was a major issue." -- Cecile Richards, Conscience

"A fascinating tale of choices made and perhaps ultimately regretted." -- Amy Sullivan, Washington Post Book World

"Bearing Right explicates the complexities of this struggle in consistently insightful detail." -- New York Times

From the Inside Flap

"Saletan's Bearing Right is as subtle and intelligent a study of abortion politics as has ever been written. You may not agree with the conclusions, but no one concerned about this issue can afford to miss this brilliant analysis."—Charles Krauthammer, syndicated columnist and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary

"Saletan destroys the myth that there's nothing new to say about America's abortion debate. His argument that the pro-choice movement has preserved abortion rights by co-opting conservative rhetoric will make activists on both sides of the debate uncomfortable, which is an achievement in and of itself. There's no smarter political commentator in Washington today."—Peter Beinart, editor, The New Republic

"Will Saletan is one of America's shrewdest political writers. He brings clarity and intelligence to the roiling abortion debate, in a challenging and illuminating work of contemporary history. If you care about the issue of abortion, you must read this book."—Rich Lowry, editor, National Review

"A unique assessment of recent abortion politics. Saletan uncovers political and institutional strategies with lucidity and verve. This book makes a raft of challenging arguments--a must-read, especially now."—Rickie Solinger, author of Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the U.S.

"Will Saletan is a great political journalist with a strong moral sense. He also has an unusually shrewd understanding of what happens when ethics and values meet elections and the legislative process. So partisans on every side of the abortion debate--Saletan shows convincingly there are more than two--will be challenged by his book, at times upset, and always enlightened. Based on exceptional reporting and fiercely independent analysis, Bearing Right is eloquent, important, and surprising." --E.J. Dionne, Jr., syndicated columnist and author of Why Americans Hate Politics

"A unique assessment of recent abortion politics. Saletan uncovers political and institutional strategies with lucidity and verve. This book makes a raft of challenging arguments—a must-read, especially now."—Rickie Solinger, author of Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion, and Welfare in the U.S.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 343 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition, With a New Preface edition (October 20, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520243366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520243361
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,083,383 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sage Ross on February 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This unfortunately titled volume is sure to attract many puzzled and curious readers: "They/we won the abortion war?!? When did that happen?" But William Saletan's conservatives are the "pro-choice conservatives"; right-to-life activists call them liberals and politicians call them moderates. These swing voters, conservative but not radical, pro-choice but pro-restriction, have dictated the terms of engagement in the abortion war from the late 1980s on. And Saletan's well-written account of abortion politics since that time gives no indication that the conflict is over, or will be any time soon.

Bearing Right begins its narrative in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1986. Pollster Harrison Hickman is leading a focus group on a proposed amendment to the Arkansas constitution to ban public funding of abortions, while the strategists of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) watch from behind a darkened glass panel, discussing how to turn the values of the Arkansas populace against the popular amendment. Remarkably, they succeed.

Despite voters' widespread disapproval of public funding for abortion, Hickman found a pair of key weaknesses: women were far less likely to support the amendment when rape entered the picture, and men reacted strongly when the amendment was portrayed as government intrusion into private family decisions. The resulting media campaign based on Hickman's insights marked the beginning of a dramatic shift in the terms of the public discourse on abortion rights. Pro-choice activists embraced the language of libertarian conservatism, the first slip onto a politically expedient slope that would gradually erode the meaning of "choice." They soon found that their ungrammatical new slogan, "Who Decides-You or Them?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an extremely readable and well-written recounting of the course of the politics of abortion from the perspective of the "sides" of the issue. As such, it's probably bound to tick off both "sides" at one point or another -- and I wouldn't take extreme negative reviews seriously, because they don't really appreciate the depth and clarity of the analysis. While I might quibble with some of the details, there's no denying it's a very well-researched book and one that, unlike most political tomes this side of Al Franken, can be read without feeling like you're stuck reading a textbook. My only real complaint is with the cover -- once again, a picture of a full-term pregnant woman to frame a book about abortions done months and months earlier, and this one with a little suggestion of female anatomy -- not helpful in taking the book seriously. But don't take this book by its cover -- if you're interested in genuine thoughtfulness and a little inside baseball on the give and take of an issue that touches most of the hot buttons of American politics, this is the book.
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By A Customer on October 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This was completely different from everything I've read about this issue before. The details about what goes on behind the scenes are amazing, the polls and focus groups and how every word you hear from the politicians is gone over with a fine tooth comb to spin the public. I highly recommend for anyone interested on either side or in politics generally.
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Format: Hardcover
Reviewer Humbug obviously doesn't see more than one facet to conservatives. For the sake of a manageable title, Saletan didn't say "anti-government" or "libertarian" conservatives, but once you start reading the book it's clear. It's the best analysis I've seen of abortion politics; I've long felt that both sides were framing the issue wrong. In my view it should be about helping women with the resources to carry their children to term, the pro-life feminist position. Saletan captures that dynamic pretty well - pro-choice feminists reluctantly using the libertarian stick to win, in effect giving power over the issue to people (and legislators) who think abortion should be legal but constrained by sensible restrictions through democratic institutions, not the courts.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The broader project on how we ended up with the battlelines we have now on abortion rights is very interesting, and lays out how the closest thing we have to a national consensus on abortion is essentially libertarian in a way I hadn't really considered. It's also a valuable exploration of abortion politics beyond the easy pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy, one that takes in the range of perspectives which drive Americans to their policy preferences and politicians to their strategies, rhetoric and proposals. That being said, it's a little granular, and its interest in the details about individual (and often somewhat minor in the broad scheme of things) political battles of the late 1980s and 1990s as examples of Saletan's broader points start to drag. This was a slower read than it needed to be. I also walked away with a sense that Saletan's thesis was ultimately not fully defended - while he seems to lay responsibility for the arrival at the libertarian consensus at the feet of pragmatic decisions in political communications made by pro-choice advocates, I don't think he fully grappled with one other conclusion you could take from the case he made, which is that pro-choice advocates were facing a difficult big picture in defending abortion rights to a fundamentally conservative body politic and chose to fight the fights they could win in a way that would allow them to do so. (My version is also out of date. I would've been interested to read how he fit this theory to the developments of the Age of Obama and the campaign for clinic regulations.)

If you're particularly interested in abortion politics or political communications it may be worth a read. If you're casually interested in abortion politics or political communications the introduction (or maybe the introduction plus the first three/four chapters) should cover it.
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