Who Speaks for Gore?

As the U.N. conference on population winds down today, the administration's stance can be summed up in one vivid image: a silver bowl filled with condoms that sits on the desk of Timothy Wirth at the state department. Wirth is an under-secretary who played a major role in shaping the agenda for the Cairo conference. No wonder religious leaders around the world found themselves deeply opposed to that agenda. The draft document clearly promoted abortion as a means of population control and treated sexuality as an individual right rather than as a component of marriage and family. Yet, remarkably, the administration kept trying to play to both sides of the issue. Despite the clear implications of the U.N. document, Vice-President Al Gore insisted that it meant no such thing. The document, Gore insisted, was not designed to promote abortion but to make abortion "rare"; it did not aim at undermining the family but at making families stronger. Was the vice-president lying? No, I don't think so. He seems to be utterly sincere, without any malice or deceit. But the real explanation is perhaps even more disturbing. Gore seems to exhibit a personality pattern that psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton calls "the protean self." Lifton takes the term from Greek mythology, where Proteus is a god who constantly changes his shape. The protean self is a person who is constantly changing his convictions, who has no stable core of beliefs. In fact, Lifton says the Clinton administration offers a perfect illustration of the protean self. Take the president himself. Bill Clinton is well known for his constant shifting on issues. Yet in every shift of conviction, he remains perfectly sincere. As Michael Kelly wrote in the New York Times not long ago, "Clinton means what he says when he says it, but tomorrow he will mean [it] when he says the opposite." In short, Kelly says, "everything is true for him when he says it because he says it." It's as though Clinton believes he can will something to be true for the moment, and his will can make it true. What these protean politicians illustrate is the effect of the postmodernist movement. Through most of history, Western culture held that there is a single, universal truth. Christians and non-Christians disagreed over what that truth was, but they agreed that some overarching truth about the universe does exist. That belief fostered a coherent inner life and personality. But today our culture has adopted the philosophy of postmodernism, which denies any single, overarching truth. Ideas are regarded as products of individual experience; as experience changes, our ideas and beliefs change. Postmodernism fosters an inner life marked by constant flux. That's why the vice-president can sincerely say he wants to make abortion rare—and then just as sincerely support U.N. policies that will increase the availability of abortion. What this tells you and me is that abortion is not primarily a political battle. Ultimately, it reflects a battle over the very nature of truth in this postmodern world.


Chuck Colson


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