Grace to one’s opponents is such a rare thing

So let us praise it when we see it:

In 2009, Reva Siegel and I set out to collect primary-source documents that would show how the arguments for and against abortion reform proceeded during the years leading up to Roe v. Wade. We wanted to illustrate the complexity of those years — the diversity of opinion among conservative religious groups, for example — and also to provide evidence to refute the conventional wisdom that the anti-abortion movement was launched in reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision. For the book that we planned, we clearly needed to be able to print a sizable excerpt from the pre-Roe “Handbook on Abortion,” and for that, we needed the Willkes’ permission.

Obtaining permission to reprint documents had not been easy from either side of the debate. The estate of Betty Friedan, the feminist leader and founder of the National Organization for Women, charged us a substantial amount to reprint excerpts from two of her speeches. N.O.W. itself charged for reprinting its 1967 “bill of rights,” a list of the organization’s eight top priorities. Americans United for Life, which emerged quickly after its founding in 1971 as a major player on the pro-life side, refused to deal with us at all.

So it was with some trepidation that we approached Dr. Willke, who was then 84 years old. We wrote to him, indicating the pages from “Handbook on Abortion” that we wanted to include in our book. After a few letters back and forth, he gave us his permission, if not exactly his blessing; clearly he had his doubts, despite our assurances, that we really did intend to provide a fair representation of both sides. He charged us nothing, asking only for two copies of the finished book. The excerpt from “Handbook” ended up filling 12 pages of our book, the longest excerpt from a single document. (Our book, “Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling,” is available as a free download from the Yale Law School library’s web site.)

We didn’t expect Dr. Willke to respond, but a few months after we sent the two copies, a letter arrived, signed by both “Barb” and “Jack.” While they had expected that “we would probably end up in giving you a ‘D-minus,’ “ the Willkes wrote, “we are pleased to tell you that we give you a solid ‘B.’” They said they found the book fair to their side, adding that “we think its treatment of pre-Roe v. Wade is by far the best historical account that we have seen.” (A “B” after such a generous review? No grade inflation at the Willkes’, evidently.)

Dr. Willke was surely under no illusion that our encounter with his life’s work had changed our minds, but he was willing to give us the credit he thought was due. In this space, I do the same.

23 thoughts on “Grace to one’s opponents is such a rare thing”

  1. Generally speaking those painted as the ‘nasty party’ by their opponents in public debate are normally very decent people, the so called moral high ground merchants are usually complete shits.

    On the basis that decent folk don’t go around calling others names, I tend to side with whichever side gets painted the worst by the media/usual suspects. Hence my tendency to side with UKIP – anyone who gets called that many names and doesn’t really respond in kind can’t be far from the truth.

  2. I’m not sure I understand why they are having to pay touse historical documents in a non-fiction book. Doesn’t the ‘fair use and comment’ clause cover this, particularly if they give the source of the quotations.

  3. @Tyler

    You are wrong. Murphy is a magnanamous genius. He invented the word genius and redefined it. Here is proof “I invented the word genius and redefined it” – R Murphy.

    This is proof.

    He has spoken.

    What are you hiding?

  4. “Usually only applies to a couple of sentences and the like. Certainly not a page or two.”

    Not true. U.S, copyright law has no limit on the amount of material that can be used and still qualify for ‘fair use’. In fact, an entire document can be used. The definitive case on this is “Hustler vs. Falwell”.

  5. Generally speaking those painted as the ‘nasty party’ by their opponents in public debate are normally very decent people,

    Dubya Bush, for example. Unfailingly polite and very pleasant.

  6. @ the Oilfield Expat
    Maybe that is why far more Americans would like to go for a drink with *teetotal* Dubya than John Kerry.
    I worked for a few years with a guy who selected pubs on the quality of their lemonade (and visted them more often than I) but generally teetotalers who are good company to drink with are not much less rare than hen’s teeth.

  7. “Generally speaking those painted as the ‘nasty party’ by their opponents in public debate are normally very decent people, the so called moral high ground merchants are usually complete shits.” That’s true in my experience. But why? We need a General Theory of Personal Shittiness.

  8. So Much for Subtlety

    dearieme – “That’s true in my experience. But why? We need a General Theory of Personal Shittiness.”

    People who are on the side of the angels don’t need little things like common politeness. Their indifference to social norms is proof of their purity of purpose.

  9. @ dearieme
    Quite simple
    The decent guys/gals moderate their opinion of their opponents when speaking to any third party. The genuinely nasty slag off their opponents regardless of the truth.
    [Jim said it first]

  10. I’ve never met a successful politician of any party who wasn’t personally charming. The clue is in “successful politician”.

  11. GlenDorran/ AndyC

    As he often says ‘ I am a friend of the truth’ – interesting to note even if there hasn’t been a formal change of comments policy over there far more hostile/critical comments seem to be getting through. It’s possible either Coppola Comment or here might be threatening his position as the self-appointed ‘number one economics blogger’ in the UK.

    The Property register post comments show him up for the petty, small minded and ignorant fool he has so completely proven he is. I have no doubt Noel Scoper could furnish us with many more examples but this is an absolute classic of the genre.

  12. Objectivity. Truth. Respect for facts ahead of narrative.
    This lost world has disappeared from our educational aspirations. I feel very old.

  13. @PaulB

    ‘I’ve never met a successful politician of any party who wasn’t personally charming. The clue is in “successful politician”.’

    I’ve met loads. The key is not to be taken in by their lies and evasions. The clue is in ‘you’re a twat’.

  14. GlenDorran / Van Patten – The Property Register thread

    “petty, small minded and ignorant fool” – I would suggest he is becoming increasingly hard core fascist and authoritarian in his ideology.

    And I mean those words – are there any liberal democracies that enforce the kind of extreme law that he proposes?

    In the very first response, Don tries to remind him that “companies can hold companies”, eg a UK Ltd can own a property, and variations of Foreign Co can own UK Ltd. Isn’t that a simple way for it to be all UK based & 100% fine for rent / tax, but still retain privacy.

    But he later admits that it’s not just about tax – his comments make it clear that he doesn’t deny the charge of “nosey parker syndrome” (in response to Andrew).

  15. PF

    I think there are a number of ‘Daves’ in the comments here but one in particular has never wavered in his description of the basic Murphy/ TRUK ideology as fascist – the commonalities with either Germany or Italy pre Second World War are undeniable. He was even allowing someone to praise the policies of Hjalmar Schacht on one thread (though he displayed an uncharacteristic degree of historical knowledge not to support that comment directly)

    I think from my studies of Fascist regimes, many of the footsoldiers and indeed Senior Party functionaries were ‘small-minded, petty and ignorant fools’ so I don’t dissent from that description for him – but I completely agree the threatening nature of much of his commentary (which has always been a byword for abusiveness and lack of courtesy) in recent time suggest very strong authoritarian inclinations. Could be one of the reasons his sponsor also chose to back charities supporting ISIS – perhaps they see them as kind of ‘spiritual brothers’?

  16. “Andrew says:
    March 6 2015 at 12:10 pm
    OK. That is very clear. You want to confiscate the assets of foreign companies that don’t comply with your new registration or filing requirements.

    Richard Murphy says:
    March 6 2015 at 12:39 pm
    Yes

    And why not?”

    Holy. Shit.

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