WHEN GOV. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took off his sport coat and sat on a rail in a Towson University lecture hall Tuesday, I figured I was in for a treat.
No, not because of the brouhaha between the governor and this paper that has been going on for weeks. That will probably be resolved soon, perhaps even without any faces being punched or noses being broken. I was there so that -- in the event that Ehrlich said anything right -- I'd be able to report it.
And he said plenty that was right.
"How many of you are pro-life?" Ehrlich asked the students.
Only a few hands went up.
"How many of you are pro-choice?" the governor asked.
A lot more hands shot up. Then Ehrlich delivered his coup de grace.
"How many of those of you who have your hands up believe in partial-birth abortion?" Ehrlich asked. Most of the hands went down.
"Then you're not really pro-choice," Ehrlich said. "Not according to some people. My problem with some on the left -- not all, but some -- is that they say those who oppose gay marriage and partial-birth abortions are 'on the fringe.' But John Kerry opposed gay marriage."
Ehrlich had given the students a valuable lesson in the art of defining terms: who gets labeled what, when, where and why, and for what reason. This abortion debate is a prime example.
Ehrlich is "pro-choice." Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is "pro-life." The style most print media favor these days are the terms "pro-choice" for those who support abortion and "anti-abortion" for those who are against it, but that's just us journalist types trying our best to define the terms. I reject all three.
Abortion is legal in the United States because of the egregiously flawed Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. If you support that decision, you're anti-Constitution. If you oppose it, you're pro-Constitution. See how tricky this business of defining terms can get?
The Constitution limits the powers of all three branches of the federal government. When seven Supreme Court justices decided in 1973 that they know better than thousands of state legislators -- and the millions of people who elected them -- the prickly matter of when life does and does not begin, that was not a limitation of power. That was seven mullahs in robes assigning unto themselves godlike powers. The day the decision in Roe v. Wade was handed down was the day the Supreme Court hijacked the U.S. Constitution.
So much for the terms "pro-choice," "anti-abortion," "pro-life" and even "pro-" or "anti-Constitution." Ehrlich talked briefly about another term whose definition depends on which side of the political spectrum you happen to fall. Yes, I'm talking about that ever-reliable racial slur "Uncle Tom," used by black and white liberals alike to define black people like, well, Steele, for instance.
"Mike's heard it all," Ehrlich said. "J.C. Watts heard it in Congress. 'Uncle Tom,' 'race traitor,' that you can't be black and conservative or Republican."
In fact, Steele heard the "Uncle Tom" charge hurled at him by Maryland Senate President Mike Miller. I suppose, if I were the churlish type, that the appropriate response to Miller -- who called Steele the name during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign -- would be to ask what I ask of black folks calling other blacks Uncle Toms: Who died and made you the judge of somebody else's racial loyalty?
But perhaps the best response is to advise those on the witch hunt for Uncle Toms within the Republican Party to pay attention to the metaphoric literary figure doing real damage within black America. And it's not Uncle Tom.
It's Bigger Thomas -- the character from Richard Wright's Native Son who had the bad attitude and murderous streak and killed two women, one of whom was his girlfriend. Wright said he based the character of Bigger Thomas on black men with a criminal bent he knew while growing up in Mississippi.
Now let's ask ourselves -- as the number of murders in Baltimore creeps toward 300 once again -- who's responsible for committing them? Is it blacks who are more like the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin or are they more like the Bigger Thomases that Wright predicted would grow in number and menace over the years?
Black and white liberals have some explaining to do about why they find blacks with different ideas more menacing than blacks who commit murder and mayhem. Until then, we can only hope the day arrives that Ehrlich predicted at Towson University: when a man with Steele's color and ideas "is no longer newsworthy."