Immigration, Abortion, and the Missing Virtue

President Obama takes executive action on immigration, and some Congressional leaders promise to do whatever it takes to stop him. Amendment 1 removes the judicial impediment to abortion regulations, and some pro-life state legislators may want to make up for “lost time” in regulating abortion. As I considered the two situations, a word seldom used anymore kept coming to mind.

That word is prudence. It is known as one of the four cardinal virtues. And it is virtue particularly needed at a time when the vast majority of Americans distrust their government and politicians. Without prudence, that distrust will only grow, and without trust, our government cannot function well.

Prudence Defined

Prudence was defined by Noah Webster in his famous 1828 dictionary as follows:

“Prudence implies caution in deliberating and consulting on the most suitable means to accomplish valuable purposes, and the exercise of sagacity in discerning and selecting them. Prudence differs from wisdom in this, that prudence . . . is exercised more in foreseeing and avoiding evil, than in devising and executing that which is good . . . .”

Or, as Webster summed it up in the last sentence of his definition: “Prudence is principally in reference to actions to be done, and due means, order, season and method of doing or not doing.”


In the case of immigration, prudence is certainly needed. Our immigration “situation” is a mess. There are legal, constitutional, philosophical, theological, and practical issues to be considered. The impact of any policy will be great and far reaching. If a pebble thrown in a lake causes ripples vastly disproportionate to its circumference, then action on immigration is by comparison a boulder thrown into a pond.

That the President thinks he knows what is right and is willing to do it even if it is contrary to his previously expressed understanding of his limited constitutional authority is clear evidence that he lacks prudence.

That some Republicans, in an exercise of bravado and playing to their base, start saying they will do whatever it takes to stop him could lead to counterproductive actions and more government distrust if prudence is not exercised.

In saying that, I don’t mean that nothing should be done on immigration or that unconstitutional exercises of authority should go unchecked. But prudence dictates that there be serious deliberation and consultation in order to determine the “due means, order, season and method” of approaching an unavoidable issue and reigning in the president.


And in Nashville prudence should dictate how pro-life legislators proceed after the passage of Amendment 1.

Public polls and campaign internal polls showed that well over 60% of Tennesseans believed a woman should be fully informed prior to an abortion, have time to consider that information absent life-threatening exigent circumstances, and know that the clinic she went to was licensed and inspected by the state health department. So, the prudent legislator would ask, “If that’s true, then why did the amendment only pass with only 53% of the vote?”

Having been intimately involved in the campaign, I can give you my opinion. The ten percentage point difference was a reflection of people’s distrust of their government and politicians and their application of that distrust to specter raised by opponents that the legislature would go “too far” in regulating abortion, beyond what they were ready to accept.

In that atmosphere of distrust and fear of government interference, prudence might consider how the cause of life can best be advanced over the long haul, not just in the short run. Whether prudence or being seen by others as the most pro-life legislator will win the day remains to be seen.


Prudence is in short supply in politics these days. And perhaps it’s because politicians cast prudence aside to placate the frustration of voters with gridlock. But as an old legislative colleague of mine used to say, “Sometimes you can get there faster by going slower.” Advice some of our current politicians would do well to heed.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.
Learn more about all our RSS options.

Advertisement Ignites Debate on Amendment 1

Full or nearly full-page advertisements against Amendment 1 to Tennessee’s Constitution to be voted on in November ran last Sunday in the lead newspapers in each of Tennessee’s four largest metropolitan areas. The advertisement was shocking, but it did provide voters a better understanding of what those opposing the amendment think.

The ad and those who paid for it literally called the state legislature the “Tennessee Taliban,” and by extension, all those who support Amendment 1. But the narrative description of those who support the amendment really took the cake.

TN-Taliban-Ad-DrawingIn two of the newspapers, the advertisement’s text was accompanied by a picture of a man wearing a turban marked “Tennessee legislature.” He is holding a scroll with the words “Amendment,” and has one foot planted on the shoulder of a prostrate woman in a tank top and bare legs, looking helpless. “Tennessee women” is written on her head.

The picture was certainly inflammatory to all people of goodwill who prefer reasoned debate to name-calling. But the imagery and text of the advertisement made clear the understanding of the advertisement’s sponsor relative to the American political process and constitutional government.

The advertisement’s argument could be summed up as nothing more than the trite expression by liberals that “conservatives” (in this case, pro-life citizens) are “imposing” their values on everyone else. The implication was clear that the pro-life folks are dictatorial and, if necessary, even physically so.

Ironically, the advertisement’s sponsor made clear who the dictatorial parties are in the debate over Amendment 1. The amendment is about using the democratic process created by our republican form of government to allow the people to govern themselves when it comes to how our society will handle the issue of abortion. As I understand it, such a process under the Taliban philosophy of government is a no-no.

The Taliban would have the civil government impose its views on the people it governs; in our form of government, no one imposes their views on anyone. We choose the views by which we will govern or regulate our interactions with one another.

That’s what makes the don’t-impose-your-morality-on-me argument so inane. No one imposes his or her morality about abortion or any other issue on anyone else, and in any event, someone’s morality will always be reflected in the law that we collectively choose to govern us all. So, either no one “imposes” any law or morality on anyone, or else we all do it to each other at different times by means of some law on the books.

The bottom line is that those who were behind the advertisement and, generally speaking, those who oppose the amendment, are fearful of the American political process. They fear that a majority of Tennesseans will not share their view about the taking of an innocent unborn child’s life. They prefer to have five unelected people on the state’s Supreme Court take this issue away from the people.

In a very real sense, running to the courthouse to get a majority of five largely unaccountable people to enshrine your view of a long-running cultural debate into the constitution is more like the imposition of one group’s views on another than those whom they accused of being the “imposers.”

As the lone dissenting justice said in the case that “wrote” abortion into our state constitution, four of five Tennesseans, by virtue of their position on the state Supreme Court, imposed one side’s view of abortion on all those who have another view. And opponents of Amendment 1 want to keep it that way.

It seems that Amendment 1’s opponents prefer a judicial dictatorship to a republican form of government in which free people democratically elect those whom they want to represent their views.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.
Learn more about all our RSS options.