Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pro-Life and yet ... Pro-Obama

Abortion is the poster child of election issues for Catholic voters. Just like the ragged kid with the haunted eyes on the Save the Children posters, the all-out modern assault on the unborn tears at our emotions. We are sickened, angered, grieving, and humbled by our impotence to protect so many innocent lives.

I am just a little cautious about basing important decisions on such strong emotion. I think about all the Americans who voted for George W. Bush in 2004, even though many of them were very dissatisfied with his performance in his first term. Many people were motivated by the visceral fear and anger that had been stirred up on 9/11/2001, and that may have been magnified and exploited by the White House in order to motivate support for the administration and its policies. Many of the same people who let that strong emotion guide their decision now regret it. In the case of abortion, it's the guilt factor -- if you really cared about all those babies you'd vote GOP, no matter what!

It's not that I think we shouldn't take abortion into account in our voting decisions -- we absolutely should! It's just that I think we need to step back a little bit and try to look as objectively as we can at the concrete choice that confronts us. I feel a little bit as though the GOP has been telling us for years, "you're deathly ill so you need to let us bleed you! You need to take this magic elixir, because you're deathly ill!" We're deathly ill, all right. Our culture has become deadly hedonistic, utterly self-indulgent; sex on the first date is standard prime-time fare, and abortion IS used as birth control (take it from me, I've been out there single for a long time, this is something I know for a fact). But does voting GOP actually have any positive effect, or are they just pandering to our emotions and selling us snake oil? McCain's more anti-abortion than Obama, but he does not espouse a consistent respect for the unborn, either (supports embryonic stem-cell research).

And let's be clear, here. Obama is NOT the pro-life candidate, like a lot of my fellow lefty Catholics have tried to paint him, despite any fetal lives that may be saved by broader health care, and an expanded safety net in general. His comment about not wanting his daughters -- who have great health insurance and well-to-do parents -- to be "punished with a baby" if they should slip up in their sexual morals made it crystal clear. Given the chance, it seems that he will weaken any tiny margin of legal protection that the unborn have now.

But that's the crux of it, at least part of it: I am convinced that his or any other politician's impact on abortion is going to be very marginal, even if half of the Supreme Court were to turn over during the next 4 years. Reversing Roe vs. Wade would throw the question back to the states, and the fight there would be hot and ugly, and probably not very successful in very many places, and anyway how hard would it be to cross state lines for an abortion? Oh, a few lives would no doubt be saved, but the respite would be tenuous at best. The battle we have to fight is cultural, not legal. Legal restrictions on abortion will be meaningless, and probably unenforceable, unless they follow public opinion. We'd end up creating "martyrs" out of women with truly tough circumstances, and the whole attempt would backfire on us.

I recognize that Obama has terrific cultural appeal, as well, and unfortunately he may influence some young people in the wrong direction on this question. But again, so many people are already so far gone in the wrong direction, and so hardened in their positions, that I just don't think his impact, or McCain-Palin's, conversely, will be very great.

I've been a Democrat all my life, my family is all Democrat, probably all my friends are Democrats, nearly all my neighbors are Democrats (my county went for Kerry by something like 89%), and most of them are party-line pro-choice. Now, if you can radically lower the tone of the discussion ... maybe late in the evening, in a small close group, over the 3rd or 4th glass of wine ... thoughtful people will acknowledge that maybe the abortion-on-demand, no-questions-asked status quo goes a little too far. Maybe they would support banning late-term abortions, at least partial-birth abortions; maybe parental notification, with vigilance in case of abusive parents; certainly better informed-consent provisions (i.e., counseling of the mother). Maybe more, maybe they'd even support outlawing abortion except where the mother's life or health is really in danger. But they'd never admit any moderation in public! And they're really, really wary of that "slippery slope": they really don't want to give up their freedom, their autonomy.

And maybe they're right. Ultimately, God gives us free will, even though we misuse it daily. Ultimately, it's not about the brief suffering of the babies, it's about the everlasting fate of the perpetrators, the mothers and their doctors. It IS about choice, it is about conscience. No, I don't advocate abolishing laws. I totally advocate reversing Roe vs. Wade. I'm just saying that right now, today, until we can somehow restore the public's sense of horror about abortion, Roe vs. Wade is not the battle we need to be fighting. In fact, to reverse it now, as polarized as people are on this issue, would probably make it even harder to bring about the cultural change that will solidify pro-life laws, and really save lives.

You know, I read the Office of Readings every day. A lot of prophets. You know, before the exile to Babylon, one of the things the prophets condemned the people for was sacrificing their own children to a pagan god, Molech. What is amazing, though, is how little ink is spent on that particular horrific sin. Idolatry in general seems to be the number one issue, with child sacrifice and ritual prostitution being only the most outrageous manifestations of it. Social injustice, dishonest business dealings that impoverished others, covetousness and lack of charity, violence in general were all condemned. As horrendous, and as unequivocally condemned, as child sacrifice was, it was not singled out by the prophets among all the other sins of the people.

So ... Obama's attitude toward abortion is totally unacceptable. And yet, I am supporting him -- enthusiastically. I have the bumper sticker, I have the t-shirt. I get teary at the speeches. If I thought the next president would have more than a very marginal impact on the abortion craze, I would think twice about it. As it is, I pray for the heart-wrenching poster child, do my part to witness to the pro-life message among my friends and family, and then turn to what is really at stake in this election.

Other pro-life issues: Obama has worked effectively to save lives from capital punishment; and he opposed the war in Iraq, that was judged "unjust" by Pope John Paul II as well as our current Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger. McCain is on the wrong side of those issues.

America's image internationally, her relationships with other countries. This one, not abortion, is the number-one issue for me. We've had 8 years with a shoot-em-up cowboy, a playground bully. We do NOT need to go from that to an angry old man with a pit bull for back up. McCain seems to be haunted by our loss in the Vietnam War -- he talks and talks about how we can't quit in Iraq before we've won, but what would "winning" look like? We did win as the goal was originally stated, we deposed Saddam Hussein, but we did it so thoughtlessly that we threw Iraq into bloody chaos. What is the new definition of "winning" there? We need to be responsible about how we get out, but part of it needs to be to internationalize the stabilizing forces that support and train the still-new government there to stand alone. After Bush flipped off the UN and any ally who wouldn't accede to his illegal, unjust war, they have been understandably unwilling to send their troops into harm's way to help clean up the mess. McCain was for the war from the beginning, I don't see the allies helping him out there, either. But with Obama, they might. He spoke out against the war along with the allies, in 2003; maybe in 2009 they will come along and help him to pick up the pieces of the country that crazy cowboy broke. Did you know that 200,000 people went out to see Barack Obama speak in Berlin? He is extraordinarily popular overseas. If America's allies could vote, Obama would win by a landslide. Update: What this guy said

The economy. Of course, Obama's steadiness contrasts with McCain's erratic behavior. And on fundamental economic philosophy -- well, I never was a believer in the trickle-down approach. The gap between rich and poor has yawned wide open in recent years. Obama seems to be very rooted in social justice and the empowerment of marginalized communities and individuals. Poor working people can create jobs, too, if they can get a break -- there's just as much entrepreneurial spirit at the bottom as at the top, and and small, local businesses are in the aggregate (though not necessarily individually) a more stable and reliable base. Big business is not the be-all and end-all of "growing the economy", in fact it's a lot more likely to go chasing the bottom of the global markets for labor and other production inputs.

I was also never a big believer in rampant deregulation. I just don't have that much faith in the good intentions of the rich and powerful. Business has to be regulated; at the same time, regulations can't be so complicated, time-consuming and expensive to comply with that they create a serious lag on entrepreneurship. Obama has a record of consensus-building and creativity in crafting pragmatic solutions to real problems. A short record, granted, but his reputation both in academia and government is that of pragmatism and consensus-building. I wish I could cite the articles I've read to that effect, but I'm neither an academic nor a journalist, and I never think to keep track of that stuff. Sorry. Google it.

I have more faith in Obama's health-care plan than McCain's. He's "greener", more proactively supportive of clean, alternative energy -- Palin isn't even convinced humans are causing climate change. Oh yeah, Palin. The Couric interviews. Her ditsy performance generally. Comparing her years of experience with Obama's is just beside the point -- listen to them talk! Obama obviously understands the issues in depth. Palin obviously does not. Oh, she's a smart lady, I wouldn't call her a ditz if she were interviewing for some lesser job -- but well, doesn't McCain all of a sudden look a whole lot older? I mean, his age, his mortality, looms larger the more we see of his running mate. The thought of him in an ambulance and her all of a sudden at the helm ... oh no, no, no, no, no. No!

The way Obama has run his campaign is extremely impressive. Tons of volunteers all over the country, decentralized but perfectly coordinated, with a pragmatic strategy based on a perfect grasp of the convoluted electoral system. No, he hasn't been an executive, but this shows some serious executive talent.

There's something more, though, something indefinable. Obama really does inspire, he really does raise the level of discourse. It's as Ted Kennedy said, he makes us listen to "the angels of our better nature" (or something like that). Hope matters. Politics has been so dirty, so cynical and so untrusted, I guess ever since Watergate. We need someone to look up to. Someone who can lead, and make us want to follow. At least, I do, some of us do, some of us are tired of dirty politics and really want a change. You know, I am a Christian ... I believe in hope. Hope matters.

Obama/Biden '08

1 comment:

  1. I wonder how many of the Catholic single-issue voters realize that Sarah Palin was a cradle Catholic who left the church to join the Assemblies of God where it is often preached and taught that the Pope is the Anti-Christ?