August 19, 2008

Obama's Absolutism

The issue that isn't going to go away...mainly because the rhetoric doesn't match the record. Peter Wehner at Contentions:

I’m beginning to think that the abortion issue may have the potential to be, for Barack Obama, the policy equivalent of his long-time association with Reverend Wright. I say this for two reasons. The first is that Obama’s record on abortion is as extreme as one can possibly be. Senator Obama is unable to point to a single abortion he would oppose (his “health exception” for the mother is a well-known loophole whose effect would be to allow even late-term abortions), to the point that he was not even willing to extend basic protection to a child born during a failed abortion and living outside the womb. For a person who said, during his conversation on Saturday with Rick Warren, that the greatest failure of America is not to take seriously the injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me,” this is an extraordinary position.

But this issue has now traversed into the matter of public character. Obama accused the National Right to Life Committee of lying because it said that he voted to kill legislation that included a “neutrality clause” he now claims was the sine qua non for his support for pro-life legislation. If the neutrality clause was in the legislation, Obama now says, he would have supported legislation protecting the life of newly born children who had survived an abortion. But National Right to Life has, in Rich’s words, “unearthed documents showing that the Illinois bill was amended to include such a clause, and Obama voted to kill it anyway.” So Obama was, at best, wrong in recalling his own past position. At worst, Obama himself is misrepresenting his position and, in accusing the National Right to Life Committee of lying, is doing so himself.

Senator Obama is becoming what the apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 13, calls a “resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.” By that I mean Obama uses language that is meant to portray himself as thoughtful and reasonable, able to grasp the nuances of every argument, even those with which he disagrees. Obama is himself, according to this narrative, the antithesis of an extremist. He is our hope for a post-partisan future, the answer to divisive politics, the solution to the “culture wars.” And yet on an issue of enormous moral gravity–Obama himself says that he’s “absolutely convinced that there is a moral and ethical element to this issue”–he has embraced legislation that is extreme, inhumane, and outright brutal. There is no indication that he has the slightest sympathy for unborn children or any interest in ending the “culture wars.” His past policies would, in fact, deepen the divisions.

It has become increasingly clear that we need to devalue Obama’s rhetoric, since it is so much at odds with his record. Maybe no issue underscores this more than abortion.

Obama has simply not been straightforward about his absolutist track record on abortion, as David Freddoso and Rich Lowry have ably argued. His positions have been so far out of the mainstream of American opinion that he can hardly see the center, let alone bridge the divide he might find there. Instead he tries to go on offense, labeling as liars the people who have brought to the public eye the positions he has always held, but now considers politically perilous. His more mainstream pose of 2008 is understandable, but it's as transparent as it is empty, given the track record. From the Lowry article:

In 2007, Obama told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund that the Freedom of Choice Act would be the first piece of legislation that he would sign as president. The act would not only codify Roe v. Wade, but wipe out all current federal, state and local restrictions on abortion that pass muster under Roe, including the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding of abortion. This is not the legislative priority of a man keenly attuned to the moral implications of abortion.

For my part, I wish government action on the abortion front were less focused on legislating restrictions (though that is a perfectly legitimate function of legislators accountable to their constituents) and more focused on promoting education and adoption, and policies to help prevent unwanted pregnancies. That makes more sense to me as a long term plan to reduce the practice, and more consistent with a conservative stance to limit the power of government.

But the issue here isn't the complexity of the abortion issue. It's the honesty of politicians. Oh yes, and the responsibility of the media to fairly report their lapses in honesty.

UPDATE 8/19: See also Hot Air

Posted by dan at August 19, 2008 9:45 PM