Like many concerned with the welfare of vulnerable human life, the results of the Nov. 4 election have led me to question where our country is going. Do the results imply we are growing more tolerant of abortion? After three and a half decades of strenuous effort to sensitize our friends and neighbors to the ‘silent screams’ of the unborn, does the electoral outcome mean we’re losing the battle for the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens? Does electing a president as politically tolerant of killing human embryos, fetuses and newborns as Barack Obama mean our country’s moral callousness is thickening? What does the Obama victory foreshadow for the future of preborn human life in our country?
As tempting as it is to construe the results for the worst, I am convinced that our country is no less sensitive to life issues today than it was in 2004 when the so called ‘values voters’ had their day at the polls. At least two things convince me of this. First, I believe that Barack Obama was only able to win the election because he disguised his morally liberal extremism with the willing cooperation of the liberal media. I’ll give just one example, but many could be brought to mind. Recall in the final presidential debate that McCain accused Obama of opposing a “Born Alive” law in the Illinois Senate that would have legally protected babies born alive as a result of botched abortions. Obama replied, “If it sounds incredible that I would vote to withhold lifesaving treatment from an infant, that’s because it’s not true.” He then said: “Here are the facts. The fact is that there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment, which is why not only myself but pro-choice Republicans and Democrats voted against it.” But as Robert P. George  has shown, Obama’s assertion was highly deceptive. Obama (and all at the Illinois debate) knew clearly—because the Illinois Attorney General publicly stated as much—that the existing law was inadequate to protect babies who were not judged ‘viable’, the judgement of viability being made by the abortionist whose abortion had just been botched. George writes, “As Obama and the other legislators knew, without the Born Alive Act these babies could continue to be treated as hospital refuse.”  Rhetorical moves such as this allowed Obama to avoid the social accountability his choices deserved. His consistently moderate façade was judged to be authentic by our socially conservative-leaning country. With feigned empathy, he said to us that abortion is a tragic decision for a woman and therefore that we should all work together to reduce the number; he said he defended legal restrictions on late term abortions, so long as they included a ‘health-of-the-mother’ exception; he repeated again and again that embryo research should be carried out with the highest ethical standards, and stated publicly that he opposed human cloning. His opponent took the strategy of letting the pro-life base expose Obama’s radical positions and rhetorical dissemblings, while he focused his public face on pressing issues otherwise less searing to people’s consciences, a strategy that in my opinion was wrong-headed from the start. Obama’s magnetic personality and persuasive—almost hypnotic—rhetorical aptitude were much too powerful to chance to anything less than a full exposure campaign. Perhaps most indicative of Obama’s victory in framing himself as a social moderate was the sizable success he had with pro-life voters, including pro-life Catholics. He was successful in selling the insincere claim that in the long run his policies would lead to a greater decrease in abortion in the U.S. than his opponent’s. In effect, that he was the real pro-life candidate! On Nov. 4 our country’s majority pulled the lever for a man whom they believed to be a social moderate, a uniter, a statesman committed to a ground of discourse above the bitter polarities so hated by all except in Washington, D.C. What they (we) got was a conformist whole-cloth liberal deeply committed to a leftist social agenda that excludes the weakest Americans from its assessment of the common good. Barack Obama is an African American without a memory.
Second, the election results are as much an expression of American aspirations as they are of American aversions. Regretfully, social conservativism in the past five years became linked to the defense of a war that many—including myself—judged to be unjust in its waging, and to a wider foreign policy approach—the so called ‘Bush Doctrine’—that many believed to be historically ignorant, culturally naïve and politically bullying. To be sure, many conservatives supported it, but not enough to tip the election. Whatever one thinks about these issues, many social conservatives, especially those for whom abortion was important but not defining, were uncertain about defending what they saw, not as compassionate conservatism, but rather as bellicose conservatism. Add to this the economic disaster that exploded into view at the end of September, and any hope for the incumbent’s successor was irretrievably lost.
Our parents taught us never to judge a book by its cover, either for worse or for better. Read it, they said, and then make your judgement. Our nation last week purchased Barack Obama based solely on his cover. His sound bites and slogans, stump speeches and campaign promises were no more than promotional material on the Obama dust jacket. But the book is now ours and we have four years to read it. And read it we will, whether we like it or not. I expect that when the majority of Americans begin to see clearly whom they elected, their enthusiasm will mute and their attention turn. And then the time will be ripe for defenders of life to put forward a freshly formulated and newly motivated appeal on behalf of the godlike dignity of every human person, especially the preborn. I agree with Dr. May that we need more effectively to address “disabling factors” preventing people from hearing the gospel of life. First and foremost we need to address widespread ignorance of basic truths concerning life issues, such as when human life begins, what you’re killing when you kill an embryo or fetus, whether the unborn feel pain, and whether abortion is bad for women. We need to continue to unmask the blatant falsifications of the abortion and embryo destruction industries, clearly set forth viable life affirming alternatives to abortion and embryo destruction, point out the psychological and moral link between contraction and abortion, and tirelessly proclaim God’s willingness to forgive those who execute or facilitate the killing of the innocent.
The election results are an opportunity for us to regroup in anticipation of a new day of pro-life evangelization in which the splendor of truth and gospel of life are confidently defended in the public square.
Copyright 2008, Culture of Life Foundation. Further publication granted, atribution required.