Commentary Magazine


Re: The Mask Slips

Jennifer, to second you: 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. It isn’t a pleasant issue to debate, but it is a terribly important one. And Obama is not only on the wrong side of it: he inhabits a small sliver of ground where few others have dared to venture. Many people, even those who consider themselves pro-choice, find killing a baby who has survived an abortion attempt to be deeply troubling and wrong. But not, apparently, Barack Obama–at least before he decided to run for President.

Senator McCain is often not comfortable talking about abortion, but as he showed in his conversation with Rick Warren, he can be effective in discussing it. This issue should now become central to the campaign, because of what it reveals about the moral sensibilities and radical views of Senator Obama.

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