Originally posted at Cahiers Péguy.
Deacon Scott Dodge's recent remarks about Abraham Lincoln (Inherent complexity defies reduction) and the problem of abortion are very helpful. While he does not make any parallels between Lincoln's pre-presidential stance on slavery and that of Barack Obama on abortion, my own discovery (through Deacon Scott's work) that Lincoln's stance evolved, shines new light on questions I have been grappling with. And let me be very clear: Deacon Scott has been consistent (on his own blog and here) in his repudiation and condemnation of Obama, Biden, and Pelosi when it comes to abortion.
For some time, I have wanted to know why, in the end, politicians are "pro-choice," particularly when a majority of voters polled have responded on multiple occasions that they are pro-life, and when "47% of all Democrats agree, 'abortion destroys a human life and is manslaughter'" (Democrats for Life, by Kristen Day). The political process is supposed to guarantee that when a majority of Americans are opposed to a particular policy or law, politicians will shy away from supporting it, right?
It is tempting to think that money is the culprit, and perhaps it is. I tried to do some research on-line to discover just how much money Obama receives from pro-abortion organizations, but I wasn't able turn up any easy-to-find figures. This work will have to fall to someone more competent in this area.
Meanwhile, the problem of Abraham Lincoln's "nuanced" position on slavery, as documented by Deacon Scott, offers a fresh angle of approach to my own question. Lincoln, it can be presumed, did not practice politics within the same money-saturated political climate we find today. So, why did he, at one time, support slavery, albeit within limits? The answer to this question could go further toward answering the question that concerns me: How is it possible for a candidate to be personally opposed to something while exercising his or her political power to make the "regrettable" more likely to happen more often, even while those who have elected him or her have expressed their opposition?
Abraham Lincoln's position on slavery evolved over time. It may be that his personal opinion about slavery never changed. Perhaps he began with the belief that the overthrow of that loathsome institution would be impossible, given the cultural and economic situation of the country. Then, when he saw possibilities open up, he reached toward them.
It may be that Obama likewise supports the practice of abortion because he believes it is a regrettable given in our society. His voting and public statements, however, don't leave much room to hope that this is the case.
But, even more likely is the possibility that Abraham Lincoln was a man of his time and culture, that slavery was an evil he, like his compatriots, had grown accustomed to. When a great evil is legal and widely practiced in a given country, it is easy for citizens to make room for it, even if they recognize its evil. Rationalization (it may be wrong, but how else could our economy/culture/all that's good in us survive?) and relativism (not right for me, but for others...) sometimes seem to us the more intelligent, "nuanced," and urbane responses to social ills.
Let's put cynicism aside and assume that Obama means it when he says,
Statements like this one reveal Obama's real concern for his fellow human beings, particularly those who are weak or disenfranchized. So, why doesn't he fight, with the same passion, for the lives of those who are weakest and least capable of ensuring their own opportunity and equality? Perhaps he, like Lincoln, believes that while abortion may be evil, the alternative could be worse.
“I'm in this race for the same reason that I fought for jobs for the jobless and hope for the hopeless on the streets of Chicago; for the same reason I fought for justice and equality as a civil rights lawyer; for the same reason that I fought for Illinois families for over a decade… That's why I'm running, Democrats — to keep the American Dream alive for those who still hunger for opportunity, who still thirst for equality.”
Or he has bought into a mentality that goes largely unarticulated, but which says that unless babies are wanted, let's say chosen, by their parents, then their lives do not carry the same value as the lives of others who are "chosen" by their parents. This line of thinking assumes that it is in the act of being "chosen" by one's parents that a person acquires value.
Of course, this notion, that human value derives from having been chosen, comes to us from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The difference is that for the Jew and for the Christian, human beings are valuable because each has been chosen by God. But in this new understanding of "being chosen," the people who choose are mere humans. The "pro-choice" stance is first of all a rejection of God as the One who gives each one of us value; it is an attempt to emancipate oneself from having been chosen by a power beyond us.