Tomorrow, I plan to write a column for Sunday about how the remarks of the candidates on judicial selection in the third debate solidified my preference for John McCain, on several levels.
It won’t be about the abortion issue. Obviously, Obama and I disagree about abortion. But so do most Democrats, and I’ve supported plenty of Democrats in my day. What I plan to get into is the less emotional aspects of that debate, those that deal with bipartisanship, pragmatism, the Constitution and the proper roles of the respective branches of government. For instance, as I’ve mentioned here, I was rather shocked to hear a Harvard-trained attorney equate the inferred (and I believe, nonexistent) "right to privacy" to the all-important First Amendment, deliberately stating that the first is just as sacrosanct a principle to him as the latter.
Here’s my text from which I’ll be working. It’s this passage from the transcript of the third presidential debate:
SCHIEFFER: All right. Let’s stop there and go to another question. And this one goes to Senator McCain. Senator McCain, you believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Senator Obama, you believe it shouldn’t.
Could either of you ever nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with you on this issue? Senator McCain?
MCCAIN: I would never and have never in all the years I’ve been there imposed a litmus test on any nominee to the court. That’s not appropriate to do.
SCHIEFFER: But you don’t want Roe v. Wade to be overturned?
MCCAIN: I thought it was a bad decision. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad. I think that decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I’m a federalist. And I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test. Now, let me say that there was a time a few years ago when the United States Senate was about to blow up. Republicans wanted to have just a majority vote to confirm a judge and the Democrats were blocking in an unprecedented fashion.
We got together seven Republicans, seven Democrats. You were offered a chance to join. You chose not to because you were afraid of the appointment of, quote, "conservative judges."
I voted for Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg. Not because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated. This is a very important issue we’re talking about.
Senator Obama voted against Justice Breyer [sic — he meant Alito] and Justice Roberts on the grounds that they didn’t meet his ideological standards. That’s not the way we should judge these nominees. Elections have consequences. They should be judged on their qualifications. And so that’s what I will do.
I will find the best people in the world — in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution. And not legislating from the bench.
SCHIEFFER: But even if it was someone — even someone who had a history of being for abortion rights, you would consider them?
MCCAIN: I would consider anyone in their qualifications. I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade that would be part of those qualifications. But I certainly would not impose any litmus test.
SCHIEFFER: All right.
OBAMA: Well, I think it’s true that we shouldn’t apply a strict litmus test and the most important thing in any judge is their capacity to provide fairness and justice to the American people.
And it is true that this is going to be, I think, one of the most consequential decisions of the next president. It is very likely that one of us will be making at least one and probably more than one appointments and Roe versus Wade probably hangs in the balance.
Now I would not provide a litmus test. But I am somebody who believes that Roe versus Wade was rightly decided. I think that abortion is a very difficult issue and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on.
But what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision. And I think that the Constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum, any more than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum, any more than many of the other rights that we have should be subject to popular vote.
OBAMA: So this is going to be an important issue. I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.
I won’t get into the right or wrong about abortion per se in my column except to acknowledge that yes, I’m pro-life, so there’s a fundamental disagreement there, and I think Roe has been enormously destructive to the politics of our nation. Then I’ll move on to the more abstract stuff, where I believe I will make points that someone should be able to relate to regardless of their position on abortion itself.
Other Catholics have taken on the ethical issue head-on, however, and are actively appalled at the idea of a "President Obama." A few minutes ago, I got an op-ed submission from Helen Alvaré, as follows:
(Helen Alvaré was the planning and information director for the pro-life efforts of the nations’ Catholic bishops for 10 years. She is now an Associate Professor at the George Mason University School of Law. The opinions expressed herein are purely personal, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either of these institutions)
My name has been closely associated with Catholic Church pro-life efforts for almost two decades. For that reason, and because I believe ardently that religion cannot be reduced to politics, I have studiously avoided public commentary about particular candidates over the course of 18 years of pro-life work. It still offends me at three or four levels when a minivan sporting a political bumper sticker arrives at carpool at my kids’ Catholic school, or parks for Sunday Mass. I will not have one.
But Barack Obama has pushed me over the edge of anonymity. Whatever else is true about the dangers of appearing to claim (wrongly) that God has a horse in this race, it is more dangerous to pretend that I’m less than horrified at the prospect of an Obama presidency.
For here is a man who has publicly thrown his considerable influence behind the idea that it is acceptable to let newborn infants die if their mothers wanted an abortion and the child was mistakenly delivered alive. Here is a man who can countenance doctors partially-delivering living unborn children, and then stabbing, suctioning and crushing their heads – all in the name of preserving “abortion rights.” His public record is unambiguous in this regard, despite attempts by the some to torture the meanings of Senator Obama’s voting record. The facts are simple. While an Illinois state senator, Senator Obama led the opposition to a law that would have protected children who were accidentally born alive after an abortion-attempt. He also worked with the nation’s leading chain of abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood, to strategize the defeat of bills that would have given parents information about their minor girls’ abortions. As a U.S. Senator, he denounced an overwhelmingly popular law to ban the killing of partially-born infants. And as a presidential candidate, he told Planned Parenthood’s Action Fund on July 17, 2007 that the “first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act.” For emphasis, he repeated: “That’s the first thing I’d do.” This is overwhelming on its face. Among all the first statements about the meaning of his historic presidency a President Obama could choose, it would be this: an expanded abortion license.
What can be made of such a man? It is no good to say he is simply acting to champion women’s rights when most American women would outlaw or more stringently regulate abortion (New York Times, April 19, 2007 Megan Thee, Public Opinion on Abortion). Or when even Obama concedes the possibility that abortion is killing, which of course makes it a forbidden “means” to any end – woman’s rights or any other. He cynically leaves it to others at a higher “pay grade” to determine the exact moment when life begins, but we all know the instrumental purposes of this utterance: appear to maintain common ground with both sides of the ever-churning abortion debate.
Some readers will say of my position: “She is a single-issue voter, and those people don’t care what becomes of the rest of us.” To the exact contrary, I am suggesting that when Obama supports allowing a parent to kill a child, at perhaps the most defenseless moment of his or her life, and when he refuses to see this killing as an intrinsic wrong, but calls it rather a cherished right, we should understand that none of us is safe. For where does his “reasoning” leave other defenseless persons? What does it imply about all of the decisions a “President Obama” will make?
Some will say that the good Obama will do for some people simply outweighs the harm he will do to others. Even this calculus is absurd; Obama’s judicial appointments will ensure that legalized abortion continues to be forced upon every state, as it has been since 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court in one fell swoop overturned laws against most abortions in every state in the Union. We’re talking millions more abortions during our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children. Obama has even declared himself opposed to continued funding for “crisis centers” offering pregnant women a way to support the children they wish to keep.
But even were the above calculus somehow measurable and correct, it is never acceptable to endorse killing as a means to any end. By endorsing it, then, candidate Obama has demonstrated that he doesn’t have a conscience that functions in a way Americans should even recognize. Rather, his is a “conscience” which surely comprehends what it must be like to die violently, or by means of starvation and dehydrations; yet he votes to allow these to continue. Elevating such a man to the most important legal and social bully pulpit in the nation is unthinkable. Worse, it is a national tragedy.
For these reasons, and for the first time in my life, I have to speak out. An Obama presidency would be a moral nightmare.
Professor Helen Alvaré is an Associate Professor of Law at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, Virginia.
I certainly understand where Ms. Alvaré is coming from on this, even though I’m going to be tackling this from another angle.
Personally, I haven’t been as shocked by Obama’s positions on this as she is. I say, you want to be shocked? Look at Joe Biden. He’s a Catholic; he should know better. And yet, as I’ve said plenty of times before, I like Joe. And I’m not horrified by the idea of an Obama presidency, he is after all my strong second choice. But pieces such as this make me wonder about myself: Maybe I’ve allowed myself to accept too much about the "political realities" of being a Democrat in America. There is an alternative — pro-life Democrats such as Bob Casey in Pennsylvania DO get elected nowadays, even with NARAL fighting tooth and nail to stop them. Obama and Biden have a moral alternative. So what excuses their position, from my own Catholic point of view?
But that’s not what my column’s going to be about.