On the night of Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential election, in his celebrated speech globally
telecast from Grant Park in Chicago, the senator with the most liberal
voting record on abortion, who regretted his vote to help a family restore food and water to their dying, impaired daughter, said this:
I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree…
And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not
have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help.
And I will be your president, too.”
What did he mean by that?
Was it naivete to hope he would listen to voices who
rationally articulate pro-life values? Voices who can explain that
civil rights activists have traditionally struggled so that liberty and
justice aren’t just for some but for all, and that all
excludes no human being? That to deny rights to any human being
threatens all human beings. That the Constitution’s guarantees begin
with life even before liberty, because without the guarantee of life,
everything else becomes arbitrary and conditional. Without the
unconditional guarantee of life everything is a privilege that you may
be granted or denied…by the privileged class who decides.
Pope Benedict calls this the ‘tyranny of the majority’, when a group
in power forms a consensus that replaces truth and justice with
whatever they choose as the new belief system. Members of
Congress regularly use the term ‘consensus’ to justify rule changes, a de facto
power play that sidesteps the question of morality in law and social
policy. Senator Obama sidestepped a lot of questions as a legislator
advancing the abortion lobby’s agenda, even though his votes and
excuses were incoherent in the continuum of the civil rights movement.
Some self-proclaimed pro-life Catholics and Evangelicals helped get Obama elected, so bishops like Chaput of Denver asked them
to use whatever influence they had now to advance the right to life,
starting with the biological definition of when it begins. Obama seemed to know that, if only briefly, when he gave a rousing speech last Father’s Day
at a church saying: “We need fathers to realize that responsibility
does not end at conception”. Good reminder. You become a father at
conception because you have conceived a child. Can we hope that he gets that, still?
Is it naive to hope he learned a big lesson from his big blunder at the Saddleback Civil Forum
when he said that determining when life begins is above his paygrade?
After all, it was in that televised interview with Pastor Rick Warren,
with whom he has a personal frienship, that Obama also said that being
a Christian meant trying to carry out what Christ intends.
But what it also means, I think, is a sense of
obligation to embrace not just words, but through deeds, the
expectations, I think, that God has for us. And that means thinking
about the least of these. It means acting — well, acting justly, and
loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.
I really want to believe him in all these things. When he speaks of taking care of the least of these,
as he did often throughout his campaign, can he not see that the
smallest, most disabled and vulnerable among us are the least of
society’s members who cry out for justice and loving mercy? Again, his
message is incoherent if not.
I am hopeful but not naive. Skeptical, but not cynical. Intent on
being fair, if to a fault. The Forum has covered the issues and voting
records and promises and threats extensively. On election night, in
Grant Park, Obama said “at this defining moment, change has come to
America”, that people have bent “the arc of history…toward the hope of
a better day.”
He also said that “the strength of our nation comes…from the
enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and
In the interim, he has been listening to a lot of voices in
transition, changing his position on a number of issues and policies,
even against the will of his own base of supporters sometimes. So with
unyielding hope for a change in his position on the life issues, I gave
him the benefit of time to prove his intentions when he takes office
and begins making decisions.
A policy report published last month on the Office of
the President-Elect’s website puts a hole right through the fanciful
notion, believed by some evangelicals, that Barack Obama will save a
place at the table for pro-lifers.
Titled “Advancing Reproductive Rights and Health in a New
Administration,” the report suggests a radical abortion agenda for the
first 100 days of Obama’s term.
Yes, it’s on his change.gov site. It is a recommendation at this
point, though one from a powerful lobby to whom he has continually
bowed in the past. Will Obama go ahead on an earlier promise to Planned
Parenthood and sign the Freedom of Choice Act after all? The debate has made world news.
“It’s unimaginable,” she said. “This has been my life’s
work. I would hope that something so radical would cause an uprising
from people across the United States, demanding that these common-sense
laws not be struck with the stroke of a pen.”
There is an uprising,
though off the mainstream radar at the moment. Its timing may wind up
being late, if Obama acts on FOCA quickly. We can hope he will not. We
can believe his promise that he hears the voices of pro-life Americans
who did not vote for him. But we cannot not act now. Human rights demand advocacy. Obama has made many promises, and all bets are off at this point on what change means anymore.