Guest column by Rob Schwarzwalder
Senior Vice President
Family Research Council
President Obama was disarming Sunday at Notre Dame. Yet his winsome
candor makes him all the more dangerous, because implicit in it is a
wholly, coolly condescending view of the American people.
“No matter how much we may want to fudge it,” said the President,
“indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject
are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that at some level,
the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.”
With that single sentence, Mr. Obama captured the leitmotif of his
nascent presidency: Acknowledge an uncomfortable but indisputable truth
(fundamental and opposing moral convictions cannot be meshed or
modified) yet also affirm complexity and contradiction among those who
hold them – and thereby let himself off the hook.
In other words, he (a) admits that certain ethical norms are
irreducible and in permanent conflict but (b) also argues that since our
fellow citizens are uncomfortable with some of the very things they
affirm, he need not be judged too harshly for the views he espouses.
Because many Americans are ambivalent about the implications of the
views they espouse, in other words, Mr. Obama need not worry too much
about what he does in policy terms since that very ambivalence will
excuse him from taking a strong and instructive public stance.
The President sounds like a regular guy who struggles with some things,
just like the rest of us. He is self-apparently appealing – he joked in
the speech about his basketball skills, mentioned the “moral and
spiritual” problems involved in abortion and teased Notre Dame’s
valedictorian. He’s the kind of person you’d like to have as a neighbor
or colleague, intelligent and not uptight, perceptive without being
But he’s also masterfully phony: In his policies, he has enacted the
most radical pro-abortion rights agenda of any President since Roe.
Consider this abbreviated May 14 summary from New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg:
He has named abortion rights advocates to top jobs; Dawn
Johnsen, a former legal director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, is his
pick to run the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. He has
repealed the so-called Mexico City rule, which prohibited tax dollars
from going to organizations that provide abortions overseas; lifted Mr.
Bush’s limits on embryonic stem cell research; stripped financing for
abstinence-only sex education; and is seeking to undo a last-minute Bush
regulation giving broad protections to health providers who refuse to
take part in abortions.
President Obama speaks soothingly, calling for civility and an end to
demonizing one’s political opponents. But he governs severely,
disregarding any pretense of caring for the unborn or any desire to
grant them value independent of their mothers’ “choice.”
Mr. Obama presumes upon the inattention of the American people – we’re
busy refinancing our devalued homes, taking kids to football practice,
stocking up on arugula and capers – er, lettuce and salt, for us
plebeians. We are like the generation described by Jesus in the Gospel
of Luke: eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage,
engaged in all the normal affairs of everyday life, preoccupied and
unmindful of the tremors of pain throbbing all around us.
And, too, we don’t like to be bothered by things that make us feel
uncomfortable or probe our consciences too deeply. Far better to be
blissfully ambivalent or, if we do engage, to seek endlessly for a
“common ground” that does not nor logically can exist.
When George W. Bush gave his speech on stem cells in August 2001, he
gave a careful, gracious purview of the medical and ethical dimensions
of the choices embryonic stem cell research involved. It was a tutorial
in medical ethics, offered in respectful and, yes, truly civil tones.
Yet in his comments Mr. Bush ultimately came to a conclusion that was
divisive – and he had the moral courage to define and defend it.
From Mr. Obama we get lectures on civility – on how to discuss things
amicably – but no explanation of the basis of his own convictions, other
than to say he has them. At Notre Dame, he called on us to “work
together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, (to) reduce
unintended pregnancies. Let’s make adoption more available. Let’s
provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term.”
But he failed to tell us one essential thing: Why?
If abortion is a morally neutral act, as he evidently believes since he
endorses both the procedure and the federal funding of it – why work to
In 1858, Abraham Lincoln accused his affable, bright and articulate
Senate race opponent, Stephen Douglas, of wanting to “blow out the
moral lights around us.” Douglas was a great fan of civility – so
much so that his plan for admitting slave states ad infinitum was
designed to prevent that most uncivil of things, a civil war.
Lincoln wanted to extend civility – make that, humanity – to the
slave. Douglas was content with ignoring this difficult issue,
respecting those (whites) who disagreed with him and “moving on.”
President Obama has tapped into the weariness of the American people
over divisive socio-moral issues. He gives us all a pass so that we
don’t have to think too deeply about them. But they remain. With
every heartbeat in every womb, with every ultrasound and every
conception, they remain.
His policies are blowing out the moral lights. Are we watching? Are
we, with courtesy and civility but also with purpose and intensity and
unbending firmness, fighting?
The stakes are too high not to sustain and redouble the battle.
Disarming, President Obama is-and wrong, too.