Monday, September 08, 2008

Obama, Life and Human Rights (Part 1)

I will begin this section with an extended discussion Senator Obama had with Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in southern California:

Q: ... Now, let's deal with abortion. 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. you know, as a pastor I have to deal with this all of the time. All of the pain and all of the conflicts. I know this is a very complex issue. 40 million abortions. At what point does a baby get human rights in your view?

A: Well, i think that whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.

But let me just speak more generally about the issue of abortion because this is something obviously the country wrestles with. One thing that I'm absolutely convinced of is there is a moral and ethical content to this issue. So i think that anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue i think is not paying attention. So that would be point number one.

But point number two, I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade and come to that conclusion not because I'm pro abortion, but because ultimately I don't think women make these decisions casually. They wrestle with these things in profound ways. In consultation with their pastors or spouses or their doctors and their family members. and so for me, the goal right now should be -- and this is where I think we can find common ground and by the way I have now inserted this into the Democrat party platform -- is how do we reduce the number of abortions because the fact is that although we've had a president who is opposed to abortions over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down.

Q. Have you ever voted to limit or reduce abortions?

A. I am in favor, for example, of limits on late term abortions if there is an exception for the mother's health. Now from the perspective of those who, you know, are pro life, I think they would consider that inadequate and I respect their views. I mean one of the things that I've always said is that on this particular issue, if you believe that life begins at conception, then -- and you are consistent in that belief, then i can't argue with you on that because that is a core issue of faith for you.

What I can do is say are there ways that we can work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies so that we actually are reducing the sense that women are seeking out abortions, and as an example of that, one of the things that I've talked about is how do we provide the resources that allow women to make the choice to keep a child. You know, have we given them the health care that they need. Have we given them the support services that they need. Have we given them the options of adoption that are necessary. That i think can make a genuine difference.

This is from Part Two of the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency (I have made a few minor corrections). I give the full quote and will attempt to give longer quotes because I want to be as fair and accurate as I can to Senator Obama.*

Notice, first of all, that Senator Obama does not answer the question - which was really very simple - when does a baby get human rights? This is not a question about when life begins, but when an infant simply gets the rights that any American have?

Indeed, this very question was the spark which set off the Civil War, when Chief Justice Roger B. Taney and a majority of the Supreme Court held that blacks had no rights that white men were bound to respect. Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393 (1857) (Taney specifically wrote the blacks in America were: "..."beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." at 407)

So Pastor Warren's question is a good one - it doesn't seek to get a philosophical answer - but rather an answer which a legislator, an executive, or a judge, must face.* Not to mention a constitutional scholar, which Senator Obama claims to be. Unfortunately, he doesn't answer the question - instead, he throws up a theological and scientific smokescreen and evades completely the fundamental human rights issue. When does a baby get human rights?

In order, then to answer this question -- to find out when Senator Obama believes a baby receives human rights, we must look to his past actions and statements to see if he has answered the question.

As I indicate below, I believe he has answered the question and I think his answer is monstrous.

To begin with, I look to the official statement on the Obama website - which he has hidden. It's not given an entry of it's own - "abortion" and not in the obvious places - "civil rights," "family," "healthcare," "ethics," "disabilities," - instead we find it under "women's issues," (along with "stem cell research") and reads in full:


Supports a Woman’s Right to Choose:

Barack Obama understands that abortion is a divisive issue, and respects those who disagree with him. However, he has been a consistent champion of reproductive choice and will make preserving women’s rights under Roe v. Wade a priority as President. He opposes any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision in that case.

Preventing Unwanted Pregnancy:

Barack Obama is an original co-sponsor of legislation to expand access to contraception, health information and preventive services to help reduce unintended pregnancies. Introduced in January 2007, the Prevention First Act will increase funding for family planning and comprehensive sex education that teaches both abstinence and safe sex methods. The Act will also end insurance discrimination against contraception, improve awareness about emergency contraception, and provide compassionate assistance to rape victims.
In brief, then, he stands behind the Roe decision which grants nearly unlimited abortion. He says nothing about the modification of Roe in Planned Parenthood of Southern Pennsylvania vs. Casey 505 U.S. 833 (1992).**

Steven Waldman, editor of Beliefnet, surveying Obama's recent statements on the subject observes a straddle going on:

On the one hand, he wants to court moderate evangelical Christians and centrist Catholics. Evangelicals and, to a lesser extent, Catholics tend to oppose abortion.

On the other, he wants to court independent suburban women, who tend to be pro-choice, and he's laboring to attract Hillary Clinton voters - and donors.

Perhaps this is why Sen. Obama's moves on abortion have seemed clumsy. He made news by saying he supported a ban on "partial birth" abortions except if the mother's life or health was seriously threatened - only to back off and add "mental health" to the list of exemptions.

Sen. Obama's approach has been to combine down-the-line pro-choice policies with conspicuous respectfulness of pro-life people. While he supports the Freedom of Choice Act, which would potentially roll back state restrictions on abortion, his Web site declares that he "respects those who disagree with him." In his book "The Audacity of Hope," he recounted how a pro-life protester had once offered to pray for him: "I said a prayer of my own - that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that had been extended to me." His most evangelical-friendly formulation came in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. "Abortion is a deeply moral issue and those who deny there's a moral component to it are wrong," he said, adding that he trusted women to make "a prayerful decision" and said sex education needed to impart the "sacredness of sexuality."
Waldman further notes that Obama probably would not push for public financing of abortion (although I have my doubt about this, since he wants to federalize all healthcare).

But more important than this is what Obama thinks about the unborn and the newborn. When does that baby obtain the protection of human rights? When does Obama think the law should protect the helpless baby? After all, Sen. Obama believes that terrorists have the same legal rights as criminal suspects which should be adjudicated in criminal court. Shouldn't a baby have some rights?

* On Sunday, September 7, 2008, Barak Obama acknowledged his statement was "flip," but continues to cling to his claim that this is solely a theological question. I believe this is the link, if there is a menu at the bottom of the page, select the video titled "Obama: McCain has Suggested I am a Muslim"

** I have heard some people regard this as a theological question - when does human life begin? I guess I don't understand why this is considered theological - which I always considered to be primarily the study of God, and secondarily the study of doctrine and religion. I assume people use "theological question" to represent a dustbin, into which they can then dump the question since God is not supposed to have anything to do with American law.

*** In particular, see the opinion of Chief Justice Rehnquist, concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, noting the plurality opinion "retains the outer shell of Roe . . . but beats a wholesale retreat from the substance of that case."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Why I voted for Obama.

Last February, in the Virginia Primary, I cast my vote for Barack Obama. Looking back now, I can admit that I did so without fully informing myself of his background and beliefs.

Mea culpa!

My impression of him was that he was a reformer - I was aware that he had co-sponsored a bill with Senator Tom Coburn to give a bit of clarity to federal spending. In doing so, I saw he reached across the aisle to team up with a maverick, thereby giving himself the aura of a maverick and someone who could forge bi-partisan bonds. I had heard that he was elected president of the Harvard Law Review with the support of the conservative law students, further giving me hope that he could forge bonds (I still don't know if this story is true). Prior to Obama being elected to the US Senate, I recall reading encouraging posts on him by fellow U of Chicago professor Jacob T. Levy. (Of course, this was back before I learned that Obama was not a professor - just a part-time lecturer.) And finally, I recall reading favorable commentary from Christianity Today's Books and Culture editor Agnieszka Tennant (who remains a supporter).

(As a parenthetical - Barry Obama was a 1979 graduate of Punahou High School in Honolulu, in the same school and class as my life-long best friend and best man. While I had left the islands long before this, there is something special about thinking that we were in the same place during the same era - even if he did go to the ultra-elite Punahou.)

In addition, in Virginia, I had the opportunity to vote in either the Democratic or the Republican primary - and by the time we voted, the GOP nominee was fairly well decided. This left the choice as to either Hillary or Obama.

Finally, well after I cast my vote, I learned that former Reagan Justice official and former dean of Catholic University, Douglas Kmiec endoresed Barrack Obama - for me, this was a big deal as it conferred a solid pro-life imprimatur on the candidate.

Since that time, when my vote was cast in large part on wishful hope and in large part on Obama's association with people I respected, I have learned of Barack's other associations - with Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright and I have learned about his positions with respect to life issues - which are monstrous - and will be the subject of another post.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Obama Wins!

Here we are on the cusp of John McCain's acceptance speech to be given to the GOP convention and we can already predict that Barack Obama will win the presidency. This is based on a set of "keys" developed by Political Scientist Allan Lichtman with Russian geophysicist Voldia Keilis-Borok.

Over the past two years, Prof. Lichtman has consistently predicted a GOP loss, no matter who is the nominee for either party. See, for example, this column from June 2008.

The following are Lichtman's 13 keys, with my answers given (if close, I will break the tie in McCain's favor):

1. The incumbent party (i.e. George Bush's party - the GOP) holds more seats in the U. S. House of Representatives after the midterm election than after the preceding midterm election. NO ( In 2002, the GOP won 229 seats, in 2006 it only won 202.)

2. There is no serious contest for the incumbent-party nomination. (close - I'd say yes there was, but on the other hand, McCain wrapped this up on Super Tuesday- therefore tie goes to McCain) Yes. (On the other hand, Lichtman doesn't see this as close and also give this a "yes" answer.)

3. The incumbent-party candidate is the current president. NO

4. There is no significant third-party or independent candidacy. Is Barr or Nader significant? I say no, so advantage McCain - Yes. (Lichtman has the same answer)

5. The economy is not in recession during the campaign. While not doing well, the economy is technically not in a recession. - Yes. (Lichtman scores this as uncertain)

6. Real (constant-dollar) per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth for the preceding two terms. NO See, for example, the recent Fed Beige Book, this post by Lane Kenworthy. But see this column by Robert Samuelson.

7. The administration has effected major policy changes during the term. This is iffy - what would the major policy change be? I say the answer is NO. (Lichtman also sees this as a "no")

8. There has been no major social unrest during the term. Yes.

9. The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal. Yes.

10. There has been no major military or foreign policy failure during the term. Iraq - part 1 was a failure - NO

11. There has been a major military or foreign policy success during the term. Iraq - part 2, the Surge, was a success - Yes. (Lichtman disagrees - he scores this as a "no")

12. The incumbent-party candidate is charismatic or is a national hero. McCain is a National hero - Yes. (Lichtman disagrees - see below, for discussion on this and number 13.)

13. The challenger is not charismatic and is not a national hero. Barack Obama is a rock star, a celebrity as McCain acknowledges. NO. (Lichtman scores this uncertain.)

If six or more of these statements are false, the incumbent party loses. I score six No's, therefore Obama wins. Lichtman scores four yes's, seven no's and two uncertain.

Now, for some longer discussion:

Although Prof. Lichtman has long said these are objective keys, I think there is a lot of subjectivity. What is "major social unrest?" Who is a "national hero?" What is charismatic? And obviously, we disagree on whether the surge was a sucess or not - perhaps this is his partisanship showing - in 2006 he ran for the Democratic party nomination to the Senate based, in large part on his opposition to the Iraq war.

  • Real per-capita Economic Growth compared
This is a long-term economic key, which compares with the recession key - the short term economic key. I spent a long time reviewing data from, among others, the Census Bureau, the Labor Department, the Fed, the OMB, the GAO, and some other places, I've forgotten. I should have recorded all the details, but I'm convinced, contrary to Samuelson, above, that this is a NO for the incumbent party.

  • Major military or foreign policy success and failure
These are interesting keys, because Lichtman does split them up, allowing for both a success and a failure. It's clear, despite what the Obama camp would have you believe, that the surge was a success. Nevertheless, what led to the surge in Iraq was a failure. I think perhaps here is an area where the Lichtman keys may need fine-tuning, becuase McCain was opposed to the Bush strategy which led to the early failure in Iraq and backed the surge - prior to that failure. Accordingly, it could be he will escape the damage of the failure key.

  • Charismatic / National Hero
Personally, I see McCain as a 100% National Hero - however, Prof. Lichtman says he is not:
[the commenter would turn] the charisma/hero key in favor of John McCain when the definitions of the keys, established in 1981, would clearly exclude him. The definition includes national leadership in wartime as exemplified by Grant and Eisenhower. It does not include heroic performance in war.
If you scroll down in the discussion you will see that Lichtman believes that McCain was a Charismatic Figure when he initially ran, but is no longer. All of this seems very subjective to me.

Now then, having said all this, there is still an election to take place. Those of us who follow sports know there is no way an NAIA school with 800 students could beat the number one ranked Virginia Cavaliers and Ralph Sampson. Chaminade?