John McCain has received plaudits from conservatives for his forthright answer to pastor Rick Warren’s question about human life at last Saturday’s forum at Saddleback Church. When asked at what point a human being acquires rights, McCain said without hesitation, "At conception." Barack Obama half-dodged the same question, arguing that such an answer was "above my pay grade," suggesting that politicians should leave philosophy to the philosophers but also abdicating his responsibility to think through difficult issues. The early, and nearly unanimous, verdict has been that McCain’s answer not only helped re-assure a part of his base, but his "straight talk" contrasted favorably with Obama’s artful dodger routine.

But, not so fast. John McCain supports embryonic stem cell research. So, if he truly believes that human beings acquire rights at conception, he is evidently willing to overlook the rights of some unborn children on behalf of research to assist other already born adults. And, let us be clear here. The right he is overlooking is the right to life which he purports to be championing.

Obama’s answer was equally, if differently, confused. The fact that there is a difference between the presidential chair and a faculty chair (to say nothing of the chair of Peter!) does not absolve any citizen from wrestling with such a fundamental question. For Obama, who was a constitutional law professor, the correct answer to Warren’s question might have been: "Rick, the Constitution is clear that citizens, whose rights are at issue here, are born citizens or naturalized citizens." This would not get to the deeper issue, and one that certainly a sympathetic Democrat should understand, that constitutional rights are particular instances of human rights, and not only for Guantanamo detainees but for America’s unborn children as well. But, it would have been a better dodge.

Warren did not follow up on this, or other, questions in his friendly interviews. But, before we in the media reward the laurels of victory to John McCain, he should be pressed to explain the manifest absurdity of what he said. Just because he said it quickly does not mean he was talking straight. Obama was not the only artful dodger last week.

Michael Sean Winters

 

Comments

Anonymous | 8/25/2008 - 4:08pm
Robert, You need to get all the facts before you put out misinformation in a blog. Here are the facts: ''Senator Obama strongly supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose. He believes that there is a moral and ethical element to this issue, and he believes that women do not make these decisions casually, but wrestle with them in consultation with their doctors, pastors and family. Senator Obama understands that some will disagree with him and choose not to support him, and he respects those with different opinions. But the recent attacks on Senator Obama that allege he would allow babies born alive to die are outrageous lies. The suggestion that Obama -- the proud father of two little girls -- and others who opposed these bills supported infanticide is deeply offensive and insulting. There is no room for these kinds of distortions and lies in this campaign. What Senator Obama’s attackers don’t tell you is that existing Illinois law already requires doctors to provide medical care in the very rare case that babies are born alive during abortions. They will not tell you that Obama voted against these laws in Illinois because they were clear attempts to undermine Roe v. Wade. They will not tell you that these laws were also opposed by pro-choice Republicans and the Illinois Medical Society -- a leading association of doctors in the state. And they will not tell you that Obama has always maintained that he would have voted for the federal version of this bill, which did not pose such a threat. The bills Senator Obama voted against in Illinois were crafted to undermine Roe v. Wade or pre-existing Illinois state law regulating reproductive healthcare and medical practice, which is why Senator Obama objected to them.''
Anonymous | 8/25/2008 - 2:40pm
I have been a subscriber to AMERICA for many decades so I am used to reading articles by people with a left-center world view. However, Mr. Winter's suggestion that McCain and Obama are to be equally faulted for their positions on abortion is beyond the pale. Senator Obama's positions are indefensible to those of us who are pro-life. It is true that Senator McCain's position on stem cell research is not reconcilable with a belief that human rights begin with conception. But the rapid advances being made with "adult" stem cells are likely to make that controversy moot. Senator McCain can be counted upon to fulfill his pledge to appoint justices like Alito and Roberts which could even result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Senator Obama's pledge to appoint justices like Breyer and Ginsberg will mean less restrictions on so-called abortion rights. I take it that the editors of AMERICA are aware that many of their subscribers consider themselves both Catholic and pro-choice and wish to give them something to justify their stance.
Anonymous | 8/25/2008 - 11:06am
Sen. Obama, when in the Illinois State Senate, worked tirelessly to pass into law the bill which dictates, babies who survive an 'abortion' must not be given food, water or even human love and comfort - simply set aside and allowed to suffer to death. This barbaric, foul, heinous law would not be on Illinois' books if it were not for Mr. Obama. Any Catholic, other Christian, or anyone who beleives in a life loving God, had better again think again before casting a ballot for this fellow. Think again if he values his standing in his church, or in the Eyes of Almighty God. Robert Langworthy Rio Rancho, New Mexico Late of Chicago, Illinois
Anonymous | 8/22/2008 - 4:46pm
You really have to be a die-hard Obama supporter to contend that there is really little difference between Obama and McCain on the abortion issue. The difference is glaring, and attempts to muddy this are simply dishonest.
Anonymous | 8/25/2008 - 3:17pm
It's not a matter of whether a politician says he or she is pro-life. Reagan and the elder George Bush both claimed to be pro-life, but what did they ever do about it? Abortion is a political minefield politicians just don't want to cross, and regardless of the rhetoric I doubt anything will change.
Anonymous | 8/21/2008 - 12:19pm
McCain has always been dodgy on this issue. I was never convinced after he said he would allow his own daughter the choice of an abortion (after a "family discussion") that he really was pro-life at his core. He seems horribly out of touch with women's issues, his answer on the Viagra question showed that. At least with Obama I think we have a shot at real dialogue on the issue. When it comes to life I'd rather know exactly where the candidate stood so that we have a starting point and with McCain I don't believe that is really possible. He's like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get.
Anonymous | 8/21/2008 - 11:03am
Thank you for noting that both candidates dodged parts of the issue. McCain had the applause line, but I think we all need to be discussing abortion in the way you suggest. The philosophical point may be simple, but the policy implications are not. Appointing judges to overturn Roe vs Wade without thinking further down the line is (arguably) irresponsible. The Republican Party has taken pro-life votes for granted - exploited them, even. (If that line seems too fractious, feel free to edit it out - I'll understand.) We need to encourage not only the candidates, but also the American public, to resist comfortably simple positions. If human rights begin at conception, then not only stem cell research but also in vitro fertilization violate the rights of some unborn children, as you say. The Catholic position on this is consistent, but you don't hear pro-life politicians suggest that we outlaw procedures that create embryos to be discarded or indefinitely frozen. These are the hard questions that the issue raises, but people vote for sound bites.
Anonymous | 8/25/2008 - 4:30pm
Patrick, great sunmmary! Fellow America readers, please visit... http://factcheck.barackobama.com/factcheck/2008/08/19/fact_check_born_alive_1.php...for a detailed and truthful account of Senator Obama's Illinois Senate votes and motivations. Unfortunately, the Rovian Republicans are once again using the abortion issue to spread lies and smears about the Democratic candidate. Rovian politics as usual.