Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He is author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004), and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007). His latest book is The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).
Obama Conceives the Inconceivable on Conception
Asked by Rick Warren on August 23rd when he believes "a baby gets human rights," John McCain didn't hesitate to say "at the moment of conception." For Barack Obama, however, this question remains a struggle. "Well, ah, ah, I think that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective," Obama pondered to Warren, "answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade."
Barack Obama doesn't like this question. And those nit-picky Christians keep springing it upon him during these religious forums.
Obama was asked about conception at the "Compassion Forum" at Messiah College in April, where he likewise dissembled:
This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So, I don't presume to know the answer to that question. What I know, as I've said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates.
Well, apparently not extraordinarily powerful enough for Obama to seek an answer for these debates.
Obama's responses beg another question: If he's unclear about this fundamental matter, which any embryologist could easily clarify for him, why hasn't he consulted someone? He is also no expert on, say, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or the newest bill before Congress on tax policy. Senators, like all of us, don't begin from a starting point of expertise on all these issues. They learn; or, their staff learns and advises them.
So, to repeat the question, why, since he first publicly pondered the conception question at Messiah in April, hasn't Obama sought answers? What could be a more important life question?
This prompts an even bigger question. Why in the world is Obama urging embryonic stem-cell research? Why does he promise that if he becomes president, he will reverse President Bush's prohibitions on embryonic research? How can he rush into such actions if he doesn't even know whether an embryo is human life? That's recklessly irresponsible.
I could understand Obama advocating such research if he were convinced that embryos aren't life, and that life doesn't begin at conception. I would disagree, but I would understand.
For those not familiar with embryonic stem-cell research, it works like this: Human embryos are created for the explicit purpose of being dissected and destroyed for medical research. Every human being who has ever lived began as an embryo. In this brave new world, however, there are people who favor raising and exterminating embryos before they become human life.
Since Obama isn't sure whether life begins at conception, he should err on the side of caution -- on the side of life. A demolition crew makes sure there's no one left in the abandoned building before destroying it. The crew chief wouldn't dare say, "I'm not sure if there are human beings in there, but go ahead and blow it up." Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Ted Kennedy would drag that chief in chains before a Congressional committee.
As is often the case with modern liberalism, Obama's stance generates a potpourri of added contradictions. Consider one of the main reasons cited by liberals for opposing capital punishment. They argue that there's always a chance that a condemned individual may be innocent. If we can't know with absolute certainty that an alleged murderer has committed murder, then we should err on the side of caution -- on the side of life. He should be spared execution.
Conversely, then, if Obama isn't sure about the humanity of the embryo, why go ahead and execute it? What could be more innocent than an embryo?
Liberals think they're clever when they ask how conservatives can be pro-life on abortion while supporting capital punishment. Quite the contrary, there's a much more troubling contradiction among liberals who are pro-choice on abortion while opposing capital punishment. Obama's position of "don't-know-but-kill-anyway" on embryos is worse than either.
The truth, of course, is that Barack Obama knows life begins at conception. He isn't stupid. As Bill Clinton has conceded, "everyone knows life begins biologically at conception."
Yes, but not everyone can be honest about it. Barack Obama can't give a truthful answer because doing so would undermine the moral credibility of his position -- from embryonic research to unrestricted abortion.
Like John Kerry, like Al Gore, and like the entire leadership of the modern Democratic Party, Barack Obama has sold his soul to the pro-choice lobby. That's quite sad, because it means a lot of would-be humans will not be permitted to become humans. That is not American leadership -- and it is certainly not "hope."
Obama and Abortion Survivors: Clarifying the Record
We recently posted an article at National Review on the controversy over Barack Obama's votes in the Illinois legislature on a statewide version of the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act (BAIPA) -- i.e., legislation requiring medical personnel to provide treatment to infants who unexpectedly survive abortion procedures. Our point was to clarify the record and to add a crucial "rest of the story" that is still being missed: how this legislation sailed right through the Illinois legislature once its primary obstacle -- Barack Obama -- left the Illinois Senate for the U.S. Senate. In both senates, Illinois and the United States, the born-alive legislation was passed unanimously, but only in the absence of Senator Barack Obama.
This issue is really heating up now, as Obama addressed the subject over the weekend (August 16-17) in a question from CBN's David Brody. A major witness now being featured on news shows is Jill Stanek, the nurse at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, where babies were aborted and those that survived were left to die. We interviewed Stanek at length for our article.
Obama, hailed for being smooth and articulate, fumbles and bumbles when forced to answer these questions on human life. He is clearly uncomfortable on this terrain, sensing how badly his track record is now hurting him.
Speaking of Evangelicals, Catholics, and the National Right to Life Committee, David Brody noted to Obama that, "they're basically saying they felt like you misrepresented your position on that bill [the Illinois version of BAIPA]." Obama dove right in:
Let me clarify this right now . . . because they have not been telling the truth. And I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying.
I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported, which was to say that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born, even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion. That was not the bill that was presented at the state level. What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe vs. Wade. . . . So for people to suggest that I . . . [was] somehow in favor of withholding life-saving support from an infant born alive is ridiculous. It defies common sense and it defies imagination, and for people to keep on pushing this is offensive and it's an example of the kind of politics that we have to get beyond.
Obama claimed that these "people" had "misrepresented my positions repeatedly, even after they know that they're wrong. And that's what's been happening."
So, what's the answer here?
First off, the two bills, the federal BAIPA and the Illinois version, were in fact identical. We have read them. They differ only in the words "America" and "Illinois."
To its credit, the Obama campaign quickly came forward the next day to concede that the two bills were identical, acknowledging that Obama had misrepresented his own position.
That said, what Obama stated is partly true, and here is where he and his campaign have dug in: Yes, he believed that the Illinois version of BAIPA would undermine Roe v. Wade. That is the reason why he opposed the legislation. He opposed the legislation not because he wanted to see abortion survivors slowly die on cold tables inside Illinois' "hospitals," like Christ Hospital, but because he feared that passing such legislation would undermine Roe v. Wade. The idea that Obama was motivated first and foremost to champion a form of infanticide, said his campaign yesterday, is "offensive and insulting."
It was Obama's concern over Roe v. Wade that was his driving motivation, as we noted in our National Review article, we quoted Pam Sutherland, the president of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, who defended Obama on this exact point, "The legislation was written to ban abortion, plain and simple. Senator Obama saw the legislation, when he was there, for what it was."
Yet, this is a second mistake by Obama, and a more serious one: Quite the contrary, Obama did not see the legislation for what it was. All alone as the central obstacle blocking the legislation, Obama had fallen for the classic red herring by the abortion industry, which argues that practically any restriction on abortion, no matter how sensible and humane, will undermine Roe v. Wade.
Obama was wrong on that. The obvious proof is that the eventual passage of the legislation, at the state and national level, did not, cannot, and will not undermine Roe v. Wade. The most fanatical pro-choicers in the U.S. Senate, from Barbara Boxer to Hillary Clinton, understood that and thus voted in favor of BAIPA. Obama, however, failed to make the crucial distinction.
That does not mean that Obama is a monster who enjoys killing babies. No one is making that "offensive and insulting" claim. Yet, his actions rightly call into question his judgment, his experience, his decision making, and his blind, often-destructive loyalty to the abortion movement. Obama and his campaign know that, and are thus extremely concerned with what he did on this literally life-death issue -- an issue that isn't going away anytime soon.
Where Are the Bush Democrats? The GOP Leadership Lurch from 2000 to 2008
The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He's the one who gets the people to do the greatest things. And that's what's lacking now. --Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan made that remark in a forgotten 1975 interview with Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes." Observing the uninspiring presidential leadership of moderate Republican Gerald Ford, Reagan communicated to Wallace the need for effective communication. He evoked FDR's fireside chats, not to mention a harbinger of his own presidency: ''[FDR] took his case to the people, and he enlightened the people, and the people made Congress feel the heat."
While the interview has slipped through the cracks of history, these words of political wisdom from the Great Communicator are as timeless as ever. In fact, for Republicans, they have never been so obvious, especially over the past eight years, and going into November.
I'm in an ever-narrowing camp of Republicans who believe that George W. Bush has the potential to be remembered as a leader who did great things -- a stoic, stable presence who stood the course and quietly transformed the Middle East and wider world, laying the groundwork for a much better 21st century. Of course, that's a big "if," depending on whether his extraordinary actions in Iraq and Afghanistan bear fruit over the long run. If they don't, he will be seen as a failed leader.
That said, Bush has not been a "great leader" as defined by Reagan in 1975. Reagan was not only onto something with that remark but was prophetic of his own work. Reagan himself changed people and changed the world. He got people to do great things.
Bush completely lacks the support that Reagan overwhelmingly enjoyed from the vast majority of Americans. Reagan was elected to a second term in a landslide, winning 49 of 50 states. He left office with the highest approval ratings (Gallup) of any president since Eisenhower. Bush spends his final year in office with the lowest approval ratings (Gallup) of any president since Truman.
What's more, Reagan was a towering figure in his own party -- literally Lincolnesque. In an interesting modern political phenomenon, local GOP chapters throughout the country have begun holding Reagan Day Dinners in February instead of their traditional Lincoln Day Dinners. Bush, on the other hand, is unpopular even within his own party. A couple of weeks ago at the website of the Center for Vision & Values, we received a disgruntled email from an excellent editor who frequently publishes our material. He is a conservative Republican. Unhappy with an op-ed I wrote commending George W. Bush, the editor zinged Bush as a "destroyer of the Republican Party." That's a complaint I'm hearing constantly from Republicans, and which I fully understand. Bush will leave the GOP a far weaker party than the pillar of strength he inherited from Reagan.
Further, consider Bush's total lack of inroads among Democrats. It is there, perhaps more than anywhere else, where Bush has completely failed. Remember the Reagan Democrats -- the converts who voted Republican because of Reagan? There were literarily tens of millions of them. The combination of Jimmy Carter's disastrous presidency and then the emergence and resounding success of Ronald Reagan transformed the political landscape for a generation. It elected both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. The Bushes, however, have been poor stewards of the legacy; they have allowed it to crumble. This was not so much policy-wise -- though that's a big part of the failure -- but communication-wise.
In the end, then, where are the Bush Democrats? There are few to none of them.
If all of that isn't depressing enough for Republicans, consider the future: What Reagan lamented to Mike Wallace in 1975 is again lacking -- with no solution in sight -- in 2008. In 1975, there was a solution to the problem identified by Reagan: Reagan. In 2008, George W. Bush's Ford-like failure to inspire is rearing its ugly head as the greatest liability of John McCain; it persists. McCain is not only failing to turn it around but probably will make it worse. He is a terrible communicator -- a painfully clear inability to speak well and to articulate conservatism. McCain's shortcomings in this regard will be made even more manifest by the Democratic presidential nominee, the most radical-left candidate his party has ever nominated but who has the slick ability to look good and speak well -- even when saying nothing -- and woo voters.
To stand a chance in 2008, Republicans need the votes of Bush Democrats. The only problem is that there aren't any. *
"There is a true glory and a true honor; the glory of duty done -- the honor of the integrity of principle." --Robert E. Lee