Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama's Notre Dame Speech

The president has a habit of saying very little, but saying it so beautifully that people don't notice. His knack in this regard was on display in his commencement speech at Notre Dame. The full speech can be read here, but I'll stick to the piece addressing abortion, since that is what is relevant to the controversy over the school awarding him an honorary degree.

Now, admittedly, a graduation is no place for a full-on campaign moment. But since one of the excuses Notre Dame's administration used to defend their invitation was the need for "open dialogue", it was entirely proper for President Obama to use part of his speech to address the issue. And address it he did. However, his main point boiled down to a simple statement that we should be nice to each other and realize abortion is a tough issue for people's consciences. Wow, what powerful stuff.

He went on to say that pro-lifers and pro-choices can work together to reduce the number of abortions within the current legal framework. That's fine as far as it goes, but there are a few problems. First of all, even as he says those words, the president has thus far only worked towards goals that lead to an increase in abortion deaths by making the legal framework we must work within ever more restrictive. At the state level he worked to block born-alive infants legislation, despite its explicit statement that the legislation should not be construed to impact the legality of abortion. He openly dodged the question of when life begins, calling it "above my pay grade". One of his first actions as president was to rescind the Mexico City policy, authorizing US funds to be distributed to overseas NGOs that provide abortions. He has also voted against partial-birth abortion bans, against parental notification, and against legislation to ban non-guardians from transporting a minor across state lines to receive an abortion.

Despite explicitly saying, "Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause," his administration has proposed a recension of the current conscience clause allowing medical professionals to refuse to participate in abortions. The administration's claim is that they are looking for ways to "clarify" the law. Does anyone really think it will come back in any meaningful form once its been removed?

Essentially, the only way the president will allow attempts to reduce the number of abortions is if those attempts fall within his pre-existing policy goals. Want to increase entitlement benefits or pass universal health care? Call it pro-life and get on board! How about expanding access to contraceptives and lowering the age at which kids start sex-ed classes? Wow, it's like you're the pope or something!

The bottom line is this. I can respect someone who entertains no thought of real compromise if they admit it. But don't tell me you want to work together as long as it doesn't require you to cede a single inch of territory, and call it a compromise. That isn't bipartisanship or understanding. That's simply telling someone to accept unconditional surrender with a smile and a happy tone.