Skip to content

What We Learned Last Night

October 16, 2008

Basically, neither candidate can be called “pro-life”. Let’s start with embryonic stem-cell research. McCain claimed to be in favor of federal funding, ironically criticizing Obama for saying he was not. I wonder how that will assuage many Republican Catholics who twist themselves in knots to prove that McCain doesn’t really mean what he clearly says. Of course, Obama supports funding ESCR too.

OK, abortion. The starkest difference here is not related to the need to grant legal protection to the unborn child. No, the candidates instead indulged in a quaint little constitutional debate. Obama: “the constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum”. McCain: “I think decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I’m a federalist”. Sorry, but neither position qualifies as pro-life. It is a debate about which level of government has the right to strip legal protection from the unborn child.

There was more. McCain stressed the need to “change the culture of America”, but did not say how. He claimed he was “proudly pro-life”, but didn’t back it up. Obama said that he would support a ban on late-term abortions that contain exceptions for the life and health of the mother: clearly not pro-life in any sense of the word, but a rather mundane position held by those on this side of the debate. Obama also claimed that “we should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.” He called for common ground. McCain claimed he would do “everything we can to improve adoption” and agreed on the need to “come together”. Left unsaid is that his health care plan steers far from a pro-life direction. 

Of course, many other issues did not come up. Both support anti-life positions on the death penalty. Both are overly inclined to use military force, and both are fanatical supporters of Israel, although the likelihood of an unjust war is far greater under McCain, given his record and temperament. Both claim to oppose torture, although McCain voted against restricting the range of the CIA interrogation techniques.

Bottom line: it is simply impossible to say one of these candidates is “pro-life” and the other is not. It is simply impermissible for a Catholic to say that one can vote for one, but not the other. Anybody who tells you otherwise has an ideology to sell.

  1. October 16, 2008 10:14 am

    I know someone else who is “selling” something with this post.

  2. bill bannon permalink
    October 16, 2008 10:29 am

    Millions upon millions of Catholics in largely Catholic states like Masssachusetts and New Jersey have always voted for democratic pro choice candidates locally along family voting tradition lines rooted in the labor roots of many Catholic families…but they do that…without the agonizing thinking conscience that obtains on the net here at vox nova and in Catholic professors both of which groups are a tiny handful in comparison to the real democratic Catholic vote which is not so morally cautious…but labor oriented.

    It is this bigger problem of the non thinking indirect pro choice vote of Catholics that the magisterium has ignored for decades. Labor unions.. a great idea…. went from fighting for real rights of workers to in some cases asking for so much in benefits that our auto industry has failed to keep up with Japan due partly to the drain of those benefits.

    PEW research found long ago that Evangelicals were more likely than Catholics to vote against abortion candidates.
    Evangelicals also vote for the death penalty like over two hundred of the 265 Popes who ever lived would have also voted … line with Gen.9:5-6 and Romans 13:3-4 and in line with the good thief who repented during his own death penalty.

    But is the Pope working on this indirect Catholic vote for pro choice and whether it is anachronistic given the current state of unions and given the Democrats’relation to tort lawyers and their effect of health costs? You tell me.

  3. October 16, 2008 10:42 am

    I would like — for once — for Obama to be challenged to reconcile his professed desire to support any measure restricting abortion with his promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law if he has the opportunity.

  4. ann permalink
    October 16, 2008 11:07 am

    McCain is much more pro-life than Obama. McCain is clearly the lesser of two evils and the only possible choice for Catholics loyal to the Magisterium.

  5. John permalink
    October 16, 2008 11:35 am


    You say that McCain has nothing to back up that he was proudly pro-life – what about his voting record? Not perfect of course, but do you take last night’s debate so seriously as to exclude that evidence? His voting record shows that he wants less abortion.

    You seem to fail to realize that most serious Catholics voting for McCain are not head-over-heels about him, nor are they deluded into thinking that he is the ideal candidate. He is clearly the lesser of two evils.

    Your arguments and analysis of this election are mind-numbing for me, as I’m doing my best to take you seriously. Like I said before, I don’t see how I can begin to do this.

  6. decker2003 permalink
    October 16, 2008 11:51 am

    In each presidential cycle, those who call themselves the Pro-Life Lobby will accept just a lit bit less from the Republican candidate in exchange for their support and endoresement. Reagan was the first to bring the Pro-Life Lobby into the Republican alliance, and he favored a constitutional amendment to end abortion. Now, McCain is not even promising ANY action at the federal level, but just letting those states which are so inclined ban abortion within their territory, while also proposing federal funding of ECSR. It has been a steady decline.

  7. October 16, 2008 11:59 am


    You have a way of writing the most infuriating arguments. It’s quite a talent.

  8. joseph permalink
    October 16, 2008 12:09 pm

    I’m not a McCain defender, but let’s not start telling lies, MM. McCain said he supported “stem cell research”, not “ebryonic stem cell research”. McCain didn’t specifically say he supported ESCR as you are claiming that he did.

    Just a mild correction.

  9. October 16, 2008 12:09 pm

    I filled out my absentee ballot as I watched the debate.

  10. joseph permalink
    October 16, 2008 12:10 pm

    McCain rightly pointed out the ambiguity of Obama’s use of the word “health” in “health of the mother”, to which Obama did not object. Sorry, MM. I don’t think we were watching the same debate.

  11. joseph permalink
    October 16, 2008 12:12 pm

    Abp. Chaput, whose understanding of how the legal system works surpasses your own, has said something similar to McCain in regards to state legislation of abortion. Is Abp. Chaput pro-abortion as well? Argument… falling… apart.

  12. Habakkuk permalink
    October 16, 2008 12:28 pm

    MM, your posts in this vein seem to be addressed as much to your own conscience as they are to Obama opponents. That’s only natural for any Catholic faced with these two choices. Maybe your arguments would be more convincing if you admitted to at least some of the moral distress you must still experience over having taken such an uncompromising position in favor of such a flawed candidate. An admission of persistent moral anxiety might actually invite others into serious reflection. Of course, if you’re not deeply conflicted about your choice, then that’s a whole other problem.

  13. October 16, 2008 12:46 pm

    Once upon a time, there were two men. These men were vegetarians. The first man ate meat very seldom. He really liked a slice of bacon with his eggs. The other vegetarian would eat some sort of meat at every meal. Sometimes he’d slaughter the animal right at the table and eat it raw.

    Neither man could really be considered a vegetarian.

  14. October 16, 2008 12:51 pm

    As bad as McCain’s stance on ESCR is, Obama’s is actually much worse. McCain somehow thinks it’s okay to kill frozen embryos… I have no idea how he squares that with his view that human beings begin to exist at conception… I suppose it’s that whole “they’d die anyway” line of reasoning we’ve heard from GOP supporters of this.

    Again, that’s an irrational position, especially for someone who claims to be pro-life.

    But Obama easily tops McCain’s irrationality by supporting clone & kill bills, which would create & kill thousands & thousands of human beings; as Robby George noted, Obama has even voted *against* bills funding *adult* SCR.

    It’s befuddling that anyone can support this man, in light of his profoundly poor judgment as demonstrated by his view on these issues. NB: I’m not saying McCain is Solomon reincarnated, but I haven’t explicitly & publicly endorsed McCain for president, either.

  15. joseph permalink
    October 16, 2008 1:01 pm

    Refresher. Before Bush’s first election, he said that he would not impose a “litmus test” on any Supreme court nominee. Rather, that he would appoint the most qualified judges. That’s the same thing McCain said last night.

    We all know that President Bush as appointed pro-life Catholics to the bench. How’s that for helping understand what McCain might mean by “no litmus test”. On the other hand, Obama made sure that there needed to be a litmus test to protect the “right” to abortion.

    You see, a judges job is to ensure that justice is served. It is never just to kill innocent children. Therefore, a judge who supports killing children and wants to force that ideology into his interpretation of the law, affecting millions, is not acting according to justice, and is therefore not qualified to be a judge. No litmus test required. See how it works?

  16. October 16, 2008 1:11 pm

    I aim be to “infuriating” to those American Catholics perpetutally brainwashed by the Republican party for nearly 3 decades now!!

  17. joseph permalink
    October 16, 2008 1:42 pm


    Catholics… brainwashed by the Republican party…

    There you go again. If a Catholic doesn’t support Obama, he must be a Republican. Why is your logic falling to pieces?

  18. blackadderiv permalink
    October 16, 2008 1:44 pm

    The argument here might have more merit if McCain opposed making abortion illegal at the state level. He does not. It’s not even the case that he’s indifferent on the matter. When South Dakota had a referendum on whether to ban abortion a couple of years ago, McCain supported the ban, and he’s on record as saying that states should ban abortion once the issue was back in their hands (some states, of course, wouldn’t have to ban abortion if Roe were overturned, as their anti-abortion statutes are still on the books).

  19. October 16, 2008 2:23 pm

    MM: I haven’t even been alive for three decades. Also, I like to think I’m not “brainwashed”, but thanks – I’ll consider it a compliment in this case.

  20. October 16, 2008 2:27 pm

    Michael I.,

    You are quite the humorist.

    That was a funny comment my friend. Well said.

    In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,


  21. October 16, 2008 2:41 pm

    Tito, I can’t say I understand your comment, but when it comes to you, I’ll take whatever compliments I can get.

  22. G Alkon permalink
    October 16, 2008 2:49 pm

    Poor feddie, all the cool fun and games are going to be over for a while.

  23. October 16, 2008 2:55 pm

    You’re a baby, Zach!

  24. Policraticus permalink*
    October 16, 2008 3:09 pm

    McCain is much more pro-life than Obama. McCain is clearly the lesser of two evils and the only possible choice for Catholics loyal to the Magisterium.

    I spot at least three errors in this statement. It’s a whopper.

  25. October 16, 2008 3:18 pm

    I spot at least three errors in this statement. It’s a whopper.

    Hard to believe that’s possible with so few words!

  26. October 16, 2008 3:24 pm

    I would stop takling about “Republican Catholics” if so many pro-life Catholics did not spend so much time acting like Republicans. I did a quick perusal of some of the right-leaning Catholic blogs I am familiar with. The main topics of conversation besides abortion? Ayers, Acorn, the need for a rebirth of “conservatism”, the fate of the Rrepublican party under Obama, the unique greatness of Sarah Palin….Hmmmm….

  27. October 16, 2008 3:40 pm

    Michael I.,

    That was a compliment.

    I am a bit of a goofball and so I appreciate good humor. Especially dry humor, so reading through the serious comments and then coming to yours I had to compliment you on that.

  28. October 16, 2008 3:44 pm

    Tito – Hahah, I guess the humor in my comment was so dry that even I didn’t get it.

  29. Franklin Jennings permalink
    October 16, 2008 4:14 pm

    Let’s take it farther, because I agree with MM.

    Anybody trying to sell you on voting for either of these warmongers has an ideology to sell. Anybody justifying voting for either of these butchers puts their political affiliation above their mortal soul.

    That’s most of you, right? Especially the author?

  30. Mike J. permalink
    October 16, 2008 4:22 pm

    I think the lack of substantive responses to Jonathan’s Robby George article indicates that the argument that Obama and McCain are somehow equally pro-life just doesn’t hold water. Can we lay that one down now? It’s pretty clear that Obama is just as Hawkish as McCain, so lay that one down as well. Obama may have many things going for him, many of which I find enticing (tax plan, health care reform plan, general tone of rhetoric, for instance), but I think everyone owes it to themselves to stop trying and draw a moral equivalency between these two candidates on the issues of abortion or war.

    As for the argument that sending abortion debates back to the states isn’t really a pro-life position, this doesn’t hold water, in my opinion. First, a truly pro-life position doesn’t admit of any negotiation on matters of life and the dignity of humanity. That’s fine and true, but to suggest that because of this position one shouldn’t even attempt to dialogue about the issue and convince others *via debate* is silly. Any change toward a culture of life occurs one soul at a time. At a more local level, these conversations can be had. Right now, judicial fiat has muted the conversation. How is that not pro-life to want and convince your neighbor of a truly pro-life position?

  31. c matt permalink
    October 16, 2008 4:31 pm

    I tend to agree with you MM – it is not possible to say either candidate is pro-life.
    I suppose you might say one is less (or more) pro-life than the other, but not really clear by how much.

    Which therefore leads to the conclusion that neither should be supported.

  32. Obama-ite permalink
    October 16, 2008 6:19 pm

    Well, I’ve always thought that if you “wanna make an omelet, then you have to break a few eggs”. If getting Obama elected means more abortions have to be performed, late term or otherwise, then oh well.

    At least I’ll get my goodies when he “spreads the wealth around”. I’ll just tell myself that all the goodies I get are just 30 pieces of “Social Justice”.

  33. Franklin Jennings permalink
    October 16, 2008 7:45 pm

    “I aim be to “infuriating” to those American Catholics perpetutally brainwashed by the Republican party for nearly 3 decades now!!”

    Can anyone find a better example of projection?

    Support for Dems or Reps is support for murder and war.

  34. October 16, 2008 9:00 pm

    MM – I suppose I am.

  35. Michael Enright permalink
    October 16, 2008 10:00 pm

    It has been argued that the federalist position on abortion is not really pro-life. In a sense this may be true. However, a national ban on abortion is not likely. Shifting abortion from the state to federal level is possible, and if this happens, a number of states could make abortion more difficult. This would, in effect, discourage abortion and make it more rare.

    You can’t really say that the federalist position is as “pro-life” as a national ban. However, it is a step forward.

  36. Joe G. permalink
    October 17, 2008 7:46 pm

    See Justice Scalia’s recent comments on 60 Minutes — he said that since he believes we should interpret the Constitution via the original meaning of the founders, he cannot say that the federal government has the power to ban (or prevent state laws from proscribing) abortion. In short, the Constitution doesn’t mention abortion — and in that case, he believes it is an issue that is left to the states to decide.

    Sen. McCain’s thoughts on the matter are essentially the same.

    Also, during the last debate (and to his potential detriment), Sen. McCain pointed out the absurdity of a “health” exception when it simply serves as an exception that swallows the rule.

    By the way, when Sen. Obama mentioned that he does not have a “litmus test” for S. Ct. nominees, what does that mean? After all, this is the same man who voted AGAINST Justices Roberts and Alito, despite the fact that the ABA found both candidates “well-qualified,” which is the highest ranking given.

    Do the candidates agree on partial birth abortion?

    And what about the Freedom of Choice Act?

    Or the Born Alive act?

  37. Franklin Jennings permalink
    October 17, 2008 8:25 pm

    Joe G,

    I don’t see how it is better that McCain wants to manipulate concern for the unborn for his benefits than Obama’s desire to make it easier and easier to kill them.

    Of course, some here think that makes Obama the better choice. So you aren’t the wrongest guy in the room.


  1. Federalist vs. Pro-Life « American Catholic

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: