Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Obama at Notre Dame

I agree with Ken below that our president masterfully wowed the Catholic crowd, and his personal charm should be compared to Reagan’s. He talked about working together in service for the common good, and he spoked against selfishness, greed and zero sum games. He repeatedly invoked Cardinal Bernardin and by implication Bernardin’s seamless garment of life. There are many areas where we need to address the needs of the most weak and vulnerable among us, and abortion is only one of them. So we can affirm this president’s charitable, unifying work with only one irreconciliable difference. Just as he respects the good faith of our irreconciliable position, we must respect his. The only problem with this conclusion, of course, is that he only respects our position as a matter of private conscience. The Supreme Court has said that his view is the one, as a matter of liberty, that must inform public policy. And that view, our president suggested quickly, is one in accord with "sound science" and "the equality of women." The president spoke eloquently of the sacredness of every human life, but not of any reasonable public disagreement over who a human being is. The president called attention to the anniversary of BROWN and the fact that, as a result of BROWN, nobody recognizes the good faith of segregationists. He did not add that our Court, of course, has placed BROWN and ROE in the same category as super-precedents. A president who really recognized the good faith of his opponents on the abortion issue would extend them not only linguistic courtesy but the right for pro-life views to be included meaningfully in the political process.

Discussions - 38 Comments

A president who really recognized the good faith of his opponents on the abortion issue would extend them not only linguistic courtesy but the right for pro-life views to be included meaningfully in the political process.

Peter, I guess you have in mind things like the so-called conscience clause. Is that right? Well, we'll have to see what comes of the rewrite.

More generally, you say he only respects our position as a matter of private conscience. Isn't this the result of the state of the law, after Roe? Which, to be sure, the president supports. So let us imagine the reversal of Roe and Casey. Therefore pro-life views again become part of the political process - big time, state by state. Would not the pro-life position then logically become that of getting the Supreme Court to hold abortion to be unconstitutional? Would you favor that?

Where has Obama removed the right of pro-lifers to participate meaningfully in the political process? When pro-life advocates run for office, when they dominate the airwaves of talk radio, when they form organizations, when they occupy the white house and appoint judges, then they are participating meaningfully in the political process. Pro-lifers are free not to have abortions, and they are free to argue for their positions, to lobby for their positions, and to agitate for their positions. They lost an election in which they freely participated. When pro-life advocates find intolerable any alternative to their views, when they describe as "Leninist" any opposing viewpoint, as Ken Thomas did, that is where democracy ends.

Steve, I would prefer that the Court stay out of it--that is, really adhere to the limits of the Constitution as law. The president's alleged position of real respect would require the reversal of ROE, which the precondition of a real national dialogue.

Peter - Me, too. But I bet that is a minority position among pro-lifers. And why not, given the arguments available - including the view that such a national dialog would be akin to Stephen Douglas' "popular sovereignty"?

I did not label pro-choicers as Leninists: the label applies to liberals generally. The late Martin Diamond, a most moderate soul, noted the similarities.

Ken Thomas - Can you supply the Martin Diamond citation? I'd be interested.

Science was used to cudgel his political opponents. Obama is with science, left unsaid but much implied is that his opponents are backward yahoos.

His entire speech could be gone over with a comb, but what I thought rich was his regaling Notre Dame with the tale of his faith "conversion." Now it's helpful to recall here that the only "church" that he ever attended was that of Wright, {which warrants the placing of the word church in quotation marks}. Mindful that his "conversion" led him to Wright, a guy he so revered he quoted extensively in his book, we are left to wonder exactly what kind of "conversion" experience it was.

From what we know of him he was wandering the "community," working his "organizing" gig and all the while getting nowhere fast. Additionally, with a handle like his, he was being attacked for not attending any of the Black churches in the area, which then caused him to select a church. Thus his selection was motivated by his political aspirations, not any demonstrable spiritual hankerings. Now there were many churches that he could have chosen, filled with the Spirit and on fire to preach the word "in good season and in bad," but the one he chose was that of a former muslim "Reverend" Jeremiah Wright. So what kind of "conversion" experience leads one to choose as a "church" one whose major themes are anti-Semitism, Black supremacy, Black liberation theology and other various heresies so great, so numerous, as to justify saying it's only nominally Christian. A genuine conversion experience is an encounter with the risen Christ, and isn't likely to lead one into a "faith community" of hate and envy. An onrushing of the Holy Spirit ensues in a genuine conversion. The fruit thereof does not lead one to try to crank up racial and class distinctions. Nor can we expect the Spirit of Truth to lead one into a morass of a racial liberation theology that's little more than Marxism dressed up in pastoral garments.

Is it not "by their fruits" that we shall "know them."

Steve: Here are some differences between slavery and abortion under the Constituion. The original, unamended Constitution, as Storing, Lincoln, Douglass etc. have shown, has an unmistakable antislavery and especially antiracist spirit. The pro-choice position as described by Douglas is a distortion of the document's actual words. Given the Const's lack of clear guidance on aobrtion (an ambiguity present in Locke himself etc), popular sovereignty does seem reasonable enough until the scientific evidence is more clear or more accepted than it is now. The Douglass position, remember, was that any national limits on the expansion of slavery were unconstitutional, and Lincoln was defending the legislative choice of the Missouri Compromise. My (our) view is on behalf of legislative choice--including legislative compromise, if need be--on abortion.

And PETER, don't overlook the fact that he's probably on the verge of a real showdown over who he appoints to the high court. That accounts a bit for his repeating the old line, "can't we all get along...."

Peter - I completely agree on the merits of the comparison.

Steve, Then you have to agree that the speech is barely masking judicial and administrative tyranny. And so that ROE doesn't deserve any legitimacy deriving from BROWN...

So let us imagine the reversal of Roe and Casey. Therefore pro-life views again become part of the political process - big time, state by state. Would not the pro-life position then logically become that of getting the Supreme Court to hold abortion to be unconstitutional? Would you favor that?

What a repulsive way of looking at things. Nobody has any business "getting the Supreme Court" to interfere in what are properly political disputes. Of all the bad things which liberalism has done, and the list is very long, corrupting the proper understanding of the role of the courts has to be right at the top.

Given the Const's lack of clear guidance on aobrtion (an ambiguity present in Locke himself etc), popular sovereignty does seem reasonable enough until the scientific evidence is more clear or more accepted than it is now.

Given the constitutions lack of clear guidence, popular sovereignty must legally rule the day regardless of what science says. There is nothing in the constitution which says "this area is removed from the jusitiction of the legislative branch if science says x, y, and z." In fact according to the constitution nothing is ever removed from legislative control, period.

As I've noted before, your reverence for Locke is badly misplaced. Those who admire the father of the French Revolution should not expect anything good to result from following him today.

When pro-life advocates find intolerable any alternative to their views, when they describe as "Leninist" any opposing viewpoint, as Ken Thomas did, that is where democracy ends.

Democracy ended when the courts overruled the will of the people.(Something they do on regular basis these days, to the applause of liberals.) So you'll have to pardon me if I roll my eyes at your belated concern for the democratic process.

Peter - Please explain: "barely masking judicial and administrative tyranny"??

What should be left to the people to decide, Obama reserves the Court and the bureaucrats.

Peter - I think your words are intemperate. The president didn't decide the abortion cases, beginning when he was 11 years old. I don't find in his speech anything that suggests he "reserves" this to the Court (rather than to legislation). I wouldn't be surprised to learn (though we won't) that he wishes Roe had never been decided. But here we are and here he is. Encouraging the view that the President of the United States barely masks his tyranny is not exactly prudent, in my opinion, whether it comes from Republicans or from Democrats.

Whenever I am low or feeling like I am not one of the elect, I am sure glad I have "Dan" around (in comment #8) to educate me on what is nominally Christian, and to disciple me on what is a genuine conversion experience and what is not. His certainty about such things is an inspiration. Pity he did not employ his wisdom when Rumsfeld was sprinkling military documents with Christian crusade sayings. But no matter: I will from now forward use his teachings to destroy the children of Belial.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn (though we won't) that he wishes Roe had never been decided.

What is there in the history of Obama to support that dubious asertion? If he wishes that Roe had not been decided then it is a simple matter for him to say so.

The president didn't decide the abortion cases, beginning when he was 11 years old.

The President supports the Courts unconstitutional power grab. His own stated judicial philosophy makes that clear to all, except those who prefer to remain ignorant.

Pity he did not employ his wisdom when Rumsfeld was sprinkling military documents with Christian crusade

Ah, I see that The Collective has setteled on it's moronic talking point for the day. Have you ever had a thought of your own, ren?

Encouraging the view that the President of the United States barely masks his tyranny is not exactly prudent, in my opinion, whether it comes from Republicans or from Democrats.

Why not, if it is true? The Democrats spent the last eight years telling the most outrageous tales about BusHitler. That does not mean that all Presidents are falsely accused of tyranny.

John M - You want the president to cease to be a Democrat (and a liberal). I want him more fully to acknowledge the moral and constitutional seriousness of the pro-life position. In my concern for that I must recognize ">">http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/StatementofPresidentObamaonthe36thAnniversaryofRoevWade/"> his first statement on the subject as president.

You want the president to cease to be a Democrat (and a liberal).


I want him to obey his solemn oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States. If that impinges on his ability to be a Democrat and a liberal, then that tells you something about Democrats and liberals.

I want him more fully to acknowledge the moral and constitutional seriousness of the pro-life position.

Acknowleging "more fully" the "constitutional seriousness of the pro-life position" would require him to concede that Roe is patently un-constitutional, a point which even many abortion supporters have conceded. Obama's statement cited by you makes no nod to that fact whatsoever. I don't see the point in you even citing it.

Steve, jeez, I don't believe he wishes there was no ROE. He refused to vote for the IL Born Alive Protection Action for fear, in his own words, it would in some [unexplained] way undermine ROE. And there's the Freedom of Choice Act, which he plainly said he was only delaying for now. The statement you cite doesn't treat the pro-life position seriously morally or constitutionally, of course. The only issue is privacy, which is not challenged by any other serious concern (that's further than even the Court goes, of course). ROE is plainly tyranny because it removes a divisive issue on which the Constitution doesn't speak clearly from the democratic political process.

I always find it interesting to listen to a group of men debate the moral, spiritual, scientific and political implications of “Pro-life” verses “Pro-abortion”. Being just an ordinary woman, I can tell you, and every other woman, whether she wants to admit it or not, KNOWS that life begins at conception. It may be inconvenient, or unwanted, or devastating or even dangerous life, but it is life, a human being.

As those who wrote our constitution also knew, these lives have rights - given not by government but by God - to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The outcomes are not guaranteed, just the opportunity. And our nation would be far better off if all of the politicians spent less time arguing over who should have these rights, and more time fighting for those who don’t have them.

By the way “terry”, “Pro-lifers are free not to have abortions,” (in this country – for now) but they are not free as health care workers to refuse to participate in them, or as taxpayers to refuse to pay for them.

I cited the January statement to admit to you that it is weak. I'm trying, and I guess failing, to distinguish between a mistaken Court and a "barely masked [presidential] tyranny." Nobody around here is buying!

I'm trying, and I guess failing, to distinguish between a mistaken Court and a "barely masked [presidential] tyranny."

I don't buy that at all. The Court was not "mistaken". They made a nakedly political calculation and ruling. And it's one which Obama supports and seeks to have everybody accept. Pay attention to his Supreme Court nominee. It won't be anybody who is concerned with constitutional nicites. it will be somebody concerned with enacting the liberal political agenda via the courts. Obama has already said as much.

Steve Thomas, #10--re Diamond see the Goldwin edited volume, Left, Right, and Center, p. 85. This pargraph does not refer to Lenin. But Diamond imputed "democratic centralism" to the contemporary political left. I will check the Zuckerts' book for a reference.

The question of the latter posts appears to center on whether the U.S. is undergoing a regime change, with Roe offered as evidence. Certainly the late-term abortion cases, for one, give one pause.

BTW, I remain amused by Pelosi's citation of Aquinas to support her pro-choice views. (Pelosi comes readily to mind these days.) Her reliance on St. Thomas for Catholic confirmation of her pro-choice dogma would also require her to protect the ensouled fetus after 3 months in the womb (when Thomas thought ensoulment occurred). What has the Speaker ever done to protect life in the second and third trimesters?

I think the hangup on Roe distracts somewhat from the larger point of judicial tyranny. There are many other excellent examples of the Court showing fairly naked contempt for the Constitution and their own role under it. Free speech issues, for example.

How is it possible for anybody, let alone learned judges, to read the First Amendment and then sign off on McCain-Fengold? But that is what the majority did, with the so-called "liberals" voting for the majority.

Ren, listen to the tapes of Wright in action. Obama said that he was guided in his "conversion experience" by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, and then followed that "guidance" right on over and into the fold of a Wright.

Christianity isn't something that any old sort can profess to believe, all the while professing other ideas entirely inconsistent thereto. For instance one cannot simultaneously believe that Christ is the Son of God, and yet then maintain that his words carry no weight, and are merely advisory. At some point there is an edge, at some point one is either in, or out. I'm a Catholic, we're aware of that frontier of faith, that edge if you will, and what's more, we're comfortable with it.

Christianity has formulated articles of faith, creeds, going all the way back to those centuries immediately following its founding. Ever heard of the Nicene creed for instance?

Sorry Ren, but Wright is way, way out there, and you know it.

I feel sorry for those Democrats who support Obama, but are obliged to rationalize away the sad fact that their dear leader spent most of his adult existence listening to the words of a lunatic. They're mortified by it all, and they should be.

It is a secondary concern, but I don't see why Obama deserves any praise simply for asserting that there are good faith reasons on both sides of the abortion issue. Isn't that the least that the two sides owe each other? I know that not everyone lives up to that standard, but what is Obama saying that John Kerry didn't in 2004? Are we seeing a new form of the soft bigotry of low expectations?

THIS post should be titled boring subtlety because no kidding his compassion does not going beyond words. It does not denigrate the quality of his speech in asserting that we need to at least have a dialogue in order to reach a better end.

Prof. Lawler, I take issue with your characterization of this president's "work" as "charitable" and "unifying". It is indeed true that his words are suave and charming to many and that, through them, he hopes to mollify those who disagree fundamentally with him and to persuade those who might be persuadable. However, his actions with regards to abortion since taking office belie the mellifluous and conciliatory tone of his words, as does his unsavory record on the issue of partial birth abortion as state senator, which exposes him to be uncharitably zealous in his defense of an indefensible practice. When his deeds match his words, then it will be possible to speak of him as a truly "charitable" actor: until such a time, however, his honeyed words ring as hollow as a bell in a world without agape.

Ken Thomas #30 - Thanks for hunting. In a certain sense, democratic centralism (not, however, exactly what Lenin meant by it!) is as old as the American Democratic Party (the Albany Regency in the 1840s): that is, the idea that party members should debate and fight it out but once the nominee is chosen, loyalty is owed. Principles should bend. How far? Well, Van Buren himself finally had enough and broke to run as a third party candidate. Lenin would have had him shot, I suppose. See the old and quite wonderful Mike Wallace article in the AHR. The Whigs faced the same question. See Lincoln's 1845 ">">http://www.teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=1027"> letter to Williamson Durley.

Tom from IL--I was summarizing the speech to give you a flavor of what those ND Catholics liked. My own view is that it was all pretty empty, except for the implicitly tyrannical part.

Prof. Lawler--Thank you for your response. Now that I reread your post in a more dispassionate state of mind, I realize that I failed to draw the proper interpretative line between your reconstruction of Obama's position and your own position: in doing this, I failed to exercise appropriate interpretative charity and apologize for that. Otherwise, I think that we are in agreement on substance.

Obama claims he wants fewer abortions in America, yet he wants it to remain legal.

My blog, Adventures in A Priori, examines the illogical nature of this argument.

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