Adam Graham
Smile when you say that
By Adam Graham
May 28, 2009

If duplicity is noble, then President Obama's speech at Notre Dame was as praiseworthy as Jim Kearney said it was on Sunday.

I'm all for civility and treating opponents with respect, particularly the President of the United States. However Kearney gives too much credit to the President for an anecdote about being fair-minded with one's opponents during the 2004 Senate campaign:

    A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that's not what was preventing him from voting for me.

    What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my website — an entry that said I would fight "right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, "I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

    Fair-minded words.

    After I read the doctor's letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn't change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my website. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that — when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do — that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground. ...

    ... Understand — I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it — indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

    Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

I heard this story first in 2007 from someone who'd read Audacity of Hope. And the question is did Obama live up to his intentions stated in Audacity? Remember, the unfair minded words the doctor complained about attacking pro-lifers as anti-choice extremists who wanted to "take away a woman's right to choose." In September of the last campaign, President Obama ran a radio ad that said the following:

    "Let me tell you: If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, the lives and health of women will be put at risk. That's why this election is so important," the Obama ad contends. "John McCain's out of touch with women today. McCain wants to take away our right to choose. That's what women need to understand. That's how high the stakes are."

Fair minded words on abortion, Mr. President? Seems to be almost identical to the website you were convinced to take down by your doctor friend.

Actually, the story Obama tells is not so much a story about civility as it is about a Chicago politician being schooled by an amateur. The fortunes of the Democratic Party in the Industrial Midwest in particular are dependent on a lot of traditionalists overlooking social issues. The lesson of the e-mail is that you have to sound reasonable on issues like abortion, regardless of your actual record, lest you make people whose support is critical very uncomfortable.

To have a fair-minded discussion on the issue of abortion would require more honesty than your average pro-choice politician is willing to offer. Most pro-choicers won't tell you that the issue of when life begins is above their pay grade. I have a friend I've debated this issue with who has never once weaseled out of a question by telling me that the answer is above his pay grade, even though his pay grade is far lower than President Obama's.

From Partial Birth Abortion to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, and the Freedom of Choice Act, the President's record on this issue is extreme. His supporters went to pro-lifers and claimed the president would reduce the number of abortions. Despite their disappointment with the election results, many social conservative groups tried to work with the president.

How to reduce the number of abortions short of banning it is not rocket science, and indeed your average pro-life American and your average pro-choice American could work out an arrangement with ease. Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America began to lay out her thoughts on how to reduce the number of abortions. Obama Aide Melody Barnes corrected Wright and said, "It is not the goal of the Administration to reduce the number of abortions." Rather, she insisted, it was to reduce the need for abortions. The way the Democrats define need, this translates into nothing but more welfare and contraception programs, which, as Wright pointed out, haven't been very effective for the $2 billion each year we spend on them.

Reducing the number of abortions is something most Americans would agree with, but it's not something the president's team wants to advocate for. First, it implies there's something wrong with the act of getting an abortion, which is definitely not the message that pro-abortion groups want to send.

Secondly, abortion is a business that operates tight margins. Even many pro-choice people don't want an abortionist for their doctor, so abortionists find themselves dependent on the income they get from doing the abortion. Fewer abortions means less income, which means fewer doctors being willing to do the procedure. Fewer abortions mean less access, which means even fewer abortions. In some areas of the country, the legal right to an abortion exists, but it is practically unavailable. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties do not have abortion available. Given what laws restricting abortion have already done, does anyone really think that the abortion lobby wants fewer abortions, or that the Obama Administration would seriously pursue the goal?

This brings me back to the president. A fair minded debate begins by addressing tough questions rather than ducking them. The president's beautiful rhetoric appears designed to mask the ugly extremist stance his administration has taken on this issue. Until he's ready to come out behind the plumage of his rhetoric, then it's all words. Just words.

Words that really don't matter.

© Adam Graham


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Adam Graham

Adam Graham was Montana State Coordinator for the Alan Keyes campaign in 2000, and in 2004 was a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Idaho State House... (more)

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