I wanna, I wanna, I wanna vote Obama!
It infuriates me that I can’t.
One of the more remarkable things about the so-called single-issue vote controversy is that it’s been cast as a “Catholic” issue at all. The ironic, forehead-smacking, thing is that the bishops who are weighing in most incisively on this issue are actually exhorting us to remember we’re American.
I’m not talking about the legal formality of citizenship but the critical assent to, and exercise of, that epochal, beacon-on-the-hill declaration of what it means to be humanand thus to be socially, politically, human. The revolutionaries who drafted that declaration are known to history as the Founders. They added insult to the injury of all would-be tyrants, with their audacious claim that the essential rights they identified, manifest themselves self-evidently. Say what?!
This ought to stop us in our tracks. It seldom does. That the specifics of that historic moment might be lost on excited legions gearing up to vote is sad. That it’s not lost on those who seem to own the current patent on Change is disturbing.
The Declaration of Independence could be viewed as the mind to the Constitution’s body. Or, the blueprint to its structure. In it, the Founders enumerated rights ranked in an order of priorityeven if some among us attempt Cirque de Soleil-worthy contortions to deny it.
The first of these is the right to life. That wasn’t minted in the Vatican but rendered by the Founders themselvesa group largely antagonistic to Rome. It doesn’t require episcopal ordination to acknowledge that, in the unique edifice of state designed by the Founders, the right to life was set as the cornerstone.
In the case of abortion, as the science rolls in and the facts become harder to refute, a new tactic has been deployed to shift the focus. “OK, so, it may be a human life but that’s not the same thing as a person.” Some are more honest, if more shocking. Last week Rabbi Michael Lerner, leader of the progressive Tikkun movement, urged Californians to reject a referendum requiring parental notification of their child’s request for abortion, saying, “I would support a different kind of ‘cooling off process’ were it proposed. I believe that an abortion should be thought of as ‘justifiable homicide.’”
The bishops seem to me infinitely more persuasive, asking us, in effect, to use the great arrangement of the founding documents as a mapwhich if followed, offers hope for a future as noble as its beginning.
Those who would make the Catholic Case for Obama, seem frustrated by that map (not to mention the unbroken Tradition of the Church), and so they have brought a compass along to help chart the course to Change. Unfortunately, it’s required them to tweak the compasssomething akin to switching N with S. It may work too. For, while they’ve been tweaking the compass, Senator Obama, and those of like mind, have been busy tweaking the map itself.
This week, the constitutional philosophy of the forty-eight-year-old scholar, with no paper trail and two memoirs, finally got some exposure to sunlight. In a 2001 radio interview he expressed frustration that the Supreme Court had failed to “break free of the restraints of the Founders.” In fairness, he was referring to the issue of wealth redistribution (a topic I wouldn’t touch here for all the tea in Mao’s China). But what does seem exceedingly pertinent is his apparent ease in breaking with those Founders.
Not coincidentally, Roe v. Wade certainly didn’t allow the Founders to stand in its way. In a tortured legal justification rejected by some very prominent pro-choice scholars, the Court broke that restraint, not just by extrapolating a novel right, but by actually granting it priority over the cornerstone rightthereby displacing it. The consequences have yet fully to sink in.
By its decision, the court altered the stated character of American democracyfrom the promotion of the common good guided by a universal, self-evident truth, to a reductive individualism sprung from a relativist ideology at sharp odds with the Founders’ deepest aspirations. Senator Obama has pledged to expand this “break of restraint.” His record gives us no reason to doubt him.
Since 1973, fifty million human lives have been annihilated by the unspeakable violence of abortion: “justifiable homicides.” I detest having to invoke these numbers. But if they don’t finally touch something truly wise in us, what hope is there?
Ours, thankfully, is a culture in which the suffering of animals is increasingly acknowledged and protested. Yet, the brutal truth of what abortion is and does remains too horrific for us to face. This is why denial runs so viscerally deep and why our response demands indefatigable commitment to a clarity anchored in charity.
To say, “one point three million deaths each year” exerts a numbing effect on the mind. Of course, we are capable of making a distinction and do so daily at a level of cognitive dissonance. We know how it goes. When a pregnancy is embraced, it’s obviously a child that’s growing in our midst. When it’s not wanted, it’s a fetusinstantly a different thing. At least Lerner is that clear, as monstrous as the clarity is.
Those who insist on a vastly improved, compassionate network of support for women are absolutely right to do so. But it’s wrong to suggest the Church has ever done less than fully advocate such support even as it exhorts us to that exalting vision of which the Founders. Attempts to manipulate Catholics with the charge that they’re single-vote obsessives driven by some pelvic theology, is just bogusa betrayal of the truth for today’s equivalent of thirty pieces of silver.
This isn’t to say the Church doesn’t have serious work to do. The role of misogyny in our history requires thorough redress. But it will never succeed if any of the parties are willing to expend the innocent as inevitable collateral damage in an ongoing gender war. And this bears repeatingthe pre-born are so different in degree of innocence, they constitute a unique class of victim.
Christians ought not be welded to any single issue. Neither can they deny that there is one issue, without which, the ennobling others have no hope of stability. That issue is as singular as the cornerstone it is. And though it may have been displaced, it’s not yet been destroyed. This is the time to begin setting it right.
I wanna, I wanna, I wanna vote Obama. I like Barack and understand the enthusiasm. He seems a personification of the hope we presume is inherent to change. I wish I could get on board. I might even seem as cool as the people around me. Yet, behind the sheer charisma and smooth layers of nuance, compatibility with prophetic gospel imperatives is hard to see. Approval of the death penalty, an announced readiness to act militarily against Pakistan in a move that would make Iraq look like a weekend paint-ball game. These don’t point to consonance with Christian concerns, not in a way that seems truly to distinguish him from his opponents. And, then, there’s his willingness to countenance the fifty million we Americans add to every day and which depletes us on every conceivable level.
Christians have so much to contribute to this ongoing experiment of democracy: far more than we tend to appreciate. We might start by remembering to be Americanmaybe even invite some friends along for the ride. It promises to be an amazing adventure.
Tim Kelleher is a television and film writer, actor, and director. He can be seen currently in Flash of Genius and in the Will Smith thriller Seven Pounds, opening in December. He also studies graduate theology in Washington, D.C.