The ill-tempered aggression of Joe Biden — whether he was laughing and grinning in the first half or growling and shouting in the second — made the Vice Presidential debate last night a painful thing to watch. Biden was clearly eager to heed the call of Obama supporters to go on offense and attack Romney/Ryan. I suspect he was also eager to discard his popular image as a genial, slightly crazy uncle who keeps putting his foot in his mouth. If that was the mission, he succeeded. He did not come across as genial at all.
Some of the liberal commentators who recognized that Biden came across as an angry and condescending thought that his finest moments were at the end, when he grew earnest and opined on his faith, abortion and religious freedom. I thought those were his worst.
Here’s why. While atheist mega-blogger Hemant Mehta celebrates him for it, Biden’s assertion that he accepts his church’s position that life begins at conception but refuses to “impose” that viewpoint on others is simply incoherent. It’s like saying “I am firmly convinced that global climate change is near catastrophic levels, but I don’t believe I can impose that viewpoint on others.” Or “I accept the position that homeless people are human and should not be killed, but I can’t ask others to live according to my beliefs.”
If you believe, as the Catholic church does, that a sacred human life begins at conception, you simply cannot do nothing. What you are asserting (sacred human life begins at conception) is not a matter of subjective taste. It’s an assertion of fact. And if you are truly convinced of that fact, then there is nothing noble or tolerant or praiseworthy, or even remotely thoughtful or ethical, about standing by while those innocent human lives are extinguished. Yet this is what passes for thoughtful piety on the Obama ticket.
Biden is saying: “I believe what the Catholic Church believes, that preborn children are sacred human lives — but I will simply stand by while anyone who wants to do so kills them.” If he truly believes what the Catholic Church believes, then he has no right to do nothing in the face of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of abortions. He has no right. Either Biden does not really believe what he claims to believe, and he merely claims to believe it in order to draw as much of the Catholic vote as possible — or he is profoundly failing in his moral obligation to care for the children who are being aborted, because he finds it personally or politically convenient to raise no objection.
I don’t know which is worse.
Imagine that you went to a daycare to pick up a friend’s child. The daycare worker, Daisy, has arranged ten boxes in the back yard and has placed explosives on top of each. “There are no children inside,” Daisy says, “so it’s fine to blow up the boxes.” But let’s say you have reason to suspect that one child has climbed into one of those boxes, but you don’t know which.
Daisy wants to go ahead and blow up one of the boxes. Would you let her? There’s only a ten percent chance that there’s a human child inside. Would you say, “I don’t think she should — but I won’t impose my point of view on her?”
Let’s say you were firmly convinced that there were children in each of the ten boxes. Would you refuse to impose your viewpoint on Daisy then? Yet that’s what Uncle Joe is proposing here. He accepts the Catholic Church’s position that these are living human persons — he believes there is a child in each box — but he refrains from interfering. How noble! How tolerant! How politically convenient and morally incoherent.
Of course, I understand there is a mother to think about here. But even if it proved to be a great hardship on Daisy, I wouldn’t hold my tongue while she went ahead and set off the explosives. Would you? Really put yourself in that situation. Would you say nothing? (The “boxes,” by the way, are not analogous to the mother — no one is proposing destroying the mother! The boxes are the embryo/fetus, and the question is whether there is a living human child there.) Even if you are not objectively certain that there is a child inside the box — even if you could not prove it to Daisy — you believe that something is objectively true. There are children in the boxes. If you truly believe that, then you must act to defend those children.
Biden also used the old canard that he would not tell a woman “what to do with her body,” as though the embryo/fetus is akin to a mole or an eleventh finger or unsightly facial hair. If you believe what the Catholic Church believes, then it’s not her body. It’s the body of a living human person.
People of sound mind and heart can disagree on whether life begins at conception. People of sound mind and heart can disagree on whether we ought to “impose” an answer through votes and laws and regulations. But people of sound mind and heart cannot believe simultaneously that life begins at conception and that they cannot impose their viewpoint.
At least, they cannot believe it coherently. I’ll give Uncle Joe the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s not a liar or a moral coward but just remarkably incoherent on the matter.