Obama, McCain, and Proportionate Reasons

Obama, McCain, and Proportionate Reasons June 11, 2008

There’s a lot of hot air circulating on this topic. In fact, I’ve probably contributed to it! But I wanted to write a short post explaining my prudential judgment as it relates to the choice of Obama over McCain.

The most common objection to Obama is that he is radically pro-abortion. And from his rhetoric it certainly seems that way. But how much ability does he have to influence abortion? Oh sure, he has some authority at the margin, but fundamentally, he would have little power to affect a so-called “right” that emanates from the Supreme Court. If the million or so abortions that took place each year could be pinned on the acts of one person (Barack Obama) then, yes, I would join the chorus on the right and say that no conceivable proportionate reason could justify supporting him. But this is not the case.

The best they can come up with is his ability to affect the composition of the US Supreme Court. But, sorry, I find that logic too convolutedand subject to grave uncertainty. First, he would need to appoint judges that would be inclined to overturn Roe. That is uncertain, and possibly even more uncertain with McCain than with people like Huckabee. And who knows if this judge will even vote that way when push comes to shove? Even more important, would overturning Roe have much impact on the abortion rate, given that the largest states would surely retain its legality? And what are the limits of criminalization in terms of reducing abortion anyway? All important matters, all glossed over.

In a nutshell, I do not think Obama would do much to affect abortion, one way or the other. I still find his rhetoric chilling, but nobody claimed he was the ideal candidate. But there are two core areas that I think justify voting for him.

First, a repudiation of codpiece diplomacy and the tendency to see war as something more than a last resort. Quite frankly, McCain’s rhetoric scares the hell out of me, especially pertaining to Iran. Given latest estimates suggesting that that perhaps a million people were killed as a result of the gravely mistaken decision to invade and occupy Iraq, the last thing we need is somebody who retains the temperament and tone of the Bush-Cheney approach to the world. I fear more war. I fear more hatred against the United States, that will foment a great blow-back, if not today, then tomorrow. And I am disappointed by McCain’s backtracking on the torture issue, and Obama has always spoken unequivocally against torture. Unlike abortion, these all involve matters of human life and human dignity that will be directly affected by the next president.

Second, the need for universal health care. The fact that about 75 million people in this country cannot attain basic health care needs because they are either uninsured or underinsured is a grave scandal, especially since health care is a basic need in Catholic social teaching. Hillary Clinton’s initiative was actually superior, but Obama is light-years ahead of the “more of the same” approach of McCain– pushing tax credits as the answer, when it is patently obvious that this will do nothing to solve the health care crisis. I also believe that universal health care would also contribute to reducing the incidence of abortion, given that it responds to economic conditions — and witnessed its largest decline during the Clinton years, coinciding with the one period since the early 1970s when productivity growth rebounded and was broadly shared among all income groups. Can I prove this? No, that’s why I said it was a prudential judgment.

There are other issues, but these seem the most important “truly grave moral reasons”. I would possibly add combating climate change as a third, especially since Obama would have the global stature needed to reach an international agreement that McCain could never attain. And even though McCain once had a good record in this area, he has backtracked recently.

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