Obama and the Enduring Untruths

Along with enduring truths, there are some remarkably enduring non-truths; certain slogans that curiously hold on over the years, treated earnestly as moral principles, but utterly wanting in substance. One of the most persistent surfaced again a week ago in the commencement address at Notre Dame. It was delivered by that man Robert Royal has referred to as “a Certain Person speaking at a Certain Catholic University.” The most radical pro-abortion president of the United States offered, in the most amiable way, to find common ground with the pro-lifers. “Let’s work together,” he said, “to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies.” He offered also to collaborate in “making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

Those lines brought back the memory of a dinner with Henry Hyde within the first month or two of the Clinton Administration in 1993. Henry had been at a reception at the White House, where Bill Clinton put both of his hands on Henry’s shoulders. He avowed his deep respect for Congressman Hyde and remarked that they must find some way to work together. Al Gore chimed in that they should work together to make abortion “less necessary.” It was, as Hyde recalled, the kind of encounter that could make one gag (“two-fingers-down-the-throat kind of thing,” as one person at the table remarked). Were Clinton and Gore being clever, or did they not even themselves recognize any longer what was so bizarre in what they were offering?

Let’s try it this way: It’s Germany, 1934, and an official highly placed comes to the Jewish community in the persona of a peacemaker. “Let’s try to find some way of working together and make it ‘less necessary’ to deal harshly with ‘the Jewish problem.’” Perhaps, he suggests, we could find a way of transferring some of the businesses and the assets owned by Jews and putting them in the hands of deserving Aryans who have not been as successful in their lives.

What is left unsaid of course is the major premise: that the very condition of being Jewish is a ground quite sufficient to justify the punishment of a people by seizing their assets, removing them from the professions, barring them from schools of higher education, and finally delivering them to death camps. In the case of Obama, as with Clinton and Gore before him, the unspoken premises are again the most astounding – and even more astounding yet in being unnoticed. The techniques of contraception may work well or badly, as people seek, artfully or clumsily, to avoid “unintended pregnancies.” But it is simply taken for granted, as a point well beyond questioning now, that there is a “right,” even a “constitutional right” to destroy an innocent human life for reasons wholly of self-interest, indeed for reasons that need not rise above convenience.

The remedy for an “unintended pregnancy” used to be regarded as an adoption, not a lethal surgery. Adoption is offered by Obama, as though offered in generosity, for those people who do not care to invoke their constitutional right to destroy an innocent life in the womb. It is a gesture that leaves that essential “right” quite intact, without the slightest concession to the notion that the nascent life has even a shadow of a claim to our concern or respect. This is what Obama and the “Obama Catholics” apparently regard as an earnest mode of “working together”: concede their major premises, unqualified, unmodified, and give them credit for a largeness of spirit.

Of course, it is worth noting also that an “unintended pregnancy” becomes far more portentous when young people are unmarried, with no serious intention of committing themselves to a life together. Obama’s premises conveniently leave in place the assumption that there are no moral inhibitions worth taking seriously any longer on that notion of sex as virtually free, detached from commitments or requirements, taken even as a freewheeling pastime for young people in college, learning a little about everything.

Not too long after that dinner with Henry Hyde, Robert George, Gerard Bradley, and I found ourselves at a conference at St. Louis University, where there was an effort to lure us gently away from our resistance to abortion. One theologian from Boston College enjoined us not to press our moral views until we were prepared to do something serious about the poverty that encumbers so many people and makes them more inclined to abort the babies they cannot afford. Once again the lessons of the Jewish past came back: Did the Jews have to apologize for the shortfalls in the lives of others – did they have to give up their property rightly earned in order to purchase their right not to be killed because they were Jews, or because they stirred the envy and resentment of others?

And in our own day, is the same slogan offered to us again in the guise of a serious moral argument? Are we really obliged to carry out policies of redistribution – to lift the unfortunate out of poverty – in order to purchase our right to protect the most innocent and vulnerable among us from the taking of their lives? That is a price these people have no right to ask, and that we have no obligation, or right, to pay.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.

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  • Liz

    Great collumn … and you are correct in saying this is all about convenience. The Baby Boomers (of which I am numbered) wanted what they wanted and they wanted it now (as demonstrated when they grew into Yuppiehood) – it was a generation "all about me" – we knew better than anyone before us; we were to challenge authority, trust no one over 30 and our parents threw up their hands and let us. PS: Boston College is a joke as are most Jesuit Institutions today – lost in the 60s.

  • William Dennis

    Power Makes Truth?
    And so the Trojan horse has now been placed inside ND. This horse filled with the agendas of the ACLU, abortion rights, same sex marriages fetal experimentors and other schemes that are the antithesis of any religion. One has to be amazed at how these robed scholars and priests no doubt with terminal degrees in theology, philosophy and history could sit and listen to this deception under the guise of the gift of accomodation. The ideologies from this horse will one day destroy a great university

  • Jonah

    Jews – Europe
    If the Jews of Europe only had had someone with the unambigious moral clarity of Mr. Arkes to proclaim the truth, rather than the nuanced positions of Pius XII that were tempered by the complexities of war.

  • Stephanie Runyon

    Arkes illuminates a fundamental flaw in pro-life thinking. Right now, the pro-life holy grail is the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which would only send the issue back to the states. This would be akin to Berlin saying to Munich in 1934: it’s up to you whether to exterminate Jews. Targeting Roe is, at best, flawed; at worst, it’s Pontius Pilate washing his hands of guilt. It gave Reagan/W pro-life support while they avoided the real work of pushing a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

  • JDS

    To Stephanie
    What you term a “fundamental flaw” or the “holy grail” of pro-life thinking, i.e. overturning Roe vs Wade, is really just the obligatory first step. Take for instance, what you call the “real work” of passing a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. In today’s Supreme Court, such an amendment, voted on by the people, would simply be declared “unconstitutional”(see California). All you CINO’s who voted for BHO, today could have been the announcement of the deciding SC vote against Roe.

  • Rita Lawrence

    RN, MSN
    One truth kept resounding as I contemplated what motivated the President of Notre Dame to invite Obamma to speak. He is a negotiator, however YOU CANNOT NEGOTIATE WITH THE DEVIL. Beware when you have leaders who approach killing babies with a wished for outcome – cooperation? What are the bargaining chips – the lives of the unborn. Obamma needs to be have more pressure put on him for his support of murder of innocents not reward for his deeds.

  • Joe W.

    Brilliant argument!

  • cleo powers

    sawmill owner & beyond
    You must realize, whatever any president says is a bunch of whoey & you can not rely on any truths they say. you may however rely heavily on what God says in his holy book. Go by it & in the long run, you can not fail!
    I, cleo powers of punk’n hollar know first hand!

  • Gunnar Gundersen

    Amen! Great article Professor Arkes.

  • TJW

    President Obama has an uncanny political skill of wrapping himself up in consensus and drawing examples from his political opposites at any time he is discussing the most politically divisive issues. He is always to be found at the center of the warring factions. The media loves and perpetuates this representation. It is curious how he ended up as the most liberal (#1!)senator in his last Senate year (according to National Journal) if he is so moderate and reflective on the tough issues…

  • Johnny

    So what is wrong with Obama and others looking for ways to reduce unintended pregnanciies? The adoption scenairo will neber be like what is was again, I promise!

  • Adam

    ignorance or arrogance
    Bravo. The very implication of common ground on this issue is either A) utter ignorance of what the Church holds vis a vis the value of human life, or more likely B) a full-on slap in the face to those who are actually working to uphold the dignity of life. The President’s strident, and gut-wrenching arguments for infanticide (against the infant born alive act) should ring in our ears. ‘Common ground’ is well summarized by Prof. Arkes: “concede (our) major premises, unqualified, unmodified..

  • Mrs. Lauren Moore

    RN. LCSW
    I am greatly disturbed by this new President’s promotion of abortion on demand. As a churchgoing Catholic and a nurse, I feel as though my moral objection to abortion may cost my job, a price I am willing to pay. What can we do to stop this atrocity and enforce the dignity of human life?