There have been many goings-on this election season that have defied my formidable powers of comprehension. Nearly all of them are tied to the tremendous amount of support that Barack Obama has managed to gather in his historic (not due to race, but to the extremism of his views) quest for the presidency. I understand, of course, that there is a surge of discontent with the Bush administration in this country that I myself sympathize with in many ways. For some voters, the decision this year has become oversimplified: vote for Obama, he’s not Bush. However, the overwhelming desire to punish the outgoing Bush administration (which isn’t running for re-election, by the way) and the corresponding oversimplification of the election have conspired to rob Americans of their senses, priorities and moral compasses. They have led to one of the most wacked-out phenomena in politics: the compartmentalization of morality.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more prominent this year than in the Christian community, particularly Catholics (see here). Catholics, who by the dictates of their faith are (or should be) the most ardently pro-life demographic in the country, are currently split just about down the middle in their support for Senator Obama versus Senator McCain. Just to be clear, Senator Obama has the most radical voting record on abortion in the US Senate. He has consistently opposed a partial-birth abortion ban, though he’ll tell you it was because there was never a sufficient allowance for the “health” of the mother (which is a liberal canard that has been debunked repeatedly due to its ambiguous nature) and was an ardent opponent of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act while in the Illinois State Senate on the grounds that it would undermine Roe v. Wade. If you have any doubts about the necessity of this Act, which was passed unanimously at the federal level in exactly the same form in 2002, read this (warning: this is grotesque to the point of intolerability, especially for anyone that is a parent). He is a strong proponent of not only teaching but providing contraception as part of sex education in public schools. If I’m not much mistaken, this would put him on the wrong side of THE big issues for Catholics. And yet they seem to be rallying to him in droves.
For a vivid and stupefying illustration of what I’m talking about, you might try reading this NPR article on the subject. In it, prominent Catholics discuss their attraction to Senator Obama, and in the process perform an awkward moral contortionist act that defies reason. Doug Kmiec, for example, is an ardent Pro-Lifer who served in both the Reagan and George HW Bush administrations. He says that his conversion to Obama discipleship came when he heard the Democrat’s views on health care, wages, immigration and war, to name a few. I find this strange, of course, as Obama’s views on these issues are pretty much in line with those espoused by the Democrats that opposed the Reagan and Bush administrations in the 80’s and 90’s. But ignoring that, one wonders how an anti-abortion Republican reconciles his support for a fervently Pro-Choice liberal Democrat. According to the NPR article, Kmiec “decided that Obama’s plan to reduce abortions was better than the Republicans’ failed attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade.” You see the source of my exasperation now, I think. Does it make any sense at all for a man who views the practice of abortion as an act of murder to vote for a candidate that would happily appoint Supreme Court justices to uphold the decision that spawned that very practice over a candidate who would appoint justices to oppose it? No, it does not. But I guarantee you, he is not alone.
How does this happen? How do Americans become so enchanted with a politician that they surrender their morality, or at least wall it off so that its shouts of protestation don’t grow too distracting? I have no simple answers. It seems clear, however, that the cult of personality remains alive and well in politics, and continues to claim victims among the intellectually weaker segments of the American electorate.