Obama's Social Contract
Did you receive an e-mail that claimed Sen. Barack Obama was a closet Muslim? I did. And I deleted it without a second thought. Obama has publicly proclaimed his Christian faith on many occasions. Yet it appears that the viral e-mail campaign has achieved its desired effect. So this week Obama made himself available to Christianity Today and other religious media to denounce the e-mails and profess his faith in Jesus Christ.
Sarah Pulliam and Ted Olsen, who conducted the brief interview for CT, took the opportunity to ask Obama about his views on abortion. The 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22 has triggered a spate of media critiques of abortion in America. Movies take up the topic. A recent report shared the good news about an ongoing drop in the abortion rate, now at its lowest point since the year after Roe.
Obama did not back off his pro-choice views in the CT interview. "I think [abortions] need to be made in consultation with doctors, they have to be prayed upon, or people have to be consulting their conscience on it," he said. "I think we have to keep that decision-making with the person themselves." He did, however, say that he supports restricting third-trimester abortions. But it's hard to know if he's serious, since he requires an exception for the health of the mother, a notorious loophole that would effectively negate the type of ban signed by President Bush in 2003.
More insightful was a statement his campaign released on the Roe anniversary. Obama boasted about being the only candidate who raised money to defeat South Dakota's ban on abortion. He recalled speaking out against pro-life protesters in the Chicago suburbs. And he echoed an important foundational assumption with theological implications.
"But we also know that Roe v. Wade is about more than a woman's right to choose; it's about equality," Obama said. "It's about whether our daughters are going to have the same opportunities as our sons. And so to truly honor that decision, we need to update the social contract so that women can free themselves, and their children, from violent relationships; so that a mom can stay home with a sick child without getting a pink slip; so that she can go to work knowing that there's affordable, quality childcare for her children; and so that the American dream is within reach for every family in this country."
There's a lot here to digest. But the emphasis on freedom and equality stands out. The concepts pepper every politician's speech, given their central roles in the American story. If freedom was the goal of the Revolution, then the Civil War and civil rights movement sought equality, an unfilled promise from the Declaration of Independence. Like anything else, freedom and equality can become pawns in modern-day political chess. If Obama can trace his pro-choice views back to the American statement of faith, so can pro-life professor Robert George.
"Ours is a nation, as Lincoln said, 'conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,'" the Princeton University professor told blogger Justin Taylor. "Our country has never perfectly lived up to its high ideals, but our ideals are the right ideals and they are worth struggling to live up to. Our history shows that we are a people who can live with grave injustices for only so long. Just as we abolished slavery and eventually overthrew segregation and Jim Crow in order to honor the dignity and rights of our brothers and sisters of African descent, we will eventually restore to our tiniest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters the protection they, as members of the human family, deserve."