Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama: Congratulations and the Continuing Work for Human Life

Barack Obama has won an historic victory. Although the size of his victory may be overplayed in the media, the nature of the victory, the character of the winner, and what it means for democracy cannot be overstated and commands our unified pride as Americans. As eloquently stated in Susan Stabile's post immediately below, the election of an African-American to the nation’s highest office is stunningly remarkable when contrasted with the ugliness of racism that persisted until so recently. That we as a people chose to move past those racial prejudices and send a person of color to the White House says so much about who we are as a people. That the exit polls confirm that race simply played no significant role in the election is a further source of encouragement for us. Jubilant Democrats and disappointed Republicans alike cannot help but be moved by this powerful rejection of an ugly history of racism and this electoral commitment to racial equality. Truly, truly, we should say, God bless America.

For those of us who are committed to the sanctity of human life, it is difficult to sugarcoat the results. The most pro-abortion politician ever nominated by a major party has been elected president. Although we pray for unborn children and always work to shine the light, dark days may well lie ahead for the pro-life cause. However optimistic one may be for the long-term, yesterday’s vote probably does mean that the day on which human rights for unborn are recognized has been delayed for a season.

At the same time, there is no reason for despair and much reason to be proud of our continuing efforts to bear witness to life. The cause of life has never been solely or even primarily a political campaign cause, and the prayer warriors and brave and compassionate counselors for life remain at the heart of our cause. And for those of us who are engaged in the political fight for human rights, we can and should take considerable solace in the fact that we fell only a little short, against great odds. Despite the perfect storm arrayed against him—an unpopular president of the same party, the eight-year itch to change parties, a declining economy, a disastrously-timed financial collapse, the fawning and uncritical media support for his opponent, and a huge disadvantage in campaign financing—our pro-life candidate nonetheless came far closer than we could have dreamed only a couple of weeks ago.

Now that a Democratic candidate has prevailed in the electoral college after two losses, the national media has buried the popular vote margin in news reporting and one has to search diligently on news web sites to find a complete report on vote numbers. When the figure is unearthed, we discover that the pro-life candidate far outperformed the polls and the expectations of the pundits to reach nearly to 47 percent of the vote. (One of my colleagues eagerly offered me a wager that Barack Obama would rise above 60 percent of the vote. Among many other silver linings from yesterday, which was a pretty good day for Republicans and an even better day for pro-lifers of both parties in Minnesota, I’ll collect those winnings today). Senator Obama’s lean majority (52 percent) by historical measures, is certainly nothing comparable to Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election (59 percent) or even his initial election in which he won a majority in a three-way race and defeated Jimmy Carter by 10 percent points. Obama’s popular vote win was solid, but not large. A shift of only three percentage points would have made John McCain the president-elect. That John McCain climbed within reach is a testament to the hard and resolute work of many, including those of us in the pro-life movement. And it means that the hill to climb back is not very steep.

Given the tightening of the race at the end, Catholics for Obama rightly may take meaningful credit for the Obama victory. While exit polls show that a majority of faithful Catholics who attend weekly Mass were not convinced by the Obama appeal, a majority of Catholics overall did vote for Obama. And given the significant deficit for Obama among Catholics during the primary season, the efforts of Catholics for Obama may well have been decisive.

Catholics for Obama thus deserve our congratulations for a campaign well fought, along with our reminder that with victory and political power comes moral responsibility. All of us who grieve for the plight of the unborn in this nation must hope and pray that the promises made by Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec, that the lives of hundreds of thousands of unborn children would be saved by an Obama administration, will now be realized. Let us all join together in endorsing the Pregnant Women Support Act offered by Democrats for Life (and not yet endorsed by President-elect Obama).

And when emboldened pro-choice Democrats move to enact the Freedom of Choice Act that would strip away even the minimal protections currently in place for unborn life (and they will), we should expect that Catholics for Obama will speak forcefully against it and insist that its enactment would undermine the Obama pledge to unify the country. And when pro-choice Democrats seek to repeal the Hyde Amendment and use taxpayer money to finance more abortions (and they will), we should expect that Professors Cafardi, Kaveny, and Kmiec will speak as publicly and vigilantly as they did urging his election to remind President Obama that using the wealth of government to fund the industry of death contradicts the theme of the Obama campaign to move beyond the politics of division. And we all must join together as a united witness for life because, after all, lives literally depend on our faithfulness.

Greg Sisk


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