Resolving Obama’s paradox – constructively meeting the abortion “clash of absolutes”

There is a paradox at the heart of Senator Obama’s presidential campaign. Senator Obama is campaigning one way – as a figure who transcends the old, tired politics of division – and has voted almost entirely the other – as reliable, down the line member of his party.   This anomaly has been noted by the New York Times and one can expect that it will be regularly pointed out by Senator McCain. Asked to explain, Candidate Obama – with some plausibility – has pointed out that many of the votes he has been asked to cast in the U.S. Senate are deliberately ideological, aimed more at political statement than practical resolution. 

Fair enough, but perhaps now that the Senator’s campaign has run somewhat aground thanks to a “bitter” verbal misstep and the heckling of George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson, it might be wise, especially on the eve of the Pennsylvania primary, for the prospective President Obama to supply a good-faith illustration of how he might achieve common ground and build bridges over the religious and cultural divides of the past.

There is no better topic for doing this than abortion.  This is a topic of profound religious and philosophical divide, properly called by my friend Laurence Tribe as a “clash of absolutes.”   

For the last several days the leader of the Catholic Church has extolled his flock in America and all Americans “to set aside all division” to work for a conception of freedom built upon the truth of the human person.  The Jewish community in America is once again keeping Passover commemorating the great Exodus of the Israelites from slavery to freedom.  In the arc of these historic and traditional Judaic Christian moments both celebrating authentic freedom could there possibly be a better time for Senator Obama to demonstrate a tangible manifestation of the unity of purpose upon which he has been standing throughout the campaign?


By embracing a proposal equivalent to what the leaders of his own counsel of advisors have already endorsed: the so-called 95-10 legislation . This idea satisfies neither side of an absolutist clash completely - how could it and still be common ground? - yet  it strives for a 95% reduction in abortion over 10 years, not by legal mandate that would contradict the Senator’s belief that this decision must remain that of the mother, but instead by ensuring that no woman faces such decision without having already had the benefit of responsible information about abstinence and contraception. In the event of a pregnancy, the proposal would supply objective information about fetal development, the proper guidance of a parent if the prospective mother is a minor, and the public’s assurance of necessary economic support to carry the pregnancy to term, and if it be the mother’s informed choice, the adoption of her child.

No doubt the Senator will want to put his own distinctive mark on such legislation, but for now, it is the general endorsement of the idea that is important – since it conveys what many in the Keystone State and beyond truly wish to believe; namely, that behind the eloquence of leadership is a person prepared to lead - yes – even before “day one.”