Since the Catholics-for-Obama thread below has gotten so many comments that it’s become unwieldy, I decided to make this a new post instead of a comment there.
In many ways I would like to support Obama. I really would. I think he’s a decent and well-intentioned man. I think our image in the world would take a big jump toward the positive end of the dial if he were president. (Whether it would stay there is less clear.) I think it’s possible, although not certain, that he could be a big force for racial reconciliation. (Although it could end up going the other way–if his presidency ran into serious problems, white disapproval could end being perceived as racism by African-Americans, who would then feel compelled to defend him, making the conflict worse.) I think I like his proposals for health care better than Mrs. Clinton’s. And I would certainly find his presidency easier on my nerves than hers.
And though I’ve mostly voted Republican since the ’70s I’ve never been enthusiastic about that party’s nominees; it’s almost always been a matter of picking the "least worst" possibility.
But I can’t support a candidate who is committed to the most hard-line interpretation of the Democratic Party’s "pro-choice" doctrine. Yes, I know, the president has very limited power to do anything about abortion or the whole complex of questions that boil down to whether or not we think human life is sacred. And obviously the Republicans have not done very much. It’s not that I think the number of abortions will go down under a Republican and up under a Democrat.
It’s a question of the long-term, and specifically of the Supreme Court. There is at least a decent chance that a Republican would nominate a justice who believes that human life is sacred and/or that the Constitution does not imply a right to abortion (or euthanasia, etc.). There is a near-zero chance that a Democrat would.
Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Party of Death. I haven’t read it, but from what I’ve read about it, the title was a mistake. Ponnuru is a pro-life Republican, and the title was taken to refer to the Democrats, and so the subsequent debate fell out entirely on party lines. But Ponnuru insisted that wasn’t what he meant, that he meant the title to refer to the general body of opinion that holds human life to be something which we can begin, end, or modify as we see fit. Whatever the merits or demerits of his book, Ponnuru is surely right on that score. The Democratic party in general, and Obama in particular, are totally committed to those views. Obama’s rhetoric about unification appears to be no more than that where these questions are concerned. His view is one that pro-lifers have heard for decades now: opposition to the anti-life agenda is divisive; unity and civility dictate that pro-lifers shut up and go away.
The question of the significance of human life is decisive for the nature of a civilization. The collapse of any meaningful legal restraint on the "party of death," as Ponnuru says he means the term, in the most powerful nation on earth is, to me, more serious than even, say, the war in Iraq. The war is the implementation of a bad policy, which can be fairly easily reversed. It’s of a different order than setting an evil principle in the concrete of constitutional law.
I don’t have any illusions about the Republicans, but I disagree with Daniel’s view that there is no difference between the two parties. I’ve called it the difference between an enemy and an unreliable ally. Not all Republicans are sound on these issues; most of them are not, in fact. A seriously pro-life president must lock horns not only with virtually the entire Democratic party but much of his own; this is a significant part of the reason why Republican presidents have made questionable-at-best choices for the Supreme Court. We should never forget who made "to bork" a synonym for total political war, or why. But at a minimum Republicans are forced to consider the pro-life cause for the sake of votes.
I see the pro-life movement as being like a homeless beggar approaching two well-dressed men, a Republican and a Democrat. He begs for a dollar. The Republican gives him a quarter and tells him to go away. The Democrat tries not only to prevent the Republican from helping the beggar, but to drag him into an alley and beat him to death.
None of this means that I think Catholics are obliged to vote for McCain. I think it’s, at a minimum, a legitimate Catholic view that opposition to the war might be a serious enough reason to vote for Obama over McCain. But I’m not going to. It’s too bad. Like I said, I really would like to.