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What Social Conservatives Owe The Obamas

Are social conservatives failing the most elementary test of ethics: to not discriminate? They seem to hand out boatloads of free passes to McCain and his political partner, while withholding the high marks due to Obama and kin. For decades, … Read More

By / October 17, 2008

Are social conservatives failing the most elementary test of ethics: to not discriminate? They seem to hand out boatloads of free passes to McCain and his political partner, while withholding the high marks due to Obama and kin. For decades, social conservatives have extolled the value of marriage. However, we do not hear them cheering for Barack and Michelle, who are clearly honoring their marital vows, and they have precious little to say about John McCain’s extra-martial affair or the fact that he has been divorced. (They need not be concerned about engaging in gossip or rumor mongering; McCain openly acknowledges both the divorce and the affair.) Maybe social conservatives are saying to each other that not all moral transgressions or sins are created equal. Indeed, Catholicism, Judaism, and the secular legal codes of all major nations grade transgressions. One can hold that abortion is a much more serious offense than divorce and extra-marital affairs put together. Hence, one may try to argue that McCain’s failings can be much more quickly overlooked than those of Obama. However, such a claim does not stand for a minute, as it disregards that all the Obamas have done is to talk about the right of women to choose; McCain committed adultery and got a divorce. I am hard put to find a religious or secular ethic, legal system, or set of values that does not draw a sharp line between talking and doing. Then there is a matter which is difficult to approach but should not be shoved under the rug. For decades, social conservatives from Pat Moynihan to Charles Murray had a special beef with African Americans, especially the men. They were depicted as promiscuous, quick to move on, unwilling to marry, and neglectful of the children they spawned. Social conservatives promoted various plans to encourage marriage — including denying welfare to single mothers, many whom were African American — and they looked for positive role models for African Americans who did marry, stayed married and attended to their offspring. They could call them–the Obamas. I am not insisting on confetti, but how about some coast to coast acknowledgment that here is the couple we have being praying for, role models by any standard? And how about one more heartfelt round of applause for Obama for being willing to take the heat for supporting responsible fatherhood, especially among African Americans? I do not blame Sarah Palin for the pregnancy of her unmarried daughter, although Palin’s advocacy of abstinence-only sex education may well have contributed to the pregnancy of some girls. But it seems curious to hear from those who have weighed in for decades against pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy that the news from Palin’s family is welcome because it shows that theirs is a "normal American family, with its share of travails." It is not hard to imagine what social conservatives would have shouted from the rooftops if the shoe had been on the other foot, if Obama had a 17-year-old, unmarried daughter who became pregnant. Would they not have argued that it showed a profound character flaw in the parents? Then there is a point best made by a leading social conservative, the former dean of the Catholic University Law School and an official in several past Republican administrations, Douglas W. Kmiec. (A man who, by the way, was subject to a tirade from the pulpit and denied communion for his support of Obama.) Kmiec says he expects that Obama and Biden will fulfill the call by Pope John Paul II to "ensure proper support for families and motherhood." I take it for granted that social conservatives share the precept that "whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me." Better yet, these days they not care only about poverty and social justice, but also about the environment and climate control, about preserving God’s gifts to mankind. I assume we can agree that the argument over who scores better on these points is going to be a short one. I am not opposed to devout people who draw on their values to judge political candidates. I am merely concerned when they play it the other way around: shade, shave and tailor their moral judgments to fit their political preferences. Such bias surely is not the greatest moral failing, but it ranks somewhere far from the bottom of the scale of what is right vs. wrong.

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