Is the Presidency Above Obama's Pay Grade?

Selwyn Duke
Issue CLXXII - September 1, 2008
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It’s interesting to hear the euphemisms bandied about in campaigns.  After Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s appearance a week ago at Saddleback Church, for instance, the former’s ardent supporters were as effusive in their praise as ever.  His stammering and copious “uhs” weren’t signs of a befuddled and muddled mind, but of “thoughtfulness” and “nuanced” thinking.

Yeah, sure, and when President Bush occasionally invents a new word, we can chalk it up to creativity.

The truth is that, sans teleprompter and prepared speech and contrary to myth, Obama is at best a mediocre speaker.  (If you say that we’re electing a president and not a professional orator, fair enough.  But given that Bush’s wanting speaking skills have made him the butt of jokes and have been used to paint him as an idiot, I think it bears mention.)  Yet neither this nor “thoughtfulness” explains his fumbling tongue.  After all, politicians are people who are supposed to live and breathe issues and policy, so there should be few things they haven’t been asked about or at least pondered before.  Thus, they should have oft-rendered, memorized, standard responses at the ready.  For sure, John McCain did, despite his supposed status as a septuagenarian with senior moments.  And if politicians don’t have them – neither sublime answers nor slick dodges – what does it tell us?  Well, perhaps it means they haven’t put much thought into things at all.  For if a person makes it a practice to think deeply about issues, he doesn’t have to think about them on stage.  It’s the difference between preparation and improvisation. 

Speaking of which, we might want to take note of how the senator’s “thoughtfulness” and “nuanced” thinking were on full display at the Saddleback forum.  I refer to his answer to event moderator Rick Warren’s question about when a developing being (dare I call him a child?) inside the womb becomes human.  Obama’s response was:

 “Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is, you know, above my pay grade.”

While this dodge was delivered artfully, its conception cannot be thus characterized (perhaps it should have been aborted).  For starters, a thoughtful person might understand that science and theology are simply different methods for uncovering Truth, the former using the scientific method and the latter reason and divine revelation.  Thus, if each one is applied correctly using adequate “data,” they will arrive at the same answer to a given question. 

As to theology, there is an incongruence between the supposed seriousness with which Obama takes his faith and the ignorance he pled in his answer.  While I’m not sure what the black liberation theology that influenced the senator teaches on Warren’s question (unless it’s that whites become human when they assent to reparations), traditional Christianity holds that life begins at conception.  Moreover, correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t know this to be some esoteric point such as the “law of double effect.”  It’s Sunday school 101.

Transitioning from the theological to purely logical, when would human life begin if not at conception?  If, like Obama, you cannot provide specificity, it doesn’t matter.  Just pick a month – any one you wish – my follow-up will always be the same.  I’ll ask, what week of that month would it be?  Then, what day of that week?  What hour of that day?  What minute of that hour, second of that minute and nanosecond of that second? 

This places the matter in perspective.  Is it really tenable to claim that one moment the baby isn’t human but the next he is so, unless the moment is that seminal one called conception?  There is a reason why “conception” has a definition of “origination” or “beginning,” for it is the nascence of new life, human life.  And if some say this life only becomes human at some later point, we need to ask not only when that critical juncture might be, but what definition of “human” would be congruent with such an assertion.  After all, if certain physical qualities are necessary to attain such status, can it be lost if those qualities are lost?  If your heart stops beating and you receive a mechanical one or head trauma causes a cessation of brain waves, do you cease to be human?  To think so is to cease to be humane.   

In a way, it is much like fire.  Once you have the necessary elements – flammable materials and a spark – and there is ignition, a fire is born.  It then will exist until it burns itself out and its life ends . . . or until it is snuffed out.       

Whether or not you accept that reasoning, there is no denying that there are only two possible answers to Warren’s question: A, human life begins ____ , or, B, I don’t know.  Obama’s answer was a more stylish version of the latter, and, generally speaking, a man deserves credit for admitting ignorance.  Commentator Alan Colmes would certainly agree, as he recently said on “Hannity & Colmes” (I’m paraphrasing):

 “Obama may simply be saying that this is something for God to decide, not him.”

While this at least shows that, unlike true Obamaniacs, Colmes hasn’t confused his political messiah with a divine one, he omits an important point.

God doesn’t make policy.

People such as Obama do. 

Thus, no separation-of-church-and-state argument will fly here.  Obama wasn’t being asked about his position on the Trinity or transubstantiation, but on a hot-button issue existing within a continual maelstrom of legislative battles.  So if it is above his pay grade, I suggest that the presidency if not politics itself is also so.

Strangely, though, while Obama claimed that the question was above his pay grade, legislating in areas in which it must be answered never seemed to be.  Why, he never shrank from making policy or pronouncements regarding abortion.  He never said, “I’m, uh, sorry, but this issue is, uh, above my pay grade; I’ll have to withhold judgment and, uh, recuse myself from votes.”  Nor did he take the logical, compassionate and humane default position, which is to say that since I don’t know whether this being is human, I’ll err on the side of caution.  I won’t allow him to be killed.  Instead, whenever Obama was called to weigh in, there was never any question as to where he stood: Shoulder to shoulder with the most radical elements of the pro-abortion lobby.  And, as with them, we have to wonder not about when Obama believes human life begins, but whether he believes in the human right to life at all.

After all, in 1997 Obama voted “present” on two bills that would have prohibited partial-birth abortion (in the Illinois legislature, such a vote counts as a “no”).  In the same vein, while a member of that body, he effectively blocked his state’s version of the Born Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA).  This bill was proposed because some babies in Illinois who were meant to be aborted were born alive and then, unbelievably, were left to die in soiled store rooms.  Now, to understand just how far off the rails Obama was on this issue, know that senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy all supported the federal BAIPA, and even the radical NARAL Pro-Choice America went neutral on it. 

So what are we to conclude from this?  Is it that Obama isn’t sure if human life begins after birth, either?  Perhaps, just as he once over-estimated the size of the U.S. and spoke of our “57 states,” he is under the impression there is a 4th trimester.

Yet, at the end of the day, a truly thoughtful voter will have no trouble interpreting Obama’s actions.  It’s simple really: The senator may not know when human life begins, but he sure knows that political life for a leftist Chicago politician ends when he fails to accede to blood sacrifice at the altar of the pro-abortion baal.  So I suspect that Obama has never actually put much thought into the nascence of human life for a simple reason. 

He doesn’t really care.

To him, life – human or otherwise, born or unborn – all melts into political calculation.  This is why he could render the poorly conceived “pay grade” answer.  It bespoke of a complete lack of seriousness and understanding of the gravity of the issue.  It was immature, flippant and disrespectful to the voter, the “I tried it but I didn’t inhale” response of the abortion debate.

Speaking of inhaling, before casting a vote for Obama, a deep breath and a 10 count may be in order.  Because whatever his pay grade is, I’m quite sure that we cannot afford to have him in the White House.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.