Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Don't Exaggerate

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | May 15, 2009

 Earlier in this thread I argued that the pro-life movement should be more critical of the "uncertain allies" who seek the support of pro-lifers during campaign years, but do little or nothing to advance the cause once they are in office. From that general axiom I think it is easy to derive an important corollary: Serious pro-lifers should look askance at allies who exaggerate the credentials of their favorite candidates.

Once you have made the decision to support Candidate A over Candidate B, there is a great temptation to claim that Candidate A is the ideal man-- particularly if Candidate B is horrible. And a certain measure of exaggeration is to be expected in any lively political campaign. Still, there are limits. It is a disservice to the cause (not to mention the truth) to suggest that Candidate A is God's greatest gift to the pro-life movement, when in fact Candidate A has compiled a barely respectable record on the issue. And again, this general proposition remains true even if Candidate B is rabidly pro-abortion. 

Rather than speaking coyly about Candidates A and B, let me illustrate my point with a specific case. Now that the 2008 presidential race is over, we should be able to speak about it objectively without causing apoplexy.

If the only viable presidential candidates are Barack Obama and John McCain, there is no question that of those two, someone seeking an end to legal abortion should choose McCain. (For the sake of the argument I am ignoring 3rd-party candidates. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I myself voted for a 3rd-party candidate. I should also point out that I voted in Massachusetts, where I could be confident that my vote would not affect the electoral contest between the two major-party candidates.) Every available indicator-- voting record, campaign rhetoric, endorsements, staff affiliations-- showed Obama to be a looming disaster for the pro-life movement. McCain, on the other hand, had maintained a pro-life voting record throughout his long career in Congress. 

But-- here's my point-- apart from his voting record, McCain had no serious pro-life credentials. He had not sponsored pro-life legislation. He had not delivered pro-life speeches. He had not emphasized the abortion issue in campaign appearances (except, naturally, to identifiably pro-life audiences). He had not recruited pro-life activists to his staff. In all his years as an active politician he had never-- not once-- headlined a pro-life event outside a campaign season. Based on his track record he could be seen as an acceptable candidate, but nothing more.

In fact in February 2008, once Rudy Giuliani had been eliminated from the contest for the Republican nomination, Republicans for Choice threw its support to John McCain. At that time, hard-nosed Judie Brown of the American Life League asked whether Republicans for Choice knew something that McCain's pro-life supporters didn't know. The answer, I'm afraid, was Yes. "Pro-choice" Republicans knew that the prospect of a McCain presidency was not a threat to their agenda. 

The election of 2008 is over, and I don't mean to dredge up old animosities. I'm grateful for the pro-life votes that John McCain has cast. But he cannot, by an objective measurement, be graded as a hero of the pro-life movement. So what attitude should responsible pro-lifers take toward those campaign activists who did their utmost to sell McCain as just that: as a pro-life hero? Their efforts, I suggest, sold the pro-life movement cheap, and undermined its credibility. 

Discussion in order:


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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