07 October 2008

Single-Issue Voting

Sarah Geis:

An inexcusable justification for Obama support is rapidly gaining popularity. Those who adopt this commonly championed yet false case that abortion is no more important than other issues must be set straight, especially during a political campaign as monumental as this. Hip, trendy, and deliberately contra-Religious Right, the argument typically takes this form:

Abortion is a single-issue.
Single-issue politics is naive and wrong.
Therefore we should not vote based upon the abortion issue.

I agree with the whole (short) post.



Anonymous said...

Francis Schaeffer made the case compellingly clear that protecting innocent human life is not a "single issue," the way, say, taxation is a single issue. Innocent human life is fundamental to governance. There is no point in talking about anything else, if life itself is at risk. Everything else that is debated and decided occurs on the platform called "life."

It is amazing to me how quickly the consensus Schaeffer and others helped establish only 25 years ago or so is already eroded among us.

I cannot vote for any candidate who fails to protect innocent human life. This is not a single issue; it is where leadership begins.

Eric said...

Well . . . I think it mischaracterizes the issue to describe it as saying that "abortion is no more imporant than other issues" - that's a bit of a straw man. Of course it's more important than other issues, but it is not the only important issue on the table. And an anti-abortion president can still destroy innocent life in all kinds of ways. Maybe a bigger vision for what protecting innocent life looks like is needed - with abortion as the MOST important (but not only) issue on that list.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks for the thought Eric. What are other ways you envision a president taking life, outside of abortion? War, etc?

Eric said...

I was thinking of those things - and torture, horribly enough. The sheer horror of millions of abortions purely for convenience doesn't outweigh the lives lost in a war, of course. But there are lots of ways innocent life needs to be protected - abortion being the most important.

Thanks for the superb blog, Dane! I always enjoy reading it.

Anonymous said...

I think what sets abortion apart is that the victim is as innocent and helpless as a human being can be, the kind of human being who so obviously calls for tenderness, protection, nurture.

Other takings of human life can become less clear cut, more arguable, as in war.

Sacrificing for the child, rather than forcing the child to make the sacrifice, is fundamental to any claim to love, to adulthood, to civilization.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks for the kind words and for clarifying Eric.

I see your point, I think, but I disagree. Abortion is not different from other political issues in degree but in kind. It is not simply the most important issue; it is an issue about which, unless settled, why talk about anything else? I watched the debate last night with interest, but who cares about 90 minutes of discussion about the state of the economy if one candidate wants to kill babies in the name of womens’ rights and one wants to protect babies (with 2 supreme court appointments, I think, coming up in the next 4 yrs)? Like a congregation having a discussion with 2 potential senior pastor candidates that is 90 minutes of showcasing their skill in Greek while one of the candidates believes in sin and one does not. A poor analogy but you see the point: while Gk is “important,” such a skill is effectively irrelevant in light of other more fundamental concerns.

Certainly there are other ways for a president to take life outside abortion. But it is very difficult to say whether, for example and hypothetically, Obama going in and extracting forces from overseas and McCain going in and consolidating forces would result in a NET gain or loss of life. Much more complex, many more variables. Abortion is startlingly simple in comparison: does a child’s right to live trump the mother’s convenience, or does the mother’s convenience trump a child’s right to live?

So I'm struck that you say that "of course" millions of abortions doesn't outweigh lives lost in war. To be sure, a human life is a human life; every life lost is the tragic end of a creature made in God's image. But the longterm, net moral good or evil in war is far more difficult to ascertain than the quite clear moral evil of ending human lives just as they're beginning. The VALUE of a life lost in war vs abortion is equal; the JUSTIFICATION or CAUSE of that life being lost is very different.

Eric said...

Hi Dane - Thanks for this; this very much helps me understand your position. I was thinking more of unjustified war and civilian deaths in the Middle East, actually; justified war is of course in a different category. I guess I just wanted to register that I'm not a single issue voter, but for different reasons than Sarah Geis (spelling?) gives - she gives one (simplistic) argument for not being a single issue voter, but that doesn't cover all the bases in this issue.

We both agree about how important the issue of abortion is, but I think the disagreement concerns how the profound importance of the issue of abortion relates to the importance of other issues. Rather than say that if abortion is unsettled, why talk about anything else?, I'd want to say, let's give abortion the massive importance that it is due . . . but let's talk about other important issues too, like foreign policy issues that won't needlessly cost lives and imperil other Christians in the Middle East. I frankly think that is less urgent that millions of aborted fetuses for trivial reasons, but it still needs to be talked about.

I also want to emphasize - I'm sure you'd agree - that probably the best way to fight abortion is evangelism. It is a political issue, but I think more deeply a spiritual issue - an outgrowth of sinful self-worship and desire to displace God and make our own rules about life. Abortion is a political issue, I'd never deny it - but, in addition to getting laws passed about it, which I surely hope happens, the deeper issue of that spiritual rebellion needs to be targeted too. I suspect that if abortion was illegalized but hearts remained unchanged, it would be a matter of time until it was legalized again.

Seriously, thanks for the great series of comments; this is helpful to me.

Eric said...

PS - Not to open a can of worms, but what is your opinion about abortion in the case of the mother's life being in danger, or in the case of rape? I'm not asking a loaded question here . . . it's something I've been trying to think about and I'd really value your thoughts.

ErinOrtlund said...

Did you know Francis Schaeffer's son is now for Obama? I vaguely remember reading something online about that.

I know we've talked about this before, but I believe some pro-life people won't vote Republican because they don't think the party is serious about overturning Roe v. Wade or that even if it happened, it would end abortion. I just read an article someone linked to in a comment on Justin Taylor's blog--about the likely course of events if Roe v. Wade was overturned. So it isn't that abortion isn't important--it's that the strategy that's been pursued hasn't yielded the results you'd hope to see, despite some victories. Most European countries have far lower rates of abortion than the US does--why is that?

I get that for many people, being pro-life is a litmus test in terms of a candidate's character. I would just hope that people like Bush and McCain wouldn't get a pass then, when it comes to things like illegal and preemptive war--this war was planned long before 9/11, has made us less safe as a country, and has killed thousands and thousands of people.

ErinOrtlund said...

Here's the article, http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200606/roe

It's from 2006, but attempts to outline the probable results if Roe v. Wade was overturned. I'd be curious to know what you all think about it.

ErinOrtlund said...

And here's Frank Schaeffer, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-schaeffer/frank-as-a-former-pro-lif_b_119435.html

I know he comes across rather abrasive and judgmental, but he does outline why he has deviated from his father's position.

Dane Ortlund said...

Thanks for the comments Eric and Erin. I'm going to think about what you said and hopefully respond tomorrow.

Dane Ortlund said...

Without doubt I have lots to learn from both of you, Eric and Erin. Thanks for the thoughtful words.

Lots to respond to but I'll limit it to a few things.

1. The distinction between "unjustified" and "justified" war is notoriously difficult water to wade through and simply cannot be compared, morally, to abortion. Yes, in both cases people die; in both cases people die who never asked to put their lives at risk (civilians); but extraneous factors in war, such as whether the intended end justifies a pain-filled means, make war far more difficult to determine. The same goes for many foreign policy issues. Abortion is simply not that ambiguous, including in the event of rape. The way to respond to moral outrage is not with (a different) moral outrage. That would be an odd solution indeed.

2. There are certainly other political issues besides abortion that are important to discuss--foreign policy, economics, taxation, healthcare. And these issues are not merely about $, but about human life and general welfare, so I agree, these other things must be discussed too.

3. But if a man puts himself forward to lead this country who thinks the question of whether abortion is ok is above his pay grade, and who in the meantime is fine with condoning it, and who has voted in support of what many have calmly described as infanticide, these other issues immediately become so backgrounded as to be functionally irrelevant. Not less important; irrelevant. I wouldn't put someone who failed high school trig on the federal rocket science commission; I wouldn't put someone who fails to protect those who most obviously and terribly need protection to protect and lead a powerful country. That those who are faithful in a little can then be entrusted to be faithful with much need not be limited to believers in this case.

4. Yes, I agree it is more deeply a spiritual issue. It is a both-and. Both a spiritual issue (most deeply) and a political issue. Sarah's post that I linked to was addressing the latter.

5. Erin, thanks for the thoughts. In my view a pragmatic argument about what might or might not take place if pro-life leaders were in office ought not to mitigate our desire to see those leaders in office. There is a larger principial commitment within which the pragmatic argument is subsumed. (And as both Dems [such as Frank Schaeffer] and Reps admit, abortions go down with Reps in power and up with Dems in power.)

6. I find Frank Schaeffer's article more emotional than careful. I have followed him off and on the past several yrs and have not found him compelling on much of anything.

ErinOrtlund said...

Thanks Dane, for the thought-provoking response. I'll leave the war issue--it's just one reason I don't necessarily think of the Republican leaders as trustworthy.

Yes, it disturbs me too that Obama has the voting record on life issues that he has, and that he's made some of the responses he's made. Nobody who is pro-life and thinks abortion is horrendous could possibly be fully on board with him. I have voted Republican in at least a couple elections as pretty much a single-issue voter.

I'm interested in what you said about abortions going up with Dems and down with Reps in power--I'll look into that unless you have stats that are easy to send me. Because the bottom line is that I want to see abortion be a rare thing. And despite years of pro-life leaders, it still isn't a rare thing. And that makes me cynical, like this issue has been used to get votes but hasn't been a priority. Maybe it wouldn't be for the Dems either, I don't know. And perhaps if Roe v. Wade was overturned, one good thing to come out of it would be that the nation would have to talk about these issues more. I just don't think the legal strategy alone is going to make abortion rare--so whatever happens, I hope the party in power pursues other avenues as well.

Thanks--I appreciate we can dialogue about these things.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comments, Dane. I really appreciate the thought you've put into this. And I didn't mean to crash your computer with 8 billions comments on one single post!!!