Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Problem With Clichés

At the Saddleback Forum, in answer to Rick Warren's question as to when a human baby should become the beneficiary of human rights, Barack Obama replied that to answer that question from a scientific or theological point of view with any "specificity" was above his pay grade.

That was very humble of him. I've heard he makes pretty good money, but apparently not enough to answer the question. Is there someone who makes enough money such that, should he give an answer, Obama would heed it? How much money does one have to make to qualify? Would multi-millionaire Mitt Romney and multi-millionaire Ted Kennedy give the same answer, and to which would Obama pay attention? Are there any scientists or theologians who meet his pay grade requirements, and can he name them?

Perhaps he didn't mean it quite so literally. Perhaps his was not a display of genuine humility but merely a feint in that direction, a rhetorical gesture implying that we should all be so humble because, essentially, the question is unanswerable. No amount of money qualifies anyone to do so. No amount of expertise, scientific or theological, confers the necessary authority. This seems more likely.

He seems to have chosen science and theology as the only two fields the practice of which covers the territory, even though "science" is not actually a field (I don't think, for example, that he had astronomers in mind), and even though each would tell you very different things. A certain kind of scientist might tell you that we have a living, growing, biological entity of human genetic origin. In answer to whether this entity's humanity was of a kind "fully" human - that is, meriting the attribute of personhood - or that it entitled said entity to the most essential of human rights, such as the right not to be unjustly and violently deprived of its very life, said scientist would probably base his answer not on his area of expertise, but on his belief about the nature of the universe and man's place in it; on, in other words, his theology.

Should we, therefore, turn to the theologian? Well, it depends on...his theology. As with scientists, opinions are mixed. There are Catholic theologians (and priests) who make pro-abortion apologies, others who don't. Which do you follow? (Catholics have another option, but even a Protestant knows what I'm talking about.) No one, it appears, is infallible. In fact, let's eliminate (since Obama would) that other option and assume that even the Pope cannot escape the deprivation. To whom do we turn? (Don't say the Bible; Obama's read it too, and doesn't see what you see.)

How about the lawyers? I'm surprised Mr. Obama left them out. He's trained as one, and reads the constitution in the same way a lot of people read the Bible - seeing what they want to see. Although he has humbly proclaimed that he, as a lawyer, is not qualified to give an answer, it is only lawyers who have been allowed to do so. They have given answer. In its original form, that answer was, in fact, the same as Obama's: we don't, with any "specificity", know. No one knows. From the company of 'scientific' and 'theological', he excluded 'legal.' But he shouldn't have, because the legal folks have been granted an authority the others have not. And in the exercise of it, they answered, like Obama in humble demur, that they knew not of the baby's humanity, but were able to declare with great "specificity" that he had no rights. So when Obama implies that no one's pay grade qualifies him to answer, he's lying. Someone's given an answer, and its morally revolutionary consequent is that if you aren't sure whether a thing of human origin is actually human, you can kill it. And Obama agrees.

There's another sense in which he's lying. I assume, unless he's more of a monster than I currently imagine, that when a baby is born, Obama would put his foot down and say, "Here human rights begin." With specificity. But why be specific here, rather than ten minutes earlier when the child was still within its mother? We are "fully" human by location? If the mother's consent is pivotal while the child is within the womb, why not without? But that, I suppose, is the subject for a different post.

In answering Pastor Warren's question with a cliché, Obama confirmed what I've always suspected, that he is one, a walking sack of liberal agitprop. If you saw it on TV, or clicked on the video link above, you'll have noticed that his speech slows to a near slur when a straightforward question with an easy answer needs finessing. Clichés can indeed be useful. For most people, haste really does make waste. In his case, the opposite is true: he who hesitates is lost. And you can take that to the bank.


alaiyo said...

Excellent analysis! Cliches are, of course, a substitute for thought, as I am always telling my students . . . I may re-visit this post with them later on this semester . . . --Beth

Peony Moss said...

An odd dodge, considering that he's applying for a promotion to a higher pay grade.

William Luse said...

Thanks, Beth.

It's Peony! I'm so stunned I can't think of what to say. Except I'm glad to see you.

Lydia McGrew said...

"I assume, unless he's more of a monster than I currently imagine, that when a baby is born, Obama would put his foot down and say, "Here human rights begin." With specificity."

Nope. He wouldn't. Remember our commentator Keith DeRose? All he can bring himself to say is that a baby at that age should be "treated humanely." You could say the same for a dog. But neither Obama, nor Keith, nor many, many an American academic, would want _human rights_ after birth, if the child were "too young to count as a person." That was, in fact, DeRose's whole point in his and my most recent exchange: If they're too young, we should be "humane" to them, but we shouldn't "get into" calling them persons for purposes of law.

I'm sure Barack would agree heartily. That's why he voted against the Born-alive act.

William Luse said...

Technically you're right; Obama felt he had to take that position or the woman would be deprived of her 'right' to abort (and doctors become liable to prosecution)if the baby survived the attempt prior to full term. But I was referring to full term births. Would he not grant the child rights even then? Even if he did, your example points up (as I had hoped to) his inconsistency. Why now, and not earlier? If the mother's consent is the essence of rights-granting, then why can't she withhold it post partum? I'm not sure, by the way, that he ever answered the question at all, that is, by saying "at birth" or something like that.

I wonder why we haven't seen DeRose responding to Frank's latest post about Obama's "Life Lies". He must be fact-checking.

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't have TV channels, but every blog I'm seeing commenting on this says he did not answer at all, not even to say "at birth." He just evaded the question.

Let's not forget that Peter Singer (and plenty of those American academics and elites) do not believe that even full-term infants should have full human rights at birth.

Obama is an airhead full of nothing but cliches. He will be a disastrous president even measured by the low bar of mere competence. He will be lost without his teleprompter. But it isn't impossible that he has heard rumors of the fact that there are people who think full-term born human beings are not true persons because they lack something-or-other. In that case, he probably considers the whole thing a case for the self-styled expert ethicists. Like Singer, perhaps? Or the architects of the Dutch Groningen Protocol?

In fact, the scariest thought is that Obama really does believe that this question is above and beyond him and is going to accept and live according to whatever the elite tell him at any given moment, which will often be very monstrous indeed. Obama's only practical problem with that course of action is that he isn't an ivory-towered academic but a politician, and hoi polloi aren't psychologically ready yet to receive the wisdom of the elites. We're working on that, but we aren't there yet. Obama probably thinks the question is above the pay-grade of many of his constituents, too, but he can hardly come out and say, "Um, I think maybe even full-term born babies aren't persons, because I've heard that there are these experts who have this theory of personhood according to which they aren't, and who are you and I to argue with the experts? We should just let them tell us what to think on these subjects." It would lose him votes.

William Luse said...

Great comment. Love paragraph 3. I still think he wants the issue left up in the air so that his favorite kind of lawyer (a Blackmun type) can answer by default.

Mama_T said...

All I know is it's a good thing we're both happily married. After a post like that, I might become your crazed fan stalker.

You rock, my friend.

William Luse said...

You can be my crazed stalker any day of the week. Let's just keep it between ourselves.