Thursday, August 14, 2008

Obama, Evangelicals and Abortion

IT took 16 years, but an anti-abortion Bob Casey will get to speak at the Democratic convention.

In 1992, then-Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey Sr., a devout Catholic, was barred from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. Party leaders claimed it was because he'd refused to endorse candidate Bill Clinton. But Casey maintained it was because of his anti-abortion views.

Yesterday, Barack Obama offered Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) - also anti-abortion - a speaking slot at this year's convention.

This is part of the Obama campaign's concerted effort to signal a more moderate approach to abortion - in hope of attracting more Catholic and evangelical votes.

Isn't grabbing evangelical votes tilting at windmills for a Democrat? Not exactly, argues Steven Waldman, the president and editor-in-chief of Beliefnet. If Obama attracts just 10 percent more evangelicals than did John Kerry in 2004, it could make the difference between victory and defeat.

Earlier this week, many Catholic and evangelical leaders expressed delight in the new abortion plank in the Democratic platform, language that they say highlights the need to reduce the number of abortions in a way previously missing.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, a former leader of the Christian Coalition and a registered Republican, called the language an "historic and courageous step," saying "Pro-lifers from both parties can now both support Barack Obama on the basis that more lives will be saved than if they had just taken a moral stand hoping to overturn Roe v. Wade. Democrats have widened their public support of those mothers who choose life."

The 2004 platform said that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." This was a step away from 1996 and 2000, when the plank only said "more rare."

To outsiders, it's just semantics - but moderate anti-abortion activists see major progress.

More than the language changes, leaders from these groups seemed grateful just for being involved in the process. Kristen Day of Democrats for Life says she couldn't even get her calls returned back in 2004: Anti-abortion groups just had no seat at the table. But this year, she got to speak to the head of the platform committee.

Other leaders reported that they had real, substantial involvement in the process. Said one, "They listened, they took us seriously, and they did their best to work out common ground."

The Obama campaign got credit for this welcome step toward finding a middle ground on this contentious issue. But Christian leaders also say that the abortion plank isn't the most important thing: What really matters is what Obama says about it - and how much emphasis he gives the issue. Many will watch his meeting with megachurch pastor Rick Warren this weekend - hoping that Obama reaffirms his earlier statement that abortion has a moral dimension.

Obama should also use that appearance as a chance to explain or disavow his vote in the Illinois Legislature against a bill to protect prematurely born babies, including those who were born alive during attempted abortions. His explanations thus far have been unconvincing and troubling (regardless of where you stand on abortion).

In a recent Barna Group poll, John McCain only barely leads Obama among evangelical voters - where President Bush captured 78 percent of their vote in 2004.

But pollster George Barna cautions: "The initial excitement about Sen. Obama has lost some luster" as voters learn more about his record. In a nutshell, many evangelicals haven't warmed to McCain, but they've moved to undecided, not to Obama. Obama needs to make them feel OK about voting for him.

Rarely does doing what's right and what is politically expedient line up so well. It's up to Obama to seize the opportunity.

1 comment:

Shainzona said...

I had a conversation this AM that turned to politics...and the women I was speaking to finally telling me that she knows a lot of "Christians" who won't vote for BO...because he says he believes in God...but what God?

Not one to get involved with religion in any way...I listened and heard that everyone she knows (her son teaches at a "Christian" school) are very worried about Obama and will all be voting for McCain.

So perhaps different degrees of professed "Christians" feel differently.

All I know is that this non-practicing "Christian" will never vote for Obama...not because of any religious feeling but simply because he is an empty bag of shit.