Wednesday's debate raised several interesting theoretical questions that I haven't had time to post about till now because, shortly after the debate, I was sucked into a seven-hour death spiral spent reading right-wing blogs (more on that later). Anyway, several interesting theoretical questions. Like: does clean coal even exist? And: What would more intimidate the terrorists - Obama's stern eyebrows or McCain's barrage of constant blinking? And: what the hell is pro abortion extremism?
My jaw dropped during the debate when McCain responded to the abortion question by attacking Obama's pro-choice record with this phrase:
"Then there was another bill before the Senate judiciary committee in the state of Illinois not that long ago, where he voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion, one of the late-term abortion, a really -- one of the bad procedures, a terrible... I don't know how you align yourself with the extreme aspect of the pro-abortion movement in America... It was clear-cut votes that Sen. Obama voted, I think, in direct contradiction to the feelings and views of mainstream America."
The abortion debate revolves around symbolic fights (partial birth abortions are so rare, it's ridiculous that they're the touchstone of this debate - under .2 percent of abortions are late term) and loaded language ("partial birth" versus "late term" for example) but I thought mainstream politicians still stuck within the pro-life/pro-choice rhetoric. "The extreme aspect of the pro-abortion movement" - jeezus! That got me wondering whether Obama's pro-choice views and mine are actually on the leftist fringe.
The first thing to do was determine what people who use the phrase "pro-abortion extremist" actually mean. Luckily, about hour 3 of paging through sites like "SEE the baby in the womb!" I stumbled across pretentiously-named think tank The Witherspoon Institute, which posted an article called "Obama's Abortion Extremism" by Robert George, a vitriolic writer who is also a member of the president's bioethics council (ack!).
George defines Obama as a "pro abortion extremist" and Joe Biden as merely pro-choice because, "unlike Obama, at least Biden has sometimes opposed using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion, thereby leaving Americans free to choose not to implicate themselves in it." Which means allowing clinics that provide abortions to receive some state and federal funding.
But of course, what would a discussion about abortion be without offensive, hyperbolic comparisons? George defends calling Obama "pro-abortion" instead of "pro choice" by comparing the current abortion debate with pre-Civil War debate over slavery. Someone who was "pro choice" in that context would not necessarily own slaves but would think that slavery should still be legal. "We would hoot at the faux sophistication of a placard that said 'Against slavery? Don't own one.' We would observe that the fundamental divide is between people who believe that law and public power should permit slavery, and those who think that owning slaves is an unjust choice that should be prohibited."
So a pro-abortion extremist is someone who, like Obama, thinks there should be no legal restrictions on what kind of women (rich, poor, young, old) can access abortions or when she can choose to.
Here's the twist though: McCain and Obama are on opposite ends of the pro-choice/pro-life/pro-abortion/WTF spectrum - Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro Choice give Obama's voting record a 100% favorable score and McCain's zero percent. Planned Parenthood's Action Fund launched a vigorous anti-campaign last summer, including canvassing the Oregon State Fair. To rebound and to come off looking like a moderate, as maverick McCain is always trying to do, he's got to make his own extremely anti-choice record look like the middle ground by casting Obama's the leftist extreme. Planned Parenthood has a short list of other "pro-abortion extremists" here, including Earl Blumenauer, Pete DeFazio, David Wu and a bunch of other smart, stable politicians. I'm a pro abortion extremist, but I'm in good company.