Earlier in the day, Clinton seemed frustrated when a reporter asked when she had last attended church or fired a gun.
Because you gotta do both for Jesus, Malchus be damned. She sputtered in response that she'd gone to church on Easter, and "that is not what this is about." But she calls Obama "elitist" for voicing the simple truth that lots of disaffected small-town flyover voters consistently and demonstrably vote against their own economic self-interest, choosing instead to cling to religion, guns, and the gays. And she went on to compare Obama to the last two Democratic nominees, who she called "out-of-touch" with ordinary Americans and their concerns. It would probably be just a little too catty to bring up that $109M tax return at this juncture, so I'll restrain myself.
The forum itself appears to have been designed to tease out how often the candidates read the Bible and how their beliefs will inform policy decisions. Given this, it's unclear why Clinton agreed to show up at all. In the personal witnessing category, Obama pretty clearly outperformed her.
"Religion is a bulwark, a foundation when other things aren't going well," Obama said. "That's true in my own life, through trials and tribulations." ...
Clinton declined repeatedly to describe her personal faith and how it informs specific decisions, citing "the way I was raised" and implying that she keeps such matters to herself.
Those were just the opening acts, though. On the real money question, the best answer probably depends on the camp you're in, and if you're in my camp you're not thrilled with either. When, pray tell, does life begin? Short doomed-to-be-sound-bite answers first:"
I believe the potential for life begins at conception," Clinton said.
Asked whether life begins at conception, Obama said he did not know the answer.
On sound bites alone, Clinton has the anti-abortioneers salivating. Obama has them rolling their eyes. Put the money quotes in context, though, and there is a reversal of sorts. Clinton:
"For me, it is also not only about a potential life. It is about the other lives involved. . . . I have concluded, after great concern and searching my own mind and heart over many years . . . that individuals must be entrusted to make this profound decision, because the alternative would be such an intrusion of government authority that it would be very difficult to sustain in our kind of open society."The New York senator added that abortion should remain legal, safe and rare.
"This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? . . . What I know, as I've said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates."
The full answer is much better for Clinton, although I do appreciate Obama at least giving lip service to that thing we call "science" in referencing cell division. What I wish both candidates had said runs along the lines of clearly differentiating conception from implantation. Actually, what I really wish is that they had each said, "Imagine your twelve-year old daughter has been raped and impregnated by her grandfather. Do you want her to carry that fetus to term and deliver it? If your answer is no, then your arguments about the sanctity of life and life beginning at conception are empty noise. If you do not believe abortion is murder when the circumstances of conception are loathsome to you, then you cannot argue abortion is murder when you find the circumstances of termination distasteful. If you believe that an embryo can be terminated with a clear conscience when it happens to implant in the fallopian tube rather than in the uterus, then you cannot argue that all products of conception are equally inviolable human life. Oh, and if you do believe the 12-year-old incest victim should carry to term and the woman with an ectopic pregnancy should lie back and celebrate her early ticket to heaven, fuck you."
That last phrase needs a little work, but that's what I want the Democratic candidate to say and fully believe. Until that happens, Clinton gave the padded answer pro-choicers have had to settle for. Obama, perhaps mindful of both his physical surroundings at Messiah College and the framing of his "bitter voters" comment as elitist, shied away from his solid pro-choice voting record and played up the moral dilemma caused by the question of when life begins. In other news that may or may not be related, career anti-choice Democrats Bob Casey and Tim Roemer endorsed Obama today,
promoting the Democratic presidential candidate to their antiabortion allies as someone who could achieve a new consensus on the issue. ...
Obama did not mention abortion in his controversial remarks, made last week at a fundraiser in California, though he noted other divisive social issues. But last week in Indiana, he said that both sides of the abortion debate are guilty of hyperbole.
"The mistake pro-choice forces have sometimes made in the past, and this is a generalization . . . has been to not acknowledge the wrenching moral issues involved," he said. "And so the debate got so polarized that both sides tended to exaggerate the other side's positions. Most Americans, I think, recognize that what we want to do is avoid, or help people avoid, making this difficult choice. That nobody is pro-abortion -- abortions are never a good thing."
The endorsements were timed to provide Obama inroads with conservative Democratics who will be voting in the Pennsylvania and Indiana primaries. Whether they will help or sow confusion is to be seen.