Monday, June 1, 2009

Stand-Up Guy

Ah, the hypoc..., er, irony. President Obama said in a speech on the Sotomayor nomination last Saturday that...

he expects "rigorous evaluation" of his nominee but added: "What I hope is that we can avoid the political posturing and ideological brinksmanship that has bogged down this process, and Congress, in the past."

He derided "some in Washington who are attempting to draw old battle lines and playing the usual political games, pulling a few comments out of context to paint a distorted picture of Judge Sotomayor's record."

Yes, let's have none of the crass political gamesmanship that characterized the Roberts nomination whom Obama voted, after judging him qualified, not to confirm because he disagreed with Roberts' judicial philosophy; or the Alito nomination whom Senator Obama not only voted against for the same reasons but whose confirmation he also voted to filibuster (while claiming to oppose the filibuster).

When it's his nominee up for confirmation he hopes we can avoid all that and disparages anyone who would engage in the same behavior he engaged in when the candidate was a bush nominee.

What a stand-up guy.


The Death of George Tiller

By now you've probably heard that one of the most infamous abortionists in the country was shot dead Sunday morning as he entered church:

George Tiller, the Wichita doctor who became a national lightning rod in the debate over abortion, was shot to death this morning as he walked into church services. Tiller, 67, was shot just after 10 a.m. at Reformation Lutheran Church at 7601 E. 13th, where he was a member of the congregation.

I myself am a Lutheran and was surprised that this man was a member of the Lutheran Church whose official position on abortion is pro-life and which is certainly opposed to the sorts of late-term abortions Tiller performed. I would have thought that his grisly profession would have put him at odds with the church, but being at odds with the Lutheran church is apparently a very difficult feat to accomplish.

At any rate, his murder raises a very perplexing ethical question:

If one is convinced that late-term abortions are tantamount to murder how does one, assuming one is not a pacifist, condemn the killing of the murderer?

It doesn't help us to think clearly about this matter when people on both sides of the issue are saying foolish things.

Operation Rescue spokespersons, for example, are saying (see link) that they "denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning," but an act whereby the perpetrator knowingly and willingly sacrifices his future is hardly cowardly. Just as with the 9/11 hijackers who President Bush called cowards, the act may be evil, but it's surely not cowardly.

President Obama stated that violence never brings about social change: "However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence."

This, sadly, is simply not true. It's arguable that we never would have achieved the progress in civil rights that was made in the latter half of the twentieth century were it not for the violent upheavals in our cities in the late sixties and early seventies. Martin Luther King was a great man and he accomplished much, but part of the reason for his success was that his non-violence was seen as a desirable alternative to the urban riots occurring across the land.

For that matter it took a terribly violent war to end slavery in this country. It's a deeply troubling fact about human beings that too often violence works. Indeed, too often it's the only thing that works.

So, here's the fundamental question that each thinking American must settle: Did George Tiller's killer do something evil? Presumably he acted on the assumption that a late-term abortion is the equivalent of the murder for pay of a child and that the legal authorities would do nothing to stop it. If that assumption is wrong then what the killer did was indeed evil and he should, in my opinion, receive the death penalty for premeditated murder.

If, however, the assumption is correct then it's hard to say (again, unless one is a pacifist) exactly how what he did was morally different than, say, what German officers tried to do when they, and Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tried to kill Adolf Hitler.

Everything hinges on whether this assumption is right or wrong, and each person who reflects upon this tragic event will have to come to his or her own conclusions about that.

Pro-Life groups are understandably deploring the act, arguing, rightly, that it gives their cause a black eye, but this is a tactical objection not a moral one. Were it not for the negative press that the pro-life position is going to suffer because of Tiller's death, one gets the feeling that their objections to it would be less strenuous.

Pro-choice groups are outraged as well, of course, but these folks need to be asked whether the late-term children who died in Tiller's clinic were, in fact, being murdered. If the answer is yes, then they should be asked why they're outraged that their murderer has been killed. If the answer is no, as no doubt it would be, then the pro-choice folks need to be asked to explain why, if it's okay to kill unborn babies that are near their delivery date, it's not okay to kill them after their delivery.

As bioethicist Peter Singer and even the ACLU have said, there's no morally significant difference between a child a couple of days before it's born and a child a couple of days after it's born. If killing the former is not murder why should killing the latter be considered murder? And if killing the infant is indeed murder then so must be the killing of the about-to-be-born child.

Anyway, the Tiller killing is a much more complex ethical issue than some on both sides of the abortion debate would have us believe.