It seemed that Barack Obama was not going to make abortion an issue in this presidential campaign. Obama’s nuanced answers when asked about abortion (finding common ground between pro-choice and pro-life factions) was an attempt to win over evangelicals who were pro-lifers but did not vote based on one or two moral issues.
Meanwhile, John McCain has never been a crusader for pro-life causes, despite a fairly consistent pro-life voting record. He has always been more concerned with reform than abortion. This is obviously part of the reason he put staunch pro-lifer Sarah Palin on the ticket.
Now Barack Obama, for the first time, is going after McCain’s pro-life record. His recent radio ad is an attempt to appeal to pro-choice women voters by suggesting that McCain will end their right to have an abortion. ( I should note that this ad was produced before the Obama campaign knew about Palin, but I am guessing it will be played even more now that Palin is on the ticket).
What does this move toward abortion politics mean? Will McCain-Palin produce similar ads attacking Obama for being pro-life? In other words, have we returned to the abortion politics of the 1980s and 1990s?
Obama’s decision to attack McCain, coupled with the nomination of Palin as V.P., may signal the end of his appeal to evangelical voters. Granted, some evangelicals will still vote for Obama, but it awaits to be seen whether the Illinois senator will win over more evangelical voters than John Kerry did in 2004. It now seems that the Obama campaign wants to insure their hold on the Hillary Democrats. They are willing to sacrifice a few evangelical votes to make sure those pro-choice women are securely in their camp.
I wonder how much this shift in strategy (if that is indeed what it is) has to do with Obama’s poor performance Rick Warren’s abortion question at the Saddleback Civil Forum. When asked about when a baby gets human rights, Obama said it was “above his pay grade” to answer that question with any degree of certainty. (Fred Thompson reminded the nation of Obama’s answer to this question in last night’s speech at the RNC and Russ has offered an interesting take on this in the comments section). McCain, of course, answered Warren quickly and forcefully: “at conception.”
One more word about the Obama radio ad. It actually misrepresents McCain’s current position on abortion. It quotes McCain, in an interview with Tim Russert, saying he defends a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. McCain said this, but his current position is that he wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade and let the states decide the abortion issue. As I wrote in a previous post, this is a classic “federalist” argument. (I should also add that such a view scares both pro-choicers and pro-lifers. By turning the abortion question over to the states, there is a chance that a state could outlaw abortion and there is a chance that a state could keep it legal).
It appears that we may be on the verge of another round of the culture wars.