President Obama’s First Week

By Michael Novak on January 30, 2009 in General Articles & News
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The Obama Presidency is only one week old, but it has already limned its main moral outlines.

Consider what President Obama listed as his first priorities during his first four days in office:

–On January 20, President Obama called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. He also declared his intention to give multiple rights and privileges to homosexual couples.

–On January 22nd, he issued an executive order announcing his intention to close the detention facility for battlefield terrorists at Guantanamo, Cuba, within one year, but admits he has not figured out how to do that. (President Bush expressed a similar wish, but could find no other nations willing to help take responsibility for the detainees.) A shiny intention, then, but no hard thinking about how to get it done.

–On the 23rd, President Obama issued an executive order that authorizes American tax dollars for abortions in foreign lands.

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From these three executive announcements we learn that President Obama recognizes no difference between the Jewish-Christian covenant between a woman and a man (a covenant that they will have and nurture children, if they are so blessed), and a civil contract between two persons of any gender, in order to set up a household of affection and sexual favors. He refuses to defend the first, and he orders the second to be treated identically to the first.

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This is a relapse into a moral understanding B.C.E. – Before the (Jewish-) Christian Era. It is a return to paganism. It is a failure to grasp the distinctive and crucial defense which Judaism and Christianity put around the family, best of all nurturers of strong individuals. The point of monogamous family networks is to treat male and female with complementary and mutually cooperative dignity, and to tie the power of sexuality (male, especially) to self-sacrificing communities of love. From these two poles — independent individuals and strong family networks — liberal civilization has been generated.

Almost all religious civilizations honor the family, but none better emphasizes both individual responsibility and universal solidarity. None has proven so suited to generating liberal institutions.

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We learn, second, that this President takes as his guiding light in matters of national security, not hard realism in protecting “the People” who daily ratify the Constitution, but personal concern for what kind of figure he is cutting in the international eye. This young President wants praise from the international left, at the cost of carelessness about the practical safety of his homeland. Good headlines first, practical thinking later.

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Thirdly, we learn that the President is willing to do what a substantial bloc of U.S. tax payers morally abhor — and will resist in conscience. Moreover, a large number of foreign observers will again mock the United States: “Here (again) come the American Baby-Killers!” It is a mistake to think that people in most other nations love, honor, and respect the secularist preoccupation with abortion.

What, they ask, is the solution that the richest country on earth brings to the poorest peoples on this planet? Surely a wealthy and caring U.S. has something better to offer than to pay women of the neediest nations to kill their own children. And to do so during the very months when the children are most defenseless, in their mother’s womb. Many here and abroad find this strategy disgusting.

This crude procedure deprives poor peoples, colored peoples (mostly), of the full talents and beauties these not-yet-born human individuals are poised to contribute to the world. Children are the greatest natural resource any nation inherits. Human capital is the greatest and most irreplaceable of all forms of capital. It is the chief cause of the wealth of nations.

Each of the discarded little boys and (mostly) girls possesses an utterly individual DNA. No other is quite like them. Abortion deprives Earth of their creative gifts.

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It is hard to think of an American President who in character and purpose is less like Abraham Lincoln than Barack Obama. Even in his first week, President Obama, unlike Lincoln, made it his main purpose to narrow the circle of those human beings whose rights need to be protected in law. Lincoln expanded the circle of life and liberty, whereas the impulse of President Obama is to constrict it. Lincoln’s was a liberal purpose, Obama’s is illiberal.

To protect the Union and its Constitution – the apple of gold in a silver frame – Lincoln found it necessary and right to suspend habeas corpus and other civil rights, in certain places and in certain circumstances. President Obama acts as though the Union and its Constitution forbid their own out-of-the-ordinary defense, even in extreme moments of danger and destruction.

The first week did not have to begin this way. These first steps were unworthy of a great nation, and unworthy of a serious leader. These executive decisions humiliated those who voted for President Obama because they had been assured, and who assured others, that the new President would take seriously the culture of life. It is now clear that the new President was willing to allow those who risked their moral reputations to support him to feel in retrospect like liars. E.J. Dionne expressly warned the President-elect against this.

You can fool all the people once. But there are a lot of them you will never fool again. In his first week in office, Bill Clinton deeply wounded the moral force of his own presidency by turning abruptly against those who regard abortion as the greatest evil of our time, as slavery was in Lincoln’s time. It is sad to see a Democratic President make that same mistake again.

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