Tuesday, August 19, 2008

When is a question a lie?



A question is a lie when it is loaded with hidden assumptions and when important premises are buried in code words and euphemisms and when it doesn't reflect the reality of the situation it pretends to address. In that context then, the questions that Rev. Rick Warren asked at his Saddleback Civic Forum on the presidency were mostly lies.

There has been a concerned citizens initiative, cosponsored by lots of scientific institutions, representing over 125 million Americans that have been calling for a science debate. Alas, instead of that debate we are getting yet another religious debate that just muddies the waters and makes secularists like the Rev. Barry W. Lynn declare that Barack Obama should not have agreed to do this.

I don't agree with Lynn that Obama should have refused this debate, but I do think, as a partial secularist, Obama got screwed by the dishonest questions Warren asked. Don't underestimate the audience, Barry, we can see how Rick Warren screwed Obama over.

Rick Warren's questions played directly into the talking points McCain has been spouting on the campaign trail for months. He gave simplistic, almost infantile answers and the bleating sheep at Saddleback loved it. His answers were mostly sound bites. They were loaded with key words and phrases that were calculated to resonate with an evangelical audience. There was not much thought or substance to his answers. Since the sheep are only trying to decide which of the two is the more "Jesusier" McCain won on that score. However, I hope that is only a minority opinion nationally and that for those outside the evangelical shadow the questions and answers will ultimately damage McCain and Warren more than they did Obama.

Warren is slowly revealing himself to the nation as just another religious huckster without any kind of real integrity.

I was disappointed to see that neither candidate pointed out just how loaded Rick Warren's questions were. One of the more glaring examples of a dishonest question was the one Warren asked about abortion:

... abortion; 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. As a pastor, I have to deal with this all of the time, all of the pain and all of the conflicts. I know this is a very complex issue. Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?

My answer would shock Warren's evangelical audience because my answer is "never." There is no point in time when a baby gets all human rights. Does Warren think that a fetus has a right to drink alcohol and vote? If there is a single point in time when we get rights then shouldn't that include all the rights? Warren's question is a fraud, loaded with simple minded evangelical assumptions. Warren should never have used the word "rights" in plural because there is only one right in question, the right of a fetus to continue living and developing. To use the plural is to subtly lie and suggest a fetus is more human than it is. It simply can't do anything else besides grow and develop. There is also a conflict between this right of the fetus versus the rights, plural, of the mother. Warren's question totally ignores the other human being, the mother; what about her rights?

The real question Warren should have been asking was "when do the rights of a fetus supercede the rights of the woman carrying the fetus?" Or, more precisely, "when does a fetus' right to continue living and developing supercede the rights of the woman carrying the fetus to deal with whatever issues her pregnancy introduces into her life by terminating that pregnancy?"

Ask the question that way and suddenly you're dealing with more nuance. What issues exactly is the woman dealing with? Is her life in danger from the pregnancy? Was she raped? Is she a teenage girl who doesn't even want her parents to know she got pregnant?

Obama really disappointed me when he failed to see that the question itself was a loaded, dishonest fraud. He just tried to cop out of it by saying "whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade."

Bullshit, it's not a theological or scientific question, it's a legal question about the rights of two parties that are in conflict. Science can inform that question, but Warren's theology should not inform our legal position. Obama gave up an important secular principle by even suggesting that one's theological views have any baring on the answer.

I think anybody who tries to deny the moral difficulties and gravity of the abortion issue, I think, is not paying attention. So that would be point number one.

Great, but why, Mr. Obama, don't you have the balls to tell Warren he did just that by framing the question in the way Warren did?

I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade, and I come to that conclusion not because I'm pro-abortion, but because, ultimately, I don't think women make these decisions casually. I think they wrestle with these things in profound ways, in consultation with their pastors or their spouses or their doctors or their family members.

But Warren never mentioned mothers, did he? He wanted them to become as invisible as possible. So, Obama just answered the question Warren should have asked without pointing out what was wrong with the original question.

... how do we reduce the number of abortions? The fact is that although we have had a president who is opposed to abortion over the last eight years, abortions have not gone down and that is something we have to address.

This is a worthy point, but it is an old saw. The problem is that if it is just about reducing the number of abortions then the evangelicals are right to make abortion illegal. That will reduce them the most. The problem is that I don't think this should be the most important goal in our policy.

Obama simply panders to this fraud telling us that he wants limits on late-term abortions, if there is an exception for the mother's health. He tells us how he respects pro-life views:

... if you believe that life begins at conception, then -- and you are consistent in that belief, then I can't argue with you on that, because that is a core issue of faith for you.

What I can do is say, are there are ways that we can work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, so that we actually are reducing the sense that women are seeking out abortions. And as an example of that, one of the things that I've talked about is how do we provide the resources that allow women to make the choice to keep a child. You know, have we given them the health care that they need? Have we given them the support services that they need? Have we given them the options of adoption that are necessary?

That can make a genuine difference.

Obama is right here, but that point isn't going to sink in for the evangelicals because Obama just pandered to a fraud by offering another fraud. He talked about the rights of women to a man who never asked about the mothers, who quite nakedly ignored them in his question and missed the whole point in this controversy: This is about two entities and their conflicting rights.

What I think is good about Obama's answer is that providing resources that allow women to keep children, give them the health care and support services that they need, is that this improves the quality of our next generation of children. That old saying, "the children are our future," is true. They are a product we produce that is ignored by estimates of our gross national product, our GNP, the total market value of all the goods and services produced by a nation during a specified period. Yet they will be selling their services in the job market and they should be taken into account. If that policy helps reduce abortions it is only a side effect, not the real purpose of the policy. To suggest that it is, well, that was Obama's fraud.

McCain's answer to the same abortion question, like George Bush's before:

At the moment of conception. I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate. And as president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president. And this presidency will have pro-life policies. That's my commitment. That's my commitment to you.

And that was it. Warren then asked McCain to define marriage and dropped the subject of abortion. But think how McCain would have struggled if the question were the one Obama answered, but didn't actually hear: "When do the rights of a fetus supercede the rights of the woman carrying the fetus?"

McCain's answer: at the moment of conception the fetus' rights supercede all the rights of the mother to terminate the pregnancy?

Maybe he wouldn't give the same answer if he had been asked the real question. When Obama didn't challenge the question he guaranteed that McCain would be asked the fraud question.

If Obama were really smart he might have asked pastor Rick this question:



That's only one example of a dishonest question. If nothing new grabs my attention I may write about some of the others in my next posts.

1 comment:

Rakur said...

Good post. The real dishonesty begins the moment someone says "the foetus" without defining the term. A newly-conceived zygote is much more different from a full-term baby about to be born (a truly "unborn child") than chalk and cheese.

Roe vs Wade got it about as right as humanly possible by prescribing different tests for the three trimesters. Hillary Clinton almost got it right with "Abortion should be legal, safe and rare". She could have added "early".

We should be talking about minimising suffering (and not some fictitious "ensoulment"). There is no possibility that a zygote can suffer. The closer abortion is to the zygote stage, the less risk of suffering there is. Paradoxically, by making abortion more difficult, the anti-choicers make it later, and hence more likely to cause suffering - for both parties.