On the November 25 edition of Fox News Sunday, Senator John McCain was asked about improving support for Republicans at election time. Unprompted, he brought up the issue of abortion and argued that should be left alone from now on:
As far as young women are concerned, absolutely, I don’t think anybody like me — I can state my position on abortion but, other than that, leave the issue alone, when we are in the kind of economic situation and, frankly, national-security situation that we’re in.
Asked by Fox host Chris Wallace if this meant he was endorsing “freedom of choice,” McCain replied, “I would allow people to have those opinions and respect those opinions. I’m proud of my pro-life position and record. But if someone disagrees with me, I respect your views.”
For McCain, this represents a very different moral calculus from his criticisms of the Obama administration’s handling of the terrorist attack on U. S. personnel in Benghazi. With Benghazi the larger principle is that when U. S. personnel stationed abroad come under attack, the government must make every effort to come to their aid and protect them. Expressing sympathy with brave Americans under assault is not enough; we should have executed a plan to try to save their lives in a timely fashion.
On abortion, McCain apparently believes Republicans should maintain a broadly pro-life position. But when considering what to do to protect the unborn, whom pro-lifers by definition believe to be innocent human beings, no action plan should be adopted, much less executed. McCain implies that the very subject of protecting the unborn should be avoided. If it is brought up, we should admit to being pro-life, but emphasize how much we respect the opinions of those who believe unborn babies deserve no protection whatsoever.
We find it puzzling why McCain believes such a stance would improve Republican election chances or even enhance respect for Republicans among our opponents.
We would reveal to tens of millions of social-conservative voters that Republicans will never lift a finger on behalf of human life, even though we supposedly share their view of the issue. We would at the same time be telling them and everyone else that, whenever Republicans express a principle, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether we care enough to act on it.
It is utterly predictable that when Republicans lose still another presidential election, social issues will be singled out as a major cause of defeat — even when our nominee maintained near-silence on such issues. And opponents of social conservatism should be expected to come forward and explain why remaking the party into a pale social-issue copy of the Democrats will bring electoral nirvana by 2016.
But Senator McCain’s formulation makes no sense from any point of view, including his own. If he remains pro-life, he is morally obligated to support and protect the unborn in any way that is politically feasible. If he has re-thought his pro-life beliefs, he should say so and take the consequences, whatever these prove to be. But to hold pro-life beliefs while opposing any governmental action to protect the innocent unborn is not the position of a man of honor, which throughout his long life John McCain has always been.