Above & Beyond Obama’s “Pay Grade”

In another one of the “defining moments” from last weekend’s Saddleback forum (and yes, I promise this will be the last post on it), Pastor Warren asked each of the candidates “At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?”

Atrios cutely reframes the question by recalling Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s response to a similar query posed by Tim Russert on Meet The Press some years ago: “What are you asking? When does an embryo become ensouled?” Now that would have been a sharp comeback!

Unfortunately, Obama felt compelled to first point out the difference of opinion that exists depending on whether one was “looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective” (which led to the “pay grade” remark) and then launched into a rambling, err “thoughtful” discussion about the “moral and ethical dimensions” of the abortion issue.

Personally, I thought his response was just fine, if a little windy, but it was generally panned by the pundits and of course it most certainly didn’t go over well with the mainly evangelical audience. Many right-wing bloggers immediately seized on his remark that bringing specificity to the question of when life begins was “above my pay grade” — presumably because they viewed this as a craven abdication of responsibility, or maybe due to their inability to comprehend the notion that anything could possibly fall outside the ambit of presidential authority.

By contrast, McCain’s terse response to the question was, quite simply: “At the moment of conception.” Well, that’s just fine as a matter of religious dogma I suppose, but as Duncan points out:

Believe what you want, but the important question for politicians is how such things get translated into… policy. And when McCain says he believes life begins at conception (cheer!) it’s pretty meaningless unless he’s asked to explain how that would be translated into policy. Are blastocysts entitled to child support? Do all late periods need to be reported to the Ministry of Health? And, of course, my favorite: Are those who implant multiple embryos during IVF treatments, knowing full well that most will die, guilty of negligent manslaughter?

Most excellent questions and perhaps ones that should be kept in mind for future reference when dealing with our own home-grown fundamentalists and “fetus-fetishists” (you know WHO THEY ARE) in their neverending and utterly tiresome efforts to roll back the clock and have women’s reproductive rights curtailed or rescinded altogether in the name of God®.



Filed under 2008 US Election, Wingnuts

17 responses to “Above & Beyond Obama’s “Pay Grade”

  1. Bill Maher is going to be on Larry King Live tonight – I wonder if he’ll address Rick Warren’s forum.

  2. Oh, you can bet on it.

  3. Speaking of Warren, he was on Larry King last night. Did you see it? I have to admit that even though I completely disagree with his beliefs (although not with many of his ideas), I actually quite like the guy. Unlike most “pastors” he’s not insane. Quite a reasonable fellow, actually.

  4. Ya, I watched it….Warren was obviously ignoring the falsehoods of McCain…and was obviously leaning in his direction. How many times did he refer to McCain having tears in his eyes – 3 I think.

    I was taken by the fact that Warren claimed he believes in the separation of church and state. He also admits to the amount of money he makes and admits to giving out 90% of it, keeping 10%. I wonder how many other Evangelical leaders do that? Obama obviously thinks things out…but he truly needs to stop over-explaining.

    Apparently, Maher has his movie coming out in the fall – I believe called “Religulous” and I’m sure he’s going to be on to promote it….interesting timing.

  5. their inability to comprehend the notion that anything could possibly fall outside the ambit of presidential authority

    That one, yes.

  6. Ti-Guy

    Obama obviously thinks things out…but he truly needs to stop over-explaining.

    It’s a no-win situation when you’re presented with insoluble issues like this. You either provide the standard wingnut cant (like McCain) or you attempt something a little more nuanced. Either way, the media will parse whatever Obama says into sheer meaninglessness, so it doesn’t really matter. The thing he should do now is pull a stunt to get this out of the news cycle.

    What a circus.

  7. I watched one YouTube video where the creator took Obama’s response and teased out the parts where he hums and ha’s a bit then spliced in tape of that beauty contestant from a while back who offered up that bizarre, grammar-free response when asked why so many Americans can’t find their own country on a map.

    “I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq everywhere like, such as and I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., er, should help South Africa…” and so on.

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

    Why even bother? McCaskill’s comeback would have been perfect.

    Trying to be “thoughtful” just results in idiots like “Evans” trotting out the lame, totally bogus charge, that Obama is hopeless without a teleprompter. Or, alternatively, (and possibly worse) that he’s too “professorial” — gasp!

  8. How many times did he refer to McCain having tears in his eyes – 3 I think.

    Whooee! Times change. Not many years ago, a presidential hopeful shed a tear and was declared a crybaby, unfit to lead the most powerful nation on Earth.

    As for the “pay grade” reply, I don’t have much trouble with it. I think a better response would have been to pass the question to Warren’s God. Judge not, lest ye be judged.


  9. Ti-Guy

    Why even bother? McCaskill’s comeback would have been perfect.

    Indeed. That country is so far into the toilet with at least a third of its citizenship being certifiable that it’s startling that it’s even bothering holding elections. But, hold them it must, and the circus must continue until the inevitable can no longer be ignored.

  10. Ti-Guy — You’re especially sour today. I love it.

    JB — Yeah, I thought of that too. No “Muskie moment” for McCain, I guess. Those things only apply to Dems for some reason. When they tear up, it’s sign of weakness and effeminacy — when Republicans do it, it shows they’re sincere and “human” or whatever. Quite a double-standard, I’d say, but there it is.

  11. Ti-Guy

    Ti-Guy — You’re especially sour today. I love it.

    I’m not sour. I’ve just decided not to entertain obscurantism and unnecessary complication because it has ceased to be intellectually stimulating or, in any event, tangential to democratic politics. I reached that point a few days ago over at Dawg’s Blawg, when Dawg and Sir Francis started talking about Baudrillard’s analysis of 9/11 being a simulacrum. I almost started dreaming fondly of living in Deslisle.

    Something I heard recently…somewhere…is really a lesson for our times: we have to get the science (ie the evidence) right before we engage in political discussions and make democratic choices that reflect our own values. What we find ourselves doing is the exact opposite…we’re paying attention to discussions facilitated by people who are either uninformed, deceptive or…and this is undeniable when it comes to a significant portion of the demographic, irrational…and wasting our intellectual energy debating and vainly pontificating on what it all means.

    To paraphrase Noam Chomsky: Life is a lot less complicated once you clear away all the bullshit.

  12. I certainly can’t argue with that. The approach is generally a sound one in principle, but things aren’t always that straightforward.

    What do you do when the “science” is contradictory? It’s certainly not infrequently the case that one set of economists will disagree with another about things to the point where it’s hard to know which end is up sometimes. Or when it comes to the environment to have — as we seem to with climate change, for example — a dispute about the fundamentals of the “science” involved. The prevailing theory doesn’t exactly seem to be incontrovertible, despite there being a “consensus” of sorts.

    One of the problems with our political discourse it seems to me is that a lot of times we’re dealing with incredibly complex issues, but in a very simplistic way. Maybe there’s something to be said for technocracy, after all.

  13. Ti-Guy

    Red: Well, first we have to settle on what are sciences. Economics isn’t a science. It’s a set of assumptions that presupposes a lot; perfect information and a high degree of rational behaviour just to start. Maybe someday it will be a science, but given its poor track record at making predictions that are meaningful to the rest of us, that day won’t come soon.

    Otherwise, scientific issues aren’t nearly as contradictory as we’re led to believe. Scientists are tasked to examine, dispute and re-evaluate the minutia related to their particular fields of expertise with a vigour that exaggerates the degree of substantive disagreement when the layperson observes it. It doesn’t help that our media are quite generally awful at popularising science correctly. In any event, democracy often doesn’t have the luxury of waiting a long time for a particular issue to be settled beyond a reasonable doubt.

    I don’t want to address Global Warming anymore. The consensus at this point is good enough, the predictions of future conditions are based on statistical analysis no lay person can ever hope to fathom (and is thus easily manipulated/gulled) and we know, in any case, that fossil fuels are finite and that their use emits greenhouse gases. That’s good enough at this point to start choosing alternatives. Whatever mechanism is implemented to support/promote those alternatives (carbon taxes, cap and trade, the ineluctable genius of rational consumer choice given free reign…*snort*) are political issues at this point.

    One of the problems with our political discourse it seems to me is that a lot of times we’re dealing with incredibly complex issues, but in a very simplistic way.

    The reverse is also true. That’s just reality.

    Anyway, when I mean science I do intend a very broad application of that term; ie. a way of knowing based on evidence and not one based on faith, philosophy/ideology or on assertions derived from subjective interpretations that are largely the result of a lack of communicative clarity, whether it be spin, marketing, or the egregious obscurantism of the post-modernists.

  14. Thanks. What a fucked up cretin that guy is.

  15. Obsessive too. People are free to be anonymous on my blog with the guarantee that they won’t be outed. But if they start impersonating people and trolling with gross pictures, they are welcome to leave and be told off.

  16. He hasn’t been around my place much lately, although he did stop by under one of his other aliases and also tried making some obscene remarks (that got caught by the filter). I really don’t know what his problem is. He needs professional help of some kind. Or he could just throw himself in front of a bus. That would be fine with me too.

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