The fight over health care took the most interesting turn last week. President Obama briefly switched from wonkish frippery about bending cost curves to speaking of faith. Reaching out to progressive faith leaders in two massive conference calls, Obama insisted that God was on his side. Expanding health care fulfills a "core moral and ethical obligation that we look out for one another ... that I am my brother's keeper, my sister's keeper."
This would be an easy opportunity to call attention, once again, to the double standards applied to Obama. When President George W. Bush invoked God as his inspiration, many liberals saw our theocrat-in-chief taking a sledgehammer to the wall between church and state. When Obama does likewise, it's inspiring, spiritual leadership.
But, frankly, I find it refreshing.
Of all the silly arguments that have been passed off as deeply profound in American politics, the notion that politicians can't "impose" their personal morality on others tops the list.
We have abortion politics in general, and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in particular, to thank for that. In 1984, Cuomo gave his famous address at Notre Dame in which he laid out the notion that a politician can be "personally opposed" to abortion but should refuse to translate that conviction into public policy. As political rhetoric, the speech was compelling. As a serious philosophical, theological or moral argument, it was a mess. For instance, Cuomo found inspiration in the Catholic Church's relative silence on American slavery as justification for keeping religion out of the abortion debate. Never mind that abolition was the most religious of political movements.
"It is a mark of contemporary liberalism's commitment to abortion," Ramesh Ponnuru writes in "The Party of Death," "that one of its leading lights should have been willing to support temporizing on slavery in order to defend it."
The main problem with Cuomo's sophistry is that, once watered down into political talking points, it's simply ludicrous.
In 2004, another Catholic Democrat captured the inherent contradictions of Cuomo-ism nicely in a presidential debate. John Kerry insisted that his faith was "why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this Earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith."