The most telling debate Barack Obama ever had was not with John McCain but Patrick O'Malley, who served with Obama in the Illinois Senate and engaged Obama in a colloquy every American should read.
The Obama-O'Malley debate was a defining moment for Obama because it dealt with such a fundamental issue: The state's duty to protect the civil rights of the young and disabled.
Some background: Eight years ago, nurse Jill Stanek went public about the "induced-labor abortions" performed at the Illinois hospital where she worked. Often done on Down syndrome babies, the procedure involved medicating the mother to cause premature labor.
Babies who survived this, Stanek testified in the U.S. Congress, were brought to a soiled linen room and left alone to die without care or comforting.
Then-Illinois state Sen. Patrick O'Malley, whom I interviewed this week, contacted the state attorney general's office to see whether existing laws protected a newborn abortion-survivor's rights as a U.S. citizen. He was told they did not.
So, O'Malley -- a lawyer, veteran lawmaker and colleague of Obama on the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee -- drafted legislation.
In 2001, he introduced three bills. SB1093 said if a doctor performing an abortion believed there was a likelihood the baby would survive, another physician must be present "to assess the child's viability and provide medical care." SB1094 gave the parents, or a state-appointed guardian, the right to sue to protect the child's rights. SB1095 simply said a baby alive after "complete expulsion or extraction from its mother" would be considered a "'person, 'human being,' 'child' and 'individual.'"
The bills dealt exclusively with born children. "This legislation was about preventing conduct that allowed infanticide to take place in the state of Illinois," O'Malley told me.
The Judiciary Committee approved the bills with Obama in opposition. On March 31, 2001, they came up on the Illinois senate floor. Only one member spoke against them: Obama.
"Nobody else said anything," O'Malley recalls. The official transcript validates this.
"Sen. O'Malley," Obama said near the beginning of the discussion, "the testimony during the committee indicated that one of the key concerns was -- is that there was a method of abortion, an induced abortion, where the -- the fetus or child, as -- as some might describe it, is still temporarily alive outside the womb."
Obama made three crucial concessions here: the legislation was about 1) a human being, who was 2) "alive" and 3) "outside the womb."
He also used an odd redundancy: "temporarily alive." Is there another type of human?