Senator Barack Obama broke a curse in Wednesday night's debate that had vexed both John Kerry and Al Gore in the two previous presidential elections. Conservative tacticians had tried to sully these earlier Democratic candidates with the "pro-abortion" label in an attempt to drive down their likeability to the voters. In this election the conservatives trotted out their abortion shotgun and started firing it like never before in an attempt to similarly paint Senator Obama as someone who good, church-going people couldn't vote for. Senator John McCain jumped on the bandwagon Wednesday night, referring twice to the "pro-abortion movement in America," and then indicating that women's health concerns related to abortion represented the "extreme pro-abortion position."
But a funny thing happened on Long Island: the voters could see past Senator McCain's insults to recognize the sincerity and the authenticity with which Senator Obama spoke about the issue. By 48 points, viewers said Senator Obama was more likeable than his rival. 80% said Senator McCain spent more time attacking his opponent, with 7% saying it was the Democrat. 54% said McCain seemed more like a typical politician during the debate, combared with 35% for Obama.
Perhaps it was because groups like the Catholic Democrats have been making the case that Democratic efforts to reduce abortion through constructive measures are more consonant with the Gospel of Life, than are the usual combative criminalization rhetoric from the Right. Or perhaps it is because both Senators Obama and Biden have been effectively making the case that they have a new strategy for solving the abortion problem in America.
"No one is pro-abortion. I think it's always a tragic situation," said Senator Obama. He acknowledged a role for the law in dealing with abortion, saying, "I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the mother's health and life."
He went on to describe his attempts in the Illinois Senate to write into the partial birth abortion legislation new language that would protect the health of women, and alluded to the politics of the Right that precludes creating common ground on this issue. He referred to the importance of educating young people about these issues, and said we should help them to appreciate that "sexuality is sacred." He spoke of supporting adoption, and helping single mothers. Then added, "Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year."
"I think that's where we can find some common ground," he concluded, and the viewers agreed.