Finding the Middle Way

Like many people, there have been certain books that have made a profound impact on me and helped to define certain periods of my life.  In middle school it was Cheaper By The Dozen, and to this day I still consciously endeavor to do things as efficiently as possible.

During my freshman year of college, the book that had the most pronounced impact on me was without a doubt Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.  I had never read philosophy before, but much of Aristotelian thinking still resonates with me.  In particular, the Philosopher’s observation that virtue is the mean between the two extremes is something that has guided me in much of my life since then.

Sadly, in politics it seems that all too often we are presented with a choice between the two extremes, and rarely does a candidate come along who is able to articulate a vision of the virtuous middle.  This was hammered home for me last week while reading the Catholic legal blog, Mirror of Justice.

Michael Perry posted (with, for a law professor, a surprising disregard for copyright law) an entire post copied from the Huffington Post on why voting for Obama is the true pro-life choice.  Charles Reid, the original author and himself a law professor, makes some compelling arguments:

The Affordable Care Act helps save unborn lives in other ways as well. It increases tax credits for adoptions, making this loving alternative more affordable and more readily available. It recognizes that Medicaid currently pays for one-third of all live births in America and promises to maintain adequate funding for this vital service.

As Reid rightfully notes, “there is no more powerful abortifacient in this country than poverty,” and the social welfare policies of the president are designed to keep more people from sliding into it.  Even one of George W. Bush’s former speechwriters has made this point recently in an excellent article that calls just about everyone out onto the carpet.  “If you’re serious about reducing abortion,” David Frum writes, “the most important issue is not which abortions to ban. The most important issue is how will you support women to have the babies they want.”

Not unexpectedly and quite appropriately, the following day on Mirror of Justice there was a direct counterpoint to Reid’s notion that “Barack Obama is the more seriously pro-life candidate in this year’s presidential contest.”

For the full litany of the President’s offenses against sanctity of life principles, just visit the websites of major pro-life organizations such as the National Right to Life Committee, Americans United for Life, and the Susan B. Anthony List.  Or, if you prefer, you can get the information from the websites of major pro-abortion groups, such as Planned Parenthood or NARAL.  It doesn’t matter which side you go to for the info.  Obama and his supporters do not try to hide his abortion extremism.  They celebrate and praise him for it.

It would take a semantic change of colossal proportions to argue that Obama is pro-life.  I am far more concerned with what is done than with what is said, however, and on that count the policies proposed by both aspirants fall depressingly short.

The Golden Mean that Aristotle articulated millennia ago has been recognized at other times and in many other cultures.  St. Thomas Aquinas preached a similar definition of virtue, Buddhists have the middle way, and the Oracle at Delphi admonished all who entered the temple to exercise moderation in all things.  These exhortations have withstood the test of time, and our political leaders would do well to heed this counsel.

It is a sad state of affairs when we must we choose between one candidate who is committed to protecting those not yet born and one who will safeguard those who have.  What we need is a candidate, a solution, and a political system that encompasses both/ and, not either/or.  As Robert so ably pointed out the other day, being truly pro-life means supporting and protecting life both inside the womb and out.