The Catholic Thing
The Art of Obama Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Monday, 14 September 2009

The Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House was working at the time on the bill on partial-birth abortion, and I had given as a gift to the committee one of my best students from Amherst. He called me one night in disbelief: He had just seen a Democratic senator from California on “Nightline,” and she declared that she could support the bill only if it contained a provision to allow this grisly procedure if it were truly necessary for the “health” of the pregnant woman. “But the bill,” he said, “does contain a ‘health exception.’ How could she look straight into the camera and say such a thing?” The simplest explanation was she thought she could get away with it: Most people out there in the public would not know she was speaking falsely, and even if she were corrected, the correction wouldn’t reach most members of the audience who might have been lulled by her comments.

I am not exactly starry-eyed about politicians, but I shared some of the shock of my student over the audacity of the lie. That performance was just a mild rehearsal however, for a form of political theater that would reach its fullest cultivation as an art with Barack Obama. And instead of being something striking in its rareness, it would become woven into daily practice, as much a part of routine with this new president as breakfast and lunch. How else to account for the ability of Mr. Obama to stand before the Congress last week, and a nation-wide audience, and say, “One more misunderstanding I want to clear up – under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions."

It was a manifest lie. But journalists would become so entangled in trying to read the minutiae in the bill that they would miss what was indeed so plain or manifest in the untruth before their eyes. And so writers trying to sort through the strands would point out that abortion would be covered, in one version, only in plans in which people opt for abortion and pay a premium. The Democrats contended that these were then merely “private” dollars, put up by the participants themselves.

But of course it was the thinnest fiction to say that these were “private dollars.” As one commentator suggested, imagine that the government allowed people to contribute voluntarily to the support of mercenaries in Iraq. Would anyone seriously believe that the federal government, collecting and disbursing, these funds would not be funding the mercenaries? Besides, as Richard Doerflinger of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out, anyone subscribing to insurance supported by the government would have to pay the premium that supports all other abortions. At every turn, this belies the claim of “no federal support or subsidy for abortion” if one merely looked more closely. Or: if one read any of these provisions when set in the larger bill of which they were merely parts.

And if we stood back to take in the view of the whole, what would we see? In the first place, we see the bill brought forth under the most radical pro-abortion president the country has ever seen: a man who opposed the move even to protect a child who survived an abortion; who promised his supporters than any program of medical care would cover “reproductive” rights; and whose administration pushes that notion of “reproductive rights” at every conference under the United Nations, and in every place where there is discretion under our laws. This president has declared his intention to remove the protections of “conscience” put in place for doctors and nurses in dealing with abortion, and to repeal the Hyde Amendment that barred the use of federal funds to support most abortions.

Every level of the administration is filled with people who regard abortion as a medical procedure legitimate, desirable, urgently necessary. And so when the bill mandates “professional services of physicians and other health professionals”; when it seeks a new Health Advisory Panel to recommend other medical procedures to be covered; and when the recommendations are made to a Secretary of Health and Human Services who is famously pro-abortion – with all of these ingredients in place, what is one reasonably to expect? The presumption must be that abortion would be amply covered at many points unless there is an explicit move to forbid the coverage of abortion in the bill. And yet, when amendments of that kind were offered, they were routinely voted down in committee along party lines by the Democrats.

What is unique about Barack Obama was revealed during the controversy over his opposition, in Illinois, to protecting the children who survived abortions. When this news broke out in the presidential campaign, his response, audacious and clever, was to accuse his critics of lying for bringing the news. They would be tarred as liars for telling, about him, such a monstrous truth. And what worked in the campaign is now taken up as his standard operating procedure. What hasn’t been fully grasped about Obama is that he lies even when there is no need to lie; he lies in the way that concert pianists need to practice every day. For apart from the utility of it, he needs to practice, as any true artist needs to practice, for the sake of cultivating his art at its highest level.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
The Pretender
written by Willie, September 15, 2009
Professor your piece leads me back to last November at the Dem. Convention There we were treated to images of Obama among the Greek colonnades and statues. The harbinger of ancient truth had arrived! The new messiah had come. His commonality with these ancients being his skilled rhetoric, not his search for truth, one should have paid more attention to his background. Leopards do not change their spots! His associations often unsavory have not changed. This man is beholding to the radical left
Father of lies
written by Fr Tim, September 15, 2009
Anyone read "Lord of the World" by Benson?

Who is the Father of lies? Now you know who you are really dealing with......WAKE UP!
Characterizing evil
written by MPD, September 15, 2009
Morgan Scott Peck referred to such people as the Congresswoman in the Nightline interview and Mr. Obama as "People of the Li". In his professional work as a psychiatrist and author, he defined the behavior of such individuals as sociopathic and characteristic of the nature of evil itself. Was not the brilliant Lucifer a person of the lie as well? Thank you Mr. Hadley Arkes for illuminating Mr. Obama's disingenuineness. I doubt you will be censured before the full House!
Why is it a lie?
written by Joe, September 15, 2009
I'm reading but I don't see the lie... abortions would be paid for by the premiums paid for into the system. If you want the public option your dollars, NOT TAX DOLLARS, would/could fund abortions. What about this is a lie?
Please explain? At the same time before you condemn trying to provide health care for millions of children already alive, funding for prenatal care which could save thousands of babies whom their parents want etc... have you taken a look at your health insurance?
myopia, the new black
written by Achilles, September 15, 2009
Thank you Professor Arkes, your ending is the big truth about Obama we need to know and understand. Joe gets caught up in the fine print that has no better chance of negating the big lie than a mosquito of knocking over half dome. Thank you so much
first words
written by Qauecumque Vera, September 15, 2009
Obama's first words to Pope Benedict were, "I will do everything I can to decrease the number of abortions." He lied to the Holy Father's face. Someone who would do this has no moral compass whatsoever.
Agree with Joe
written by Jay4, September 15, 2009
President Obama has not lied when he said “One more misunderstanding I want to clear up – under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions.". None of us know the final form of this bill. Wait and see. However, at the end of the day, you must realize that many thoughtful and religious people do not agree with you. They will continue to choose a health plan (paid by these individual and their employer) that fund fully health services for women including abortion.
written by Watcher, September 15, 2009
A baby born alive in the United States is a citizen - even if the baby was born prematurely due to a botched abortion. Allowing the live baby to die in a closet was murder. It was reported at the time that Obama had said that the woman had a right to a successful abortion. Did he? I don't know. I do know that he didn't condemn the killing. What has happened to us that we no longer see something so obvious? The great deceiver always had a way with words. So do his disciples.
humanist secularism
written by Achilles, September 15, 2009
Dante wisely told us "the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who refuse to take a stand in a moral crisis." We must not "wait and see" when there is an avalanche of evidence against the integrity and honesty of our current administration. " not consensus but the convergence of the mind with reality is the Truth." Fides et Ratio- Who are your "good and religious people who support this?
written by Robert Royal, September 15, 2009
In point of fact: Dante did NOT reserve the hottest torments for the fence sitters. They just get the contempt and silence of both Heaven and Hell. The worst punishment in Dante, reserved for Satan and the gravest sinners, is to be frozen in ice, unwarmed even by the fires of Hell..
Obama the liar
written by hal barton, September 15, 2009
Yes, in this ObamoNation Obama is a horror of a liar - yet he is no different than the vast majority of Catholic Leadership who are even more clever - for all know that there is no more kind of purposeful and premediated Murder than Abortion, yet they will never call it what it is - you kill a chicken, that is not what you do to an innocent child - but anyone who makes a break with their lying is blacklisted forever. If the Catholics would dare call it what it is by name the abortion problem!
This is TRUTH!!
written by Eric Pinola, September 15, 2009
Thank you for your great article on Mr. Obama. I am sickened by the people who believe his artfully woven web of lies. They defend him as if he was the Christ.

I fear that if he is not voted out of office, there will be a revolution here in America. Gods will be done.

Eric Pinola
written by Kathryn E. Stuart, September 15, 2009
Just an observation - back during the campaign, I was reading some things on Communism in the USA back in the 30s and 40s before it went underground. What is being foisted on us today is so close to the agenda the Communists had then that it's scary. Communists infiltrated the Catholic Church and the Government as well as Education. A good 101 for understanding this is to read (it's online) Bella Dodd's "School of Darkness"...
Details please
written by Pio, September 16, 2009
How about some details about the Nightline broadcast: which Senator from California, the date of the broadcast, other participants, the context of the statement, the progress of the bill in the legislative process, etc. The oblique reference conveniently allows the author to claim a big"li", impugns the integrity of two Senators without an opportunity for either to rebut, and makes him sole arbiter of the truth. Pretty clever and audacious (and sloppy too) for a professor of jurisprudence!
acknowledging a point
written by Hadley Arkes, September 16, 2009
Pio has a point I want to acknowledge: I had changed the piece from saying a Democratic Senator from California, to saying a Democratic Senator, but for some odd reason the change hadn't gone through. My concern was the one raised here--in this case, I didn't want to suggest anything disparaging about Dianne Feinstein.
Thank you Mr. Royal
written by Achilles, September 16, 2009
Mr. Royal, it is an honor to be schooled by a man of your stature, I have your book on Dante I better look into it. I am a neophyte and in frustrated zeal I spouted off the first condemnation that penetrated my thick skull. So maybe not the worst place in hell, but luke warmness definitely has its kick. Thank you Mr. Royal and the rest of the writers at TCT for all you do!
Prof Who?
written by Michael II, September 16, 2009
One only has to think back of all the proposed Catholics who supported Obama on the basis that he is not anti-life. A certain Prof got himself an Ambassadorship to Malta for such support. All in the name of upholding Catholic principles. Beware, angels dare to tread where fools rush in! Prof Arkes I tip my hat to ya!

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