My frustration with the presidential campaign is impossible to overstate. The designation of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential nominee has made a thoughtful discussion of the issues virtually impossible. Dialogue about the economy, the wars, the environment has been replaced with nonsense about eBay, lipstick, and bridges to nowhere.
I had strong hopes that an Obama/McCain race would put two capable candidates on the stage for a serious conversation about this country's future. Unfortunately, McCain's reckless designation of a highly unqualified vice-presidential nominee has spiked any prospect for that. Instead we'll be exploring "when is an earmark an earmark" or "who fixes lunch for the kids when mom is vice-president?"
Last Sunday (9/7/08) Sen Joe Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, gave a preview of what could have been when he was interviewed by Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Meet the Press." Asked about his position on abortion Biden, a devout Roman Catholic, responded in a thoughtful, reflective way that honored the nuances so important to issues of faith and public policy. It has received little attention; the press has been busy tracking down Palin's per diems for being home.
I've appended a transcript of that portion of the interview. Watching the video clip is better because it shows the personal dimension more effectively.
It's not poetry, but it is precisely the quality of conversation we deserve. And we're not getting it.
The following transcript is an excerpt of an interview with Sen. Joe Biden on "Meet the Press" for 9/7/08. The text was clipped without edit from the program's web page.
MR. BROKAW: You're a lifetime communicant in the Catholic Church. You've talked often about your faith and the, and the strength of your feelings about your faith.
SEN. BIDEN: Actually, I haven't talked often about my faith. I seldom talk about my faith. Other people talk about my faith.
MR. BROKAW: I'll give you an opportunity to talk about it now.
SEN. BIDEN: Yeah.
MR. BROKAW: Two weeks ago I interviewed Senator Nancy Pelosi--she's the speaker of the House, obviously--when she was in Denver. When Barack Obama appeared before Rick Warren, he was asked a simple question: When does life begin? And he said at that time that it was above his pay grade. That was the essence of his question. When I asked the speaker what advice she would give him about when life began, she said the church has struggled with this issue for a long time, especially in the last 50 years or so. Her archbishop and others across the country had a very strong refutation to her views on all this; I guess the strongest probably came from Edward Cardinal Egan, who's the Archbishop of New York. He said, "Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being `chooses' to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name." Those are very strong words. If Senator Obama comes to you and says, "When does life begin? Help me out here, Joe," as a Roman Catholic, what would you say to him?
SEN. BIDEN: I'd say, "Look, I know when it begins for me." It's a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths--Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others--who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They're intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life--I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. And I know you get the push back, "Well, what about fascism?" Everybody, you know, you going to say fascism's all right? Fascism isn't a matter of faith. No decent religious person thinks fascism is a good idea.
MR. BROKAW: But if you, you believe that life begins at conception, and you've also voted for abortion rights...
SEN. BIDEN: No, what a voted against curtailing the right, criminalizing abortion. I voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously based view that it's a moment of conception. There is a debate in our church, as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge, that's existed. Back in "Summa Theologia," when Thomas Aquinas wrote "Summa Theologia," he said there was no--it didn't occur until quickening, 40 days after conception. How am I going out and tell you, if you or anyone else that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith? And that's the reason I haven't. But then again, I also don't support a lot of other things. I don't support public, public funding. I don't, because that flips the burden. That's then telling me I have to accept a different view. This is a matter between a person's God, however they believe in God, their doctor and themselves in what is always a--and what we're going to be spending our time doing is making sure that we reduce considerably the amount of abortions that take place by providing the care, the assistance and the encouragement for people to be able to carry to term and to raise their children.