In an interview last Tuesday with Wolf Blitzer, Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona was asked this question: “Senator, could you pick a vice-presidential running mate who was a supporter of a woman’s right to have an abortion, a Governor Pataki, a Governor Wilson, a Governor Whitman, a Rudy Giuliani? Could you pick one of those, or any Republican who supports abortion rights, to be your running mate?”

Any moral conservative who wants to make thoughtful decisions about the
Republican presidential race that is now beginning might want to begin by looking closely at McCain’s reply:

“I believe that I could. I obviously have not thought that much about it. But I think you have to judge your running mate [on] their overall credentials and records, whom you think would be most qualified actually to be president of the United States. So clearly their position on abortion would be a factor, but I don’t think it would be the overriding factor in any decision that I might make.”

One thing jumped out at me immediately in this answer: Sen. McCain hasn’t thought much about it.

Sen. McCain “hasn’t thought much about” the fundamental moral issue of our time as it applies to choosing people to fill positions of national responsibility. What does that tell you about John McCain? His response to this question is truly sad, because it shows a deep thoughtlessness about the issue of abortion, and the qualifications necessary in an America leader today.

The fact that John McCain hasn’t thought much about this absolutely critical question is all I need to know about his capacity to be president. If a prospective leader is serious about a policy concern, then he will have thought seriously about how it affects the personnel choices he will have to make. If he hasn’t thought seriously about those choices, then he is not serious about the policy concern. Henceforward, based upon this clear response, it would be fair to say that John McCain has no serious interest in the moral issues or agenda.

He also says that he would decide who would be qualified to be president on the basis of their overall record. But does it make sense that he would pick a running mate, and thus perhaps raise someone to the presidency, who is diametrically opposed to him on what he believes to be a critical and fundamental issue?

Presumably not.

That suggests that Sen. McCain does not at all understand the importance of the abortion issue to the moral foundations of the country. A pro-abortion running mate might very well become a pro-abortion president, and any Republican presidential candidate who can even consider making this possible is unqualified for the office, and deserves to receive no moral conservative support at all.

McCain’s reply means that he doesn’t see that the pro-abortion position is a clear sign of defective moral judgment, or that he thinks a candidate whose moral conscience is based on an abandonment of the most fundamental principles of our way of life can still be “qualified” for the presidency.

Does that sound familiar to you? It sounds quite familiar to me, because it sounds like what so many people have been telling themselves with respect to Bill Clinton. “Oh, he’s doing a good job; I don’t care about his character. He’s doing a good job; I don’t care about his moral judgment. Leave those irrelevant things aside.”

I know that there are people in this society who think that. But we can’t afford to let them lead us, because insofar as we are willing to go down that road we are killing our national conscience. Without sound moral judgment we shall not preserve the system of self-government in this country. By revealing himself to be utterly indifferent to the critical nature of these moral concerns, John McCain declares his incompetence for national leadership.

Support for a candidate who entertains the prospect of a pro-abortion running mate this way could place in the Oval Office someone who will lead this country in a fundamentally wrong direction. The profound issue of principle which abortion epitomizes — our fidelity to the Declaration principle of equality before God — is the foundation of the country’s whole moral existence. How can moral conservatives trust the indifferent John McCain in the presidential chair? How can we trust him to make appointments of key judges throughout the federal system and appointments at the Department of Health and Human Services who won’t advance the agenda of moral corruption and degeneracy of principle that grows from the culture of death? There is no way that one could trust John McCain to make these critical judgments if he takes this kind of careless attitude when it comes to the fundamental question of choosing a pro-abortion running mate. It is clear as day — it simply requires a little thought.

Thoughtful citizens need to be working hard to frame criteria that will lead to discerning judgments about the people who propose themselves as potential Republican leaders, particularly in the wake of the Clinton scandals. A key question we must ask those leaders is whether or not they are serious about the clear lessons that result from our experience of Bill Clinton.

What have we learned?

We have spent several years watching our national institutions fail to face the challenges that result from having an individual of defective moral judgment in the White House. Bill Clinton clearly illustrates the consequences of having a morally deficient president. He has brought shame, humiliation, disrepute, and constant assaults on conscience and decency. As we begin to look past the Clinton years, we must ask ourselves which prospective leaders are going to take seriously the lesson that we should learn from this period of moral destruction.

We need leaders who understand that Bill Clinton’s defective moral judgment has been a mirror image of the morally defective policies that characterize his administration. His pro-abortion policies and his personal misbehavior are rooted in the same principle of disregard for human personality and decency. We need leaders who understand this.

The habit of treating human beings as things, and of using and abusing them for the gratification of one’s passions without regard to their moral status, not only characterizes Bill Clinton’s attitude toward women, it is also is the root of his position on abortion. At bottom, each is the rejection of the fundamental idea of right and justice on which America is based. That idea, considered by our Founders to be self evident, is that every person has worth that comes from God, and is not dependent on his usefulness or lack of usefulness for any agenda dictated by the passion or interest of others. This principle of justice is fundamental to our way of life. Many of the things we claim to value most, including elections and due process and all of the rights we purport to take seriously, are derived in the end from the fundamental truth that every human being must be treated with equal respect for his intrinsic worth. To sustain that respect, we must acknowledge as well that our intrinsic worth comes not from our relationship to human will, human interests, human passions, or human judgment, but comes rather from the transcendent will of God. Self-government is impossible without the great truth that we are all equal, because we are all created equal.

A candidate who is serious about the moral agenda would have been ready for the question about a pro-abortion running mate, because it is an obvious and important one. And he would have been ready with a serious answer, crafted to show his audience that he understood the importance of the great moral principles at the heart of American life, and that those principles are at stake in the abortion question. What should John McCain have said? Something like this would have been a good start:

Well, you know, that is a serious question, because the kind of principles that are going to shape a moral judgment in the presidency are deeply important to me, and therefore, I would have to think, and have thought, very hard and long about that question because the vice president is someone who might have to take over the presidential chair, take over the position of leadership in the country, if something happens to me. He will set the moral tone for the country, and the direction of consideration for all the great questions that affect the judgment and conscience of the American people — and the abortion issue is critical in that.

But instead, John McCain said he hasn’t thought about it. So John McCain is thoughtless and lacking in seriousness when dealing with the fundamental moral challenge that faces the nation; one which would presumably be a factor in all of the key judgments he would have to make as president, starting with the vice president and continuing with cabinet secretaries, judges, and on down the line.

This is the kind of thing we need to think about, unless we have decided to be thoughtless too. People are always complaining to me that we elect apparently good candidates and then they disappoint us by not doing what they said they would. Part of the reason is that we are not choosing them with care. We are not thinking through the choice based on what they present to us. As long as they check the right boxes on candidate questionnaires, have good war records, or family names like Bush or Dole, we don’t notice when they give us clear evidence of being thoughtless on the things that matter most.

In the course of the Clinton presidency, we have seen indisputably that moral issues are critical if the nation is to avoid scandal, humiliation, and a grinding degradation that destroys the conscience of young and old in America. Thoughtful citizenship at this critical moment in our nation’s life requires that we ask thoughtful questions of those who are ambitious to lead us. We should ask not just where they stand on the issues, but where the issues that we all know to be most important for the nation’s life stand on their agenda. To be fit for the presidency today, a candidate must show us courageous thinking on these important matters.

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