Last week we heard President Obama’s State of the Union address. In the course of an hour, there was one aspect that particularly struck me, although it was relatively brief. After talking about the economy and job market for the majority of the speech, Obama closed with a call for bipartisan cooperation, asking politicians to go beyond the usual party politics, look past their many disagreements, and focus on what they did agree on. As he said,
“Understand, a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine; a better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.”
The idea in itself is admirable, and one that we should be striving for, but the shine was gone before Obama even said the words thanks to his veto powers and intention to use them, which he mentioned three times through the course of his speech.
He then brought up two of the most controversial topics in politics as examples for opportunities for bipartisanship—immigration and abortion. On immigration, Obama said that “passions still fly [on the subject], but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is snatched from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. I’ve talked to Republicans and Democrats about that. That’s something that we can share.”
The sentiment is nice, but the statement carries less weight than it may have if Obama had not already bypassed both Republicans and Democrats entirely on the subject, rolling over them with an executive order on immigration just six weeks ago and daring Congress to do something about it.
Before mentioning immigration, Obama briefly talked about the argument over abortion, saying, “We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely, we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.”
On this he is right. In the very beginning of the address, Obama paraphrased Pope Francis, saying that diplomacy happens in small steps. This applies to legislation as well. The next steps in the fight against abortion now need to include a focus on what everyone can agree on—what Obama called an “appeal to each other’s basic decency,” namely, that the necessity of abortion is bad, and that the things that cause women to get abortions are often bad, as in the case of rape or teen pregnancies. If we can all, regardless of political tendencies, aim to eradicate those causes, the number of abortions will drop drastically, and the fight to end abortion entirely will be much easier.
Now if only he would apply his hope for bipartisanship to himself.