Obama's Ethical Toggle Switch

Kyle-Anne Shiver & Lee Cary
Tracking Obama’s ethics is like studying the action of a toggle switch.

Think back to that now famous exchange during the Saddleback Presidential Candidates Forum on August 17, 2008, where we heard this:

WARREN:...Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view? (Did we miss the use of “baby” in the question?)

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade. (The question was asked, and dodged, from a personal ethical perspective, not theological or scientific.)

Obama doesn’t know when life begins, hence he can’t assume an ethical position against abortion. Fair enough.

Now, fast forward to his April 30 White House press conference. When asked whether or not the previous administration sanctioned torture, in the context of banning the enhanced interrogation techniques, he said:

“I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do — not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.”

What do these two statements tell us about Obama’s method of making ethical decisions.

(1) Obama doesn’t know when “a baby gets human rights.” Based on what he doesn’t know, he supports abortion, not to mention the denial of medical attention to a live aborted fetus. In short, he assumes an affirmative ethical stance (pro abortion) based on what he says he doesn’t know, namely, when a baby’s life begins.  

(2) On the other hand, he does claim to know things about "torture" that he obviously can’t know. Namely, that “we could have gotten this information in other ways.” So he makes a negative ethical position (against waterboarding, et. al.) based on what he says he does, but cannot, know in retrospect. That is unless he’s able to time-travel and alter outcomes in the past.

Sure, it’s true that Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

But, Francis Bacon stated:

Consistency is the foundation of virtue.

And ethics and virtue live under the same roof.


Tracking Obama’s ethics is like studying the action of a toggle switch.

Think back to that now famous exchange during the Saddleback Presidential Candidates Forum on August 17, 2008, where we heard this:

WARREN:...Forty million abortions, at what point does a baby get human rights, in your view? (Did we miss the use of “baby” in the question?)

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade. (The question was asked, and dodged, from a personal ethical perspective, not theological or scientific.)

Obama doesn’t know when life begins, hence he can’t assume an ethical position against abortion. Fair enough.

Now, fast forward to his April 30 White House press conference. When asked whether or not the previous administration sanctioned torture, in the context of banning the enhanced interrogation techniques, he said:

“I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do — not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.”

What do these two statements tell us about Obama’s method of making ethical decisions.

(1) Obama doesn’t know when “a baby gets human rights.” Based on what he doesn’t know, he supports abortion, not to mention the denial of medical attention to a live aborted fetus. In short, he assumes an affirmative ethical stance (pro abortion) based on what he says he doesn’t know, namely, when a baby’s life begins.  

(2) On the other hand, he does claim to know things about "torture" that he obviously can’t know. Namely, that “we could have gotten this information in other ways.” So he makes a negative ethical position (against waterboarding, et. al.) based on what he says he does, but cannot, know in retrospect. That is unless he’s able to time-travel and alter outcomes in the past.

Sure, it’s true that Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

But, Francis Bacon stated:

Consistency is the foundation of virtue.

And ethics and virtue live under the same roof.