Politics & Society
March Wed 11, 2009
Fulfilling his campaign promise, President Barack Obama has revoked President George W. Bush’s order prohibiting Federal financial support for embryonic stem-cell research. From the political perspective this is not really an unexpected loss for those who oppose such a research, since the Republican candidate for President, Senator John McCain, had also promised to lift the ban against the use of taxpayers’ money to support the destruction of human embryos.
When President Obama repealed the prohibition of federal financial assistance to private family-planning organizations promoting abortion in the international arena, the President signed his “executive order” privately, away from the TV cameras of the news media. This time, however, the new executive order allowing grants to finance embryonic stem-cell research was done in a public ceremony politically staged to show how the President was really being faithful to his campaign promises to his party’s left wing, in spite of appearances that in some areas (like the war in Iraq) he had moved his position to the right In fact, the almost purely political motivation of this gesture was so clear, that it should concern those whose who adhere to any ideology, whether it be the left or the right. In his remarks the President showed that he is indeed determined to go beyond the liberal and conservative categories by making decisions that confuse both sides, not because of some transcending philosophical synthesis, but because of a relentlessly pursued pure pragmatism. He is a clear example of those whose view of reality, and thus of what is right and true is not what truly exists (“Verum est ens.”), which cannot really be known by human reason as understood today. Neither does he follow the view of those who view what is true as that which we have made ourselves (“Verum quia factum.”) with all the ideologies born from this view of history as the only acceptable source of true knowledge. The President’s pragmatism does seek to transcend the liberal and conservative ideologies, but it does so – not escaping ideology – but falling into a new one: what is true and good is what we can make. Truth is feasibility. Truth is what technology, not thought, allows us to do. “Verum quia faciendum.” In the words of Cardinal Ratzinger back in 1968: “The dominance of history is being replaced by that of techne (cf. “Introduction to Christianity).”
The truth is that this comes very close to the so-called American pragmatism that has allowed this nation to survive as such an ever-changing, culturally and religiously diverse society. Indeed the other two views of reality remain alive and now and then become politically significant, the ideological culture war does rage on, but in the end the ideology – for such it is – of pragmatism prevails. The President’s defense of his decision to support the destruction of human embryos in the name of an “ideologically free science” is the same view of pragmatism that animates his decisions in other areas such as his proposals to overcome the present financial crisis and pursue the war against terrorism. This view appeals to the American conviction that everything is possible, all problems have a solution that allows us to escape history and indeed speculative thought itself. This view won decisively in the last election, and unless something happens in which Reality asserts itself, it will be our dominant cultural view for the next four years at least.
President Obama is being faithful to his personal history, education, and experience. He knows no other way to escape paralyzing ideological struggles. What is really sad is that the many Catholics in government today are unable to show him and the nation how it is that we can really, rationally, recognize the Truth that sets us free.
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