Religion and Politics ’08: The Candidates on the Issues
John McCain McCain supports overturning Roe v. Wade and banning abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother. During his 2000 primary campaign, McCain opposed a repeal of Roe v. Wade because it would “force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.” He has an anti-abortion voting record and during his campaign he promised, if elected, to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito who “strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench.” In 2003, he voted to ban partial-birth abortions, keeping in line with his anti-abortion voting record. McCain supports abstinence-based initiatives and has said that he hopes there might be “a point where [Roe v. Wade] is irrelevant … because abortion is no longer necessary.”
Barack Obama Obama supports abortion rights. On Jan. 23, during his first week as president, Obamasigned an executive order restoring federal funding for international organizations that perform or promote abortions in foreign countries. During the October 15, 2008 presidentialdebate, Obama expressed a willingness to support a ban on late-term abortions “as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health and life.” During an April 2007 Democratic debate, Obama said, “I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy.” At an April 2008 candidates’ forum on faith and compassion, Obama said that “there is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down.” To reduce abortions, Obama advocates a comprehensive sex-education program in which both abstinence and contraception are priorities. He also says, “we should make sure that adoption is an option.”
Church and State
John McCain McCain favors keeping the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance; he has votedthree times in favor of Senate legislation to affirm the reference. In an interview with Beliefnet in September 2007, McCain said that “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation,” and added that “the lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn’t say, ‘I only welcome Christians.’ We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here, they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.” During his 2000 presidential campaign, McCain said the nation was founded on “Judeo-Christian values” but added that “political intolerance by any political party is neither a Judeo-Christian nor an American value.”
Barack Obama Obama says he believes in the importance of the separation of church and state but has said that a “sense of proportion” should guide how it is enforced. He says that the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and voluntary student prayer groups on school property are two examples where conflict between church and state has been alleged but should be less strictly policed. At an April 2008 candidates’ forum on faith and compassion, he described the issue as “a false debate” and challenged Democrats to “get in church, reach out to evangelicals [and] link faith with the work that we do.” He says that while both non-religious and religious people have a right to the public square, “those of us of religious faith [have to] translate our language into a universal language that can appeal to everybody.”
John McCain McCain supports the death penalty for federal crimes. He has voted to prohibit the use of racial statistics in death penalty appeals and to ban the death penalty for minors. He alsosupported legislation to allow the death penalty for fatal acts of terrorism abroad and has said he would consider further expansion of capital punishment for other crimes. McCaindisagreed with the June 25, 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing the execution of child rapists.
Barack Obama Obama has written that he thinks the death penalty “does little to deter crime.” He supportscapital punishment in cases in which “the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage.” While a state senator, Obama pushed for reform of the Illinois capital punishment system and authored a bill to mandate the videotaping of interrogations and confessions. Obama disagreed with the June 25, 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing the execution of child rapists.
John McCain McCain supports vouchers that would allow students to attend public or private schools, including religious schools, arguing that “it’s time to give middle- and lower-income parents the same right wealthier families have – to send their child to the school that best meets their needs.” In February 2007, McCain spoke at an event sponsored by the Discovery Institute, a think tank known for promoting the concept of “intelligent design.” He says that Darwin’s theory of evolution is “valid” but that students should be “exposed to every point of view.”
Barack Obama In a February 2008 interview Obama said he supports charter schools “as a way to foster competition in the public school system,” and later he said he would double federal funding for charter schools if elected president. During the third presidential debate Obama said he does not support the use of government vouchers to attend private schools “because the data doesn’t show that it actually solves the problem.” In an April forum with other Democratic candidates, Obama said he believes in both evolution and the biblical story of creation and does not “think science generally is incompatible with Christian faith.”
John McCain McCain opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge unless it can be done in an environmentally safe manner. However, he supports lifting a ban on offshore drilling in light of recent oil price increases. During the 2008 New Hampshire primary, McCain announcedthat he would “clean up the planet” and “make global warming a priority.” As a U.S. senator, McCain has worked closely with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) on legislation designed to reduce greenhouse emissions through a market-based system and through the development of nuclear, solar and other alternative energy sources. He pledged to toughen automotive fuel standards and says he will use diplomacy to convince India and China to address the threats of global warming. However, he insists that U.S. energy policy must not impose “unsustainable costs on the economy.” McCain supports federal funding and preservation of national parks, arguing that Americans should take “stewardship” of their “natural heritage.” He also commends environmentally conscious evangelicals for sharing “a biblical obligation to care for our planet.”
Barack Obama Obama opposes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge “because it would irreversibly damage a protected national wildlife refuge without creating sufficient oil supplies to meaningfully affect the global market price,” but has said he would consider using offshore drilling as part of a “comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices.” He saysthat religion can encourage people to make sacrifices, and he hopes to rally other countries around the “importance of us being good stewards of the land.” In October 2007, Obamaproposed an energy plan that would require polluters to pay for their emissions via a “cap and trade” system and that would implement a national carbon emissions cap. In the U.S. Senate, Obama has co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act to cap emissions from industrial plants and oil refineries. He supported a January 2007 meeting of a group of evangelicals and climate scientists to advocate measures to prevent global warming. Obama has also called for stricter restrictions on the amount of carbon in fuels and tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars. He plans to allocate $150 billion over the next 10 years to create a “green energy sector” that would support up to five million new jobs.
John McCain McCain says the faith-based initiative is “one of the more successful parts of the Bush Administration and I would continue it.” In 2003, he voted for a bill that was a watered-down version of changes sought by President Bush to make it easier for religious groups to compete for federal grants. The bill never became law. He says groups receiving federal funding should be able to take religion into account in hiring.
Barack Obama In a July 2008 speech, Obama announced a plan to establish a Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It would expand upon President Bush’s faith-based initiative, primarily by allocating $500 million per year for summer learning camps that would aim to narrow the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students. Under Obama’s plan, groups receiving federal funding would not be allowed to take religion into account in hiring.
John McCain McCain says marriage should be between a man and a woman and should be regulated by the states. He opposed a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage because “it usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed.” McCainendorsed a 2006 Arizona ballot initiative to limit marriage to be between a man and a woman and said, “I’m proud to have led an effort in my home state to change our state constitution and to protect the sanctity of marriage as between a man and woman.” He also supported the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal recognition of gay marriage and domestic partnerships. He supports the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and says that to “even reopen the issue” would be a “terrific mistake.”
Barack Obama Obama says that he personally believes that “marriage is between a man and a woman” but also says that “equality is a moral imperative” for gay and lesbian Americans. He advocates the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) because “federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does.” He supports granting civil unions for gay couples, and in 2006 heopposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. In March 2007, Obama initiallyavoided answering questions about a controversial statement by a U.S. general that “homosexual acts” are “immoral,” but Obama later told CNN’s Larry King, “I don’t think that homosexuals are immoral any more than I think heterosexuals are immoral.”
John McCain McCain supports tax credits to encourage individuals and families to purchase health insurance and says that increased competition in the insurance industry will drive down prices. In 2005, McCain and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) proposed a national commission to study the nation’s health care system and outline proposals for addressing spiraling costs. McCain has advocated making generic drugs more available to consumers and wants to ease restrictions on imported drugs to make prescriptions more affordable. In an April 2008speech outlining his economic policies, he called for wealthier Medicare recipients to pay higher premiums for prescription drug coverage. He advocates tort reform to eliminate excessive damage awards on medical malpractice suits.
Barack Obama When he formally declared his run for the presidency, Obama said his goal was to implement universal health care, or government health insurance for all Americans, by 2012 or “the end of the first term of the next president.” He has called “belief in universal health” care one of the “core values” of the Democratic Party. Obama proposes a national health care plan, similar to that available to federal employees, that would allow individuals and businesses to buy health care. The plan would mandate coverage for children but not for adults and would be funded in part by projected revenue from allowing President Bush’s tax cuts to expire.
John McCain McCain supports comprehensive immigration reform that addresses border security and what he calls the economy’s need for immigrant labor. He believes in reforming immigration policy so that highly skilled foreign workers are more likely to remain in the country. McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) twice co-sponsored a comprehensive reform bill that would double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol. The bill, which was defeated in the summer of 2007, called for a border fence, a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented immigrants, a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants and a “guest worker” program offering temporary visas. In response to the bill’s failure, McCain said he “got the message” that for many Americans, border security takes precedence over immigration reform.
Barack Obama Obama says that “the time to fix our broken immigration system is now.” He supports reform that provides “stronger enforcement on the border” by adding personnel, infrastructure and technology. To remove the incentives for people to enter the country illegally, he wants to “crack down on employers that hire undocumented immigrants.” To help businesses know who they are hiring, Obama supports a congressional proposal that would create a new employment eligibility verification system so employers can verify that their employees are legally eligible to work in the U.S. He says he will “not support any bill that does not provide [an] earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population.” He has been a proponentof guest-worker programs that first offer available jobs to American workers.
John McCain In 2002 McCain voted to approve the use of American force in Iraq and remains supportive of President Bush’s policies there. He has criticized management of the war but says pulling out would be a mistake that could lead to greater instability and future conflicts in the region. McCain has defended the moral justification for the war and has called it a “just war.” He has referred to terrorism as “a malevolent force that defiles an honorable religion by disputing God’s love for each and every soul on earth,” and the war in Iraq as “a fight between right and wrong, good and evil.” In a March 2008 interview with CNN, McCain saidthat the “surge is working” and that withdrawal from Iraq “means Al Qaeda wins.” Hefavors a continued presence of American forces in Iraq after the war has ended.
Barack Obama Obama was an opponent of the war effort as an Illinois state senator, arguing that the fight in Afghanistan should be finished before the U.S. embarked on a “dumb” and “rash” war. He campaigned against the war in his 2004 U.S. Senate bid. In his presidential campaign, he made his opposition to the war a central theme, telling voters that “they should ask themselves: Who got the single most important foreign policy decision since the end of the Cold War right, and who got it wrong?” During his campaign, Obama said he would remove one to two combat brigades each month and have all U.S. combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months of taking office.
John McCain McCain has promised to make the eradication of poverty a top administration priority, asserting that “a strong and vibrant America, one in which people can move up into the middle class, put their kids through college, work hard and one day retire in dignity, is critical to not only our economic future but to the very security of our nation.” In an April 2008 statement on poverty, McCain said that “as President, I will set aside the needs of the special interests to advance the interests of the American people, especially those 12 million children who deserve every opportunity to achieve the American Dream.” McCainvoted for a 1996 welfare reform bill that required more work for recipients and placed limits on the amount of time they could receive benefits. Although McCain voted for a bill to increase the federal minimum wage in February 2007, he has historically voted against minimum wage increases, arguing that they can hurt small businesses.
Barack Obama In the Illinois Senate, Obama helped author the state earned income tax credit, which provided tax cuts for low-income families. In September 2007, Obama unveiled a plan to cut taxes for the middle class and senior citizens by eliminating corporate loopholes and tax breaks. He said that if elected president, he would aim to create 20 “Promise Neighborhoods,” choosing places that have high levels of poverty and crime and low levels of academic achievement. In those neighborhoods, “a full network of services” will be provided “from birth to college.” In The Audacity of Hope, Obama describes what he calls America’s “empathy deficit,” writing that a “stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society.” Obama is a U.S. Senate co-sponsor of the Global Poverty Act, which calls on the president to develop a comprehensive agenda to cut extreme global poverty in half by 2015. He has supported bills increasing the minimum wage.
Stem Cell Research
John McCain McCain opposes embryonic stem cell research that uses cloned human embryos. In 2006 he supported a trio of U.S. Senate bills designed to increase federal funding for adult stem cell research, ban the creation of embryos for research and offer federal support for research using embryos slated for destruction by fertility clinics. In 2007, in what hedescribed as “a very agonizing and tough decision,” he voted to allow research using human embryos left over from fertility treatments.
Barack Obama Obama supports relaxing federal restrictions on embryonic stem cell research. He voted for the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, which was vetoed by President Bush. The bill would have allowed federal funding to be used for research on stem cell lines obtained from discarded human embryos originally created for fertility treatments.