“I personally believe,” said the candidate, “that life begins at conception. But I do not believe that I should impose my beliefs on others.”
I sympathize with the gentleman, for I have had similar thoughts myself. I personally believe that slavery is an affront to the natural rights of man, but I would oppose any laws that would impose my views on others.
Let me assure you that I really don’t subscribe to that logic, but curiously enough, it is exactly the logic of Stephen Douglas in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lincoln shredded this intellectual juggling by pointing out that “you say it [slavery] is wrong; but don’t you constantly … argue that this is not the right place to oppose it? You say it must not be opposed in the free states because slavery is not here; it must not be opposed in the slave states because it is there; it must not be opposed in politics because it will make a fuss; it must not be opposed in the pulpit because it is not religion. Then where is the place to oppose it? There is no suitable place to oppose it.” (Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years, Carl Sandburg, p. 141)
The belief that one cannot legislate morality is a sad leap of bad logic and misquotation. Legislation is almost always enacted to promote somebody’s morality. The words ascribed to Martin Luther King, Jr. in reality were: “You cannot legislate men’s hearts”, and surely we can’t. But laws are passed all the time to take care of the poor, criminalize destructive behavior, protect the environment, and otherwise promote the general welfare. All of that is to legislate morality.
The loose interpretation of right and wrong and the evident uncertainty of one’s own moral positions is a dangerous mindset for one seeking political power. The temptation for such a one is to succumb to the expediency of the moment rather than to uphold standards. I am concerned about office seekers who use the faulty logic as expressed in the first paragraph, but the world has always had such. I am more concerned about voters who can’t see through such subterfuge, and even more concerned that the supposed watchdogs of the political scene (the press) and even the political opponents of such a candidate lack the moral fortitude themselves to point out the fallacy of such logic. Where is an Abraham Lincoln when you need him?