Four More Years . . .
Today we learnt that Barack Obama will be the President of the USA for another term. Much of the debate preceding Obama’s election victory focused on how each presidential candidate planned to resuscitate the American economy. Time will tell whether Obama will succeed in this area, and we will be able to debate the merits of his economic strategy in comparison to Romney’s alternative vision over the next four years.
The state of the American economy is, of course, of paramount importance. However, the salience of economic issues in this presidential race should not blind us to the importance of Obama’s re-election (or rather Romney’s non-election) to several other weighty issues in practical ethics. In the light of Obama’s victory and the aforementioned focus on the economy in this election race, it is prudent to remind ourselves of three moral consequences of the election result.
A brief glance at Mitt Romney’s official website tells us that, had Romney won the keys to the White House, the landmark Roe vs Wade decision by the Supreme Court concerning the legality of abortion (which dates back almost 30 years) would surely have been under threat. Although the president does not have the direct power to overturn a Supreme Court decision, he/she does have the power to nominate new justices to the Supreme Court. In view of the fact that four of the sitting justices are likely to retire in the near future (since four of them are over 70 years old) there is a reasonable chance that the current president will have to nominate a new justice in the coming term. As such, had Romney been elected, he may have had the indirect power to make good on his promise to overturn Roe vs Wade. In addition to this, he also planned to ban the use of federal funds for abortion. Accordingly, with Romney as president, the freedom of American women to have an abortion would have been severely limited.
Human Embryo Stem Cell (hESC) Research
In 2009, Barack Obama overturned the Bush administration’s 2001 order that banned the use of federal funds for hESC research on new cell lines. Since Obama’s 2009 executive order there have been a number of advances in hESC research, many of which have been the result of research carried out in the USA which would have been banned under prior to the 2009 executive order.
Given Romney’s belief that life begins at conception, it seems likely that Obama’s 2009 executive order would have been overturned under Romney’s presidency, especially in view of the fact that he would have had the power to unilaterally revoke this executive order without recourse to the Supreme Court. Such a decision would have been particularly damaging to hESC research at a global level, in view of the EU’s decision to ban hESC patents in Europe in October of last year.
Romney has been quite open in his opposition to equal marriage rights for homosexuals; in 2011, he signed a pledge explicitly opposing same sex marriage which included proposals to appoint Supreme Court justices who would also oppose marriage equality, and to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would block the federal government from ever recognizing homosexual marriages.
However, the question of marriage equality for homosexuals is perhaps something of a subsidiary issue in comparison to the question of hospital visitation rights. In 2010 Obama signed an executive order which mandated that federally funded hospitals have to legally recognise homosexual relationships. This order thus ensures that the homosexual partner of a patient has visitation rights, and the ability to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated. Once again, this is something that Romney would have had the power to unilaterally revoke if elected; indeed certain of his pre-election comments suggest that he would have done this, meaning that individual states would have been able to make their own decision with regards to this issue.
I have not provided any substantive arguments against Romney’s position on these issues. Rather, I highlight the above issues in this post to emphasize the importance of the presidential election result on these indubitably important moral issues. Given the extreme differences between Obama and Romney on each of the above issues, it seems plausible to claim that the result of this presidential election is perhaps the most ethically significant one in living memory.
The above reflections perhaps also point to a broader issue. In a future election, it may be the case that voters feel compelled to vote for a presidential candidate because of the clear superiority of that candidate’s economic policies over their opponent’s . The worrying thing in such a case is that voters may feel compelled to vote for such a candidate even if they completely disagree with that candidate’s stance on moral issues such as those listed above. This poses the following question: is it right that voters in such a situation are being asked to choose between voting in a manner which they believe is economically responsible and voting in a manner which they believe is morally responsible?