Sen. Joe Biden was on Meet the Press this past Sunday and he had some comments about his religious views.
MR. BROKAW: You're a lifetime communicant in the Catholic Church. You've talked often about your faith and the, and the strength of your feelings about your faith.
SEN. BIDEN: Actually, I haven't talked often about my faith. I seldom talk about my faith. Other people talk about my faith.
MR. BROKAW: I'll give you an opportunity to talk about it now.
It's important to note that Brokaw set up the discussion as one about religion. Brokaw then goes on to inaccurately relay what Rick Warren asked Sens. Obama and McCain at the Saddleback Civil Forum. Remember, Warren asked at what point did the candidates believe a baby gets human rights. Instead, Brokaw says they were asked when life begins.
It's very bizarre that such a simple question could confound so many reporters.
Anyway, Brokaw then mentions Speaker Nancy Pelosi's remarks on a previous Meet the Press, which got her in so much trouble with Catholic bishops across the country, before asking the following:
MR. BROKAW: If Senator Obama comes to you and says, "When does life begin? Help me out here, Joe," as a Roman Catholic, what would you say to him?
SEN. BIDEN: I'd say, "Look, I know when it begins for me." It's a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths--Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others--who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They're intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life--I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. And I know you get the push back, "Well, what about fascism?" Everybody, you know, you going to say fascism's all right? Fascism isn't a matter of faith. No decent religious person thinks fascism is a good idea.
There was a follow-up question and answer that covered mostly the same ground. Here's how the New York Times began its story about the above remarks:
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee for vice president, departed Sunday from party doctrine on abortion rights, declaring that as a Catholic, he believes life begins at conception. But the Delaware senator added that he would not impose his personal views on others, and had indeed voted against curtailing abortion rights and against criminalizing abortion
Wait a minute. In what way did Biden depart from party doctrine?
There is absolutely nothing in the Democratic platform about when life begins. He did depart from party doctrine by saying he opposes taxpayer funding for abortion, although that's not what the lede implies. The Democratic platform strongly supports taxpayer funding in the first line of its abortion section. Here's the platform statement:
The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.
Again, if the Democratic Party platform claimed that human life didn't begin at conception, that would be bizarre. It doesn't. Even though the platform changed slightly this year, it didn't make a claim about when human life begins before, either.
But back to the Meet the Press interview. Brokaw is asking Biden what he would tell Obama about when life begins "as a Catholic." Why would that be a religious question, exactly? And then his follow-up question has to rank as the most anemic murmur in the history of Meet the Press. Literally, "But if you, you believe that life begins at conception, and you've also voted for abortion rights..." How about, "If you believe that abortion takes an innocent human life, why do you think that it should be legal?" or "Your views are in conflict with the teaching of your church. Does that bother you?" or "Archbishop Chaput has said you should refrain from taking communion because of your support of abortion rights. Have you?" I mean, anything other than the non-question follow-up that Brokaw offers. On that last note, the Catholic Bishops have already responded to Biden's comments. They note that he correctly articulated the Catholic position that life begins at conception and that he didn't claim Catholicism permits abortion. But they do take issue with other claims he made. This response from the bishops is an important part of the story and should be included in news accounts about Biden's claims. And it looks like it is being included. Here's the Associated Press:
The bishops said Biden was right to say human life begins at conception. But the church "does not teach this as matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact," they said.
"Protection of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but a demand of justice," they added.
It's a shame that Brokaw didn't have the wherewithal or knowledge or journalistic sense to dig a bit deeper. If you're going to talk religion -- as he says he's going to -- go ahead and talk religion. Otherwise, this exchange didn't illuminate or dig any deeper on Biden's views than we already know.