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N.A.S.W. Endorses Obama

Natalia J. Garland

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The N.A.S.W. (National Association of Social Workers) has endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president because he "...holds the ideals of the profession in high regard..." As social workers, we certainly want and need a government that respects and supports our profession. Although this empowerment might justify a professional organization's endorsement, and although such an endorsement might provide the organization some political clout, it might not be reason enough for an individual to cast his or her vote for that candidate. In honor of September 11, 2001, let's look at some factors which social workers might consider when voting in our second post-9/11 presidential election.

(1) Should social workers vote only according to what supports the profession's values and principles? Some of the important policy areas for our profession include civil rights, healthcare and mental healthcare, equal pay, education reform, Medicare and Social Security. This is the stuff of every workday for most social workers.

(2) Should social workers vote for whatever promotes the good of the nation, even if some of the candidate's positions might be in discordance with certain social work ideals? Are there some areas of government--taxation, international trade, national defense, infrastructure, agriculture, offshore drilling--which fall outside the profession's domain of expertise? Do these issues require an individual to form a personal opinion? Are some of these issues, especially national defense policy, more essential--if a conflicted choice had to be made--than some of our social work values and principles?

(3) Should social workers vote primarily in agreement with their conscience or spirituality? For example, what if a social worker experiences personal disagreement with the N.A.S.W.'s views on abortion (i.e., a woman's right to choose)? A social worker could have excellent knowledge, skills and dedication, and yet disagree with certain N.A.S.W. or state board definitions of the profession.

Let's look closer at the issue of abortion, because Senator Obama's support of a woman's right to choose is one of the reasons that the N.A.S.W. endorsed him. Some pro-life voters are single-issue voters: that is, they will only vote for pro-life candidates regardless of the candidate's positions on other issues. Some pro-life voters have started to feel captive or hostage to their pro-life vote. Likewise, some pro-choice voters, whether or not they will admit it, also enter into a voter-hostage situation when they will not even consider a pro-life candidate's other policies.

Social workers need to be aware of both Senator Obama's and Senator McCain's policy positions. It is not so simple as Obama being pro-choice and McCain being pro-life. Not only do the two men have differences of opinion, but their opinions keep changing. And despite their differences (which are nonetheless important), their political actions present them both as basically pro-choice.

Obama is for abortion which, in 2007, included partial-birth abortion (he was against the Gonzales vs. Carhart ban on intact abortions). As of 2008, Obama supports state rights to place restrictions on late-term, partial-birth abortions. However, Obama had said in 2007 that, if elected president, the first legislative item he would pass was the Freedom of Choice Act which would eliminate all restrictions on abortion including any prohibition of federal funding (the Hyde Amendment). Obama voted no on parental notification, in 2006. Obama has said that he is unsure when life begins.

McCain said in 1999 that he would not appeal Roe vs. Wade, but would prohibit federal funding for abortion unless the woman's life was at risk. Then he said in 2000 that he supported abortion in cases of rape, incest, and when the woman's life was at risk. However, as of 2007, McCain supports the repeal of Roe vs. Wade. It must be noted that McCain voted for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer as Supreme Court Justices, both of whom support Roe vs. Wade. McCain also considered pro-life vice-presidential candidates (Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge). McCain supports embryonic stem cell research. But, he says he believes life begins at conception.

It is hoped that the above information might help some social workers who struggle to balance the abortion issue with other values, principles, and ideals. There are two essential issues on which every voter needs to make an informed decision in the 2008 election: abortion and national security (i.e., the war on terrorism). It appears certain that Obama supports abortion. The open question is how far would he really go in his support of partial-birth abortion. Although McCain says he is anti-abortion, this seems to be a personal preference and not a strongly held political policy. His history shows that abortion has been an issue of comparative flexibility. The open question is how much effort would he really put into overturning Roe vs. Wade.

Perhaps, indeed, the ultimate question of our time is how to manage homeland security and the war on terrorism. If anyone is reduced to being a single-issue voter, there are probably more significant differences to be found between Obama and McCain on national defense policy than on abortion. This is not to negate the seriousness of abortion, nor to promote a politics of fear. Without national security, however, none of us will enjoy any quality of life or even the possibility of serious decision-making. We will all be hostages of a different type.

The war on terrorism is not over. Remember: the N.A.S.W.'s endorsed candidate has talked about withdrawing from Iraq, only to send troops into Afghanistan to search for Osama bin Laden and to combat Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Obama said in 2007, "We cannot win a war against the terrorists if we're on the wrong battlefield. America must urgently begin deploying from Iraq and take the fight more effectively to the enemy's home by destroying al-Qaida's leadership along the Afghan-Pakistan border, eliminating their command and control networks and disrupting their funding."

We can now see that voting for a post-9/11 president involves considerations that stretch the application of social work values and principles beyond our immediate clients, and beyond our concepts of social justice. In order to preserve the purpose and very existence of the profession, social workers must ask: who can win a war? Which candidate has the competence to command the troops, and thereby preserve the dignity of life and the freedoms of our nation? It's about sacrifice, grief, and victory. Let us never forget September 11, 2001. (Written 09/10/08: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland