Friday, January 25, 2008

Obama Plays Huckabee’s Hand?

Candidate Appeals to Doctrine in South Carolina Swing
"I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life."
So said Barak Obama this week in an interview with Christianity Today.

Why does this statement matter? Is Barak Obama trying to make people aware of his faith because so many think he's a Muslim, or make himself more appealing to some based on his religious beliefs? Is he trying to illuminate his life or is he trying to insinuate himself into the Christian Evangelical community? Does it matter either way?

The New York Times political blog wrote about Obama’s Christian Campaign today, and it sounded a lot like Mike Huckabee’s campaign – appealing to Christian voters by appealing to their doctrine, in their houses of worship, rather than just their issues. Like Mike Huckabee’s TV ad in December citing him as a "Christian Leader", Obama has a pamphlet with "Committed Christian" in large font.

What does this say to the Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and other minority faiths, about Obama as a candidate and as a leader? What comes out of that approach? What gets reinforced?

From the Times story:
"Christianity is the basis of all human beings," said Lanette Battle, a manicurist who came to Wednesday night’s event in Dillon wearing a large beaded cross alongside a "Hot Chicks Love Obama" button.
Perhaps Lanette was misquoted. Perhaps what she meant to say was, "The basic tenets of Christianity; that is, love, compassion, forgiveness, and charity, are essential human characteristics, essential to positive human relationships, essential to peace and harmony and progressive culture."

But that’s not the message that came out.

Looking at his candidacy objectively, Obama has a rich platform of ideas and initiatives (that you may or may not agree with...). He has positions and passion. So why would a candidate engage in what appears to be identity politics, a path that inevitably leads to division and disdain? What drives this behavior? As I read Obama's Call To Renewal speech, I don't perceive any of this identity politics, but rather a rejection of it. I don't think that's what Obama is about.

And yet, again from the Times story:
Brittnay Davis, a former air force pilot trying to decide between Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, seemed annoyed at the overtly religious appeals. "This is not good," she said, gesturing at a leaflet depicting Mr. Obama staring soulfully from a pulpit, a large cross and a stained-glass window behind him. "I want to know something other than that."
Honestly, so do I.


Alan said...

I'm with Brittnay Davis. I, too, want to know something more substantial about a politician other than that s/he belives in God. What politician doesn't?

Note that this clear headed woman is trying to decide between Obama and Clinton, not Huckabee and Romney. I despise the appeals mad to religious sentiment by all of the candidates, but it is especially rediculous for Obama and Clinton, since their constituancy, especially in a primary, just isn't all that affected by it.

John Carosella said...

Hi Alan,
Yes, it does seem odd that the Democrats are making this appeal. In Obama's Call To Renewal speech, there are a couple of things that might explain it:

1) He's annoyed that the Republicans have assumed the mantle of "the people of faith", when most Democrats try to live their faith, too, and

2) He's appealing to a constituency, playing both for a slice of the Southern Democrats in the primaries, and the "Christian Vote" overall for the general.

The Dems got so whalloped in 2004 because of Bush's strong appeal to evangelicals, that Obama is taking no chances. He essentially telegraphed this move in that same speech when he said,

"...if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - then as progressives, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.

...In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway."

Which to me seems a very pragmatic assessment, and reflects that old adage, "Politics - the art of the possible."

Anonymous said...


Obame is also the one who says (in other words) that the radical Religious Reich thinks they hold the everything - life, happiness, money, power, and God.

IMO, he is a man, who holds religious ideals, with no intent of trying to make them mine - by any means feasible. That's where he differs from the Dobsons, Robertsons, Falwells,etc...of the movement. They are theocrats, Obama is not.

Oz said...

Regarding the poll - both your options are pretty loaded - might I propose a third?

Is it so unlikely that Obama made the statement because he was asked a direct question about his faith by a Christian Magazine?

Why is that a Mormon can be sincere in testifying of his faith in Christ, but apparently, judging by your loaded poll question, a non-Mormon must have something up his sleeve.

Give the guy a break - sheesh. Who are we to question the motive of someone essentially bearing testimony of their belief?

(I'm Mormon and Republican, for the record - just annoyed that you'd stoop to the same judgmental attitude that your film seems to claim to eschew.)

John Carosella said...

Thanks for the comments, anonymous, and oz, and thanks for stopping by.

Oz, perhaps the survey question is loaded...I didn't think about it that way. I constructed the first answer as "explanatory", but I guess it could be viewed otherwise, because as a practical matter, if Obama were indeed a Muslim, that would probably diminish his electability, fairly or not.

Anonymous, I agree that Obama doesn't appear to be trying to enforce Christianity from the office (or the platform he's running on). It's more the way he's appealing to voters that draws my questions.

In the CT article, Obama was asked to talk about what his experience at Trinity United Church of Christ was like. True, it was an open-ended question, and a profession of faith is not unsurprising in that context.

But, WHY is the question asked, WHY is the interview accepted, WHY is the discussion of Obama's (or Romney's) religious beliefs a part of the campaign in the first place? That's where the gist of the polling question comes from, oz. (And I don't presuppose a "correct" answer, only that we really, deeply think about our answers.)

What Obama did say, following his profession of faith was:

"But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful."

Now, to me, THAT's a political statement that is relevant, and fairly emanates from and is illuminated by his religion.

Do we need the rest? Do we want the rest? If so, why?

Chad said...

Why is Romney's and Huckabee's faith condemned and ridiculed for being outside the mainstream and Obama gets a free pass? Is it because black churches are mainstream? I doubt it.

This is a double-standard that the media and the talking heads impose blatantly. Obama campaigns in as many churches as any GOP candidate but isn't held to the same religious scrutiny as the Republicans.

Anonymous said...

I find it HILARIOUS that a blog dedicated to a movie produced by a Mormon is decrying "identity politics" when a Mormon presidential candidate won over 90% of the vote in Utah's primary. Talk about identity politics!!!

provojoe said...

This appeal for respect for diversity from the right is intriguing to say the least. As a uniter, Obama is modeling Christianity, not just looking for votes. He is also taking it back from the right who have consistently used Christianity to divide. He is succeeding. He is winning among all religions. His campaign is another response to the situation in this country described in the book "God's Politics" by Jim Wallis. It observes that many teachings of the bible have been ignored by the right. This is changing and Obama is taking the lead, though he's not alone. Another point I'd like to make is that for some reason, Mormons have signed on to a politics of division cloaked in "christianity" which betrays many of Mormonism's own doctrines and puts them in league with those who would condemn them - at best. Neo-conservatism is a bad fit for the teachings of Jesus and an even worse fit for any LDS doctrine. Also, the right have been so divisive that they have reduced the electoral process from a process of study and engagement in the minds of it's adherents to one of no-brainer voting for the home team. This explains not only most of the votes against Romney but most of the votes FOR him as well.

Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: I must begin by saying that I have not watched Article VI - only its trailer. In fairness, I must also state that I am a Christian law student.

The relevant text of Article VI states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States." Thus, from a purely textual examination, I fail to see the problem. At no time in our nation's history has the federal government required its presidential candidate to take a test relating to his/her religious beliefs. (NOTE: A number of state governments did require their public officials to take such tests prior to taking office.)

The Drafters of the Constitution included this clause to ensure that no one sect could dominate the national political scene - a likely event depending on the phrasing of the questions. However, I cannot find any documentation to suggest that the Founders were opposed to voting citizens using the religious convictions of a candidate to supplement/support their decision to elect him/her.

Now, does that mean a candidate's religious views should be the sole basis for election? Definitely not. But it does not follow that religion must be excluded completely as a basis for making one’s determination on who should hold office. I believe religion should play some role in determining who should be elected and here are only a few reasons why:

First, if a candidate believes that man was created by God and in His image that candidate has a whole different worldview from the one who believes man was not created by God. These respective worldviews do affect the political decisions of officers, regardless of what they may claim during the campaigning process. If a candidate believes that we “are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights” then his/her power is naturally limited to the parameters that Creator has set. In law school, there is a huge debate over natural v. positive law (roughly speaking, natural law suggests the basis for law is the divine, whereas positive law supports the hypothesis that the origin of law is rooted in the state). If one believes in God there is a good chance he/she believes in natural law. If one does not believe in God, the source of law must be derived from somewhere else. Why does this matter? Well, Hitler was a positivist. Nothing he or his regime did to the Jews in their territory was against the law of Germany or even international law at the time; the only way to argue against his actions is to argue on the basis of natural law – that all humans were created equal and endowed with unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Secondly, every person reading this blog, moreover every person who has struggled with my quick attempt to consolidate these big questions into a mish-mash of logic, obviously cares about understanding the issues, choosing the best candidate, and improving the condition of this country. However, I am sure that no two readers agree with each other on every point as to how best to improve or change the nation. Additionally, none of us know what the future holds or what decisions our future president will have to make. To speak of change, unity, and hope is compelling – but really whose hope, whose change? What indications are there, outside of foundational beliefs, for us as electorates to use in determining how a leader will respond to the unforeseeable?

Religion, belief, faith have become foul words in the political arena. They are generally associated with men who have manipulated their tenets to reach and justify controversial decisions. They are words used to represent the portion of the voting public who somehow become less intelligent or compassionate by seeking to find such aspects in a candidate. But I would propose that every person has a faith, a foundational belief, a religion if you will that influences their decisions and directs their actions, especially in the tense moments when historical decisions are made. Shouldn't we therefore be compelled to examine not only a candidate's faith but their consistency with its tenets to ensure that the character they claim is actually the character they have?

John Carosella said...

First, let me say, thank you all for your continuing comments. This dialog is precisely the goal of ARTICLE VI.

ProvoJoe - I have to agree with you on many fronts. I think the LDS community is much better than the voting-bloc politics it has demonstrated in Utah (although I'm painting with a very broad brush, so apologies for the generalization). And, sadly, I believe Romney is better than the politics he's espoused. Finally, I think Romney's candidacy failed because he aligned himself with folks who would never embrace him at the rank & file level because doctrine is the first measure for many of them.

You summed it up beautifully (for me anyway) when you wrote "...the right have been so divisive that they have reduced the electoral process from a process of study and engagement in the minds of it's adherents to one of no-brainer voting for the home team."

One clarification -- the film is not just an appeal from the right. As a producer / executive producer, I'm one of those among us here that are appealing from the left.