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January 15, 2008

Faith-based Rhetoric and Obama: The Views The Media Keep To Themselves

Ed Driscoll coins a great phrase for a disturbing phenomenon: The Views They Kept To Themselves:

"Why is it", Burt Prelutsky wonders, "that nobody is asking Barack Obama about his religious convictions? From what I’ve gathered, they’re far more fascinating than Mitt Romney’s."

The answer of course, is for the same reason that virtually no one in the legacy media uttered the words "Winter Soldier" on camera to Senator Kerry in 2004.

Bingo. The media don't question their candidate because they're determined to influence the next election. But there may be a more disturbing reason for their uneven coverage of the candidates.

Prelutsky has a point: for all the media's endless paranoia about George Bush's mid-life conversion to born-again Christianity, Mitt Romney's Mormon faith and the winking lights in the background of Mike Huckabee's Christmas ad, there's been precious little media interest in Barack Obama's faith-based brand of politics. This is odd, because Obama has hardly been shy about injecting Almighty God into his political rhetoric:

"My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work," he said, linking his support for expanded health care, social justice, immigration and the environment to the foundations of his Christian faith.

That's exactly the kind of statement that (had it been uttered by a Republican) would have Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews frothing at the mouth and ushering in a thousand years of Jackbooted Theocracy. But somehow when Brother Obama testifies, the press rise up in their pews and shout, "Hosannah!"

A few weeks ago, during a visit to the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, I had a chance to ask Obama that lingering question:

"Are you an evangelical?"

Surrounded by members of the editorial board, editors, our publisher, and a couple of his own aides, this was Obama's answer:

"Gosh, I'm not sure if labels are helpful here because the definition of an evangelical is so loose and subject to so many different interpretations. I came to Christianity through the black church tradition where the line between evangelical and non-evangelical is completely blurred. Nobody knows exactly what it means.

Well that settles it: no use questioning him now! He came to his religion by the "black church method", people! Wave off! Wave off! We have us a third rail here! (That's culture-speak for 'You people couldn't possibly understand', doncha know.')

"Does it mean that you feel you've got a personal relationship with Christ the savior? Then that's directly part of the black church experience. Does it mean you're born-again in a classic sense, with all the accoutrements that go along with that, as it's understood by some other tradition? I'm not sure."

He continued his answer: "My faith is complicated by the fact that I didn't grow up in a particular religious tradition. And so what that means is when you come at it as an adult, your brain mediates a lot, and you ask a lot of questions.

"There are aspects of Christian tradition that I'm comfortable with and aspects that I'm not. There are passages of the Bible that make perfect sense to me and others that I go, 'Ya know, I'm not sure about that,'" he said, shrugging and stammering slightly.

It would have been easier for the senator-cum-president to answer, simply, "Yes," to the evangelical question.

But for Obama, as for many of us, faith is complicated, messy, a work in progress.

And, if we're honest about it, the standard labels just don't fit.

Translation: move along. Nothing to see here.

But I was curious. Having read Prelutsky's article, I checked out the web site of Obama's church - Trinity United - for myself and found it disturbing. The first thing that loads is a graphic of Africa. This is the chosen house of worship of the future President of the United States of America.

Right off the main page, prominently displayed, the church's Black Value System, a paean to separatism and divisiveness, is explained. But how does Afro-centrism fit into today's multicultural society? While commitment to the community, a strong work ethic, education, leadership, and self discipline are all worthy goals, one can't help but wonder why these attributes are almost invariably preceded by the word "Black"? Are these qualities dispensable for members of other races? Reading through Trinity's Black Value System, one gets a sense of ancient grudges, festering resentment, bile and bitterness. This is the church the candidate who says he'll heal America's racial divisions and bring us change chooses to voluntarily associate himself with? A faith community whose home page loads a graphic of Africa first, before his native country: America? Something is not right here.

This is not the kind of rhetoric that moves America forward. This is the type of thinking that mires a people in envy and despair:

8. Disavowal of the Pursuit of “Middleclassness.” Classic methodology on control of captives teaches that captors must be able to identify the “talented tenth” of those subjugated, especially those who show promise of providing the kind of leadership that might threaten the captor’s control.

Those so identified are separated from the rest of the people by:

1. Killing them off directly, and/or fostering a social system that encourages them to kill off one another.

2. Placing them in concentration camps, and/or structuring an economic environment that induces captive youth to fill the jails and prisons.

3. Seducing them into a socioeconomic class system which, while training them to earn more dollars, hypnotizes them into believing they are better than others and teaches them to think in terms of “we” and “they” instead of “us.”

4. So, while it is permissible to chase “middleclassness” with all our might, we must avoid the third separation method – the psychological entrapment of Black “middleclassness.” If we avoid this snare, we will also diminish our “voluntary” contributions to methods A and B. And more importantly, Black people no longer will be deprived of their birthright: the leadership, resourcefulness and example of their own talented persons.

Something is not right in America when we become so squeamish about race that our media shrink from asking polite, but searching questions of a candidate for the most important job in this nation's future. It may well be that Mr. Obama has good answers to these questions. After all, not all churchgoers espouse every tenet of their faith. It is also true that churches, as man-made entities formed for the worship of God, are primarily political in nature. Mr. Obama is free to clarify whether or not he endorses the separatism and divisive rhetoric of Trinity United. It is certain that, if his skin were white or if he were a conservative candidate, these questions would have been asked of him long ago. It is equally certain that if a white candidate belonged to a church espousing a similar brand of white separatism, he would have long ago been drummed out of the race for the presidency. Therefore, the media's refusal to question him on this issue is troubling, especially as it conflicts with both their treatment of conservative candidates and with Mr. Obama's own campaign rhetoric, which by his own admission is grounded in his religious faith. If he chooses of his own free will a church whose founder openly preaches racial divisiveness and resentment while associating with notorious anti-Semites, Obama can hardly hope to escape the suspicion that he endorses (at least tacitly) these same views. Such suspicions may not be fair, but they differ not one whit from the treatment meted out to countless white candidates before him. In politics more often than not, one is judged by the company one keeps. This is particularly true when one chooses to associate with extremists.

If the matter of religion had not been raised with other candidates, the question would be moot. But the fact is that religion has been a major and ongoing issue in this campaign and Mr. Obama himself has brought the matter up. It seems odd that the press cover the candidates' religions so unevenly. While no one wishes to see Mr. Obama subjected to an auto da fe, such questions would constitute no different treatment than that to which other candidates have been expected to submit. Mr. Obama should be given the opportunity to answer reasonable questions in a respectful, polite, non-confrontational forum. To treat him differently than a white candidate is, in itself, discriminatory. It implies he cannot stand up to the same level of scrutiny as his white competitors; that he can win only by competing on an uneven playing field, and only if his credentials are not examined too closely; and that is demeaning.

A President must lead the entire country, not just the Black community. It requires some explanation when a candidate for the presidency belongs to a church that encourages racial separatism, resentment between the races, and divisiveness. It requires some explanation when a candidate belongs to a church that seems to openly teach young people that their first loyalty is to the Black race, to Africa, to the Black community rather than to America and to the whole community (regardless of color or creed). It requires some explanation when a candidate belongs to a church that seems to encourage Blacks not to try too hard to get ahead because they are being "exploited" if they reach the top ten percent. This nation cannot be so racist or so difficult a place in which to succeed if young people who cannot even speak our language fight to come here illegally and still manage to excel in our public schools. They have none of the advantages of young blacks born and raised here, yet many of them manage to excel.

The double standard here is difficult to explain. On the one side we have the media telling us religion should never be a part of politics, yet they persist in delving into certain candidates' personal and religious lives on a selective basis. So far, their rationale has been that the candidates themselves have brought this treatment upon themselves by mixing God and politics. If that is so, then Mr. Obama has certainly brought the same treatment upon himself.

And yet it appears no one is interested in looking too closely at his religious convictions, lest they find out something which may cause trouble. As I've stated before, I welcome the discussion of religion as just one among many sources of moral and ethical values. Let the voters sort it all out. The only way to demystify issues of race and religion is to get them out in the open and insist upon polite and civil debate. It is when the debate becomes artificially one-sided that the public is misled by shysters like Keith Olbermann, who openly admits he is doing what he knows to be wrong, but excuses himself by telling the public he is acting under "emergency rules"

[W]hat I've done on the air in the last 4 1/2 years, and particularly in the last year and a half since the special comments began, is really journalism. It's saying here's what you're being told. Here's the identifiable objective fact to the situation. This statement from the government may be a lie...

...[After being asked how he differentiates his ad hominem attacks from those on the other side] Well, they're better written. The first-- no, I hate to-- I-- it's the most vulnerable point because it bothers me, too. It do-- it's the one criticism that I think is absolutely fair. We're doing the same thing. It is-- it becomes a nation of screechers. It's never a good thing. But emergency rules do apply. ...

...it is emergency circumstances as Walter Cronkite saw it. I mean, here-- objective Uncle Walter, most trusted man in America. When I have an opinion on the most important political issue of the day, I'm gonna sink a president and maybe throw the election to the other guy right now.

Hint to the clueless: when you go into the anchor booth with the avowed intention of throwing the election to your man, it's not "journalism" and you're not impartial.

Park the condescension, present all the facts and let the voters make up their own minds. We're not as dumb as you think.

Posted by Cassandra at January 15, 2008 09:57 AM

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"The double standard here is difficult to explain. On the one side we have the media telling us religion should never be a part of politics, yet they persist in delving into certain candidates' personal and religious lives on a selective basis. So far, their rationale has been that the candidates themselves have brought this treatment upon themselves by mixing God and politics. If that is so, then Mr. Obama has certainly brought the same treatment upon himself."
If I may say so, spot on Milady. Yet another commentary in the 10 ring.

Posted by: bthun at January 15, 2008 01:13 PM

I have always considered Osama Obama an empty shirt. One thing is certain: no one emerges from the Crook County, Illinois, political machine without being a crook, and owned by crooks.

The second, as noted above, is Obama's association with a racist church, whose credo is the loser's evening prayer, and whose minister praises Louie Farraklown. Why he does this, street cred? Personal attraction? I don't know. Whatever the reason it is as loathsome as David Duke, or the Aryan Nation. In fact, what is the difference between the Aryan Nation and the Nation of Islam?

Third Obamessiah was recently questioned if he would bring Bill Clinton and Algore into his cabinet. He said, "Absolutely!" The man is a clueless jackass.

For the record, America would accept a black President. Colin Powell could have had the job for the asking. America would elect a woman, perhaps someone like the late Jean Kirkpatrick.

Posted by: Mark at January 15, 2008 04:02 PM

I think so too.

I also think that we really need to get over our national squeamishness on matters of race, but to do this two things are absolutely necessary:

1. A willingness to discuss difficult topics, and

2. A willingness to abide by rules of civil discourse, which is the ONLY thing that makes #1 possible.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 15, 2008 04:10 PM

The problem with politicians in general and Democrats in particular, is appealing to every faction that supports them, without alienating some other faction.
Democrats are more susceptible to this than Republicans, because the whole premise of their party since the "New Deal" has been factionalism.
There was something in the "Deal" for everybody. Just don't let anybody else see the cards the government dealt you.

Hillary and Barak are about to show just how easy it is to fracture their party, and to show that Democrats are no more or less enlightened about race than the rest of us unwashed buffoons.

The most uniformly bigoted group of people that I know are my Democrat in-laws. They are pretty universal in their aversion to African Americans. It's pretty uncomforatble at times.
Me, the nasty white racist Rethuglican, have several really good friends that are black. Go figger.

Barak has some 'splainin to do about his church, that's for sure. But don't expect the mighty eye of CBS or the "speak truth to power" mavens of MSNBC to do the heavy lifting on this one. But I think this is all a Potemkin village that the Clinton's and the friends of Bill in the media are now stoking. I have been reading questions about this church for months, and nary a peep out of the media. Until now, when Hilarity's campaign is in trouble.

Hilarity Clinton stoked this, then tried to claim that both sides said bad things, and then appealed for mutual understanding. Obama pretty much said nothing about Hilarity's remarks (the non-comparison to ML King), which was pretty funny considering some of the Clinton's black allies insisted that he did.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 15, 2008 05:59 PM

"Obama pretty much said nothing about Hillary's remarks..."

No so fast there, Mr. B

Posted by: julia at January 15, 2008 06:58 PM

Well, I didn't say anything about his apparatchniks. :)

As someone commented at Hot Air, it is good to see our betters in the Democrat Party show us how a debate and a campaign should be waged.

Brass knuckles in a velvent glove.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 15, 2008 07:43 PM

Cassandra, I can't begin to tell you how glad I am to see you back. I read many blogs daily, and, come the end of the day, after reading all kinds of opinions, your posts almost always let me go to bed feeling better about the state of the world. Thank you!

Posted by: Suds46 at January 16, 2008 12:22 AM

What a kind thing to say.

I woke up this morning with the worst headache. I'd made all kinds of plans before going to bed last night, but just didn't even want to get out of bed between the way my head felt and the nausea. Your comment and Foxfier's made everything seem doable again.


Posted by: Cass at January 16, 2008 09:12 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 01/16/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at January 16, 2008 01:02 PM

The Obamessiah is dirty as sin and the MSM, hearnothing,see nothing,say nothing. Sweetness & Light has an interesting post and comments.


Posted by: Mark at January 19, 2008 05:23 PM

Marvelous article and one provoking further examination.
One point:
"I also think that we really need to get over our national squeamishness on matters of race, but to do this two things are absolutely necessary:

1. A willingness to discuss difficult topics, and

2. A willingness to abide by rules of civil discourse, which is the ONLY thing that makes #1 possible."

This will not occur when one side resists the discussion, because "the truth will set them free"
from the liberal plantation.

Posted by: Don L at January 22, 2008 09:06 AM