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January 22, 2008

Obama's Magical Unity Tour

It occurred to the Editorial Staff whilst sipping our java this morning that it's been a while since we let loose with an awe-inspiring rant on the proclivity of our progressive brethren in Christ to reduce complex social and economic issues to trite bumper sticker slogans. How long has it been since The Strong Strength of Strongness rang out over the airwaves of this great nation, exhorting us to Let America Be America Again?

Poor John Kerry. The press-shy Junior Senator from Massachusetts who keeps his finger on the pulse of fresh-def urban culture would like nothing better than to forget the bitter partisan wounds of last year's election season. If only the media would quit dragging him into the limelight so he could quietly represent the needs of his Massachusetts constituents from the sidelines.

But if, in 2004, American voters were wrongly denied the blessings of Strong Strength (Alas! for a Kedwards Presidency: boldly standing up to murderous dictators -- but only with multilateral consensus and the prior approval of Germany and France!), in 2008 we can still strive for The Unifying Hope of Hopefulness via one Barack Obama:

Obama's whole campaign is based on some of the most noble and inspiring sentiments in political life: hope, togetherness, bipartisanship.

As he proclaimed last February at a Democratic National Committee meeting: "There are those who don't believe in talking about hope. They say, 'Well, we want specifics, we want details, and we want white papers, and we want plans.' We've had a lot of plans, Democrats. What we've had is a shortage of hope. And over the next year, over the next two years, that will be my call to you."

He's stayed true to that pledge. Not only does he talk about hope - a lot - he talks about the importance of talking about hope. He talks about how he hopes to talk more about talking about the importance of talking about hope. Hopefully.

He touts unity the same way. If we all buy into his "message of hope," he explains, then everybody - blacks and whites, men and women, Republicans and Democrats, lions and gnus, bears and park rangers, Superman and Lex Luthor - will be united!

But united toward what end, exactly? Or does it all boil down to being united about being hopeful and hopeful about being united?

Will we ever understand the full, rich, meaty complexity of Obama's hopeful message? We can always hope.

It has been said that faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen. Obama's faith-based message of hope and unity seems to depend for its "substance" on things hoped for; its power to convince on evidence of things unseen and for the most part, glossed over:

If more journalists understood religion, for instance, they would not be as quick to applaud Barack Obama for parading his own ignorance of Christian history as though it were a merit badge for deep thought.

When asked by a member of the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times whether he was an evangelical Christian, Obama said, in effect, "Yes and no. But that kind of nuance is a black thing you wouldn't understand." You can judge for yourself whether my paraphrase is fair: What Obama actually said was, "I came to Christianity through the black church tradition."

Did he mean the Christian tradition as mediated through black culture? Nobody in his audience thought to ask.

...The Pharisee in me can't help but think that what Obama has is not a "nuanced" Christian faith but an unexamined one. Identifying too closely with a "black church tradition" rather than the universality of the Christian message gives short shrift to that divine imperative known to Christian theologians as the "Great Commission."

It also encourages separatism and strife. Smooth as he is, even Obama can't preach harmony on one side of the church door after listening to racialist sermons on the other. We need more journalists with faith and spine enough to address concerns like these.

As Goldberg aptly points out, democracy is not about unthinking unity, but about open debate and compromise in an atmosphere of vibrant diversity. And diversity, whether it be diversity of skin color, religion, culture, or ideology, demands not only respectful and civil discourse but the ability to recognize differences and work to bridge them realistically. Ignoring them - or succumbing to divisive identity politics - won't make our very real policy differences go away:

Unity around an issue - war, health care, education - is a legitimate appeal. But you can't defend America with hope; you can't heal people with unity. Further, it is morally antithetical to democratic values to demand unity for unity's sake. And it is quite literally impossible to govern that way.

(The irony here is that liberals have been complaining for years that the GOP too often appeals to voters' patriotism, yet they don't object to Obama's appeal for unity. Idealistic unity for all Americans - isn't that just a no-frills version of patriotism?)

So far, not even all Democrats have embraced Obama's gassy rhetoric of hope and togetherness, so there's no reason to suspect that Republicans and independents will rally around those themes during an Obama presidency, at least not for long.

This is one area where I agree with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. In his book "The Conscience of a Liberal," he argues that progressives have one distinct set of priorities and conservatives have a very different set, so both have to be partisan if they want to get their way. There's no reason people can't be well-mannered and open-minded in their disagreements, but the more important priority is that both sides should give their view the strongest argument they can and not give a fig about bipartisanship for its own sake.

Agreement on that point is all the unity we need.

Actually I disagree with Goldberg on that point. The unity we need is precisely that which is lacking in Obama's church - Trinity United: the commitment to America's welfare first, to the common betterment of the entire American community and not just one racial, religious, socio-economic, or gender group. Wanting the best for all Americans is (hopefully) something on which we can all agree. Sell me that vision, and we'll talk some politics. And maybe I'll even start feeling hopeful about the prospects for some real compromise on the issues on which we differ.

Posted by Cassandra at January 22, 2008 12:24 PM

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I think the minister of Obama's church is whack job racist but I don't see Obama running a campaign anything like that.

I see him trying to appeal to all races. If he is running as a black candidate I have completely missed it.

Posted by: Pile On at January 22, 2008 06:05 PM

Well, what I cannot figure out is this.

Isn't Obama half white? Whatever happened to that half of him? :p

Posted by: Cass at January 22, 2008 06:17 PM

I don't think (for the most part) Obama is running as a black candidate but that mantle is going to be thrust upon him whether he likes it or not. I do think that no matter what race you are, you are going to have a difficult time convincing me you are the right man to unite America if you choose to belong to a church that preaches that whites are racists who are trying to keep the black community mired in poverty and despair and pushes an Afro-centric message.

We don't live in Africa, last time I checked. We live in America. And I find it extremely ironic that a Democratic candidate would have *anything* to do with a church that is race-centric. Doesn't that undermine the whole "we are the world", multicultural ethos? The thing is, I stopped going to church in California because ministers were preaching politics from the pulpit and I didn't want any part of it. I don't go to church to listen to that crap.

Don't tell me how to vote, don't tell me what I should think about the illegal, immoral war in Irak. Do me an enormous favor and worry about things spiritual or you have just lost me.

Posted by: Cass at January 22, 2008 06:25 PM

If he is the nominee that will be interesting to see how he defends himself against that. But here is my prediction...if a pol is Episcopalian does that mean he supports gay marriage and gay bishops? Does Ted Kennedy get saddles with all the views of the Catholic church?

Posted by: Pile On at January 22, 2008 06:34 PM

No, Pile. But that is a bit different.

Have you read any of the sermons from his church or been to their web site? There is a HUGE difference between belonging to a large umbrella organization (i.e., the Catholic or Mormon or African Methodist Episcopal Church) and choose for your very own place of worship, a church whose pastor thinks Louis Farrakhan is a swell guy (so swell he gives him awards), who preaches about "this racist America" every Sunday, who makes as a centerpiece of his church web site a race-based appeal to faith.

I'm sorry.

I ain't buying it.

We all can worship wherever we want. America is full of churches. You don't get (in my book) to go listen to that kind of bile and then turn around and tell me that you are above racial politics and expect not to be challenged on it.

Also, I will tell you that in the 'Piskie church, most pastors *don't* preach this stuff on Sunday. They confine their sermons to (gasp!) the Bible and the liturgy. But if they do (and I am not even a politician) I leave. For one thing, it's a huge problem with their tax exempt status, and as a US Senator if Obama hears that even ONE TIME, he knows damned well that it's a problem. So... he just turns a blind eye?

I don't think so. Nor should Huckabee, and frankly a lot of my issues with that gentleman stem from my STRONG suspicion that he can't keep his own religion separate from his politics.

I have hotly defended the right of politicians to freedom of religion but there is a line.

Posted by: Cass at January 22, 2008 06:43 PM

That is you Cass, but mark my words many in the media will give him a pass based on that rationale. I am not agreeing with it, just predicting it.

His membership in this church is quite dissappointing. For a democrat he is as refreshing a candidate as I can remember.

Posted by: Pile On at January 22, 2008 07:03 PM

Hey - I happen to agree with you.

It is just that I don't view asking him the same questions everyone else gets asked as a form of persecution. I think he'll either handle it well, or show some cracks. Either way, people have a reasonable expectation that a candidate for President should be able to answer those sorts of questions.

I expect he'll do fine, as I said in my original post. But I don't think the right answer is to give him a pass when he gives throwaway answers like "I came to my faith as an adult - that means I thought about it more.."

Ummm. Yeah. Like George Bush? That sound you heard was the softball whistling over his head.


"Am I an evangelist? Hard to say... I came to my faith via the black church method".

WTF??? He just used race to duck the question. No sale. Just answer it, and move on.

Posted by: Cass at January 22, 2008 07:15 PM

I just hope a real adult gets elected President.....or is that too much to hope? BO doesn't leave me hopeful....nor does the woman married to the guy from Hope....

Sorry....I guess that got out of hand.

Posted by: Robert A. Connolly at January 22, 2008 11:00 PM

Understandable. It's quite a challenge, keeping a lid on all that hope :p

Posted by: Hey - keep it down there, big guy... at January 22, 2008 11:03 PM

"...I came to my faith via the black church method"."

Is that like the Lamaze method - whereby one *manages* the pain of childbirth via the use of heavy breathing and repetitive sounds (which is kinda what got one there in the first place)? Or would that be considered more in line with the Waterbirth method - in which one experiences childbirth in a relaxed and serene atmosphere as the child is brought unknowingly into the welcoming world...as if nothing has changed?

Posted by: Sly2017 at January 22, 2008 11:19 PM

The second one, except that long about 20 January 09, they suddenly rip you up out of the bath and yell, "Sucker!!"

Posted by: Grim at January 22, 2008 11:36 PM

Guess that then would be the literal example of *Gotcha Politics*, eh?


Posted by: Sly2017 at January 23, 2008 12:04 AM

WTF??? He just used race to duck the question. No sale. Just answer it, and move on.

The "black church method"... that's fracking hilarious.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 23, 2008 11:14 AM