Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Obama says: vote for me I'm a Christian

Sigh. Glenn Greenwald points out that Obama has been making an appeal to voters in South Carolina to vote for him because he is a Christian.

Drew Westen argued at length in The Political Brain that one of the most foolish and frustrating habits of Democrats is to "cede the networks" to Republicans. What Westen is saying is that Democrats are allowing Republicans to frame the terms of political debate in such a way that when Democrats fail to challenge the frame the neural networks of associations that favor the Republican take on the issue is activated.

Here we see a case in point. We now have a political atmosphere in which presidential candidates are campaiging on being members of a particular religion, something that is very much a spiritual, if not actual, violation of the principle of church/state separation. When Democrats like Obama (who I have no doubt would be superior on church/state matters than Huckabee) make this kind of appeal they are playing right into the hands of the theocratic elements of our society, as it legitimizes the notion that one needs to be a Christian in order get elected. This sort of behavior is helping to make Article 6 of the Constitution null and void for all practical effect.

In the Greenwald comment section numerous individuals have responded that Obama's brochure is a necessary counter to the "Obama is a Muslim" whispering campaign against him. I disagree. If that is what Obama seeks to counter with the brochures then he should DIRECTLY confront the inherent bigotry of the smear campaign while simultaneously pointing out that he is in fact, a Christian, but that what is important is not a candidate's religious affiliation but what his/her beliefs about the separation of church and state are and what not.

For those interested primarily in practical politics, this approach would allow Obama to have his cake and eat it, too. He would be identifying himself as a devout Christian while at the same time attacking the church/state eroding need to identify oneself as a Christian in order to get elected. The model speech for this, of course, being JFK's.

This is especially dissappointing to me, given that Obama is one of the most talented speakers in the Democratic party and has consulted with George Lakoff in the past, so he is aware of the need to challenge the existing frames of political debate.

Update: Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress are trying to pass a resolution promoting the lies of Christian nationalism. This is how Democrats play into the hands of these folks. By failing to challenge the prevaling atmosphere, they open themselves up to being attacked as "anti-Christian" if they don't support this sort of religious pandering. The end result of all this is that discourse continues to shift in the direction of the conservative movement.


Paul Dirks said...

While he may have consulted with George Lackoff I'm convinced that he's more comfortable with Jim Wallis.

I think part of what people find confusing is that they're so used to people molding their beliefs to fit what sells, that they misunderstand when someone is simply stating their beliefs.

I think that's a large part of the dynamic in Obama's campaign.

Sheldon said...

Yes, unfortunate, but I will take a liberal Christian over a conservative one anyday. I would take Edwards (also a Christian noise maker) or Kucinich (wacky UFO believer) over Obama though.

Hume's Ghost said...

For what it's worth, Westen would probably not have an issue with the brochure I would guess, given that he gives several examples of speeches candidates can give where they invoke God.

But I found that part of the book a bit dissapointing.

I don't doubt that Obama is a sincere Christian, but I would just like to see him take a different approach. And I think he does admirably, for the most part.

Hume's Ghost said...

I also think Obama ceded the network when he cited Reagan as an agent of change.

Krugman and Rick Perlstein have been pointing out the flaws with that.

Jennifer said...

I blame George Bush for the religious flavor politics has taken. I honestly think it would now be impossible for anyone to be elected president without saying "I'm a Christian," blah, blah, blah and going on CNN for an hour to talk about their "personal religious journey." Barf. So although I wish Obama wasn't doing that, I understand, especially since I've now received a total of 10 different "Obama is a Muslim" emails.