Barack Obama on faith and politics

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I've commented a little on Hillary Clinton Joe Biden and John Edwards' discussions of their faith and politics from intrerviews posted at this 2008Centeral.net post from a couple months ago. I have a little bit more to say from the interview with Barack Obama now. I'm not going to comment on any of the other candidates, because they didn't really say anything about which I thought I had something worth saying.

My first observation from what Senator Obama had to say is that what he positively says on faith and politics is very similar to what the current president has said. It's even the sort of thing that gets many of my colleagues riled up and attributing to him all manner of things he's never said (e.g. that he's ontologizing evil, that he thinks God is on his side no matter what he does or believes, etc.). Obama, to his credit, makes a number of qualifications that might prevent some people from such misunderstandings, although I don't think those qualifications should be enough to satisfy these people I know. I do think it's actually qualified a bit too much for me; I agree more with Bush on substance even if Obama puts his similar view in a clearer way.

I was a bit disappointed at how he described Republicans:

So we say either people are entirely responsible for their own lot — and this tends to be expressed within Republican circles, but not entirely — pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, act responsibly, act morally, a great emphasis on private morality, or, conversely, that individuals are responsible, society is acting on them, and they are not free agents.
And my attitude — and I think the attitude of every religious leader and scholar that I value and listen to — is that we have these individual responsibilities and these societal responsibilities. And those things aren’t mutually exclusive. 

It's hard for me to see that as fair. Sure, there are Republicans who leave it at that. But Ron Paul is at this point pretty extreme for the Republican Party. But we've had a Republican president since 2001 whose "compassionate conservatism" motto has been to emphasize societal responsibilities but to direct tax money toward what he considers more effective means of achieving largely the same goals.

He goes on to say:

I also would like to see executives recognize that when they’re getting as much in one day as their average worker is getting in an entire year, that there is a moral element to that. That that’s problematic.

But look, America is a land of success, and that’s terrific. We just want to make sure that people are sharing in the burdens and benefits of this global economy.

I'm a bit worried about his moral argument for policies that move significantly in a socialist direction. There is a moral issue when CEOs earn as much in a day as their employees earn in a year. But is the moral issue that it's immoral for a government to allow that, to the point where stealing from the rich to give to the poor is the best solution? I'm not opposed to societal responsibilities and government responsibilities, but does the government responsibility to do what's best for the people necessitate this particular way to try to achieve what's best for the people?

Even if this policy is in the best interests of the people (which I'm skeptical of), it simply doesn't follow that any other way of trying to achieve social justice is somehow failing in our corporate responsibility and thus at odds with the principles Obama is saying he derives from his Christian faith. I don't know of any Christian value that makes sure that other people are sharing their wealth with the unfortunate.

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