Politics: October 2007 Archives

Clearly Black Person

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In response to a question a couple days ago about whether he expects to be Swift-Boated, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama said the following:
I have no doubt there will be some of that — trying to make me into this foreign, odd, clearly black person and to scare people," he said. "When people try to Swift Boat you, you have to respond forcefully, you have to respond immediately and you have to respond truthfully. ... We are prepared for whatever they will throw at us.
I know what I think he means by "clearly black person", and I know what I think he's trying to say. I'm curious what other people think, though. Can you paraphrase what you think he's saying? I'm not so interested at this point in whether this is accurate, appropriate, insulting, or offensive. (If what he's saying is what I think he's saying, it's possible that it's all four.) I'm simply curious what people think he means. What exactly was he trying to say?

Paul Kengor, author of God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life, has been defending the senator's faith as genuine in a way that he has done with other presidents whose spirituality has been questioned. His portrayal of her, from what I can tell, is as if she's like evangelicals in a lot of ways. So it's revealing when he would say the following:

I don’t know of any politician who is more uncompromising and extreme on abortion rights than Hillary Clinton. I know this well and don’t state it with anger or hyperbole. Her extremism on abortion rights was the single most shocking, inexplicable find in my research on her faith and politics. I couldn’t understand it. No question. It is truly extraordinary. Nothing, no political issue, impassions her like abortion rights. For Mrs. Clinton, abortion-rights is sacred ground.

By the way, speaking of Catholics, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II saw this abortion extremism in Hillary, and both confronted her on it repeatedly, especially Mother Teresa, right up until the day she died. I have a chapter on this in the book. It’s a gripping story. [hat tip: Justin Taylor]

A lot of people like to describe Hillary Clinton as an opportunist who will say anything to get votes, as having no principles whatsoever except whatever she thinks popular opinion will go along with. I suppose that's possible on some issues, perhaps even some important ones, but it's surely not true with abortion. She's got a very committed view, and if Paul Kengor, who thinks she sounds like most evangelicals when she talks about her faith, can say this about her, then I think it's got to be a pretty deep-seated conviction of hers. But it does undermine any sense in which she could sound remotely like an evangelical, at least on this key issue for many evangelicals.

It's hard to resist comparing Rudy Giuliani, who simply doesn't care about the issue enough to do much either way (as evidenced by his de facto inactivity on the issue as mayor) or to bother having a coherent view (as evidenced by his difficult-to-reconcile statements throughout this campaign). Those who think those two are equivalent on this issue don't seem to me to understand this crucial difference.


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I don't normally like to link to things if I have nothing to add or critique, but Joe Carter's post on Generation X conservatives and how they differ from conservatives of the previous generation has a lot of interesting analysis on an issue I've never seen anyone write much about before.

I'd like to make a prediction. If Hillary Clinton becomes the next president of the U.S., I expect we're going to see a parallel to Bush Derangement Syndrome: Hillary Derangement Syndrome. (I'd call it Clinton Derangement Syndrome, except that's ambiguous.)

Anything that's bad will be attributed to her, whether she's responsible or not. Anything she says will be treated as uncharitably as possible, no matter how out-of-context it has to be taken. The consequences of her policies will be greatly exaggerated, and any other contributing factors to bad outcomes will be ignored. And what's worst about this is that the people who will be doing it will be mainly evangelical Christians.

I don't think we've ever seen a phenomenon quite like this until the current president. A lot of people who didn't like Bill Clinton said lots of nasty things about him, especially evangelical Christians who should have obeyed the Bible a little more carefully with regard to respecting those in governmental leadership under God. But I don't think it was anything like the kind of irrationality I've seen over the current president. Nonetheless, I think the standard has been set, and these things tend to cross party lines once control shifts to the other party. I would be very surprised if we don't see many of those who have been so upset at Bush Derangement Syndrome doing exactly the same thing with President Hillary Clinton, if it turns out she ends up holding that position.

James Dobson and other social conservatives have been defending the view that they should vote for a third-party candidate or not vote if the two major party candidates for president are Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. I've been arguing over the course of the last several months (e.g. here, here, here, and here) that this argument assumes the ridiculous premise that a Hillary Clinton presidency is not morally worse on social conservative assumptions than a Giuliani presidency. I thought that point should make a nice reductio ad absurdum argument against Dobson, since it would lead to him accepting a ridiculous claim about the relative value of Giuliani and Clinton presidencies according to pro-life principles.

Keith DeRose left a link in the comments on one of those posts to a post containing video from Dobson's recent appearance on Hannity and Colmes. At the very end of the video, Dobson surprisingly bites the bullet on this. He actually goes as far as claiming that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be far better than a Rudy Giuliani presidency, on socially-conservative, pro-life principles. I guess this is the way things go, then. When there's very little you can say to defend an outrageous view, all that's left is to deny an obvious premise of the argument. Dobson has chosen to take that path.

His claim is that the pro-life movement and social conservatism in general would be ended in this country if the party that has traditionally given the time of day to social conservatism were to nominate a candidate who is not sufficiently pro-life. His claim is that he's got longer-term considerations in mind than those who argue that a Giuliani presidency would be at least enough better than a Hillary Clinton presidency on these issues to be worth trying to elect him over her.

I'm not remotely convinced. Parties often nominate outliers in terms of their views with respect to the party's traditional views. Sometimes those candidates win in the general election. Sometimes those views become the dominant view of the party, as happened when Ronald Reagan transformed the Republican party away from what it had been in the Nixon and Ford years. Most of the time oddball views that are idiosyncratic to a president do not end the party's dominant view on that issue, as is very clearly evidenced by conservatives' responses to President Bush's views on immigration and his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on grounds that did not convince judicial conservatives of her qualifications. On those matters, he is an outlier in the party. Had John McCain become president in 2000, his views on campaign fincance would surely have had same status, with conservatives largely rejecting them.

So I'm just not convinced that having four or eight years of a moderate pro-choicer in office representing the GOP means the GOP ceases to be a pro-life party or that it means the pro-life movement is dead. That just doesn't follow. Strong activism will continue even if the president's own party will be going against the president, as it has with this president on a number of occasions. So I wouldn't see why it should be a problem for a pro-life social conservative to vote for pro-choicers like Giuliani or Fred Thompson against Hillary Clinton if they were to get the nomination, because I think the differences between them and her are significant even on these issues (never mind on all the others).

Update: Justin Taylor has a nice discussion of this issue that I was going to link to at some point but forgot to as I was writing this. 

There's a debate going on about whether conservatives who refuse to vote for Rudy Giuliani to prevent a Hillary Clinton president are responsible if, because of that refusal, Hillary Clinton becomes president. I would have thought that the answer to this question is an obvious yes. But Joe Carter presents a contrary argument. His argument is basically as follows:

1. Only those who positively vote for someone could be responsible for that person winning.
2. People not voting or voting for a third-party candidate are not positively voting for Hillary Clinton.
3. Therefore, people not voting or voting for a third-party candidate could not be responsible if Hillary Clinton wins.

The first premise is flatly false. If a large enough voting bloc en masse decides not to prevent someone they see as the worse of two evils from being elected, and their influence prevents the lesser of two evils from being elected, then they are indeed responsible for the election of the worse of two evils. They might argue that it's still wrong to vote for the lesser of two evils. They might insist that being responsible for the worse of two evils winning is ok, since it would require doing something they believe to be immoral to achieve a different outcome. But the one position that Jop does actually say is just plain untenable.

Here is, according to the hypothetical, a group who could put Giuliani over the top to win, but because they didn't vote or voted for a third candidate Hillary Clinton wins. In that hypothetical, their not voting or voting third-party does indeed cause the Clinton victory. They are indeed responsible as a group, because the group did have the power to prevent that outcome and didn't use it.

Now it seems the rest of Joe's post is dedicated to defending the following claim. The people really to blame are GOP primary voters who put people like him in a position where both parties have candidates he won't vote for. If they had voted differently in the primary, then that wouldn't happen. Joe is correct, but that doesn't mean that the subsequent act of social conservatives to refuse to do what's now in their power to prevent a Hillary Clinton presidency is free from the same moral evaluation. Just because someone puts you in a tough position doesn't mean you don't have to do what's right in that tough position. You still have to make a moral choice, and you are responsible for your choice and its foreseeable consequences.



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