Politics: March 2008 Archives

Michael Stickings of the Moderate Voice has a very puzzling post. Apparently Hillary Clinton has been participating in an evangelical Bible study group for Congress that encourages Christians to influence those around them for good, including sharing their faith with those who aren't believers. Stickings seems to think this is really disturbing for some reason, and the only sense I can get of why is that he must think this group is a front for a radical, theonomistic agenda. But I don't see any real evidence in anything he links to that it's even close to that. I posted the following comment several days ago:

I'm wondering what the fuss is supposed to be about. This looks like a typical evangelical group. They study the Bible and believe in influencing those around them (and therefore indirectly the world) through personal relationships infused with godliness and what they as Christians believe to be the truth. I realize that some conspiracy theorists associate any language about influencing the world with conspiracies about controlling people through theonomistic enforcement of Christian beliefs on those who reject such teachings, but anyone remotely familiar with evangelicalism should know that this is simply standard salt and light kind of stuff from the Sermon on the Mount. So what is it exactly that Hillary is supposed to explain? She is a Christian. Is it surprising that she wants to live her beliefs rather than pretending they don't influence her life?

As of this writing, there's been no response.

Kevin Drum had a very helpful discussion of the charges the Obama campaign and its surrogates have been leveling against Hillary Clinton. I'm not sure I agree with him in every case, but it's one of the best things I've seen on the subject. Any claim that it's Hillary who's really driving the racial overtones of the Democratic race is just ignoring a lot of what's out there. Some on her side have surely said things intended to be taken in a racially-negative way. But the examples he gives (and see the discussions he links to for arguments why the criticisms are indeed over-the-top) show that it's not simply an example of the Hillary side raising racial issues and the Obama side ignoring them and not making anything of race.

I had to take interest in the first two comments mentioning Geraldine Ferraro, who didn't come up in the post. What interested me most about their appearance is the assumption that that's a genuine case of racism that they must be taking to undermine his whole argument. First of all, if it's genuine racism that doesn't undermine his argument. His point is that many of the accusations of racism are going way too far. One case that is racism doesn't undermine that claim.

Second, I don't think it's fair to describe that as racist. If the same person who says Barack Obama's race has helped raise interest from the media and the Democratic higher-ups to jump-start his campaign also says of herself that the same is true from her being a woman, it strikes me as very unlikely that she's saying the former out of racism but is rather just acknowledging that the Democratic party is more likely to use affirmative action considerations for selecting presidential and vice-presidential candidates, something Democrats aren't generally opposed to and don't generally consider racist. (It's Republicans who are more likely to level that charge.) So why is it racist to point out that affirmative action techniques on that level might put someone in a position to get more attention than they could have gotten otherwise?

[I do realize that some people think Ferraro was saying more. According to them, she was claiming that no one would now support Obama if he weren't black. But I think that's a very unlikely interpretation. It's so radically at odds with the exit polls that I don't know how she could have thought she'd get away with saying something so empirically false.]

Update March 29: Is it racist for Obama to say the things of himself that Ferraro said of him?

In a recent case, the California Supreme Court affirmed a 1955 law that requires teachers to have proper credentials, even if they're homeschooling their own children. Some conservatives are up in arms. But it's important for conservatives to locate their criticism properly.

As far as I can tell, this was a judicially conservative decision. The law in California is that teaching requires certain qualifications. The only question was whether you can find a right in the Constitution to homeschooling, and they concluded not, which is actually a more judicially conservative position. See Eugene Volokh for more details.

Now I'm open to a judicially conservative argument that this case was wrongly decided, but I've been seeing people upset merely because of its being a bad policy decision. Well, don't complain to the court. Complain to the people who wrote the law to begin with (except they're probably dead), and seek to get the law changed. That's the normal process for this kind of thing, and it's not conservative to expect a court to find new rights in the Constitution that conservatives would prefer to have constitutionally guaranteed. This is a case of conservatives expecting judges to enact their policy preferences, which is the very thing conservatives usually complain about and call judicial activism when they see liberals doing the same thing.

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Apparently Barack Obama has figured out (it took him a while, at least to say it) that Hillary Clinton's repeated claims that he's not ready to be president are slightly at odds with her suggestion that maybe he could be vice-president. Probably the most crucial role of the vice-president is to take over the responsibilities of the president if the president becomes unable to perform them.

But see her response. So he's not ready now, and therefore the Democrats should nominate her. But maybe he'll be ready by August, so she can float the idea of choosing him as a running mate? That see s to be how she's explaining both statements.

How isn't that an admission that her initial comments are wrongheaded? Well, here's the one path to consistency that I think she can trod. He isn't ready now, and there's no guarantee that he will be in January, so we shouldn't nominate him. Maybe some miracle will occur, and he'll be ready enough by August that he could run on the ticket as VP, so she won't say he's now ready even to be a running mate (not that she's in a position to offer it to him), but she'll float him as a possibility in case the miraculous occurs and he gets all this experience that he doesn't now have.

I suppose that's consistent. It's just a huge stretch.

Obama on Homosexuality

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A lot of people are discussing Barack Obama's recent off-the-cuff remarks about the Bible and same-sex civil unions. I want to delve a little bit into the contrast he draws between the Sermon on the Mount and Romans 1. The gist of his statement is (1) the Sermon on the Mount is more central to Christian faith than an "obscure" passage in Romans, and (2) the Sermon on the Mount should influence our attitudes toward civil unions in some positive way.

1. I don't think Romans 1 is all that obscure. I think he means that it's difficult to interpret, but there actually isn't all that much disagreement among serious biblical commentators who have bothered to connect their exegesis with a serious study of the whole book. Virtually everyone in that category acknowledges that Paul saw male-male and female-female sexual acts as bad and as the consequence of sin, and most recognize that he saw them as immoral. That doesn't count as obscure in my book, even if a few of the details in the passage might be debated. It's certainly no more obscure than the Sermon on the Mount, which has plenty of contested questions.

2. Romans 1 is not the only passage relevant to homosexuality. The Torah expressly forbids the same thing Romans 1 discusses, and it does so in pretty clear terms in two places in Leviticus and by implication in Genesis 19. I think the prophets may refer to it once or twice, too. In any case, just dismissing Romans 1 wouldn't be enough, but he treats it as sufficient.

3. Romans 1 isn't even the only New Testament passage relevant to this issue. Terms used for the passive and active partners in male-male sex appear in a vice list in I Corinthians (and one of those words appears in I Timothy). Jude 7 also assumes the Torah background.

4. What in the Sermon on the Mount does he mean? His argument seems to be that he's more willing to go with a passage he sees as more important over one that's "obscure" (and thus less important?). But what important passage in the Sermon on the Mount does he mean? It has to be a clear enough implication from what Jesus says that it's strong enough to outweigh all these other parts of scripture. Does any part of the Sermon on the Mount have such a clear implication for the issue of civil unions?

Some have suggested that he means the command not to judge, which of course is not a command not to call wrong things wrong, or else the biblical authors would all violate it repeatedly.

Others have put forth the many aspects of the Sermon on the Mount that have to do with loving your neighbor. I wonder if that would be question-begging. Some of the people he is taking issue with do not consider it loving to support same-sex unions, because they see such support as endorsing something immoral and in fact against the well-being of all involved.

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