Politics: July 2008 Archives

I don't understand what it is to play the race card, so I don't use that expression. Race is fine to bring in when it's relevant and not ok to bring in when it's not, but such an expression seems to me to assume that it's always inappropriate. But I did want to say something about the following remarks (taken from here):

Nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have [sic] a real answer for the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky.

Notice that there's no explicit mention of race here. He also doesn't reference his middle name 'Hussein'. He just refers to it obliquely (or perhaps he's referring to his whole name, but it's his middle name that people have used against him). He also makes a veiled reference to his dark complexion with the comment about presidents on dollar bills. But he doesn't use any race terms. Further, when McCain called him out for playing the race card, his campaign denied that the dollar bill reference had anything to do with race. It was about his not being a Washington insider. (I sure hope he continues this line of defense, because if it becomes clear that he sees the founders of this country as evil Washington insiders whose government we need to do away with, then he's not going to be getting very far.) It seems as if he's dancing around the issues he wants to get across without saying anything about them. It makes it sound as if he's trying to engage in the politics of racial fear without losing his appearance of being a post-racial candidate of hope.

Compare his very similar speech from June 20:

The choice is clear. Most of all we can choose between hope and fear. It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy. We know what kind of campaign they're going to run. They're going to try to make you afraid. They're going to try to make you afraid of me. 'He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?'

Then the previous day (from the same source):

They're going to try to make me into a scary guy. They're even trying to make Michelle into a scary person. Right? I don't know, before I wasn't black enough. 'Now he might be too black. We don't know whether he's going to socialize - well, who knows what.'

In our sermons, we just finished Matthew 1-7 followed by the Ten Commandments. Matthew 5-7 contains the Sermon on the Mount, and doing that right next to the Ten Commandments is pretty convicting. It's hard to imagine anyone who has carefully read and studied the Sermon on the Mount coming away from it thinking that it's easy to follow Jesus' teaching there. In the light of the full teaching of Jesus, anyone who does so is like the Pharisee who thanks God that he's not like those sinners, someone Jesus roundly condemns. The person is indeed a hypocrite of one of the worst kinds. In one of the last few sermons in the series, one of our elders pointed out exactly this response as one of the many ways people have responded to the Sermon on the Mount that miss the point, in this case violating several other major teachings of Jesus in the process.

I've been trying to find a good interpretation of Barack Obama's 2006 words that have recently gotten a lot of attention. (I first saw the complete quote in context here. although I won't endorse everything in that post, which also seems to me to be focused in the wrong direction.) I'm not having an easy time being charitable.

And even if we did have only Christians within our borders, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage so radical that it's doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?

There's a lot in there that worries me, quite deeply in fact. I've seen a lot of comment about these words, and a lot of it isn't entirely fair, which amazes me given how many things could be fairly criticized. I do think it reveals some lack of understanding about the New Testament's presentation of how Christians should see the Old Testament, but some very smart biblical scholars make those same mistakes, and in the theologically liberal churches whose well Obama drinks from, I'm sure he gets most of his understanding of the Bible from such people (probably very indirectly).

I've deliberately put off commenting on it, but I still haven't seen anyone point out the aspect of this statement that most disturbs me. (The closest is Collin Hansen's Christianity Today article, but that only gets to the beginning of my worry.) This isn't the only time I've seen Obama try to use the Sermon on the Mount as a method of sticking it to someone whose sins he doesn't happen to commit (or at least not in the way they do). It's very strange to use the Sermon on the Mount that way, though. The Sermon on the Mount sets some pretty tough standards, ones that no one really could meet.

Obama on Gun Control

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I'm a firm believer in not assigning the term 'flip-flop' to someone unless they go back and forth on it more than once, with a clear sense that they're talking out of both sides of their mouth to different audiences. A change of mind is not a flip-flop, despite the popular tendency to use that term for a principled change of mind.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to criticize someone for changing their mind. One such reason is if they insist that they haven't changed their mind. Barack Obama seems to be in that category when it comes to gun control. He supported the DC gun ban back in February when the issue was before the Supreme Court. Now that the case is decided and the law deemed unconstitutional, he says he supports the decision. See Booker Rising for the video clips.

His only justification for supporting Justice Scalia's opinion overturning the ban now seems to be the same justification he gave for supporting the ban earlier, which is more than a little puzzling. He supports an individual right to gun ownership but thinks it's constitutional to restrict that right in certain contexts, and his support for the most restrictive ban on gun control in the country showed that he thinks these restrictions on the individual right can be pretty extensive without being unconstitutional. So the DC ban was ok. But now he responds to the opinion by saying that the same position he's held all along can support this opinion. He believes in an individual right but thinks restrictions of that right are constitutional. So the DC ban is not ok. Yet he's insisted that this isn't a change in his view. How is it not a change of view to think it's unconstitutional but then to agree with the Supreme Court's narrowly-divided opinion for the opposite view?

So I have a hard time distinguishing this from the mindset of flip-flopping, even though it's not a case of going back and forth. It's what you say on a divisive issue if you want everyone to think you agree with them, all the while planning your policy on something that a lot of them would not agree with at all. It's hard for me to see it as anything else but dishonesty of exactly the type that Senator Obama consistently says he's going to be a change away from. (He surely would be a change from the current administration in terms of policy, but that's not really the thrust of his change rhetoric.)

Update: Obama's response to Hillary Clinton's changing positions on Iraq is a good example of his condemnation of the very thing he does on this issue:

I have to say that she started this campaign saying that she wanted to make history and lately she has been spending a lot of time rewriting it. I know that in Washington it is acceptable to say or do anything it takes to get elected, but I really don't think that is the kind of politics that is good for our party, and I don't think it is good for our country, and I think that the American people will reject it in this election.

I sure hope the American people will reject it in this election, but it's becoming clear that rejecting it would mean rejecting Obama's candidacy. McCain's changed some of his views, but at least he's giving reasons for those changes and admitting that he's changed his mind. Obama is completely contradicting his previous statements while pretending he hasn't changed his views at all.


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