Obama and The Campaign for the Religious Vote

Nick Gillepsie stumbled upon an article (following a link from Drudge) which I read yesterday but was having a hard time deciding how to respond to. While Gillepsie’s intent was to criticize Obama, Gillepsie did place the quote in perspective and as a result I actually find this a little less objectionable than I did yesterday. This was in response to a report on Obama campaigning before an evangelical congregation in South Carolina:

The senator from Illinois delivered his campaign message to a multiracial evangelical congregation in traditionally conservative Greenville, South Carolina. “I think it’s important, particularly for those of us in the Democratic Party, to not cede values and faith to any one party,” Obama told reporters outside the Redemption World Outreach Center where he attended services.

“I think that what you’re seeing is a breaking down of the sharp divisions that existed maybe during the ’90s,” said Obama. “At least in politics, the perception was that the Democrats were fearful of talking about faith, and on the other hand you had the Republicans who had a particular brand of faith that oftentimes seemed intolerant or pushed people away.”

Obama said he was pleased that leaders in the evangelical community such as T.D. Jakes and Rick Warren were beginning to discuss social justice issues like AIDS and poverty in ways evangelicals were not doing before.

“I think that’s a healthy thing, that we’re not putting people in boxes, that everybody is out there trying to figure out how do we live right and how do we create a stronger America,” Obama said.

He finished his brief remarks by saying, “We’re going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth.”

Later in the article:

There are times on the stump when Obama even sounds like a pastor himself, referencing New Testament phrases and sometimes saying “I’m not gonna preach to ya!” when emphasizing a point to his audience.

According to the religion-based Web site Beliefnet.com and its “God-o-Meter” tool that measures “God-talk” in the presidential campaigns, Obama invokes religion more than any of his Democratic competitors.

I’ve previously expressed a preference for the “Arnold Vinick” attitude on keeping religion out of politics, as seen in this clip from The West Wing. In an ideal world, candidates like Obama would not be speaking of creating “a Kingdom right here on Earth” during a political campaign.

While I was somewhat bothered by this report, I also understand the political realities. Besides, Clinton and Edwards hardly have a very good record on social issues and issues regarding separation of church and state.

In response to this story, Nick Gillepsie wrote:

I’m not a fan of religiosity in politics (I’m not completely turned off by it either, and I especially savor the irony that it was a super-religious fellow, Roger Williams, who most forcefully argued for fully secularized government, God bless him).

While it was not Gillepsie’s intent to defend Obama, and he does have some criticism afterwards, it is important to recall the strong history of “super-religious” fellows like Roger Williams in defending separation of church and state. While currently the religious right has being trying to spread an alternative history in which they deny the importance of the concept of separation fo church and state in the founding of the country, in the past it was “super-religious” people who understood the importance and fought for this right.

Ultimately what matters isn’t simply displays of religion, even if I’d prefer they be kept out of political campaigns, but their views on separation of church and state. A candidate’s religious views do not matter as long as they respect this right. It is worth repeating from a previous post where I quoted Obama on this issue:

For my friends on the right, I think it would be helpful to remember the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy but also our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn’t the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn’t want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves.

It was the forbearers of Evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they didn’t want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it. Given this fact, I think that the right might worry a bit more about the dangers of sectarianism.

Whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.

Increased Role For Candidate Wives

The spouses of the candidates are having a more high profile role in recent years, and this sometimes means both conflict between some camps and others coming to the defense of wives under attack. In the past week we’ve both seen Elizabeth Edwards attack John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry’s chief of staff come to the defense of Michelle Obama.

Elizabeth Edwards has pandered to the anti-Kerry sentiment in portions of the liberal blogoshere by claiming Kerry conceded too early in 2004. Kerry waited one day to concede to evaluate whether there was any chance to win. After looking at the number of outstanding ballots it was clear that mathematically there was no chance,and a concession was not legally binding if evidence of fraud could be uncovered. The bottom line is that to date there has been no conclusive evidence that the election was stolen. If nobody has been able to prove it yet, there was certainly no possibility for Kerry to prove fraud in the narrow time frame between election day and when the electoral college votes were counted. Kerry’s brother summed this up in an op-ed in The Boston Globe:

Boston Globe, THIRD, Sec. Op-Ed, p A11 01-06-2005


I wish it weren’t so, but the final facts look like the picture on the morning of Nov. 3 when my brother, John Kerry, ended his campaign for president. As campaign leaders sat in a Boston war room overlooking a dwindling Election Night rally in the plaza below, on the phone was a team of smart, tough veterans who know how to count votes and how votes get counted. All were veterans of Florida in 2000 who would have jumped at a rematch with Karl Rove and James Baker III.

In the room was Deval Patrick, former assistant attorney general for civil rights. In Washington was Michael Whouley, the never-say-die loyalist who stopped Al Gore from conceding; Jack Corrigan, who helped fight Bush v. Gore in the courts and the precincts; and Robert Bauer and Marc Elias, leading election lawyers and Kerry campaign counsel.

On the phone from Ohio was the chief of the legal team there, David Sullivan, longtime election counsel for the Massachusetts secretary of state, who himself was a plaintiff more than 30 years ago in a lawsuit to register college students and – with me – a defendant in unsuccessful lawsuit brought against us for properly challenging vote fraud.

They were backed by 3,300 lawyers on Ohio’s election protection team, part of more than 17,000 Kerry-Edwards lawyers nationwide. They were joined by 8,000 lawyers with the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition of the NAACP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, People for the American Way, and other organizations and thousands more lay volunteers and observers.

This is hardly the first time Elizabeth Edwards has made a ridiculous statement which added to the sense that the Edwards campaign is not ready for prime time as they increasingly speak and act out of desperation. Any illusion that they are fit to lead the Democratic Party was shot when Elizabeth Edwards wrote off a sizable number of potential voters as not being “actual Democrats.”

Considering these attacks, as well as the manner in which Edwards placed his political ambitions above the interests of the ticked in 2004, it comes as no surprise than when Teresa Heinz Kerry’s chief of staff wrote about strong spouses of candidates it was Michele Obama and not Elizabeth Edwards who was discussed:

This cycle, Michelle Obama has shown herself to be an articulate spokesperson for her husband’s candidacy and a concerned mom. Her reward? A snarky column in The New York Times fretting that Mrs. Obama’s irreverent take on her husband’s reputation is emasculating, and the revolting spectacle of TV talking heads – egged on by the right wing – taking one sentence from a stump speech and trying to spin it into “catfight” between her and Hillary. A catfight? Is this a Seinfeld episode or actual journalism?

Right Wingers’ Least Favorite Right Wingers

Last week, Right Wing News presented right wing bloggers’ favorite people. This week they rank the least liked people on the right by conservative bloggers. Some are undoubtedly on the list due to being moderate as opposed to conservative. George Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Ann Coulter, and Sean Hannity made both the favorites and least favorites lists.

The candidates for the 2008 Republican nomination are well represented. Ron Paul is number one on the list with John McCain at number 3. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are in the second ten. The full rankings follow.

18 Ted Stevens (4)
18 Olympia Snowe (4)
18 Mel Martinez (4)
18 Sean Hannity (4)
18 Lincoln Chafee (4)
17 Bill O’Reilly (5)
14 Lindsey Graham (6)
14 George W. Bush (6)
14 Mitt Romney (6)
12 Arnold Schwarzenegger (9)
12 Rudy Giuliani (9)
8 Andrew Sullivan (11)
8 Chuck Hagel (11)
8 James Dobson (11)
8 Ann Coulter (11)
6 Arlen Specter (12)
6 Pat Robertson (12)
4 Larry Craig (13)
4 Michael Savage (13)
3 John McCain (17)
2 Pat Buchanan (18)
1 Ron Paul (23)

Religious Fanaticism and Medicine Mix Poorly

Great Britain is seeing some of the same problems we are having in the United States when the views of the religious right intrude upon medical practice. In recent years religious views have resulted in reduced access to contraception and abortion in the United States. The Times of London reports on similar problems coming from Muslim extremists in the UK, with some going even further than their American counterparts in the religious right.

Some Muslim medical students are refusing to attend lectures or answer exam questions on alcohol-related or sexually transmitted diseases because they claim it offends their religious beliefs.

Some trainee doctors say learning to treat the diseases conflicts with their faith, which states that Muslims should not drink alcohol and rejects sexual promiscuity.

A small number of Muslim medical students have even refused to treat patients of the opposite sex. One male student was prepared to fail his final exams rather than carry out a basic examination of a female patient.

Such views have been criticized by organizations ranging from the British Medical Association to Muslim medical groups:

Both the Muslim Council of Britain and Muslim Doctors and Dentist Association said they were aware of students opting out but did not support them.

Dr Abdul Majid Katme, of the Islamic Medical Association, said: “To learn about alcohol, to learn about sexually transmitted disease, to learn about abortion, it gives us more evidence to campaign against it. There is a difference between learning and practising.

“It is obligatory for Muslim doctors and students to learn about everything. The prophet said, ‘Learn about witchcraft, but don’t practise it’.”