Clinton and Obama’s Religious Choices

Initially Hillary Clinton tried to use surrogates to attack Obama over his association with Wright. Now that Obama has not only survived but has turned this to his advantage, Clinton is getting involved personally. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Clinton said:

“He would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said. “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend.”

Yes, this is true. I would count Obama’s association with Wright as a negative–but a very minor one considering that it is clear that Obama does not share Wright’s more controversial views.

Everyone has a choice in who they associate with and if we are going to criticize Obama’s choice we should also look at who Hillary Clinton has chosen to affiliate with. Last September Mother Jones took a look at the choice Hillary Clinton made, reporting that “For 15 years, Hillary Clinton has been part of a secretive religious group that seeks to bring Jesus back to Capitol Hill.” They note who Clinton has associated with:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection.

If you are concerned about who Obama has associated with, then also look at her association with Doug Coe, as well as who he associates with:

Coe’s friends include former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Reaganite Edwin Meese III, and ultraconservative Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.). Under Coe’s guidance, Meese has hosted weekly prayer breakfasts for politicians, businesspeople, and diplomats, and Pitts rose from obscurity to head the House Values Action Team, an off-the-record network of religious right groups and members of Congress created by Tom DeLay. The corresponding Senate Values Action Team is guided by another Coe protégé, Brownback, who also claims to have recruited King Abdullah of Jordan into a regular study of Jesus’ teachings.

This group is interested in pushing a conservative social agenda which Hillary Clinton has become a backer of:

The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward.

This is in line with the Christian right’s long-term strategy. Francis Schaeffer, late guru of the movement, coined the term “cobelligerency” to describe the alliances evangelicals must forge with conservative Catholics. Colson, his most influential disciple, has refined the concept of cobelligerency to deal with less-than-pure politicians. In this application, conservatives sit pretty and wait for liberals looking for common ground to come to them. Clinton, Colson told us, “has a lot of history” to overcome, but he sees her making the right moves.

These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right.

Liberal rabbi Michael Lerner, whose “politics of meaning” Clinton made famous in a speech early in her White House tenure, sees the senator’s ambivalence as both more and less than calculated opportunism. He believes she has genuine sympathy for liberal causes—rights for women, gays, immigrants—but often will not follow through. “There is something in her that pushes her toward caring about others, as long as there’s no price to pay. But in politics, there is a price to pay.”

In politics, those who pay tribute to the powerful also reap rewards. When Ed Klein’s attack bio, The Truth About Hillary, came out in 2005, some of her most prominent defenders were Christian conservatives, among them Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler. “Christians,” he declared, “should repudiate this book and determine to take no pleasure in it.”

Clinton’s conservative social views have been noticed by others such as the Cato Institute:

The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is “adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism.” Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups’ access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and “virtue” making a return to the classroom.

Then, as now, Clinton confounded secularists who recognize public faith only when it comes wrapped in a cornpone accent. Clinton speaks instead the language of nondenominationalism—a sober, eloquent appreciation of “values,” the importance of prayer, and “heart” convictions—which liberals, unfamiliar with the history of evangelical coalition building, mistake for a tidy, apolitical accommodation, a personal separation of church and state. Nor do skeptical voters looking for political opportunism recognize that, when Clinton seeks guidance among prayer partners such as Coe and Brownback, she is not so much triangulating—much as that may have become second nature—as honoring her convictions. In her own way, she is a true believer.

There are things to be concerned about with regards to who both Obama and Clinton have associated with. The difference is that Obama does not share in many of Wright’s views and has been a strong defender of separation of church and state. While Clinton does sometimes disagree with the members of the religious right which she associates with, primarily on abortion, Clinton’s public policy views are very much influenced by the religious right and she is an opponent of separation of church and state. With all these ties to conservatives and their views I might remind readers that Hillary Clinton was an old Goldwater Girl but that would be an insult to Barry Goldwater who opposed the influence of the religious right.

Update: Hillary Clinton Teams Up With Fellow Conservatives To Attack Obama

Update II: More On Hillary’s Choice and The Vast Rightwing Conspiracy


Conservatives and Obama

There are some conservatives who practice a knee jerk opposition to Obama, believing that labels like “liberal” and “conservative” mean far more than they do.  As I’ve noted many times before, such labels can be misleading, and will often artificially separate people who agree on more matters than they might realize and can also lump together people who disagree on a number of issues. Some conservatives who have actually paid attention to what Obama believes, as opposed to assuming that every liberal Democrat believes the same things, have actually come to support Obama. One example was in the recent endorsement of Obama by Douglas Kmiec.

Needless to say, many conservatives blogs have been bashing Kmiec for his endorsement of Obama. I did find one astute comment via Andrew Sullivan–another conservative who went from suspicion of Obama to support after he studied his views.  Sullivan quotes this response from a comment at The Volokh Conspiracy:

I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in more than knee-jerk reactions to actually read Kmiec’s piece, and actually read The Audacity of Hope, and actually read Senator Obama’s position summaries online; and seriously ask why a prominent, intelligent conservative would endorse Obama. I’d go so far as to suggest that, for those of us interested in forward-thinking conservativism, Senator Obama provides the best hope since Reagan. He’s the only candidate that has the potential, and an expressed desire, to change the debate and actually face questions like: when should government intervene at all? when it does, how can it be useful and limited? We might not agree with all of Senator Obama’s answers, but he’s the only one that I’ve seen even express an interest in wrestling with the questions.

This is why many conservatives and even libertarians are supporting Obama. I’ve noted many times that Bill Clinton is correct that voting for Obama is a gamble. However given a choice between politicians like John McCain and Hillary Clinton who are unquestioning supporters of massive government intervention and someone like Obama who questions this philosophy I will gamble on Obama.  As I’ve also noted in the past, I anticipate that if Obama is elected I’ll often disagree with what he does–but probably far less than if McCain or Clinton is elected.