Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ba "Rock On!" Obama

This speech is so awesome and inspirational, I almost can't contain myself with a swelling and emotional pride that this man is a liberal and a Democrat. He represents precisely why I am a liberal Democrat. The whole speech is incredible, from start to finish; but I found his concluding segment to be humbling, utterly beautiful, and stunningly magnificent:

So let me end with another interaction I had during my campaign. A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:

"Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you."

The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be "totalizing." His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of President Bush's foreign policy.

But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, which suggested that I would fight "right wing ideologues who want to take away a woman's right to choose." He went on to write:

"I sense that you have a strong sense of justice...and I also sense that you are a fair minded person with a high regard for reason...Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded....You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others...I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words."

I checked my web-site and found the offending words. My staff had written them to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.

Re-reading the doctor's letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in reasonable terms - those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.

I wrote back to the doctor and thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own - a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. [Emphasis is mine.]
Amen, brother! I will follow this incredible leader all the way to the White House, because that is most certainly where he is heading. He is the real deal.


Enigma said...

I think you're right. This is an awesome and inspiring speech. But I feel he gives conservatives too little credit in some areas.

Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, then the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and Alan Keyeses will continue to hold sway.

Obama's right about the consequences of ignoring the debate, but I think he implies a false dichotomy: if liberals don't reach out, conservatives will be influenced by demagogues. The Falwells and Robertsons do have many followers among conservatives, but many more conservatives (I believe) find their ideas disagreeable. There are many inspiring leaders among conservatives to fill the vacuum; they just don't get the same media exposure. And the vacuum Obama speaks of is as likely to be filled by demagogues from the left as from the right, and to the same detrimental effect.

While I've already laid out some of the work that progressive leaders need to do, I want to talk a little bit about what conservative leaders need to do -- some truths they need to acknowledge.

For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of 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 the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

I think conservatives understand this a little better than he gives credit. I believe a lot of the rhetoric from the right is more of a reaction to what is perceived as an increasing hindrance to their practice of faith. Conservatives understand from their history, as do liberals, that theocracy is simply tyranny with religious trappings. We see this today in Iran, and we don't want that for America.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what's possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It's the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God's edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one's life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

Finding the right balance between religion and politics has always been a struggle for Americans. Do we compromise, as our founding fathers did when they declared a black man to be 3/5 a person? Or do we stand unyielding for a principle, as Lincoln did to abolish slavery? Again, I think conservatives understand this better than he gives credit.

OTOH, Obama makes so many great points, I couldn't even begin to list them all. I was skeptical about his speech at first, until he said this:

Now, such strategies of avoidance may work for progressives when our opponent is Alan Keyes. But over the long haul, I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives -- in the lives of the American people -- and I think it's time that we join a serious debate about how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

He's absolutely right. The failure to acknowledge, I think, comes from viewing faith as just another segment in our lives. We have our work life, we have our social life, we have our home life, and then we have our faith. But that's not how faith really works.

Faith to a Christian isn't just one day out of the week. Faith encompasses each aspect, each moment, of our lives. At work, my faith guides me to always work to the best of my ability, and to treat my coworkers with dignity and respect. In social situations, my faith guides me to do my best to behave ethically and morally, to let the glory of our Lord shine before men. And in my home life, the love my wife and I have for each other is continually strengthened and renewed by our shared faith in our Savior.

They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness.

At this point he's got me hooked. Too many of our politicians look at Americans as just votes. Too many times they overlook the humanity of the people they are elected serve, failing to recognize the deep spiritual needs we all have. A politician who understands this and empathizes with this has the potential to be more than just a politician, but to be a true leader.

You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away - because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey.

And now I'm cheering and shouting "Amen!"

So we all have some work to do here. But I am hopeful that we can bridge the gaps that exist and overcome the prejudices each of us bring to this debate. And I have faith that millions of believing Americans want that to happen. No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack. They don't want faith used to belittle or to divide. They're tired of hearing folks deliver more screed than sermon. Because in the end, that's not how they think about faith in their own lives.

Game. Set. Match. Obama sounds like he has a good grasp of where we need to go in this country, and what steps to take to get there.

And that night, before I went to bed I said a prayer of my own. It's a prayer I think I share with a lot of Americans. A hope that we can live with one another in a way that reconciles the beliefs of each with the good of all. It's a prayer worth praying, and a conversation worth having in this country in the months and years to come.

Amen, brother!

Senator Obama hasn't suddenly convinced me to vote Democrat, but I think there's hope for the Democrat party. And if there's hope for Democrats, there's also hope for Republicans. But most importantly, I think there's hope for America.

Jimmy Huck said...

enigma - Thanks for your excellent and thoughtful comments. I think I agree almost 100% with your critique of some aspects of his speech. I grant you that Obama the Politician gives conservatives too little credit in some areas and also avoids identifying similar problematic trends with liberal demagoguery of faith; but he doesn't let this become the defining element of his speech, even though he is a politician after all. That, I think, is an important difference; and it is a very welcome change to see coming from someone of the democratic leadership.

What I like about Obama is that I think he gives a glimpse into what the majority of liberals of faith think. We are not all radical fringe screechers, even if we might agree with liberal notions of church/state separation. And the majority of liberals of faith are very much faith-oriented first before ideology-oriented. He captures this well and puts this on display for conservatives to see. And I welcome that.

I don't expect conservatives to vote for him only on this aspect of who he is. He is, also, committed to many of the liberal approaches to problem-solving that conservatives disagree with. But, his liberalism will come across as a principled liberalism to conservatives, I think, even if it is still perceived as mistaken.

And if it interjects an element of respectful disagreement and works towards ending the partisan rancor that has come to poison politics in our country, then I will consider him a success regardless of the votes he wins from conservatives on policy matters.

Again, thanks for your comments.

Enigma said...

I think what gets lost in our political discourse today is the fact that, though we may have sharp disagreements on policy, we are often working towards the same goals. Take welfare for example. We may have very different ideas about the role of government versus private charities, but we're both trying to achieve the same goal of overcoming poverty. Having different ideas amongst us is not a bad thing. It is a good thing because no one of us has all the answers. We need the differences amongst us to help us find our way.

I like what you say about being faith-oriented first before ideology-oriented. Liberals and conservatives need to take a step back and reflect on the fact that we're all on the same team, that we're all in this together. If a Democrat such as Obama, and an equally principled Republican, can step out of the partisan fray and lead us in a direction of honest and open debate about the issues of our day, then perhaps we can put this era of partisan rancor behind us.

It's funny how we choose labels for ourselves and others, how tightly we cling to such as our identity. A conservative of today -- one who abhors slavery and supports voting and other civil rights for all Americans -- would have been considered a liberal, even a radical, in early 19th century America. What does it mean today to say that I am a conservative, or that you are a liberal? What will that mean 10, 20, 30 years from now? If we can learn to look deeper within ourselves at who we really are, we may find that we aren't so different after all. Labels like "liberal" and "conservative" probably won't seem so important anymore. And that would be a good thing.

Anonymous said...

"What will that mean 10, 20, 30 years from now?"

It means everything. What you think now paints the future.

You are wrong. If the liberals had their way, America would have never gotten into WW2. You will say, liberals had the civil rights movement. But, liberals also got us into Viet Nam, and also back then had the balls to face down Castro in the Cuban missile crisis.

lb said...


I found you through RTG. I clicked over and found the first entry on your blog about Barak. I have met him personally - and not in a political arena - and he IS what he speaks about. I believe he is the only hope for this country. I respect and admire him for the person he is all the time (at least in my experience).

I read above and I understand that those of faith have certain ideals that they apply in every setting. Well, as someone who does not believe in religion or god, let me say that I have ideals that I apply in every setting as well. I tell the truth, to the best of my ability, in order to find the truth in life. I am kind to those unknown and known. I will help, to the best of my ability, everyone I encounter every day. I try to be fair. I do not judge- ahem, until i see people judging others than I judge them in a big way. But anyway, my point is that what peope need to understand is that whether you have "faith" or not, you can be a wonderful, amazing person. And the way I see things going, soon, you will only be a "good" person if you have faith. We need to look at the qualities that hold us together instead of those that divide us.

Jimmy Huck said...

lb - I agree with everything you said. Thanks for visiting my blog.