Ok, I’m just going to get it all out and then maybe next week I can get back to talking about my cute kids and my real life. What else is a blog for than to vent backed-up political angst? No one is making you read this, so I’m not oppressing anybody, right?
Some time ago I came across a very lengthy article (source) in the New Yorker that perfectly encapsulated these issues and why I switched to Obama, and I really hope you’ll stay with me as I quote it at great length (all quotes in blue). Yes, the NYer is a flaming liberal magazine and assumes the reader is too, which sometimes bugs—but this article was very intelligently written, in depth and gave interesting insight into both candidates that was not too kind to either of them, yet explained well where they really are on these issues, and discussed religious conservatives who found themselves falling more naturally into Obama’s court.
First, let’s talk about McCain’s rough road with the evangelicals:
John McCain’s accidental education in apocalyptic theology began late last February, on a bright, breezy afternoon in San Antonio. His campaign had arranged for a joint appearance by the candidate and the megachurch pastor John Hagee, who, after months of hesitation, had finally agreed to bestow his endorsement. At that point, McCain had the Republican Presidential nomination in hand, but the Christian right still regarded him with deep misgiving. This was owing, in part, to a sense, widely held by many conservatives, that McCain was really the standard-bearer for the one-man Maverick Party, which made him an unreliable ally in such first-principle matters as gay marriage and judicial appointments. [as a former McCain supporter of many years who appreciated this moderation, I can tell you right now there is a reason they should feel this way].
Religious conservatives had been put off by tales of McCain’s temper, and by his ungallant termination of his first marriage. They remembered how he had lashed out against their own in 2000, condemning Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance,” and likening them to Louis Farrakhan and the Reverend Al Sharpton. “I am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative, and, in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are,” the evangelical leader James Dobson said in a statement read to a national radio audience on Super Tuesday. “I cannot and I will not vote for Senator John McCain, as a matter of conscience.”
Shortly after this time, Obama had tired of the God vs. the Democrats line and addressed it directly in a speech that became a turning point for many religious conservatives:
“There are some liberals,” Obama said, “who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.”
Obama then said, “The single biggest gap in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called red states and those who reside in blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.” He told secularists that they “are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square,” and suggested that “a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state.”
He went on, “Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation—context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God.’ I didn’t. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats.”
Among those who were impressed by that speech was Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University School of Law, a Christian school in Malibu, California. Kmiec (pronounced Kuh-meck) was the embodiment of a Reagan Democrat—a Catholic reared in the Democratic Party, who felt that he had been driven into Republican arms by the leftward lurch of the McGovern-era Democrats. When Kmiec turned Republican, he did so with a vengeance. He worked in the Reagan Justice Department (sharing an office with Samuel Alito), and, as it happens, when George W. Bush was elected he returned to Washington from California—he had gone there to teach at Pepperdine—as the dean of Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law, spending time with fellow Federalist Society members such as Antonin Scalia and Alito. His son, Keenan, clerked for Alito at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and for John Roberts at the Supreme Court. Kmiec’s advice on judicial appointments was heard by the White House, and he was himself considered a candidate for the federal bench. Kmiec was the sort of Republican jurist—smart, devoutly Catholic, and a committed pro-lifer—that Democrats had learned to fear.
After returning to Pepperdine, Kmiec was recruited by Mitt Romney to be the chairman of the Committee for the Courts and the Constitution, for Romney’s Presidential campaign. In the era of judicial-appointment wars, such committees are a way of signalling to the Republican base that the candidate is right on such issues as abortion, and Kmiec’s association with Romney was meant to give a pro-life seal of approval to a candidate who was once pro-choice. Kmiec became a Romney true believer, and, when Romney withdrew from the race, Kmiec found himself without a Presidential favorite. John McCain held no ideological allure, and Kmiec, like many Romneyites (and Romney himself), felt a lingering resentment toward him. He believed that McCain had resorted to Swift Boat tactics in misrepresenting Romney’s position on Iraq. “Let me put this as kindly as I can,” he says. “Senator McCain was not the most generous of heart, or honest of disposition, toward his primary opponents. I always want to concede his integrity, because I can’t ever envision myself surviving a P.O.W. experience of the kind that he survived, and I admire those years of his life—but that admirable contribution to American history was greatly dimmed by seeing him up close and personal in the primaries.”
Kmiec found himself reflecting on Barack Obama, and his Call to Renewal speech. “His insights there were not only significantly different from the Democrats of the past,” Kmiec says, “but they were significantly better than either the Democrats or the Republicans of the past, in the sense that he argued that religion shouldn’t be a wedge issue, and that we should stop demonizing each other on that basis. Religion necessarily is a source of morality, and morality is necessarily the place where we draw laws from. That in itself, to have acknowledged that, was a key sales point for me, because even the Supreme Court gets itself tangled on that proposition.”
A week after Romney withdrew from the race, Kmiec wrote about his Obama reflections in an article for the online magazine Slate, which bore the provocative title “Reaganites for Obama?” Kmiec wrote that Obama’s politics of hope reminded him of Reagan’s sunny optimism, and he mused that, while abortion was still of paramount importance to Catholics, years of Republican rule had not significantly reduced its occurrence [my bold]. “Beyond life issues, an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural,” he wrote.
Kmiec’s conservative Catholic friends were aghast, and several of them, including Deal Hudson, rebuked him in Catholic publications, some even suggesting that he was motivated by ambition. Kmiec thought the response heavy-handed, and observed that if this was an example of Republican religious outreach, then John McCain’s campaign was in trouble. “It was a brick through the window with a note attached, and the note said, ‘Obey, or else,’ ” he told me. “I never quite figured out what the ‘or else’ was. I’m a tenured old professor not looking to go anywhere. And I live in Malibu. What is it they’re going to dangle in front of me?” [I don’t mean to imply that I am harassed as he was, but I see that having two consecutive Obama lawn signs stolen and having my cousin told she needs to “have a talk with her about that sign” is along these same lines of backwater religious and political discourse.]
Shortly after his Slate article appeared, Kmiec received a call from a young woman working in the Obama campaign, a friend of Keenan Kmiec (himself now an Obama supporter) who had clerked with him at the Supreme Court. She asked if Kmiec would consider supporting Obama more formally. In that and other conversations with the Obama camp, Kmiec expressed his admiration for the candidate but also his reservations about Obama’s position on abortion. Obama was such a staunch supporter of abortion rights that he received NARAL’s endorsement over Hillary Clinton, and, at an event for Planned Parenthood, he’d promised that “the first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act”—which would nullify most state restrictions on abortion. Kmiec was assured that Obama’s position on abortion was more nuanced than it seemed, and that, although Obama was pro-choice, he was not pro-abortion.
Kmiec eventually got an opportunity to air his doubts to Obama himself, at a Chicago meeting with a select group of religious figures. (Among them was the evangelist Franklin Graham, who asked Obama, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the way to God, or merely a way?” Obama responded, “Jesus is the only way for me,” and Graham left the meeting impressed.) “I even raised the objection to just talking about abortion as a vehicle for gender equality,” Kmiec recalls. “I said, ‘You know, this is not language that a Catholic will accept, and I don’t accept it. You don’t need to use it, if I understand your position correctly. So tell me your position.’ And out of that I got an answer that said, ‘I would never counsel my daughters to have an abortion. I view it as a profoundly moral decision. It is my purpose to discourage the practice. But it is also my belief that there’s no other actor on earth than the mother who can address this question. And to be pro-choice means that you contemplate that the choice can be the choice in favor of life.’ That suggests to me that he’s got the mental disposition to understand, at least from the Catholic perspective, how abortion is more a tragedy than a method of equality.”
Deal Hudson told me that he was astonished by Kmiec’s abrupt shift. “Has Doug Kmiec never met a charming politician before?” he asked. He said that Kmiec seems to have adopted the liberal-Catholic construct of “a consistent ethic of life,” contextualizing abortion in a spectrum of other Catholic issues. “It sounds like my friend Doug has just completely gone over to the other side,” Hudson said.
“I want to say back to Deal, ‘We’re worshipping at different churches, then,’ ” Kmiec responded. “The church I have attended since my mother walked me down the block to St. Pascal’s, in Chicago, was one that had taught this social gospel. . . . I would say back to Deal, ‘Yes, I’m in the Federalist Society, and, yes, I believe in private property and federalism and the separation of powers and all that. But these other beliefs I find fully compatible.’ ”
Kmiec endorsed Obama on March 23rd—Easter Sunday. [His priest refused to give him communion on that day.]
I found this part of the article enlightening on McCain’s tepid commitment to family issues:
Activists in California, anticipating a ruling by the state Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage, launched a drive to put an initiative on the ballot in November that would amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage. The proposal prompted an extensive support effort—forty-day fasts, prayer marathons, and the like—among Church leaders in California and the two other states that have similar measures, culminating in a daylong stadium rally on the weekend before Election Day. “There has been no dialogue with the McCain campaign at all,” says Jim Garlow, the pastor of the Skyline Church, in suburban San Diego, who is one of the drive’s organizers. “If I were Senator McCain, I would do everything I could to identify with this issue. I don’t know that he will. I have no idea what his campaign is about. At this point, he seems quite low-key on these types of things.”
Before the meeting of Obama and McCain at Pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in August, McCain had a heavy-handed education in the fact that he must appear pro-life to get the religious conservative electorate. Obviously there was a clear right answer to this question, but Obama wouldn’t give the pat answer—why? They were asked:
“At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?” Obama’s response, characteristically nuanced, came across as a dodge. “Well,” he began, “I think that, whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.” Asked the same question, McCain didn’t hesitate. “At the moment of conception,” he said, to the loud approval of the congregation.”
When I look at Obama’s answer, I see some humility and some thought going into it–not a dodge–and I also am reminded that the LDS Church itself is similarly equivocal and humble on pinpointing the moment when life begins. I see McCain’s answer as an easy pander.
It’s like if you’re asked in a job interview: “Do you like to work hard?” Do you answer honestly? My honest answer would be “Well, I actually work in intense spurts, burn out, have a hard time focusing, then repeat the cycle—but I still get more done than most people.” If you were doing the interview, would you trust this answer more, or the potential hire that says, “Yes, Sir!”
It’s King Lear and his daughters all over again.
Based on all I’ve read, I’ve come to the opinion that the right’s support of religious issues of life and family are nothing more than a cynical election tactic, admittedly and openly implemented in a concerted strategy by that conniving worm Karl Rove himself (remember, the one who would be in jail right now for corruption if he hadn’t received a presidential pardon?). They trust that the religious right will line up and play pawn whenever they cry, “Life!” even if they do absolutely nothing else as it relates to the subject.
That strategy was designed and implemented for Bush–and is now being lamely put into play by Rove and the exact same team on behalf of McCain–but they’ve had a harder time because McCain doesn’t speak the evangelical dialect. And neither do I, so I can’t fault him for that.
(But I have to say that it bothers me that McCain calls their belief in a second coming of Christ and a new millenium as “crazy and unacceptable.”)