Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Politics - U.S. style

While we were in Boston we saw the second presidential debate. Not “Joe the Plumber”, but the “THAT ONE” one. It was inevitably hard to avoid with TV news reports, commentaries and adverts providing some interest to the casual spectator (i.e. me).

This linked with one of my Boston highlights – visiting the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. It’s really worth a visit if you’re in Boston (although I thought the stuff on the Cuban missile crisis was a wee bit short and lightweight – but I’m probably being picky!)

Two aspects of the museum triggered thoughts about the similarities and differences with the current campaign.

The stunning similarity for me was the exhibit that showed excerpts from the very first televised presidential debate – between JFK and Richard Nixon. One was eloquent, photogenic, energetic, calm, composed, thoughtful and talked a lot about vision and the need for change; the other was quite brusque, awkward, reactive, direct in responses and talked a lot about experience. Sound familiar?

The difference – for me – was the issue of religion. In his speech accepting the Democratic party nomination JFK emphasised that he did not want his religion to be an issue in the election, he wanted to be judged on his policies alone. This time around there has been much talk of religion – especially that of Barack Obama. The fact that religion is an issue still comes as a surprise to me, given that it’s not a big factor in elections over here.

I heard someone recently suggesting that the emergence of faith in U.S. elections was a reaction to Watergate (Nixon again!) and the need for the population to be re-assured about the moral integrity of their potential President. However, I am concerned (as an ill-informed onlooker) that the test of authenticity as a Christian is largely based on the issue of abortion and to some extent homosexuality. Why highlight these two? Why not use the attitude towards poverty and injustice, which would be more biblical?

Anyway, it’s intriguing that Obama has been keen to talk about and expand on his religious views. Of course, there are issues relating to his family background that mean he has to establish his own position – to some extent. But I admire the way that he has not chosen to give the ‘correct’ answers to the questions that he’s been asked. He seems to have remained true to his beliefs and principles, even when he knows that he will get a negative reaction (as at the Saddleback event).

I will watch with interest to see the outcome on November 4th.


That Hideous Man said...

"Why highlight these two?" is a good question. Part of the answer is that they are coalition-building issues, which help to form an electoral block, uniting the evangelical-right with the Catholic middle (which historically) has had Democrat leanings.

This demonstrates the way in which the right-wing of American politics have used the Christian voters (probably more than vice versa). Abortion is a case in point, in that this voting block consistently lists this as as central issue, and have united behind pro-life candidates - but have received very little legislative gains in return. Reagan was the most extreme example of this, in that he campaigned on a pro-life agenda, which he resolutely did not persue in office.

Obama's vocal faith, is fascinating in that he represents a shift in the traditional political tectonic plates. His voice, is the clearest of the rising religious-left. As such he is vulnerable to attacks from the right, claiming his faith to be inauthentic, and from the left for invading the traditionally secular political ground with a faith-based agenda for social change.

Stephen Mansfield's "The Faith of barack Obama" is excellent on these issues.

His Girl Friday said...

Hi ER,

Good point with the the two main agendas, it's very limiting. Unfortunately, it all is very polarized with both sides having good points, and their flaws. With this, I think it's a personal choice, and with Christians, it falls back to a moral choice. Government has been set over us, but it will still be flawed in the 'worldly' sense. I think we're called to see beyond the material realm, and remember that there are things unseen at work. Obama is no unblemished "savior" of the oppressed nor is McCain the "righteous" right's untarnished champion. Perhaps this is a call to the faithful everywhere to set aside doctrinal disputes, and to be united in prayer. Sorry, if this is too much, or too heavy. Obviously, I'm quite concerned with things.