An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question: At the Saddleback Church Forum, pastor Rick Warren began his interviews with John McCain and Barack Obama by saying: “We believe in separation of church and state, but not faith and politics.” What’s your response to that and to the forum?
For me, the God quiz that Barack Obama endured with barely concealed sweaty palms and that John McCain breezed through with seasoned casualness has no place in American politics. Rick Warren is a feel-good preacher who softened the interrogation and administered no canings, but that’s irrelevant. To claim that “faith and politics” is different — and more acceptable — than “church and state” is semantic sleight of hand. The reason that any contemporary presidential candidate is forced to suffer the indignity of confessing his religious beliefs in public goes back to the Reagan revolution. Pandora’s box was opened by the right wing in 1980, admitting not just inappropriate matters of religion into political life but also making acceptable a range of prejudice, bigotry, and divisiveness that had been banished by an era of liberal social legislation. Reagan, after all, was the president who, if left to his own devices, would have let thousands more AIDS victims die through neglect and lack of funding for basic medical research. The implicit reason, well understood by the right and endorsed by fundamentalists, was that gays deserve what they get if they pursue a lifestyle that doesn’t match right-wing Christian ideology. Minorities, women, immigrants, and progressivism in general were given the same back hand.
The Obama-McCain evening, being a stepchild of conservative beliefs, was stacked against Obama, or any secularist, Democrat or not. Indeed, it was stacked against anyone who understands the basic reason for separating church and state, which is to keep closed the box of religious divisiveness that Reagan sprang open. As a performance, neither candidate displayed either the unvarnished truth or unblemished integrity. The real message that was meant to come across from Obama was “I really am American,” and from McCain was “I’m really right as Reagan.” Viewer’s notes: Dull pandering to the audience from both sides. Lots of mention of Jesus, sin, faith, prayer. McCain came off as more prepared and polished in his responses. He went for Reagan’s easy folksy confidence, catering to the audience’s craving for moral simplicity. His answer to the question “Is there evil and how to deal with it?” was typical: “Yes, there is evil and we will defeat it.” Obama said, roughly, “Yes there is evil, and we can’t hope to defeat it on our own, but we can be soldiers for the Lord to do what we can.”
For McCain, it’s all as simple as what Reaganism carved out almost thirty years ago: Gay marriage is bad, abortion is bad, activist judges are bad. Winning in Iraq is good, getting Osama bin Laden is good, offshore oil drilling is good, and freedom is great. Obama talked about the hard work and sacrifices we need to make in order to overcome energy dependence and academic mediocrity, also the respect we need to accord others on the abortion issue–not quite as stirring as reactionary platitudes.
In short, McCain appealed to our escapist magical morality, Obama appealed to reason and practicalities. That has been the story throughout the campaign. Everyone concedes that Obama’s way is more mature, realistic, and ultimately right. But I doubt that’s enough to cure a case of sweaty palms.
Get a sneak peak of our new venture at http://intent.com
A great deal of confusion is being stirred up now over where the disastrous experience of Iraq and the collapse of neoconservatism will lead. By an ironic twist, Barack Obama has been labeled an idealist, when in fact he is an arch-realist who detected the need for change much earlier than any other major politician. John McCain, who cannot escape his share in promoting right-wing illusions, advocates the reversal of history, which means ignoring Iraq and continuing on as if it never happened. But some significant illusions died on the battlefield over the past five years, leading to major shifts on many fronts. Let’s continue down the list.
3. The illusion of America as the friendly superpower. As pure wishful thinking, this one has no peer, and yet the vast majority of the public still probably believes in it, thanks to a long history of using American power for good. That good is undeniable, but in its shadow the U.S. acts like any other nation state, aggressively promoting its own ends and using military force when it meets opposition. The concept of nationalism by definition excludes other nations, and that exclusion is never neutral. “They” are suspect foreigners who are different from us, not just in their policies but in their moral being. Thus the U.S. has a ridiculous image of vaguely immoral France, and for fifty years the image of evil Russians was promoted without shame as a means of pumping up American militarism. (The public still believes that Reagan toppled an evil empire, ignoring the blatant fact that the collapse of Communism was primarily caused by its own internal failings and dissension within the Warsaw Pact.)
After 1989, when the U.S. became the only surviving superpower, the illusion of our friendliness turned paper thin in the hands of militant neoconservatives who aimed to Americanize the world by force, In total disregard of other traditions and local history, they set out to reinvent the Middle East, essentially by saying, “Our way of life is obviously so much better than yours — adopt it now or else.” Suddenly the friendly superpower found itself saddled, not with the global sympathy earned on 9/11 but its opposite: we are imagined to be a worldwide threat and rampantly selfish in our ambitions to dominate others.
4. The illusion that alliances are expendable. The Iraq war began with touting the alliance of the willing, typifying as right anyone who wanted to fight Bush’s cause and wrong anyone who didn’t. As if this wasn’t divisive enough, the morally righteous countries who joined in the conflict met with miniature debacles that mirrored our own. But Iraq was a nakedly unilateral war when all the verbal gloss is stripped away, and as such it showed almost complete disregard for alliances. In addition, the neocons left the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to fester on its own, the first time since 1948 that the U.S. withdrew its good offices and refused to act as a peace broker despite the crying need for one. But 9/11, plus some canny maneuvering on the part of Ariel Sharon, forced the administration’s hand, and a show of allying Israeli and American interests had to be resumed.
The neocons were so certain of American hegemony that the general message sent to our long-time allies was “Who needs you anymore?” This attitude, even if by some miracle of history it proved true, made the world order uncertain and steadily began to allow traditional allies to drift away. Now that American dominance is uncertain, to say the least, two things are happening at once. Europe is feeling friendlier to the interests of Russia and China, while formerly subservient countries have discovered that they can stand up to the bully on the block and not be crushed. This two-sided instability has yet to show how far the U.S. has toppled; confusion still reigns, but the signs are ominous.
(to be cont.)
Get a sneak peak of our new venture at http://intent.com