Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Farewell to the Obamagelicals?

The moderate evangelical vote is slipping away from Barack Obama.
All year, Sen. Obama has worked hard to win evangelical voters. They’ve run campaign ads, distributed literature about being a “committed Christian,” and offered numerous outreach events at the Democratic convention. At stake are about six million voters – moderate evangelicals who voted for George W. Bush last time but were intrigued by Sen. Obama.
“Because of the emotional/social hot-buttons of the traditional evangelical community, things just got very difficult for Sen. Obama,” said Joel Hunter, the Republican pastor who gave the benediction at the Democratic convention. “I am not sure of the shelf-life of ecstasy.”
Earlier in the week, Mark DeMoss, a supporter or John McCain who had earlier predicted Sen. Obama could get as much as 40% of the evangelical vote, revised his estimates downward. Was it “game over?” I asked. “Yes, I think so,” he said.
Several things have battered Sen. Obama’s standing with moderate evangelicals:
1) His poor performance at the Saddleback candidates forum, especially (or perhaps entirely) his comment about it being “above my pay grade” to know when life begins.
2) John McCain’s selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, an appealing antiabortion figure and the perceived attacks on her by the media, which led evangelicals to think the “elites” were against them. This sentiment has been skillfully stoked by the Republicans.
3) The Democrats’ decision to run radio ads championing Sen. Obama’s abortion-rights position without discussing his abortion-reduction agenda. “Unless the Obama campaign will stop emphasizing abortion rights and strongly address the major common cause issues with a spirited vision and practical details, the Republicans can continue to scoop up a ton of votes,” says Hunter.
4) The Obama campaign’s failure to combat effectively the charge that he opposed giving protection to infants who survive abortions. It’s now become a standard part of the Republican litany that Sen. Obama supports not only abortion but also infanticide.
5) Quiet concern among evangelical leaders of faith-based groups that Sen. Obama’s faith-based initiative would leave most faith-based groups in the cold because he wouldn’t allow them to hire only from their particular faith.
It’s certainly possible the Obama campaign could turn the situation around. In a sign that Democrats realize just how much damage has been done, the liberal religious group Matthew 25 released a statement accusing Gov. Palin of acting in an un-Christian manner. “In questioning not only Barack Obama’s policies but also his motivations, and mocking his career, Palin went far beyond what could be considered acceptable disagreement and into what looked like open hatred for her political opponents,” the group stated Thursday. “The name of Christ should never be associated with hate or contempt for one’s fellow human being, but last night, in Sarah Palin, we believe it was.”
But counter-attacking won’t be sufficient. Sen. Obama will need to address the core anxieties that have arisen, some because of misleading attacks and others because of his own decisions.
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posted September 5, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Sen. Obama will need to address the core anxieties that have arisen, some because of misleading attacks and others because of his own decisions.
Why? Why does he need moderate Evangelicals to win?

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Douglas Johnson

posted September 5, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Mr. Waldman says that Obama has failed “to combat effectively the charge that he opposed giving protection to infants who survive abortions.” The reason Obama has not combatted it effectively is because it is true. Obama led the opposition to a simple, three-sentence bill to protect babies born alive during abortions. Most damning is the reason he gave at the time — he said it would violate his notion of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights to recognize what he called a “previable fetus” as a human person — even though the bill only applied to infants who were entirely outside the mother and alive. His recently minted claim that Illinois already had a law to protect these babies in false. National Right to Life has posted the documentation at — see for yourself. By the way, in an August 25 report, Annenberg’s, investigating Obama’s charge that National Right to Life was “lying” about this issue, concluded, “Obama’s claim is wrong . . . . The documents from NRLC support the group’s claims that Obama is misrepresenting the contents of SB 1082 [the 2003 Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act].”
Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee
Legfederal // at // aol-dot-com

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posted September 5, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Mr. Waldman you may be right that some Evangelicals will go back to the Republican side because Palin is a Pentecostal and is a very vocal and forceful personality, using her Beauty Contest skills of the past, which serve her very well in this campaign of the Republicans at this point. The sad thing is that this is not a race for a place in a Church or a Religious MegaChurch on TV that they are campaigning for; it’s for the United States President that will have to turn many bad decisions around that have been made in the past presidency and his Republican Administration that include our economy, our health care, our collapsing infrastructure, and our very sad Foreign relations with other countries in the world, a war that is lasting too long, and killing our youth and men and women in their prime. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have the abilities to bring America back to its feet again. John McCain and Sarah Palin do not have what it takes to do this. They are exciting and have charisma, and say what the Religious Right wants them to, but they would be a big mistake.

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posted September 6, 2008 at 12:42 am

I seriously doubt that either Mark DeMoss or the WSJ are in touch with the evangelicals who would have considered Obama in the first place. If there’s any way George W. Bush has blessed the country, it’s by making evangelicals stop and think. This doesn’t mean they’ll support Obama, but far more of them aren’t going to be moved just because McCain and company manage to press one of the five buttons mentioned above.

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posted September 6, 2008 at 2:40 am

Sarah Palin should be a true Christian mom and be HOME where all of her 5 babies + upcoming grandbaby need her so desperately. Watching her kids’ forced smiles on TV make me cringe, and when I think about how much her youngest needs her and won’t have her, it makes me cry. She’s probably not even nursing this poor child. A pathetic and sad situation is all it is to me. McCain will absolutely not get my vote because of this situation he’s created, and Palin is just another bad mommy parading around like a Christian. I will pray for her to see the damage she’s inflicted on her family.

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Steven Waldman

posted September 6, 2008 at 11:36 pm

Kate, would you have voted for McCain had he not picked Palin?
Michael asks why does Obama need moderate evangelicals to win. He may not. But what we do know is that part of how Bush won was winning over moderate evangelicals. So if Obama can’t back to at least winning as many as Bill Clinton had, he’s starting off about 6 million votes behind where he could be.

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Selma Markel

posted September 7, 2008 at 1:34 am

I am having a very hard time with any true Christian voting for Obama. At least for saying he is a Christian. The definition as I understand it, of a Christian believes in Jesus Christ as the ONLY way to salvation, to be able to enter heaven. According to Sen. Obama, others can enter also through their own beliefs — Muslim, Buddisim, Hinduism, etc. To me that is not a true Christian.

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posted September 7, 2008 at 1:36 am

Douglas Johnson, National Right to Life Committee, statements are blatantly false.
The statements by the McCain campaign are also blatantly false.
The Fact Check site clearly states that there is no evidence that Obama ever supported ‘Infanticide’
The article is detailed and somewhat confusing review of Obama’s opposition to Illinois legislation in 2001, 2002 and 2003 that would have defined any aborted fetus that showed signs of life as a “born alive infant” entitled to legal protection. It was Obama’s contention that certain definitions were being added that would be used to forbid all abortions. The bills were about definitions, not what actions would be take for a “born alive infant” because a law already existed.

In discussions of abortion rights, definitions are critically important. The main bills under discussion, SB 1082 and the federal BAIPA, are both definition bills. They are not about what can and should be done to babies; they are about how one defines “baby” in the first place. Those who believe that human life begins at conception or soon after can argue that even a fetus with no chance of surviving outside the womb is an “infant.” We won’t try to settle that one.
What we can say is that many other people – perhaps most – think of “infanticide” as the killing of an infant that would otherwise live. And there are already laws in Illinois, which Obama has said he supports, that protect these children even when they are born as the result of an abortion. Illinois compiled statute 720 ILCS 510/6 states that physicians performing abortions when the fetus is viable must use the procedure most likely to preserve the fetus’ life; must be attended by another physician who can care for a born-alive infant; and must “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as would be required of a physician providing immediate medical care to a child born alive in the course of a pregnancy termination which was not an abortion.”
Failure to do any of the above is considered a felony.

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posted September 7, 2008 at 4:52 am

I am one evangelical who will vote Democrat because it is clear McCain is only using Palin as a palliative to garner the Christian vote. He consistently will not own up to understanding the importance of a faith, whereas Obama has tried. This may be largely due to the strongman pressures put on him by Christian influentials, especially those who have publicly said they would not vote for him. Don’t they realize that McCain will hold her out like a damp rag at arm’s length if he should ever get into the White House?
Christians should demonstrate that they have the grace to work with both sides. Abortion, though a defining issue, is only one of many that need to be considered.

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posted September 7, 2008 at 4:27 pm

“I am having a very hard time with any true Christian voting for Obama. At least for saying he is a Christian. The definition as I understand it, of a Christian believes in Jesus Christ as the ONLY way to salvation, to be able to enter heaven. According to Sen. Obama, others can enter also through their own beliefs — Muslim, Buddisim, Hinduism, etc. To me that is not a true Christian.”
Who is a “true” Christian? Obama has already stated that he believes “Jesus Christ as the ONLY way to salvation.”
So, Selma, I assume you work somewhere where there are only “true” Christians and no Muslims, Buddists, Hinduim believers, non-true Christians, etc. And if you have children,I assume your kids are home-schooled to stay away from other believers. I assume you ask all your neighbors, friends, associates, and relatives their faiths before you share more than one conversation with them.
How strong you feel about your faith is the same way that others feel about their faith. What makes me right or you wrong? You’re not God. You can’t win as President telling other ppl that it’s my way or the high way.
You want someone to lie to you and tell you what you want to hear. And when he–Obama–doesn’t, you hold him to these standards that you wouldn’t hold anyone else to. Get real…
I guess “true” Christians couldn’t vote for McCain’s cheating ways or Palin’s out-of-wedlock excuses. I’m tired of religion in politics.

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posted September 7, 2008 at 8:43 pm

You make some good points in the article and I fear that many evangelicals will follow lock step down the McCain-Pallin path, just as the Republicans schemed. But heed where that might lead, sadly not to far from where we are now with Bush. But all is not lost for Obama. I am an evangelical woman and I will be voting for him. I cringe when I think of how evangelicals have so willingly allowed themselves to be used by the Republican party (and their narrow agenda of god, guns and gays) and in so doing, IMO, marring the message of Jesus. I cringe when I remember Pallin’s dismissive, smirking attacks on Obama. And, I am beginning to cringe when someone associates me as being an evangelical.

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posted September 8, 2008 at 3:01 pm

“But what we do know is that part of how Bush won was winning over moderate evangelicals. So if Obama can’t back to at least winning as many as Bill Clinton had, he’s starting off about 6 million votes behind where he could be.”
The assumption–and conceit of your blog–is that the only way to dice and splice the electorate is on the issue of religion. Using that tiny microcosm for analyzing the election, there is an argument that Obama needs to attract moderate evangelicals, whoever they are and however your describe them.
But how much support does Obama LOSE by going after moderate evangelicals? Does he lose the support of feminists? Does he lose the support of gays? Does he lose the support of civil libertarians? While they may not vote for McCain, the bigger concern is losing their money and the GOTV power.
The assumption is that attracting evangelical moderates is somehow a zero-sum game with no downside. But there are tremendous downsides. Can you attract evangelicals without tossing gays under the bus? Can you softer your stand on reproductive rights without tossing feminists and civil libertarians under the bus?

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Douglas Johnson

posted September 9, 2008 at 8:35 am

Because “Linda,” in her Sept. 7 posting above, accuses me of making “blatantly false” statements, I must respond. I am the legislative director for National Right to Life. In fact, everything I said in my original posting is demonstrably true, and everything is documented, for anybody who cares to look at the documenation.
Linda distorts the findings of Annenberg’s, among her other errors. I would encourage readers to examine both the actual FactCheck report, which she links, and the more exhaustively documented National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) White Paper of August 28, 2008, which is posted here:
You will find that there is no contradiction between the two documents regarding the FACTS regarding the contents of the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protect Act that Obama opposed: The bill simply recognized any infant who was completely expelled from the mother, and alive, as a legal person. Obama explained in 2001, and has never recanted, that he opposed this bill because it declared a “previable fetus” to be a legal person – even though the bill only applied if the baby had achieved “complete expulsion or extraction from its mother.” (Obama’s statements are quoted verbatim in the NRLC White Paper.)
The old Illinois law law (720 ILCS 510.6) that “already existed,” to which Linda refers, (covered only situations where an abortionist declared before the abortion that there was “a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb.” But humans are often born alive a month or more before they reach the point where such “sustained survival” – that is, long-term survival – is likely or possible (which is often called the point of “viability”). The old Illinois law has no bearing on many of the induced-labor abortions about which nurses testified before the committees in Congress and the Illinois state legislature, because many of them were performed on unborn humans who were capable of being born alive, and who often were born alive, but who were not old enough to have a “reasonable likelihood of sustained survival . . . outside the womb.”
For example, one nurse testified, “It is not uncommon for a live aborted babies to linger for an hour or two or even longer. At Christ Hospital one of these babies once lived for almost an entire eight-hour shift. Last year alone, of the 13 babies that I am aware of who were aborted at Christ Hospital, at least four lived between 1-1/2 to 3 hours, two boys and two girls.” The nurse testified that another aborted baby “was left to die on the counter of the Soiled Utility Room wrapped in a disposable towel. This baby was accidentally thrown in the garbage, and when they later were going through the trash to find the baby, the baby fell out of the towel and on to the floor.” Another nurse testified that she “happened to walk into a ‘soiled utility room’ and saw, lying on the metal counter, a fetus, naked, exposed and breathing, moving its arms and legs.”
The fragment of the FactCheck report that Linda chose to quote makes it clear that the FactCheck analyst personally felt that if someone killed a “pre-viable” live-born infant, it should not be called “infanticide.” The FactCheck analyst suggested that “many other people — perhaps most” would agree with this position. But that is not a fact, it’s an opinion, and an opinion for which no support was offered. The dictionary defines infanticide as “the killing of an infant soon after birth.” You be the judge. What if midway through that eight-hour shift the nurse referred to above, somebody walked in and hit that “pre-viable” baby on the head with a hammer — would THAT be “infanticide”? Or, since the baby had a limited lifespan due to extreme prematurity (“previable”), would the hammer blow merely be finishing up an abortion in progress?
Linda quotes the Obama camp as asserting that the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act would have banned abortions. They do say that, and it is very revealing. The ENTIRE TEXT of the bill that Obama killed on March 13, 2003, in the committee he chaired, appears below. Ask yourself, where is that definition that would ban any abortions?
I am a critic of Roe v. Wade -– but even among persons who defend Roe v. Wade, most consider that ruling to confer a right to terminate the lives of unborn humans inside the womb, and do not believe that it diminishes the legal status of a baby who is fully born. However, there really are some people who believe that Roe v. Wade goes further, and requires that a “previable fetus” (Obama’s term) who is the subject of an abortion must remain classified as a non-person no matter where that “previable fetus” is located. In this vision, the so-called “previable fetus” who happens to be outside the mother is still in the process of being aborted, and that entire process (which Obama regards as constitutionally protected) will end only with the death of the newborn. By his actions and his explanations of those actions, Barack Obama showed himself to be among those who hold this expansive vision of the “right to abortion.” In Obama’s view, to declare the fully born and living but “previable” human to be a legal person does indeed interfere with “abortion” and does indeed conflict with the full and proper application of “Roe v. Wade.”
In short, Obama’s commitment to defend the practice of abortion without qualification was so absolute that it led him to reflexively view the issue of babies born alive during abortions through the prism of his concept of Roe v. Wade, and worse, to conclude that a breathing, squirming, fully born pre-viable human baby is still covered by Roe v. Wade. But when he ran for higher office (U.S. Senate) in 2004, he realized how difficult that position would be to defend in the world outside the halls of the Illinois Senate. That is when he began to misrepresent the contents of the bill that he had opposed, which produced the FactCheck judgment: “Obama’s claim is wrong . . . The documents from NRLC support the group’s claims that Obama is misrepresenting the contents of SB 1082 [the 2003 Illinois BAIPA].”
Here’s the full bill text of the bill that Obama voted against in killed in the Illinois Senate committee that he chaired, on March 13, 2003:
Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee
Washington, D.C. 20004
Legfederal // at // aol-dot-com

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