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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Talking To The Hand

by digby

NEWSWEEK: Your grandfather was Muslim, but you are a Christian. What did you think of the pope’s original comments about Islam and how the reaction played out?

Barack Obama: Well, I think that we live in a time where there are enormous religious sensitivities, and I have no doubt that the pope did not intend to offend the Muslim faith any more than many of us sometimes say things in a different context that aren’t intended to cause offense. But I think all of us, particularly religious leaders, have to be mindful that there are a lot of sensitivities out there. Now, the flip side is that there are those in the Muslim community who are looking to take offense and are constantly on the lookout for anything that would indicate that the West is somehow antagonistic toward Islam.

Did he say anything that he needed to apologize for?

You know, I leave it up to the pope. He made an apology and I wouldn’t challenge his judgment on it.

Did you read what he said?

I read what he said. And, as I said, I think he is mindful that he did not want to cause offense or pain, and to the extent that he did, I think he felt it necessary to apologize. My point, I guess is that all sides in the current environment have to be very careful how we talk about faith. I gave a speech recently in which I said that Democrats, for example, should not be afraid to talk about faith. But I think we’ve got to do so in a way that admits the possibility that we are not always right, that our particular faith may not have all the monopoly on truth, and we’ve got to be able to listen to other people. You know I think one of the trends we are seeing right now, and which I think is causing so much political grief both domestically and internationally, is that absolutism has become sort of the flavor of the day.

And lukewarm water will dilute it, I guess. He's completely right that Democrats need to get with the program and recognise that we don't have a monopoly on truth. All this absolutism has got to stop. It's a big problem for us:

Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to evanglical Christians in preparation for his possible Presidential campaign is running into very stiff resistance from the Christian right. As the Chicago Tribune reported recently, Obama is set to attend a huge evangelical gathering in California on Dec. 1, at the invitation of megachurch Pastor Rick Warren, the evangelical superstar who wrote The Purpose-Driven Life. Analysts have interpreted Obama's scheduled appearance as a sign he's working much harder than Dems ordinarily do to win over Evangelicals.

But the appearance is now provoking an intense backlash from leaders of the Christian right. They are calling on Warren to disinvite Obama from the event because of his liberal positions, especially abortion rights — or as one of those leaders put it, Obama's support of "the murder of babies in the womb."

Obama's efforts are running into fierce resistance. For instance, an open letter from a group of Christian-Right figures — including Phylis Schlafly, Tim Wildmon and others — criticizes the invitiation by citing Obama's pro-choice stance and his support for condom distribution in answer to the AIDS epidemic, "not chaste behavior as directed by the Bible."

Then there's this press release from the National Clergy Council, an umbrella group representing various conservative denominations. In the release, Rob Schenck, president of the group, did not mince words: "Senator Obama's policies represent the antithesis of biblical ethics and morality, not to mention supreme American values."

Obama's attempted inroads with evangelical voters may end up being successful, but not without a significant struggle from leading figures in that movement.

Not a problem. Democrats just need to stop being so absolutist about abortion, birth control, free speech, civil rights and religious freedom and then everyone will be Democrats. (Except liberals, but who wants to be in the same party with those losers anyway?)

Let me be clear about this. I do not dislike Obama nor do I think his conciliatory tone is necessarily incorrect. There is utility in showing the religious right's fundamental intolerance if nothing else. I do find his split-the-difference, triangulation tiresome, however, in the same way I find the news media's he said/she said analysis lazy. It does not clarify anything, it obscures reality and it makes it difficult for Democrats to take a stand on the social justice issues that might just inspire some people of faith. You will notice that in his statement above about absolutism he only calls out two groups by name --- Democrats and Muslims. Yet, there is no more intolerant group of people in this entire country than the religious right. By failing to "include" them by name in his call for conciliation he validates their phony argument that they are the victims of intolerance.

I don't have any sense that he really understand what he's up against with the right, but it looks as though he's going to find out. I will be very impressed if he goes into the belly of the beast at Warren's church and resists the temptation to trash secular liberals to make cheap points before a hostile crowd. I'll be even more impressed if he takes it as an opportunity to challenge their assumptions about themselves.

Show us the money, Obama. Psycho-babble platitudes about "listening" are not going to carry you to the White House. Start talking.