Race for the White House ’08:
Mag Satire Panned; Depicts Obamas as Muslim, Terrorist
USA Today – 7/14/08
This week’s New Yorker set off a Web-and-cable frenzy Monday over cover art that shows Barack Obama as a Muslim, Michelle Obama as a militant and the American flag aflame under a portrait of Osama bin Laden – all in the Oval Office. Reactions to the cartoon by artist Barry Blitt ranged from sadness to rage to scorn. The consensus from analysts was “what were they thinking?” “It’s the mass media at its worst. It perpetuates false information, and it’s highly inflammatory,” says Darrell West, an elections and public opinion expert at the Brookings Institution. “It gives credibility to what’s been circulating for months, and that’s what makes it dangerous.” In a statement Monday, New Yorker editor David Remnick called the cover a “fantastical” satire that shows “obvious distortions” about the Obamas. Some blacks don’t see it that way. “I wouldn’t use the word satire. The word I would use is racist,” said Sallie Elliot, 53, of Cincinnati, waiting in that city Monday to hear Obama at the NAACP convention. “It perpetuates narrow, stereotypical images, and it was insulting to me.” The problem, says Elaine Miller, a former professor who gives talks on gender and race in political cartoons, is that “once you launch a work of art it belongs to the reader. The artist’s intent is very interesting, but the reader owns the interpretation.” That was the fear on liberal blogs Monday, the second day the cartoon cover topped Memeorandum.com – a ranking of political hot topics on the Web. A recent Newsweek poll shows the potential for misinterpretation: 26% said Obama was raised a Muslim, 39% said he attended an Islamic school and 12% said he was sworn in to the Senate on a Quran. None of that is true. Satire is supposed to exaggerate reality, not reflect it, author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote at ta-nehisi.com. “Sadly, that picture exaggerates nothing – that’s exactly what a slice of Americans believe about Barack Obama. Expect that image to be on T-shirts within two weeks,” he wrote. Christian conservative David Brody made a similar prediction at The Brody File: “Obama’s critics on the right think the picture is spot on. I mean, this thing has ‘copy and paste’ written all over it. Expect to see this … picture popping up in conservative e-mails everywhere.” Obama’s campaign spokesman, Bill Burton, criticized the cover as “tasteless and offensive.” Obama’s fall opponent, Republican John McCain, called it “totally inappropriate” Monday and added, “Frankly, I understand if Sen. Obama and his supporters would find it offensive.”
Finding His Faith
Newsweek – 7/12/08
In 1981 Barack Obama was 20 years old, a Columbia University student in search of the meaning of life. He was torn a million different ways: between youth and maturity, black and white, coasts and continents, wonder and tragedy. He enrolled at Columbia in part to get far away from his past; he’d gone to high school in Hawaii and had just spent two years “enjoying myself,” as he puts it, at Occidental College in Los Angeles. In New York City, “I lived an ascetic existence,” Obama told NEWSWEEK in an interview on his campaign plane last week. “I did a lot of spiritual exploration. I withdrew from the world in a fairly deliberate way.” He fasted. Often, he’d go days without speaking to another person. For company, he had books. There was Saint Augustine, the fourth-century North African bishop who wrote the West’s first spiritual memoir and built the theological foundations of the Christian Church. There was Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th-century German philosopher and father of existentialism. There was Graham Greene, the Roman Catholic Englishman whose short novels are full of compromise, ambivalence and pain. Obama meditated on these men and argued with them in his mind. The story of Obama’s religious journey is a uniquely American tale. It’s one of a seeker, an intellectually curious young man trying to cobble together a religious identity out of myriad influences. Always drawn to life’s Big Questions, Obama embarked on a spiritual quest in which he tried to reconcile his rational side with his yearning for transcendence. He found Christ-but that hasn’t stopped him from asking questions. “I’m on my own faith journey and I’m searching,” he says. “I leave open the possibility that I’m entirely wrong.”
The Times Interviews John McCain
New York Times – 7/13/08
Following are excerpts of a transcript of an interview conducted by The New York Times’s Adam Nagourney and Michael Cooper with Senator John McCain in Hudson, Wis., on July 11. The answers are transcribed verbatim; some of the questions are paraphrased. The other people Mr. McCain refers to, who were in the room, are his wife, Cindy; Mark Salter, a senior adviser; Brook Buchanan, his press secretary; and John Taylor, an economic adviser.Q: Do you consider yourself an evangelical Christian? Mr. McCain: I consider myself a Christian. I attend church, my faith has sustained me in very difficult times. But I think it depends on what you call a quote evangelical Christian. Because there are some people who may not share my views on – I mean, that covers a lot of ground. But I certainly consider myself a Christian. Q: How often do you go to church? Mr. McCain: Um, not as often as I should. When Cindy and I are in Phoenix, we attend. We’ve been fortunate enough the last few weeks to be in Phoenix. During the primary before that we were not back in Phoenix much so – again, not as frequently as I would like. I do appreciate the pastor of the North Phoenix Baptist Church, his name is Dan Neary (SP), and I talk to him frequently on the phone and I appreciate his spiritual guidance. He’s a great believer in redemption. Q: Do you think religious organizations that get federal funding to deliver social services – faith based organizations – should be permitted to take faith into account in deciding who to hire. You saw Obama’s proposal. Mr. McCain: I support faith-based organizations and I support a lot of the things that the president did. I was in New Orleans after Katrina and I went to their Resurrection Baptist Church and I saw volunteers from all over America working and helping in the clean-up, and the work that they did and talking with people like Governor Jindal, he said they did great work. I would continue along the model of what the president has done. And I certainly applaud Senator Obama’s, what I heard of his position basically the same. Q: I think the one difference is whether or not as a condition of getting these monies, that these organization say they will not take into account religion or other factors in hiring decisions. Mr. McCain: Obviously it’s very complicated because if this is an organization that says we want people in our organization that are Baptists or vegetarians or whatever it is, they should not be required to hire someone that they don’t want to hire in my view. Listen, this is the kind of the issue that goes on with the Boy Scouts, it goes on with a number of other issues. I think the president’s faith-based organization has been successful and I support what he has done Q: I guess the way opponents describe it means that these groups are allowed to discriminate in hiring. Mr. McCain: I can only answer it to say that I think faith-based organizations have been one of the more successful parts of the Bush Administration and I would continue it.
McCain Hasn’t Ignited the Passions of Evangelicals
Associated Press – 7/17/08
Stirring her morning coffee, lifelong Republican Grace Droog voiced her doubts – and those of many evangelical voters – about what she isn’t hearing from John McCain in this year’s presidential election. “I look for something about his faith,” she said. “It’s very important, it’s what our nation was founded on.” Her pal Joan Rens nodded; she, too, wants McCain to talk about his religious beliefs. “I wish he would so we would know how he stands on his religious views and where his faith lies,” she said. In this part of the country – halfway between Sioux City, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, S.D., – separating religion from politics is folly. Religious conservatives here were energized by President Bush’s public declaration of faith and handed him a landslide in 2004. With growing sway in the state GOP, they recently captured a prominent party leadership post. “When they get on fire, it’s Katie bar the door,” said Rock Rapids businessman George Schneiderman, who worries that McCain isn’t generating that excitement. “It’s just kind of a tepid response,” he said. “McCain really hasn’t convinced them he has the same fervor about the appointment of judges, about the right to life.” In the ongoing AP-Yahoo News Poll, only 10 percent of white evangelical Christians say they are excited by this election, compared with 20 percent of Americans overall. A third of these evangelicals said they were interested in the election, but half said they were frustrated by it. Nevertheless, they support McCain over Obama by 62 percent to 18 percent. Although the AP-Yahoo News Poll is of all adults, not the smaller, more energized group of likely voters, McCain’s figures lag behind Bush’s showing among white evangelical Christian voters in the 2004 election, when exit polls indicated 78 percent supported him.
Dobson Shifts Positions, May Endorse McCain
Associated Press – 7/20/08
Conservative Christian leader James Dobson has softened his stance against Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, saying he could reverse his position and endorse the Arizona senator despite serious misgivings. “I never thought I would hear myself saying this,” Dobson said in a radio broadcast to air Monday. “… While I am not endorsing Senator John McCain, the possibility is there that I might.” Dobson and other evangelical leaders unimpressed by McCain increasingly are taking a lesser-of-two-evils approach to the 2008 race. Dobson and his guest, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler, spend most of the pretaped Focus on the Family radio program criticizing Democratic candidate Barack Obama, getting to McCain at the very end. “There’s nothing dishonorable in a person rethinking his or her positions, especially in a constantly changing political context,” Dobson said in a statement to the AP. “Barack Obama contradicts and threatens everything I believe about the institution of the family and what is best for the nation. His radical positions on life, marriage and national security force me to reevaluate the candidacy of our only other choice, John McCain.” Earlier, Dobson had said he could not in good conscience vote for McCain, citing the candidate’s support for embryonic stem cell research and opposition to a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, as well as concerns about McCain’s temper and foul language. Of his new position, Dobson said in the statement to the AP, “If that is a flip-flop, then so be it.”
McCain and Obama Agree to Attend Megachurch Forum
New York Times – 7/21/08
It has taken a man of God, perhaps, to do what nobody else has been able to do since the general election season began: Get Barack Obama and John McCain together on the same stage before their party conventions later this summer. The Rev. Rick Warren has persuaded the candidates to attend a forum at his Saddleback Church, in Lake Forest, Calif., on Aug. 16. In an interview, Mr. Warren said over the weekend that the presidential candidates would appear together for a moment but that he would interview them in succession at his megachurch. The forum still falls short of the kind of face-to-face, town-hall-style debates that Mr. McCain, of Arizona, has called for this summer before formal debates scheduled for this fall. Mr. Warren, the author of the best-selling book “The Purpose-Driven Life,” said he had called each man personally to invite him to his event, which will focus on how they make decisions and on some of Mr. Warren’s main areas of focus, like AIDS, poverty and the environment. “I just got to thinking, you know what? These guys have never been together on the same stage, it would be a neat way to cap the primary season before they both go to the conventions and things go dark for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I’ve known both the guys for a long time, they’re both friends of mine, and I knew them before they ran for office, so I just called them up.” He said that both had readily agreed, perhaps reflecting how each candidate is courting the evangelical audience to whom Mr. Warren ministers. Mr. Warren’s event will have as a co-sponsor Faith in Public Life, the multidenominational religious group that held the Compassion Forum at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., in April, featuring Mr. Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Pennsylvania during their primary fight. Mr. Warren said he would devise his questions with input from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders associated with the group.
Faith and the Feds, Version 2.0.08
Denver Post – 7/14/08
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain say they will build on Bush administration efforts to help small church groups and neighborhood nonprofits deliver more social services – a foundation that critics call shaky, reports Electa Draper. Colorado faith-based nonprofits and national experts say President Bush’s plan to promote grassroots partnerships in the war against poverty struck a chord, but it rang hollow when federal funding didn’t materialize. “There were big promises made. It was exploited for political purposes. It was a sham,” said David Kuo, former special assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The program reported that in 2007, federal agencies, with coordination by the office, handed out more than 200 social-services grants totaling $136 million in Colorado. However, most recipients were large secular organizations already in the pipeline – not the mom-and-pop nonprofits, religious or secular, targeted by the initiatives. Colorado faith-based groups received roughly $9 million in 2007, down from the $19 million garnered by the state’s religious nonprofits in 2006, when grants totaled $138 million. The religious recipients that benefited most in 2007 were big players such as Catholic Charities, which partnered with the federal government long before the presidential initiative in 2001. In 2007, Catholic Charities and other large Catholic programs in Colorado received more than $6 million in grants, about two-thirds of the state’s faith-based pie. Still, Catholic Charities, the state’s largest private provider of social services, got no boost under the president’s initiative, said Denver Catholic Charities spokesman Randy Weinert. Kuo said the dollars haven’t been there because of knee- jerk Democratic opposition to funding religious groups and stereotypical Republican indifference to the poor. And, Kuo said, senior White House officials exerted little effort to overcome the resistance in Congress. Compassionate conservatism appeared bankrupt.
What Does ‘Jihad’ Really Mean?
NPR – 7/17/08
After years of using the word “jihadist” to describe terrorists who carry out attacks against civilians and the U.S. military, the Bush administration has finally realized that doing so actually pays those groups a compliment in the eyes of some Muslims. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has relied on terms like “jihadist” and “Islamic extremists.” But jihad has very positive connotations in the Islamic world. It is akin to religious duty: when someone wants to better themselves, they embark on a jihad. Whether it’s to quit smoking, pray more, and in some cases, fight off anyone preventing them from practicing their religion. “Just like you wouldn’t call Josef Stalin a hero of the revolution, you don’t want to call Osama bin Laden a jihadist. He loves it,” says Duncan MacInnes, a spokesman for the State Department’s Counterterrorism Communication Center. The State Department has issued a memo to all its employees cautioning them against using Islamic references whenever condemning terrorist attacks. The Department of Homeland Security has also advised its employees to avoid those same mistakes.
The Muslim-Jewish Tipping Point
Washington Post – 7/14/08
“Nobody believes you guys actually exist,” I said to the group I was eating dinner with. I was sitting with the North American Board of Reform Judaism’s youth movement (called NFTY) at their summer leadership camp, Kutz. These five teenagers were responsible for leading programming for thousands of young Reform Jews across the country. This year’s study theme: Muslim-Jewish Relations. And these young leaders couldn’t be more excited it. I do interfaith work with young people for a living, and even I was taken aback by their enthusiasm. “Tell me why this is so important to you?” I asked. The reasons spilled forth: “Making new friends.” “Making peace.” “Sharing lessons on what it means to be religious in a secular society.” Susan Sontag once wrote, “Whatever is happening, something else is always going on.” While newspaper headlines are dominated by stories of hatred and violence between Jews and Muslims, there is a quiet revolution taking place off the radar screen. Last year witnessed an historic warming in Muslim-Jewish relations in America. Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (the largest Jewish denomination in America, with 1.5 million members and 900 congregations), gave a well-received keynote presentation at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). In the recent issue of Reform Judaism, the movement’s magazine, Yoffie writes: “The time has come to engage in dialogue with our Muslim neighbors and to educate ourselves about Islam.”
State Board of Education Approves General Guidelines for High School Bible Course
Dallas Morning News – 7/19/08
Elective Bible courses in Texas high schools received the blessing of the State Board of Education on Friday, but local school officials will have to figure out how to design those classes so they don’t violate religious-freedom protections. Board members approved the new class, which will be in some high schools this fall, even though officials are awaiting an opinion from the attorney general on whether the state law authorizing the course requires all school districts to offer it. The board adopted general guidelines for the course on a 10-5 vote, disregarding the advice of several members of the House Public Education Committee who urged approval of more specific requirements to head off the possibility of constitutional violations and lawsuits. Among those who called for more specifics was Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who helped write the 2007 law. Mr. Hochberg warned the board at their meeting that, without specific guidance from the state, some schools would run afoul of the First Amendment requirement of religious neutrality for such classes. “My interest is keeping the focus on teaching kids and spending less money on lawsuits,” he said. But a majority of board members, including all seven aligned with social conservatives, said they preferred to adopt a general rule and not dictate how the classes will be taught. “It’s better for us to go ahead and do something now,” said board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond. “We have met the requirements of the legislation. We don’t want to stifle what they [school districts] are doing in classrooms.” Attorney General Greg Abbott has told the board that although the state standards for the Bible class appear to be in compliance with the First Amendment, his office can’t guarantee that the courses taught in high schools will be constitutional because they haven’t been reviewed. Critics contend that the standards – based on old guidelines for independent studies in English and social studies – are so vague and general that many schools might unknowingly create unconstitutional Bible classes that either promote the religious views of teachers or disparage the religious beliefs of some students.
Pope Calls for Unity to Oppose Violence
New York Times – 7/19/08
Pope Benedict XVI, in Australia for World Youth Day, called on religious leaders of all faiths Friday to find common ground and to unite against those who resort to violence to achieve their ends. “In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity,” he said at a meeting with Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. “A harmonious relationship between religion and public life is all the more important at a time when some people have come to consider religion a cause of division rather than a force for unity,” he said. It was part of a broader message that has echoed throughout the pope’s statements this week during the Roman Catholic Church’s gathering of young people from around the world, stressing the similarities among religions, cultures and human experience rather than the differences. “The universality of human experience, which transcends all geographical boundaries and cultural limitations, makes it possible for followers of religions to engage in dialogue so as to grapple with the mysteries of life’s joys and sufferings,” he said. “At their core, human relations cannot be defined in terms of power, domination and self-interest. Rather, they reflect and perfect man’s natural inclination to live in communion and accord with others.” The message of reconciliation came from a pope who angered many Muslims when, in a 2006 lecture in Regensburg, Germany, he used a quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor that appeared to vilify Muslims. The pope subsequently said that he did not subscribe to the views expressed in the quotation and, although the furor subsided, some strained feelings have remained.
An Initiative that Inspires Little Faith
Baltimore Sun Op-Ed by Rev. Welton Gaddy – 7/15/08
Funding faith seems to be in fashion these days. President Bush highlighted his faith-based initiative in his most recent State of the Union address, and the day after the speech he visited a prisoner re-entry program in Baltimore. Now Sen. Barack Obama has announced that, if elected, he would continue the faith-based initiative but under somewhat different guidelines; unlike President Bush and Sen. John McCain, Mr. Obama would not allow groups accepting tax dollars to engage in religious discrimination in hiring. That is an improvement, but it doesn’t go far enough to safeguard against the pitfalls that doomed the Bush administration’s faith-based initiative. Religious charities have received government aid for charitable missions for decades, but only if the charity was a separate 501(c)(3) organization, apart from the church or denomination that supports it. Mr. Bush changed the law to allow government money to be given directly to houses of worship, and Mr. Obama’s plan would continue this practice. We at the Interfaith Alliance hope Mr. Obama will change his mind, because establishing a separate charity is a crucial step that upholds the integrity of both religion and government. When the government gives money directly to religious institutions, those funds are mixed with other private funds into a single pot of money. Thus, it becomes impossible for a church to say whether the government’s money is being used for a soup kitchen, which is permissible, or for missionary work, which is not allowed. And if the government needs to investigate waste, fraud, or abuse in a faith-based grant, it would have to investigate the internal affairs of that church. Government should not be in the business of sifting through a church’s collection plates every Sunday. Charities, whether religious or secular, deserve a real commitment. And the millions of needy people in America should never be forced to submit to a religious agenda to receive services. Mr. Obama had pledged to uphold these principles if elected, but those of us who recall how Mr. Bush’s rhetoric differed from his policies will be watching closely.
Barack Obama: the Flimflam Candidate
Aspen Daily News Op-Ed by Nat Hentoff – 7/16/08
During my more than 60 years of covering national politics, I have never seen a candidate’s principles and character so effectively tarnished – after so extraordinarily inspiring a start – as Barack Obama’s. He has come to resemble another mellifluous orator I came to know in Boston during my first time reporting on a campaign – James Michael Curley, the skillful prestidigitator whom Spencer Tracy masterfully played in the movie “The Last Hurrah.” Obama’s deflation has not been due to ruthless opposition research by John McCain’s team but by the “change” candidate himself. Like millions of Americans, I, for a time, was buoyed by not only the real-time prospect of our first black president but much more by the likelihood that Obama would pierce the dense hypocrisy and insatiable power-grabbing of current American politics. But what could be wrong with a new Obama approach, to assert his religious faith by, if elected, expanding the government funding of faith-based social services through churches and other religious institutions? The former constitutional law professor does avoid one separation-of-church-and-state problem by pledging that the recipients of these taxpayer funds could not engage in hiring discrimination on the basis of an employee’s religion, thereby not limiting those hired to that particular faith. However, I expect professor Obama knows of the importance in constitutional case law of the need to avoid excessive entanglements of the state with religious institutions. To prevent churches and other religious groups that get government funds from both discrimination in their employment practices, and from proselytizing with taxpayers’ money, will require careful and extensive monitoring by the state. Says the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, in the July 4 Jewish Week: “You can say none of this money should be used for proselytizing or that there shouldn’t be discrimination, but what does that mean for the little storefront agency, where there can be a subtle or even more blatant form of discrimination, and where proselytizing does occur?”
Washington Post Editorial – 7/21/08
BARACK OBAMA gave a speech promoting faith-based initiatives recently that managed to upset both sides of the debate over whether and how to blend government funding and religious institutions. The strict separation of church and state types expressed dismay that Mr. Obama promised a continuation of what they see as undue entanglement. Some religious groups were unhappy about Mr. Obama’s caveat: “[I]f you get a federal grant you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them — or against the people you hire — on the basis of their religion.” The controversial part is between the dashes: whether faith-based groups can discriminate in hiring. Religious institutions are generally exempt from the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on religion — this only makes sense. The hiring issue comes up in two ways related to government-funded programs, however. First, can the faith-based group choose to hire only adherents for that program? For instance, could a church that operates a soup kitchen, even if it does not preach to those it feeds, still employ only those who share its beliefs? Second, can faith-based groups discriminate in other ways to avoid conflicting with religious beliefs? Specifically, can religious groups that frown on homosexuality refuse to hire openly gay employees in government-funded programs? This question could take on new importance if a measure prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation were to become law during an Obama administration.
William McKenzie: Pentecostals Could Influence Swing States
Dallas Morning News Op-Ed by William McKenzie – 7/15/08
When Reunion Arena closed last month, most of us in Dallas focused on the end of an era for the basketball showcase. But the religious revival held at Reunion on the night of its last hurrah also had plenty to say about the future, politically speaking. According to Pastor Lynn Godsey of Ennis, the evangelistic rally brought in 13,500 largely Latino worshipers, half of whom he estimates were Hispanic Pentecostals. Defined by their preference for healings, miracles and speaking in tongues, Latino Pentecostals are a fast-growing branch within the larger world of Latino evangelicals. (Not all evangelicals subscribe to speaking in tongues, healings, direct revelations by the Holy Spirit and miracles.) From a political standpoint, Pentecostals are worth watching, including Latino Pentecostals. Presidential elections are increasingly broken down into winning niches of voters, particularly in swing states. When you consider where Pentecostals are most concentrated, they certainly could be influential in swing states. A New York Times breakdown shows they congregate the most, percentagewise, in Arkansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia. After that, it’s Arizona, Virginia, Texas, Alabama, Kansas and Oregon. Texas is not a swing state. Neither is Oregon. But some of those others sure will be in play this fall. Consider West Virginia. It’s absolutely a swing state, where every vote matters to the McCain and Obama camps.