Tag Archives: 2008 Election

Yes on Propositions Nuance, Charity, and Reason

lincoln-douglas-debate

Regardless of the outcome of today’s election (I can’t believe I’m saying today’s election!), there are at least two truths that we will all wake up to tomorrow:

Half of America will be discouraged and maybe even resentful.

None of America’s problems will have been solved.

Perhaps because it is the culmination of nearly four years of politics at its most exhausting, this election day feels like it’s one of the most significant days in recent history. But as much as November 4, 2008 has been talked about, debated, anticipated, and feared, we must all remember: it is still only one day. It is the election of a president. It isn’t the changing of the world.

Sure, the electing of the U.S. President is hugely important. I don’t dispute that. But it takes more than a president to change things, and neither John McCain nor Barack Obama has the power to heal this country and this world alone. It’s kind of ridiculous, when you think about it, that we put so much energy, money, time, and emotion into the electing of one candidate. Between the campaigns of McCain, Obama, and Hillary Clinton, over $1 billion has been spent on this presidential race. What problems might have been solved, pain assuaged, or suffering ended with even half of that money?

Alas, what’s done is done. We must move on from here. The truth is, I don’t hold all that much hope for America, no matter who is elected. The problem is not with the skills or qualifications of the candidates. I trust them both. The problems are wider, more systemic, from Wall Street to Wasilla, Capital Hill to Coit Tower, sea to shining sea, and beyond.

The problem with America is not the ineptitude of Congress, though they are an ugly example of it. Our problem is that we can’t handle nuance. We’re too impatient for complexity, too lazy for sound reasoning, too selfish to give and take charity, too uneducated to know the much of anything about the economy (supposedly the issue most important to us), and too prone to think and be whatever the media says we are.

Last night I was at the Wilshire screening room for a press screening of Pray the Devil Back to Hell. A pair of particularly virulent Obama supporters sat behind me, and their chatter was predictable. “My dog is smarter than Sarah Palin,” one of them said. “She’s pure evil. I can’t understand how anyone could support her… I almost hope that if McCain is elected, something happens to him and Palin becomes president. Then people would see how stupid they were to vote for her.”

Horrifying comments like this are par for the course these days, on both sides of the aisle. Hateful words have been leveled against Obama by McCain supporters, just as these women expressed their despicable sentiments about Palin.

It was ironic that these comments prefaced a film as earnest and hopeful as Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a documentary about the women’s peace movement in Liberia, when Christian and Muslim women came together to pray and protest for peace in their country which was being torn apart by belligerent warring factions. America, so long defined by the sort of cyclical revenge/pissing contest mentality that ravages countries like Liberia, could learn from what these women did: they put their collective foot down and said “Enough! We have to stop fighting!”

I’m sure it’s impractical to hope that fighting and partisan dueling will stop completely in America, but I do hope that Americans will soon realize that—for the good of this nation, our children, our future—we have to put our foot down and take matters into our own hands. Governments around the world and throughout time have proven that they can’t make change nearly as readily or effectively as can the populace. That is, unless the populace is too lazy or ill-equipped to tackle problems and make progress.

The challenge moving forward is to quit spending so much time complaining about who’s in charge and what they’re not doing. We should instead spend our time and energy in learning how to solve problems ourselves, how to accept and understand the complexities of things, how to get our children educated and engaged in critical thought again. We should turn off cable news and rebel against the idiot media that insists on reducing the world to Joe the Plumber, Jeremiah Wright, and campaign wardrobes. We should demand that someone, anyone, tell us the truth, challenge us with an objective, nonpartisan, nuanced examination of the issues.

It’ll be hard, but we must accept the challenge. We must re-discover the beauty of reason, that we can and should think for ourselves; we must stop the politics of resentment and revenge and realize that love and charity will move far more mountains that moveon.org. We must stop our silly tendency to pin our hopes on one man, one ideology, one way to fix the problems in the world. That is, unless we’re talking about Jesus.

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Why I Cannot Vote for Obama

I really want to vote for Obama. There are a myriad of reasons why it would thrill me to cast my vote for him on November 4. He is such an attractive and inspiring figure, and I’m not just saying that because it’s the standard line about Obama. It’s true.

It would be so nice to have a president who is smart, articulate, even-keeled, poised, intellectual, and (it seems) genuinely passionate about helping downtrodden people.

I’ve been impressed with the way he’s handled himself on the campaign trail (certainly moreso than I have been with McCain), and I’ve more than once considered the possibility of voting for him.

At the end of the day, though, we have to look past all the promises and rhetoric of a presidential candidate and look at their record. In Obama’s case, it’s not all that extensive or especially committal (it’s clear that Obama was planning for the presidency from his very first days in the Illinois legislature). But there are things about his record that really frighten me, and chief among them is his far-left stances on abortion.

Based on his record, Obama is the most pro-abortion presidential candidate in history. If you don’t believe that, read this article.

In it, Robert George, Princeton professor and renowned ethicist, summarizes Obama’s abortion record, and it is ugly. He begins by stating:

“Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress…”

The full article is truly eye-opening and disturbing, and I urge all of you to read it. If there is any part of you that is convicted about abortion and would like to see it lessened in America, you must consider Obama’s record carefully before you consider voting him into office.

I know, I know, people will retort that George W. Bush—possibly the most pro-life president in history—didn’t really do much to advance the pro-life cause. So why should I expect any different from McCain?

Well, it’s not about what McCain will or will not achieve on abortion. It’s about what an Obama administration would do to scale back abortion restriction laws and undo years of pro-life advances. If the democrats win a super majority in congress and Obama is elected president, we could be in for the biggest step back for the pro-life movement in history.

This may make me a “single-issue” voter, but so be it. I agree that “pro-life” goes beyond abortion—encompassing issues of poverty, the death penalty, even the environment… But abortion is a huge and important part of what it means to affirm the sanctity of life, and Obama’s cavalier legislative approach to it truly disturbs me.

I will not be crushed if Obama becomes the president; in some ways I’ll be very happy. But I’ll be praying that his tenure as president does not even go near abortion issues. It is that fear—that Obama will in his presidency be the pro-abortion extremist he has been as an Illinois legislator and U.S. Senator—that prevents me from voting for him.

Burn After Reading

The Coen Brothers new film, Burn After Reading, suffers from the fact that it followed No Country for Old Men, last year’s best picture Oscar winner. By comparison, Reading looks a tad lightweight—a goofy black comedy without the obvious “prestige” elegance of No Country. But I think that Reading is a very good, concise, underrated film. And perhaps the Coen’s most timely movie ever.

On a filmmaking level, you have to appreciate the razor-sharp economy with which the Coens make films. In No Country, they showed just how evocative a film can be when its most crucial, waited-for moments are only implied (as in, the moment when Javier Bardem lifts up his shoe at the end of the film). In Reading, they do the same thing. The Coens use an effective narrative device—C.I.A. officials being “briefed”—to comically tell us how the most horrendously violent scenes unfold. It is often said that good filmmakers “show” rather than “tell” a scene, but in the case of violence, I think that the Coens have found a way to effectively render it in our minds without always showing it. Certainly the endings of Reading and No Country are effective in this way.

But I also appreciated Reading for other things: its great cast (Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins are especially fun), for one thing, but also its strange, quirky ability to capture the zeitgeist of America (well, Washington) in 2008.

The film has a resigned feeling to it—an almost nihilistic sense that everyone is stupid, selfish, and self-destructive. It’s a dark, cynical film, but it captures a familiar weariness that I think rings more true than ever today—in these days when Washington seems more inept than ever, more self-serving, and more prone to make a problem worse by trying to “solve” it in a quick and easy manner.

Burn After Reading never directly addresses one political party or another, and certainly it may be interpreted as a critique of the 8-year-long train wreck that has been the Bush years, but I see it more as a commentary on Washington D.C. in general, on bureaucracy, on the failed systems of power and secrecy and cover-ups that have made this generation of young Americans the most cynical ever about politics.

No Country felt timely as well, but not in a way that felt particularly American. Reading feels completely and utterly about America—about big, dumb, angry, short-tempered Americans who are scared about the future, paranoid about the present, dubious about anyone or anything “official,” and perpetually engaged in a downward spiral/comedy of errors.

At a time like this—when faith in America is dropping with the stocks, when many of us are losing all interest in the election and just wish it would end—perhaps Burn After Reading is not the best film for us. But then again, maybe it’s exactly the film we need.

Is She a Game-Changer?

Sarah Palin was no one’s expected choice for John McCain’s vice presidential running mate. And that in itself is remarkable. John McCain did exactly what a self-styled “maverick” leader should do: he picked the person no one expected he would.

My first reaction: this is a brilliant move.  Just as Obama picked a cynical old white man Washington career politician (Joe Biden) for his running mate, McCain counters by picking a young, idealistic, tough-as-nails woman from Alaska! That’s about as far from Joe Biden as you can get…

She’s a great pick for other reasons:

-She’s huge on family values and pro-life issues. This is what McCain needed to reassure social conservatives and Catholics.

-She’ll be a boon for the Western vote. The typically red-state West is in play this election, and she should give McCain’s campaign a big boost among western republicans and independents. She’s all about gun rights, small government, and traditional values. And she’s not Mitt Romney.

-She’s a woman! This is amazing and historic: the first woman to ever appear on a Republican presidential ticket. And in a year when Hillary was supposed to be there! I imagine a number of Hillary’s 18 million fans will wonder: why didn’t Obama pick Hillary for VP??? How embarrassing for the democrats that in a year when they had the best female candidate, they chose two male senators and let the republicans “break the glass ceiling.”

-She’s an amazing amalgam of likeable traits. She’s a “hockey mom,” played tons of sports in high school and college, was a beauty queen, is a hunter, a former union member, is married to a champion snowmobiler/fisherman, and has a son in Iraq.

-She’s a Washington outsider, unlike the other three people in the election. She has a small-town, down-to-earth feel (mother of five… and one baby just recently born) and will really appeal to the “Obama is elitist and out-of-touch” people out there…

-She’s a good speaker. I just watched her speech from Dayton, OH. She has the right mix of force/authority and deference. You can tell from her speaking tone that she can spar with anyone and hold her own, while also demonstrating a mother’s compassion.

-She’ll clean house. As governor of Alaska, she’s cleaned up some of the corruption in that state’s republican party. Republicans need someone like her, coupled with Maverick McCain, to clean house and rid Washington of cronyism and “good ole boy” clubs…

-She looks like Tina Fey!

Desperately Seeking Evangelicals

It seems that everyday there is a new story in the news about how evangelical Christians are “up for grabs” in this year’s election. On Sunday there was this article on CNN.com about Shane Claiborne’s “Jesus For President” tour, in which the dreadlocked neo-monk said, “With the respectability and the power of the church comes the temptation to prostitute our identity for every political agenda.” Well said.

Then on Tuesday there was a story about Obama “reaching out” to evangelicals–a story that featured quotes from who else but Emergent guru Brian McLaren, who claimed that “there’s a very, very sizable percentage — I think between a third and half — of evangelicals, especially younger [evangelicals], who are very open to somebody with a new vision.” I wonder who he means?

Meanwhile McCain continues to all but ignore evangelicals, adding fuel to the “up for grabs” fire that is so eagerly announced by the mainstream press. He did muster a meeting with Billy Graham last weekend, which seemed more symbolic than anything. I love Billy Graham very much, but is the 89-year-old really the best person McCain should tap to get some evangelical momentum on his side? While McCain continues to cater to the over-80 set, Obama is busy inspiring the formation of young Christian political action committees, like the Matthew 25 Network.

But is anyone else a little weary of all this “seeking the evangelical vote” spiritual gerrymandering? Obama plays his evangelical card with characteristic finesse, but ten years ago would he be caught dead with the e-word label? I doubt it. And McCain… well at least he isn’t trying to pretend he is or ever was a card-carrying evangelical. He straight-up flaunts his ambivalence to the Dobsons of the world… and that earns him more than a little respect in my book. He’s not trying to be someone he isn’t.

I’m not saying Obama is lying through his teeth; I honestly do think he is sincere in his Christian faith. But in the terms with which evangelicals historically define themselves, Obama clearly does not fit the bill. And that is fine. Christians: it IS okay to vote for someone who is not exactly like you! We should be voting on the issues and qualifications of the candidates, not their church-going practices.

I guess I’m just fatigued by the whole idea that I—as an evangelical—am part of some monolithic group that will sway the election. Am I not free to vote for the person I think will be a better president for us? Do I really have to be “courted” and convinced by the candidates that my Christian point of view will be reinforced by them as president? That’s what happened when George W. Bush ran for president in 2000. And did everything become Christian and wonderful in America? Far from it.