Tag Archives: Obama

Obama’s Conservative Speech

On Tuesday, President Obama—following the precedent of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush—delivered a “Back to School” speech to American students, beamed live via the Internet and C-SPAN into thousands of classrooms across the country.

It was a fantastic speech. Read it here.

I always love a good Obama speech. He’s a great, inspiring orator, and in recent years he’s delivered some of the best American speeches of the 21st century (such as this race speech from the campaign trail).

His speech to America’s schoolchildren was impressive as ever, and I hope that it inspired some children to want to learn, study, and succeed in school.

Unfortunately, in the days leading up to the speech, the buffoons of conservative talk radio and Fox News preemptively labeled the speech “socialist propaganda” and basically accused Obama of trying to indoctrinate America’s children.

Sean Hannity claimed that “it seems very close to indoctrination,” while Fox News commentator Monica Crowley said “just when you think this administration can’t get any more surreal and Orwellian, here they come to indoctrinate our kids”; similarly, Michelle Malkin claimed that “the left has always used kids in public schools as guinea pigs and as junior lobbyists for their social liberal agenda.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but a careful read of Obama’s speech reveals that it is far from a propagandistic sales pitch for the social liberal agenda. On the contrary; It’s actually borderline conservative. Why? Because the point of the speech is personal responsibility. Obama makes it clear that we all have circumstances that make achievement difficult. We have absentee fathers (Obama talks about his own), poverty, prejudice, and a whole battery of other challenges that make success in life difficult. But they are all excuses. Here’s something Obama said in the speech:

But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

Isn’t this sort of what conservatives are always saying? That it’s all about moving beyond handouts and pity and taking ownership over one’s destiny? Here’s another excerpt from the speech:

We can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

To me, the speech is about as American and far from socialism as you can get. It’s a speech about believing in yourself, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, overcoming adversity, etc. What was Fox News thinking in their overanxious denouncement of it?

Meanwhile, other conservatives—like Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich—have responded to the speech by praising it. Here’s what Gingrich said about it on the Today Show:

“If he could give a speech tomorrow night in the tone of his speech today to the students, this country would be much better off … It’s a good speech, I recommend it to everybody if you have any doubts.”

So, lesson for conservatives: Don’t be too quick to throw out something of value just because Obama’s name is attached to it. Maybe try listening to what he is actually saying and evaluating it on its own terms.

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Debussy, Debauchery and Dieu (A Weekend in Paris)

The weather was very temperamental in Paris today. It was beautiful, sunny and about 70 one minute, then dark clouds, cold winds and rain the next. I guess that’s June in Paris. It’s a study in contrasts.

My whole weekend in Paris has been that way. It’s been really beautiful and great one minute and really dark and ugly the next. Actually, this is an overstatement. It’s been mostly very good. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful museums, ate tons of good food (Macarons! Chocolates! Crepes!), and happened to be where the Obama family was on three separate occasions (Notre Dame Cathedral, a shop in the Latin Quarter where Michelle and the girls were, and on a bridge over the Seine when the Obama motorcade drove past).

Other highlights thus far have included wandering the streets aimlessly (Paris is great for finding undiscovered little non-touristy used bookshops and such), drinking buckets of café (espresso), and attending Mass Saturday night in the beautiful Notre Dame cathedral and church this morning at Hillsong Paris—an evangelical church in Southeast Paris. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing quite like sharing communion with Christians in churches throughout the world and singing worship songs in other languages. If the only thing all my travels have left me with is a broader, fuller picture of the worldwide body of Christ, then it has all certainly been worth it.

But there have been low points on my trip—mainly here at the end, in Paris. Here’s the scene from last night: I’m staying at a hostel in Paris, and it’s a very lively, party-type hostel for twentysomething backpackers from all over the world. This is always a risky situation for people who tend to be the quieter, not-partier sort. But until last night, things were going well. I had made friends with some of my roommates: some Aussie university students from Melbourne, a Texan soldier on leave from Iraq, a guy from Berlin, a girl from Rome (originally Ethiopia). We played cards late into the night, etc. Good times. Well, last night things in our room got thoroughly debauched. I was asleep (or trying to sleep, in that “please just let me sleep through this” sort of way) when the partiers (i.e. pretty much everyone in the hostel but me) starting filtering in, around 4am, drunk and with random hook-ups in tow. There was a lot of scurrying around and bed swapping among these kids, and before long the bunk apparatus on which I was sleeping began to shake in a decidedly risqué, thrusting, rhythmic cadence. You guessed it: the bunk below me was doubling as an hourly-rate cheap motel. And then minutes later, more shaking and muffled moans from the bunk to my immediate right! It was happening all around me. I was surrounded by sex just feet from where I was huddled under my sheets, trying to sleep. I felt so very violated.

This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this at a hostel (there was another instance of bunk-shaking shenanigans with some drunk Serbians in London 3 years ago), but it was especially disturbing last night because these guys were people I’d gotten to know a little bit and I thought were a bit more principled than to pick up random people at bars on a Saturday night in Paris and have their way in a hostel room with them at 4am! While I was trying to mind my own sleeping business!

So that was one dark spot. The other one came this afternoon. I thought I would take a break from walking around the city (I’ve probably walked 10 miles a day at least) and take in a movie. After all, this is Paris. It’s probably the third most important city in movie history. So I bought a ticket in the Latin Quarter to see Lars von Trier’s new film, Antichrist, which will not be released in the U.S. until, well I don’t even know if it will be released. I guess I should have known from the title, but the film was utterly depraved and, in a word, evil. I walked out before it was over. For me, that’s saying something. I have been a fan of von Trier for a while (Breaking the Waves, Dogville, Dancer in the Dark… beautiful films), and I know that what he’s doing is simply being provocative and envelope-pushing, but there’s only so much of that that I can take. I couldn’t take this film. It depressed me, disturbed me, and left me wanting to go back in time to fifth grade, eating nachos at a high school football game with my Dad… back when things were simple and a lot more innocent.

But things got brighter quickly as I exited the theater, put on my iPod and found a place to get a dinner crepe. As I was walking around the Left Banke, taking more pictures and enjoying the fickle late-afternoon weather, I was thinking about darkness and light and how most everything has a little of both. A city as beautiful as Paris has both beauty and depravity at nearly every turn. In one corner of the city there are people worshipping God on a Sunday morning. In other corners there are students waking up hungover in some random guy’s hostel bed. On a bridge over the river Seine, a motorcade of dozens of cars and SUVs carries the President, First Lady, and their entourage. Under that same bridge there are homeless people sleeping on ragged, urine-scented blankets as wine tasting boat tours float by on the river.

The world is messy, complicated, beautiful, fallen. Paris is just a microcosm.

Being in this city, you can’t help but think. It’s a thinking city. This is the place where John Calvin went to school (le Sorbonne), where Descartes is buried, where so many philosophies and art movements and religious ideas were first thought up. And as this is the end of my trip, I’ve done a lot of thinking. I have had so many thoughts over the past few weeks, it’s almost unmanageable to process through them now. But I’ve been thinking—and today’s events got me thinking even more.

I’ve been thinking about the appearance of being Christian (and writing about this, for my book). What does this look like? How should we appear to be different? In a city like Paris where everything you do is seen (on the crowded Metro, in the jam-packed Louvre, in the all-too-public hostel room) this becomes a constant question.

I’ve also been thinking about death. I know: DOWNER! But in Paris I’ve seen a lot of graves. I’ve been reading about the Air France crash. Yesterday I made a little pilgrimage to the grave of composer Claude Debussy, buried in the Cimetiere de Passy. As I stood by his grave (listening to “Clair de Lune” on my iPod, of course!) I thought about all the life he lived and the passion that must have gone into his music and art. The joys and heartbreak; the toil, the stress, the reward of hearing the music performed by an orchestra. Did it matter at all now? To him, I mean? What would he think of me—some maudlin American tourist with backpack and map in tow—standing above his lifeless remains, listening to his music on some newfangled audio device?

I don’t know. All I know is that I left that cemetery, and I will leave Paris tomorrow and Europe Tuesday, with a newfound motivation to live a good, right, respectable life. I want to honor God with what I do and who I am, and I want to avoid being corrupted and stained and sidetracked by the things of the world. But I do want to continue drinking coffee and eating French desserts.

The First Great Song of the Obama Era

Warning: Hyperbole and annoyingly effusive praise ahead.

It’s not everyday that you hear a song that just blows your mind. It’s not everyday that an album lives up to the hype. But that is the case with Animal Collective and their new album Merriweather Post Pavilion (released today), specifically the song “My Girls.”

The New York band, building on last year’s wonderful Panda Bear side project, increasingly seems to know how to gracefully weave a tapestry of postmodern musical mish-mash sounds—everything from screams to techno beeps to industrial crashes and subtle piano. Merriweather refines their sound and focuses their experimental tendencies like never before, resulting in an album that is an instant 21st century classic.

But what I really want to talk about is track #2, “My Girls” (which you can listen to here). It’s everything a song should be and more. It’s a song that builds: starts out quiet, starry, a wisp of electronic stardust in an ethereal blur. Then the harmonious, tag-team voice echoes come in:

“Is it much to admit I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
With a little girl, and by my spouse
I only want a proper house.”

Then, around the 2:12 mark, the beat starts in earnest, and all sorts of sounds and layers begin to express themselves, flowing together in mesmerizing concert until the 3:00 mark when the chorus comes in:

“I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status
I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls…”

At this point the song really takes off, and it’s hard to contain yourself. It’s a foot-stamping, head banging, body moving romp for the remaining 3 minutes, with whoops and hollers and bangs and beeps and an overwhelming sense of energy, joy and love.

It’s a song that captures the zeitgeist. It embodies the optimism and earnestness of this Obama moment – of an America in shambles and economic depression that nevertheless still strives for happiness and peace, with renewed vision and enlivened creativity. At a time when we’re paying the price for extravagance and careless home-buying, loan-lending and credit craziness, “My Girls” pares everything down and looks forward to a nostalgic but wholly modern vision of domestic life: “I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls”…

Buy this song. Buy the whole album. Hear the future of music, and be encouraged.

And watch the video below:

Healing Transitions

I spent the weekend in the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, BC and Seattle), and I have to say that it was one of the loveliest autumnal weekends I’ve had in a long time. It was alternately rainy, misty, foggy, crisp, clear, and smoky. And the fall colors were enjoying their last vibrant bursts of showy seasonality. There were swirls and cyclones of deciduous death, good coffee and pubs and plays and Rilke poems. It was glorious. And Explosions In the Sky and Fleet Foxes, which is always good music for fall.

Everyone everywhere seemed to be smiling, flying a kite, or eating artisan cheeses. Christmas decorations were going up in the department stores. Some Christians I was around were speaking poetically about the approaching Advent season.

Change was in the air. Goodwill in the streets. And now, as I write this in the Seattle airport, it is on the T.V. screens as well.

Monday was the day the Obamas went to visit the Bushes at the White House. The 43rd president–loathed and ridiculed the world wide–sat with the incoming, internationally beloved 44th president in the Oval Office in a beautiful display of what we are promised will be the smoothest transfer of presidential power in American history. The pictures of the two men, as well as some with their wives, struck me as sincere, significant, and a little healing.

After the long national nightmare that was this presidential election, we finally have closure, certainty, and (yes) hope. As Rilke might say: Lord, it is time: The election was immense.

It is no secret around here that I did not vote for Obama. But that doesn’t mean that I will not celebrate this historic moment, this remarkable 70 day period in our country’s history in which we anticipate the inauguration of our first African-American president, the incredible moment when Barack Obama will be sworn in on steps that were built by the hands of slaves. Talk about healing.

As with all change, there will doubtless be rocky patches for America in the months to come. The changing of seasons is always wrought with potential hazard. It will be hard for many and easy for others. There will be turbulence, but hopefully we’ll land in one piece. Or, rather, in one peace–a standard for the world to emulate and America to live up to.

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.

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.

Instances of Inappropriate Censorship

Ever since Sarah Palin mania started a month ago, the media has whined and whined about the prospective Veep’s reluctance to allow them access to her life and thoughts at every second of the day. Just this week, many members of the media threw a fit because they couldn’t be in the room with Palin as she met with world leaders in New York. The press increasingly loathe Palin because she dares to scoff at their self-endowed prerogative to be “in on” whatever “story” they want. Just read this bitter rant from Campbell “Obama’s biggest fan” Brown.

Resentful members of the press claim that Palin’s avoidance is harming the free flow of information, of “truth.” As journalists, they are all about the freedom of information. But the unspoken truth of most journalists is that they are the biggest censors of all. They get the facts, then selectively report them. They hear and see the story, then re-tell it in the way they would like it to be.

Of course, it is not just journalists who do this. All of us believe in free speech in theory. But when that speech is dangerous or threatens something we hold dear, we don’t really shy away from trying to stifle it.

Two recent examples of the suspicious suppression of free speech:

YouTube Removes Obama Abortion Video
YouTube is increasingly showing its partisan colors this election cycle, as evidenced in the removal of a video produced by The Kansas Coalition for Life, called “Obama: WRONG Change for Children.” Sure, the video contains a few brief images of aborted fetuses, but there is far worse elsewhere on YouTube. Apparently YouTube’s only explanation for the video’s removal is that it did not meet a “Community Guideline.” This seems a nebulous reason to remove the video, which—as you can see if you watch below—may be creepily over-the-top, but is not really deserving of censorship.

Southern Baptist bookstore chain hides magazine with female pastors on cover

Bookstores have the right to carry and sell whatever they want, but when you have a deal to distribute a magazine and then take it off shelves because you disagree with the image on the cover, that is a little suspect. Such was the case when Lifeway Christian Stores, a chain of 100+ bookstores owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, took this month’s issue of GospelToday off its shelves and hid it behind the counter. Why? Because the cover of the magazine featured a photo of five female pastors—an idea that is evidently too hot to handle for the SBC.

Alas, these are just two current events that showcase the widespread practice of censorship in America today. Of course the argument could be made that censorship isn’t such a bad thing, in which case I’m totally fine with YouTube and the SBC censoring whatever they wish. But the problem is when these institutions feign protection of the free flow of thought and ideas—branding themselves as “open-minded” but then closing off discourse to the ideas they dislike. This is hypocrisy, which is even more annoying than censorship.