Thursday, September 11, 2008

Palin, Obama, Divisive Issues and Christian Challenges- Random Thoughts

There are so many articles on Sarah Palin now, almost all having to do with lipstick (pigs, pitbull and other animals associates with it), hockey, moose, bridge to nowhere, private jet, pro-life, 5 kids, Sarah Barracuda, guns and to a small extend some ripping comments she has made about Obama. Her coming into national spotlight has also given John Mccain a lead over Obama that had been eluding him for ages. Reaction to this has been mostly knee-jerk, nervous, condemning and shifty. Theories abound in the Democratic and liberal circles which recall to mind the worst strategies of John Kerry's ill-fated run last election. The latest in the barrage of such responses is in Time magazine, titled Sarah Palin's Myth of America. This article tries to explain away this phenomenon by blaming the American public for swallowing a mixture of nostalgia for the better days and the myth of an American valhalla where racial heterogeneity, abortion, single parent families, same-sex partners and so on were not imaginable. The article says Sarah Palin is an iteration of this myth which is apparently what the Republican party has been feeding the people from Reagan on. In contrast, the writer says, Obama is the candidate people can most identify with because they agree with his stance on most issues. The writer lays out these issues:

The Bush Administration has been a disaster on many fronts. The McCain campaign has provided only the sketchiest policy proposals; it has spent most of its time trying to divert the national conversation away from matters of substance. But Americans like stories more than issues. Policy proposals are useful in the theater of presidential politics only inasmuch as they illuminate character: far more people are aware of the fact that Palin put the state jet on eBay than know that she imposed a windfall-profits tax on oil companies as governor and was a porkaholic as mayor of Wasilla.

Does it strike you odd that Americans who are by far one of the most advanced civilizations on earth are falling, if this article is to be believed, for a vision of the past, while there are serious problems to be fixed? It hurts their wallets that the gas prices are high. They know they will be taxed more, whichever candidate wins, the catch being that Mccain will let the rich be taxed less and Obama the other way around. Middle class America stands to pay more if Mccain were to come to power. Obama envisions a healthcare system which by 2012 will be so robust that it will guarantee universal coverage. We do not yet know the efficacy of his methods and he has not given us a guarantee of this timeframe, but the vision and the desire are there.

I do not think the Huck Finn fantasia that Palin apparently conjures up for some people is what is doing the trick. Clearly she is a divisive factor in US politics, because unlike Mccain she has a record that does not allow her to oscillate in some critical issues such as taxes, guns, abortion, education and so on. There is clearly a vote bank for that. Second, she has at least some of what Hillary had- a figure that working middle class women can identify with. Before we begin trashing this by comparing Hillary's 'fabulous' record with Sarah's miniscule one, let us remember that there was a lot of talk of many women being more willing to vote for Mccain than Obama when Hillary lost the Democratic nomination. Rightly or wrongly this crowd is one that can be swayed much more by identification with their gender than the issues. The liberal press is full of dismay that women could conceive voting for someone who "is against their interests", meaning her pro-life stance. Perhaps this is where they need to understand that not all women understand pro-choice as a good thing for women. Many vote for Democrats because of other issues as well. Noone is fooled that Palin is pro-choice. Americn women are overwhelmingly literate and they have read ad nauseam that Palin is pro-life and has demonstrated this in her own life by having a baby with Downs syndrome.

The writer goes on to lament that Obama cannot tell a story like Palin can. It says:

He has no personal anecdotes to match Palin's mooseburgers. His story of a boy whose father came from Kenya and mother from Kansas takes place in an America not yet mythologized, a country that is struggling to be born — a multiracial country whose greatest cultural and economic strength is its diversity. It is the country where our children already live and that our parents will never really know, a country with a much greater potential for justice and creativity — and perhaps even prosperity — than the sepia-tinted version of Main Street America. But that vision is not sellable right now to a critical mass of Americans. They live in a place, not unlike C. Vann Woodward's South, where myths are more potent than the hope of getting past the dour realities they face each day.

How poignant, but how ridiculous. Obama does have stories that will resonate with people despite his Kenyan half-ancestry. We heard some of these when he gave his speech after Jeremiah Wright's first round of divisive statements from the pulpit. We heard of how Obama could no more think of Wright as a racist as he could of his white grandmother as one, despite her many characterizations of blacks in everyday life that may be perceievd by outsiders as such. Obama did something we are not used to seeing politicians do- he made us think and he did this by giving us a glimpse into his life. Perhaps he simply isn't telling us more stories because he is all about issues. He is sincere in his intent to change American politics, society, economy and foreign policy. Americans like him, but they want to relate to him as well.

Besides all this, this article makes some disingenuous statements. These are nothing new, of course. Racial heterogeneity, abortion, divorce, same-sex couples. These are what the writer says make up the present and the revolutions that spawned them was what brought forth Obama. Christians like me like Obama for some things: his apparent sincerity, his desire to understand evangelicals (although it falls short), his inclusion of healthcare as a cause for our compassion to be engaged in, his sheer merit in propelling himself from a disadvantaged racial position and working class background to centerstage in American politics and his career, his ability to engage us in meaningful and thoughtful dialogue, his economic vision that is a change from President Bush's policies that have at best been shortsighted and at worst disastrous. They do not include his pro-gay marriage, pro-choice and a patronizing attitude towards evangelicals that has been a hallmark of the American left. I'm yet to see a presidential candidate on the Right or Left that has truly engaged conservatives intellectually, to explore issues they care about with the best of their scientific, theological and political minds. Instead, all we see are debates which engage in the cheap characterization of American evangelicals as loud, uneducated and bigoted people who need to be mollified with sops for the purpose of electioneering.

It is tough to disengage the touchy issues when campaigning to the evangelicals, but Obama doesn't gloss over them. He reaches out to us on other issues. By painting them all the same colour as the other issues, this writer shows us his own prejudices. He also belittles the concerns of the social conservatives that Obama has been working hard to reach through his debate in Rick Warren's church and other venues. His America, the one that is divided along a few issues, is what the present generation should avoid.

After all, issues like abortion and gay marriages which tilted the previous elections in President Bush's favour are simply leverages for political grandstanding. Has any pro-life administration seriously challenged Roe v Wade? At best the Republican stance has been to make abortion a state decision. On the gay marriage, we see the Democratic flip-flop. They want to make this a state decision. What makes these issues a Federal or State legislation? I can understand speed limits, agricultural subsidies, school curricula, local government initiatives like pollution control, preservation of parks and so on being state legislation. But issues like these? On what basis do administrators believe they could be best left to states? If convervative politicians had the guts to take on Roe v Wade systematically and with a plan, I would support the politician whole-heartedly in that endeavour. If they can stand against gay marriage nationally, I would support them in that endeavour. Statewide legislations simply make it easier for people to achieve in one state what has been denied in another, besides helping the political parties to divide states into red and blue.

In any case, since California legalized gay marriages, it is safe to say that the rest of the nation is headed in the same direction. These are issues that have lost support nationally. Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment which would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman, but has said he personally believes that marriage is defined as a religious bond between a man and a woman. This to me is a ridiculous stance, in that he voted against his own beliefs about a social system that is now facing a challenge.

Christians must understand that their society has changed. Whether the 'Christian' America of the past was true or not, it must be acknowledged that unlike in the past, Christians are now at odds with the trend of culture, which is the way it has always been in most other countries and in the best times of the Christian faith. Christians in that sense are truly counter cultural. Some time ago, in Michael Card's podcast, he mentioned that Chinese Christians who meet in housegroups are persecuted, but they respond to their persecutors with a grace that we in America do not fully understand. While there is no comparison between the treatment they get and what we are used to, we in America lack the grace and forgiving spirit that makes the Chinese Christians a shining example of the light we acknowledge is that which the darkness cannot comprehend. We cannot fundamentally change a society by legislation. In tough times, God is asking us to be examples of Christian morality. It is a challenge but as it has always happened in Christian history, the worst times bring out the best and remove the dross from the church.

It would be foolishness not to take apart the conservative press for its own hyperbole about the Palin phenomenon. Here is Wall Street Journal's embarrasing pronouncements about the liberal dislike for Palin. Quote:

Her rising popularity across America has rudely confirmed that not all Americans care about the preferred presidential pick of the international left-liberal community. Barack Obama is their anti-American dream candidate, a man who is part of their project to bring America, the great Satan, to heel. After all, he never spoke about the possibility of victory in Iraq. Only American withdrawal and defeat. And thus America's humiliation........

All along, this international strain of anti-Americanism evident in Australia and beyond has been driven by a determined refusal to comprehend that peculiarly American curiosity: those who wear their God-fearing, love-of-America conservative values on their sleeves. In other words, people such as Sarah Palin who mean it when they say "God Bless America."

Does US withdrawal or even defeat in a war mean defeat for US values? Or is a withdrawal from Iraq actually a defeat? Will America collapse in such an eventuality? The last time around- in Vietnam- we saw nothing of the sort, and this is nothing close. The war effected a regime change in the country and they are doing well economically with a trade surplus of over $60 billion, while we are hemorrhaging tax funds to prop up this country. Second, while Palin may well mean it when she says 'God Bless America', it does not necessarily mean that all conservatives love America in the way the writer portrays. Questions about pork barrel, wasteful wars, healthcare, tax credits for oil companies and policies benefitting the wealthy will still remain to be answered by people who represent us, whose faith declares that the poor in spirit are indeed blessed. A little humility would go a long way.

1 comment:

Lion said...

I'm a democrat because I saw republicans using religion and the teachings of Christ to gain power. George W. Bush used religion and the teachings of Christ to gain power over men to destroy nations and that includes our own. I say he is liken to the Anti-Christ. I had an experience twice. Exactly the same twice. In that experience I was shown the things that are to come. I was told not to be afraid, don't look back and these are the things to come. Well, those things are in play today. McCain and Palin have picked up the mantra of Bush. They are the foot soldiers of the man I know is the Anti-Christ. I am a Lion in Christ and truth and Justice will prevail. As God is my witness, Justice will prevail.