john, barak ... and rick?!

I have a fair amount of Americana in me - having been educated at an American boarding school (Woodstock School, India) and then at an American theological college(Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Chicago). So when the presidential elections come around I struggle to shrug off compulsive behavioural patterns!

2008 has proved the biggest struggle of all.

From the moment a Republican candidate, in a public debate back in January, was asked about what he thought of the 'submission passages' in the Bible (golly gosh - did he really get asked that question - in a political debate?). But wait - there's more! He gave a pretty conservative response and was greeted with thunderous foot-stomping applause...

... Through to the way the inflammatory comments of a Democratic candidate's minister threatened to bring down the entire candidacy of that candidate (really?! - do ministers have that much power over there?) ...

... To yesterday's forum where for the first time in the 2008 presidential race McCain and Obama stood on the same stage together. And what stage was this? Saddleback Church - the Saddleback Civil Forum! And who stood between them with his arms draped around both of them? Rick Warren! Not exactly a great photo opportunity for their separation of church and state, is it?!

It was staggering. It trumped the Olympics coverage for me (although I did manage to switch channells briefly to watch Phelps get Gold #8).
So many observations flood the mind from yesterday. Here are a handful:

1. The prominence of Christian faith in the American context. If a candidate is to win they must convince the American public that their faith is deeper and more authentic than the faith of their opponent. And the more you can lean to 'the right', rather than to 'the left', the better. And so on the hierarchy of evil, abortion is worse than global poverty.

2. The bias of the media. Fox News' advocacy of 'the right' is almost comical in its brashness. Never have I encountered such bias in a branch of the media. Sometimes I wonder if I have tuned into David Letterman by mistake...

3. The impact of communication skills. The smooth intelligent oratory of Obama still seems to be eclipsed by the bumbling, self-deprecating, story-filled style of McCain. This change amazes me. We are a long way from JFK and so very close to GWB.

4. The surfacing of the issues of political correctness. In the Democratic nomination process we had gender and race and now in the Presidential race we have race and age. In reality they are not surfacing explicitly - but they are there alright.

5. The influence of context. John McCain cannot really be understood unless you live in the USA and absorb the prominence they give to patriotism, to freedom and to honouring the military. My children watching with me could not comprehend the weight of the applause he received for the comments he made from within this framework. The fact that Barack Obama received no "bounce" in his poll ratings from his 8day visit to key foreign countries is staggering, making me wonder if - at the end of it all - he makes most sense beyond the USA.

And a word about "Uncle Rick" (I call him "uncle" because Barby's maiden name is "Warren" and some years ago I did little to stop a rumour going around NZ that he was Barby's Dad - or Uncle ...). Well - I thought Uncle Rick did really well. One hour with Obama and then one hour with McCain, asking them exactly the same questions with each candidate unable to hear the other one's responses. Great template. Probing questions. Stopping short of baptizing a candidate or a party. Yep, he did well.

nice chatting



Mark Maffey said…
I guess at least faith gets a mention in the American Elections, in New Zealand it seems if you have an ounce of faith it is derided, seen as bad for your candidacy. Whilst there may be not much under the veneer of the white toothed American smiles at least there is something there.

As we go into the 2008 NZ elections it would be good to see some Christians Politicians who have a bit of JFK/Barack presence and can be seen to be people who have substance and that what they are saying has value.

The chances of this happening with the NZ media is very low as they have very little alliance to Christian Values, as the American slanted towards conservative values, the New Zealand Media is to liberal values.

Which is the best scenario for us and how can NZ Christians have a prophetic voice in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation?

A case in point is Boobs on Bikes, can we speak out on this without Boobing it up, or being seen as party poopers?
Paul said…
I watched a CNN documentary yesterday on John McCain (yes, I am developing a compulsive behaviour disorder with the American elections)...

How is the Christian 'right' embracing this man? I just do not get it. He is trying to reinvent himself to appeal to them, I know -but consider his dreadful story of abandonment, adulteries and deceptions, eventually ending up with the marriage to a wealthy blond two+ decades younger than him? This is hardly a story drawn from the Focus on the Family file.

Now space must always be made for the grace of God to change people. But what I find disturbing is that when McCain is asked about this past life he smiles a supercilious smile and simply says "I take full responsibility for the failure of my first marriage." Case closed. OK - I can accept that ... but what about the Christian 'right' in the USA?! I am stunned that they are accepting it.

I think it is called 'turning a blind eye'... in combo with a pinch of 'better the devil you know, than the devil you don't know'
Dale said…
I think it would be a an overstatement to think of the Christian "right" as "embracing" John McCain. His flaws are well documented deeply lamented. It is really not about John. It is all about which personal freedoms will be won or lost in an election.

Western countries, perhaps all countries, enjoy some unique bundle of freedoms, great or small. America, as depicted in the romantic Wild West stories has enjoyed a larger than average bundle of personal freedoms. Over time these freedoms have been reduced one-by-one in the name of "common good." Many Americans consider "common good" a code phrase for "political correctness."

The American Democratic Party is viewed by many as the historic force behind "political correctness" and the constant effort to replace individual freedoms with government regulations. Some of the freedoms at risk include religious freedom and educational freedom.

Americans often characterize the debate this way. Government exists to serve the people or to control the people. The Christian right is highly vocal because they feel they have more to loose.

Christians generally endorse the sentiment that God owns everything and we share temorary stewardship of that which He alone owns. The Christian right (predominently Republican often depict Democrats as espousing a parallel view that government actually owns everything and doles out what it what it thinks is best for the citizens. This works quite well for an omnipotent God but...

This re-distribution of wealth is is at the core of our national polarization. You either want more government controls or you don't.

It really is quite a simple equation. It has little to do with Obama or McCain. They are simply today's place holders in what is an ongoing ideological debate. Foreign policy, welfare, health services and everything else can be viewed throught this filter to understand the American mind.

johnn McCain is just this years place holder.
Paul said…
I found this such a helpful explanation. Thanks Dale

It raises for me the tension I always feel at election time. I like bits in both the Right and the Left and I wonder why people don't just take the best of both and create something new. Something of the naivete of such a view is exposed by your comments.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the insight Paul. It was very interesting to say the least, including all the comments. I am an American who has lived in the UK for over half my life, so I certainly see where you're coming from.

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