Friday, March 07, 2008

The Triune God, Hillary Clinton's Negativity, and Not Losing Our Hope

Barack Obama got whacked in the Texas / Ohio / Rhode Island / Vermont primaries by the kitchen sink Hillary Clinton (with her pals John McCain and Rush Limbaugh) whipped his direction. Temptation? To whack back. Today, one Obama aide unwisely did that, calling Clinton a "monster" and immediately publicly apologizing as well as stepping down from her job. Barack Obama reminded his camp that he doesn't do politics that way.

[Jason Seiler "Hillary Goes Back to College" artwork used by express permission only: All Rights Reserved by artist.]

As an Obama supporter, I'll try to follow my candidate's advice (which, by the way, echoes my faith). That doesn't mean I'm not going to criticize Hillary, because I am. Right now.

So let's talk about math, fear, love, and some other odds and ends.

First, the math. Dang it, the math just doesn't agree with the Clinton hype. All that negativity did little to damage Obama's significant lead in the delegate count. In fact, Barack Obama is going to end up WINNING Texas, probably by a delegate count of 98 to 95. Net result of last Tuesday? Despite all the Hillary hype and confetti, it ends up a net gain of only four or five delegates for Clinton, leaving Obama with around a 140 delegate lead, a popular vote lead, and a state by state lead double his opponent (27 to 14).

The biggest damage done this past week was to the Democratic party. Clinton in particular did lay "get nasty" groundwork for the Republicans to build on when Obama does become the Democratic Party's nominee. We can't stop her. Maybe superdelegates can stop the bleeding... but they seem to be a timid lot. Don't count on it.

Next, let's explore the apparent pact Clinton has made with the Republicans. She sides with her party's opponent, John McCain, against Obama -- a fellow member of her own party -- by saying that McCain "has experience" and she "has experience" but Obama only has a speech he made in 2002 (against a bill authorizing the Iraq War; the bill Hillary Clinton voted for). She has repeated this same set of lines, in which she essentially prefers McCain over Obama as presidential material, three times and counting. Where is her sense of party loyalty, especially in light of the fact that she just might lose, that Obama may be the standard-bearer in the general election? I expect to see those sound bites replayed against Obama by the Republicans. Thanks, Hillary. Nice job campaigning for Bush McCain.

As Gary Hart (a former presidential candidate who knows about rough and tumble politics) observed of Hillary in his Huffington Post piece, "Breaking the Final Rule":

By saying that only she and John McCain are qualified to lead the country, particularly in times of crisis, Hillary Clinton has broken that rule, severely damaged the Democratic candidate who may well be the party's nominee, and, perhaps most ominously, revealed the unlimited lengths to which she will go to achieve power. She has essentially said that the Democratic party deserves to lose unless it nominates her.

And again, Hart notes:

Senator Obama is right to say the issue is judgment not years in Washington. If Mrs. Clinton loses the nomination, her failure will be traced to the date she voted to empower George W. Bush to invade Iraq. That is not the kind of judgment, or wisdom, required by the leader answering the phone in the night. For her now to claim that Senator Obama is not qualified to answer the crisis phone is the height of irony if not chutzpah, and calls into question whether her primary loyalty is to the Democratic party and the nation or to her own ambition.

She did her infamous "red phone" ad suggesting that she has experience with crisis that Obama does not. Really? Where? When? How? With WHAT? Maybe, instead of a serious ad response such as the one Obama did choose, his campaign should have done a silly cartoon send-up of Hillary answering toy phones in her make-believe "I'm so experienced" world. Sure, she's smart. So is Laura Bush. (Seriously... Laura would have made a much better president than her husband has.)

I am a feminist (pro-life, to be sure, but just what pro-life means in these days of Smart-bomb diplomacy is a matter of wild conjecture). As a feminist, I admired Hillary even while finding her a less than wholly promising or electable candidate, and was initially ready to support Hillary should Barack Obama's singular candidacy fail. That is still a remote possibility for me, to be done holding my nose. I'll try bringing others along with me if Barack Obama fails to win (an unlikely scenario, frankly, considering his delegate lead and campaign's organizational superiority). But I doubt voting for her is a possibility for many Obama supporters, new to politics and on fire for true change, if Clintonian tactics somehow succeed in supplanting Barack Obama as the final Democratic nominee.

Let's not forget. Despite Clinton, McCain, and large portions of the media trying to convince us that we are all idiotic, naive, silly, cultists -- Barack Obama really is the only real "change" candidate. From my evangelical Christian viewpoint, Obama taps into a number of distinctives all but absent from any other candidates. He emphasizes, for instance, what Ariana Huffington reminds us is "Yes WE can" and not "Yes HE can." Obama expects to run a government that is truly of the people, for the people, and by the people. He is being attacked for the very reason that many of us voted for him, that his experience is not Washington experience but rather street experience (much of it gained in my hometown Chicago being a community organizer).

What amazes me about Hillary Clinton is that while I am a feminist at least in part because I want to escape from the "alpha male" stereotype, she seems interested in running toward a "fighter" paradigm which includes winning by any means necessary. The whole problem with fighting first is that damage is done which cannot be undone. So while Barack Obama has attempted to create a new paradigm where the old divisive tactics of Karl Rove are out of bounds, Senator Hillary Clinton seems determined to embrace those tactics -- any tactics -- in order to win this nomination. That isn't feminist. That isn't "pro-woman" -- or pro-man either, for that matter. It is a political "scorched earth" -- leave nothing behind if I lose -- policy.

Again, Barack Obama's vision of a common America interested in the common good flies up against this old fear-driven paradigm that calls to the worst rather than the best in us. The Republicans will be using the same paradigm in the fall, be sure of it. They are masters at creating division between people who should be working on the same goals. To the extent Hillary Clinton continues her own attack on not just Barack Obama, but the Democratic Party itself, she too becomes part of the fear-based assault on hope. Karl Rove lite?

Words. Fear is a word, just like Hope is a word. I suppose we are about to find out which word has more lasting power. The past says Hillary Clinton will win through invoking fear, and then be defeated herself through those who know how to invoke it even better than she does. The future depends on our choice. And the choice is this: Will we hope in the present, or give in to the past by being afraid?

"Perfect love casts out fear," says 1 John 4:7 in the New Testament. For a believer in Christ, there is good reason not to bow the knee to fear. Which vision of this world -- which is a political world for the Christian just as it is for her or his non-Christian neighbor -- more accurately reflects a grounded attitude toward reality? Will we allow scare tactics to dissuade us from hoping that it is possible to build a community seasoned with respect and cooperation, even (one might hope) love? Is cynical despair really the only option?

We are not stupid. We know -- and Barack Obama also knows -- that hope isn't just pie in the sky when we die by and by. Hope happens when we believe, in the here and now, and that belief is translated into the collective actions of faith-rooted people energized by loving their neighbors. Is that really so hard? Oh, and about that pie in the sky thing... there is indeed a Kingdom of Heaven. We Christians are supposed to be that Kingdom's invading force, not a force of violent overthrow but rather a force causing inner transformation leading to outward acts of justice, compassion, mercy, and love. Our King embodies Faith, Hope, and Love as part of his relationally-based Godhood. Even the Trinity offers a communal, inter-relational aspect. Fear is the enemy of this interrelatedness, friend to faithless apathy and even violence.

Governments on earth cannot legislate or enforce love. Governments at their best major on justice. But government can become a conduit through which a people's power to creatively build communities blooms. The enemy of this creative power? Fear, which leads to division, which leads to being victimized by the same powers of reaction and manipulation...

Barack Obama has admitted he expects to make mistakes after he's elected president. He expects us to help him stay on course. But how can we help him, or any leader, to lead well if we -- or that leader -- are paralyzed by fear? Fear blocks love, but more importantly for a person leading a nation, blocks wisdom. Why did so many politicians cave in to George Bush's war in Iraq? Fear. A few, including Barack Obama, said that fear-mongering was leading us astray, that the war was wrong. His wisdom was proven right. His Democratic and Republican opponents' wisdom was proven wrong.

Wisdom rather than experience alone makes a leader. Solomon was young indeed when his God-gifted wisdom became evident to all. The biblical principles of wisdom are also reflected in the New Testament, where Paul observes this: "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope" (Romans 5:3b-5 NRSV). Hasn't Barack Obama's life spoken to the character issue? By extension, isn't his focus on hope itself a fruit of his own personal character? I find these conclusions unavoidable.

Yes, the goal this year in my opinion is to rid the White House of its present occupants and their allies. An avowed evangelical shamed our faith and led to the slaughter of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, most innocent and many women and children. We mustn't lose sight of that goal. But what we also must not lose sight of is that we have an opportunity not just to vote against something, but to vote for something. Hope is indeed a word, just a word. But what a huge, earth-shattering word.

Instead, the Clinton camp is focusing on the ultimate fear-based issue: national security. The terrible truth is this, campers. That fear card will be played always, forever, in every election from now until the end of time. Hillary Clinton, by playing that card, proves that she, far more than Barack Obama, is about words. Empty, dangerous words. The same words that led so many Americans -- and especially evangelical Christians -- to vote for fear.

Welcome to the world of George W. Bush, John McCain, and Karl Rove. Welcome to the world of Hillary Clinton.


An afterward:

Should the Democratic Party decide to attempt to wrest from Barack Obama the victory he already has won numerically-speaking, I expect to be in Denver alongside possibly hundreds of thousands of others, young and old, protesting the usurpation of the Democratic party and the democratic process. That much, my conscience will demand of me.

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@bdul muHib said...

I just learned this, which to be fair to me, it happened before I was born. I'm not so sure if Hillary wants to be bringing this up, that "as Ohio goes so goes the nation"- that no Democrat has recently won the presidency without winning Ohio in the primaries. Because the last one who won the Presidency without winning the Ohio primary or Ohio in the general was...Kennedy.

Now, who was it that keeps getting compared to Kennedy this election season? I forget...

Of course, in the 60's that was completely different. After all, Kennedy was running against a guy who was widely percieved to be mean and cantankerous. Nothing like the general election this time around.

Stephen Thompson said...

I too was an admirer/defender of HRC before Obama got his legs under him last fall, and now she keeps underscoring why he's a better choice than she: she'll scorch the earth before they nominate someone else. I do wish Obama would've closed the deal though. Best thing now: Obama should move to PA, and totally solve it these next 7 weeks or so--take away her only good argument: that she wins states with blue collar regular folks, the Dunkin' Donuts Democrats (and not just the Starbucks Democrats).

by the way, great to find an old C-stoner who runs left--I left the fold in part because there was so little skepticism and compassion among Christians.

Stephen Thompson said...

I too was an admirer/defender of HRC before Obama got his legs under him last fall, and now she keeps underscoring why he's a better choice than she: she'll scorch the earth before they nominate someone else. I do wish Obama would've closed the deal though. Best thing now: Obama should move to PA, and totally solve it these next 7 weeks or so--take away her only good argument: that she wins states with blue collar regular folks, the Dunkin' Donuts Democrats (and not just the Starbucks Democrats).

by the way, great to find an old C-stoner who runs left--I left the fold in part because there was so little skepticism and compassion among Christians.

Jon Trott said...


First, may I say you have a fascinating blog. Philosophers and wannabees, take note of "The Smoker." I only read the first one on Descartes' comments re "wax" and was hooked.

Second, you look like someone I've met. Hardly news, since I'm 50 I've met a few people. Did you ever visit us in Chicago?

Third, re Obama... I hope he could change enough minds in Pennsylvania even if he moved there. This peddling fear business has a certain resonance with certain areas of the country. I want to be less pessimistic than that... but after the past few days am having a hard time. I mean, 20% of voters in Ohio said race affected their votes... 3 of 4 of them voted for Clinton! Sigh...

Re Christianity and your exit from among us, I understand. We've really done a wretched job of showing our love for Christ by fulfilling his command: "Love one another as I have loved you." And as for loving the non-christian... yeesh. Are you saying you've also said goodbye to faith in Christ, or just non-compassionate Christians? (And if that is an inappropriate question, ignore it.)

Oh, and by the way, a number of us at Jesus People "run left." Hehehehe...