Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is Obama Our Harvey Dent?

A few interesting links here.


This is funny--not funny in the sense that the RNC hopes it will be--funny because it reveals how desperate the McCain campaign has become. McCain has fallen from my graces. I'd really believed for a while that he wouldn't be that bad of an alternative as a president. I optimistically believed that he'd be an improvement upon Bush, but we can at least credit Bush with running a campaign that didn't resort to mockery in order to win. It is one thing to try to inform the public of the short comings of your opponent. However, it is bad taste and sad to gawk and ridicule your opponent. Also, consider the latest McCain ad that compares Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in terms of his celebrity status. The suggestion is that Obama is only hype. The add finishes with "higher taxes...more foreign oil....that's the real Obama." Higher taxes? Yes, because we are currently spending over $10 billion per month on the war in Iraq and the budget deficit is almost $80 billion over what the Bush administration had projected it to be last November. Other than higher taxes, how else are we going to take care of that debt? Foreign oil? Every time Obama has criticized the most recent surge of troops he has referenced ideas that that money could have gone into research and development of alternative fuel sources so that we can become less dependent on foreign oil.

I would prefer the Americans could vote for their preferred nominee instead of against their opponent. That is idealistic of me, I know. I admit I haven't lived up to such idealism. I voted against Bush in the last election in protest against the war. I wasn't very impressed with Kerry. He seemed to be the lesser of two evils. Now I fear that the tables are turned and that most of the McCain supporters are only Obama despisers. I haven't discovered many people who are really that excited about McCain even if they do plan to vote for him.

This is the way that most Americans endure politics. We are suspicious of politicians and resign ourselves to the fact that we will have to always choose the lesser of evils at the polls. For once I'm actually excited about a candidate. What I believe will be the deciding factors in this year's win for Obama is both the swing voters who are riding the fence now and also the surprising appearance of new voters who are coming out just because of Obama. If in some bizarre turn of events Obama doesn't get elected, I fear that this whole new group of political enthusiasts will sour to the American democratic process once and for all.

So yes, here comes my cheesy Obama/ Harvey Dent comparison. If you haven't seen The Dark Knight yet, this won't give away much of the plot. Purists might want to stop reading here and go see the move first (but hey, if you are a purist, you should have seen the movie by now). Harvey Dent is for the people of Gotham what Batman can't be. He is the white knight to Batman's dark knight. He becomes a symbol of hope for a better and safer Gotham. Batman and Commissioner Gordon's whole purpose was to give Harvey Dent a larger public platform so that the city might believe in change.

Obama, the man, cannot live up to what he has become in the minds and hearts of the so-called "Obamacons" or the "Obamaites" whichever you prefer. The McCain campaign is making fun of the hype and this is bad taste not just because it is crude. It is bad taste because he is in effect making fun of us for believing that we could be a better country. McCain is a wet blanket. He counters our enthusiasm with negativity: you are too young, inexperienced and idealistic. And his latest mock add stoops too low by comparing Obama to pop icons. Obama has what Brittany and Paris do not have: our real hopes for a better political landscape. Pop culture does have a bad track record of producing hot air and vanity. However, McCain is mistaken if he believes everything that is embraced by popular culture is worthless. Obama's hype has substance to it. Let me explain...

2nd Teaching Law, Testing Ideas

This article is interesting because it manages to retain its journalistic objectiveness. This is rare these days. Obama is described as an enigma socially and ideologically by both students and faculty. His classes earned cult like status on campus. Some of his students later became his campaign organizers. But Obama's teaching method was aloof, antagonizing and Socratic. "But as a professor, students say, Mr. Obama was in the business of complication, showing that even the best-reasoned rules have unintended consequences, that competing legal interests cannot always be resolved, that a rule that promotes justice in one case can be unfair in the next."

It is impressive that this law professor of twelve years is able to move from academics to politics with so much savvy. Generally speaking scholars have very little public appeal. They are in the confines of the university for a reason. However, Obama still is faced with the challenge of engaging the populous with his bent for complexity. Many accuse him of ambiguity and therefore a lack of substance when in fact it is not that he has no substance, it is that his is a different kind of substance that does not translate seamlessly into our highly reductive political consciousness and soundbytes media. It is a wonder that Obama is able to function at all in this simplistic realm of bullet pointed policy.

Mark Noll, in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind details the anti-intellectualism that has pervaded the church especially throughout the 20th century. We have a distaste for complexity and nuance. He quotes N.K. Clifford to support his point: “The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mind-set were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.”

The evangelical church has become populous. The Gospel is over-simplified in order to maintain its appeal. As it is with religion in America, so it is with politics. Both the evangelical church and American culture at large suffer from an anti-intellectualism that hinders our democracy. I know that "intellectual" is synonymous with "liberal" to many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I've been warned about the dangers of over thinking. What many don't understand is that it is in fact my love for Christ that has led me to graduate school so that I may love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Here is my quick stab at some very delicate issues for American Christians: our founding fathers were themselves radicals motivated by intellectuals. In fact what we consider to be the American notion of liberty and freedom, was originally a philosophy espoused by French intellectuals. Further, democracy was originally a Greek philosophy. Neither liberty or democracy are ideals that originated in the Scriptures. British historian Paul Johnson argues that America is Europe's greatest intellectual experiment. I love America and am fond of the idea of democracy not because it has anything to do with Jesus, but because of the tradition of great ideas upon which America is founded.

So here we are looking to elect our 44th president in a few months and we are considering two candidates. One of them claims to support family values. He is pro-life and against gay marriage, yet he left his first wife (a mother of three who labored to see her husband returned safely from wartime imprisonment) to marry a woman many years younger than him. And we have another candidate who has sometimes confusing and complex positions on topics like religion and abortion (see his "Call to Renewal" keynote address) but who by all accounts is a good, no frills family man. The former is resorting to mocking his opponent and the later is working hard to avoid drama by running possibly the most efficient, cohesive and to the media's consternation, tight-lipped presidential campaign ever. The former is an elderly statesman, a former POW, who continues to make gaffes in the public eye. The later is a younger senator whose debut speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention overshadowed the words delivered by the Democratic nominee. These are very different candidates who represent two very different visions of what America can become.

Obama may seem wishy washy and un-tested since he is so young, however it is exactly this kind of fresh optimism that we need. And further it is not naive optimism either. In fact it is very encouraging that Obama is still optimistic in the face of all he is able to understand and articulate in terms of the complexities of America. Most of the academics I know are very reluctant to act upon their knowledge. It is easier to let their theories exist in the abstract. We have in Barack Obama, a man of a kind of substance many of us won't understand.

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