Cover Story

Hurry up and wait

"Hurry up and wait" Continued...

Issue: "The waiting game," March 22, 2008

Journalists wrote and spoke the most about Mike Huckabee's beliefs: A Lexis-Nexis search shows "Huckabee" and "religious right" appearing 893 times during the three months before the Texas and Ohio primaries. Religious liberal Obama, though, typically avoided such characterization: His name and "religious left" appeared together only 28 times during that period.

Huckabee received press criticism for an Iowa ad that called him a "Christian leader," but few fussed about a South Carolina brochure that praised Obama as a "committed Christian" who is "called to Christ."

Obama has benefited from messianic hopes and has indulged them by (among other things) saying that he and his supporters can become "a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, and make this time different than all the rest." But he should not be ridiculed as lightweight because some of his fans swoon in the aisles as if they were slain in the spirit: He is delivering the "social gospel" that became prominent a century ago more skillfully than anyone else has done in recent decades.

Obama's profession of faith invigorates many and scares few because it is horizontal rather than vertical, with an emphasis on finding community rather than communing with God. Community organizers Obama worked with two decades ago saw "a part of me that remained removed, detached, that I was an observer in their midst. And in time, I came to realize that something was missing as well-that without a vessel for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone."

Obama says his joining a church "came about as a choice, and not an epiphany." Choices do not bother secular Americans; epiphanies do. Joining a church to fight loneliness makes it as unobjectionable as joining a social club, but his affiliation serves as an antidote to evidence-less charges that Obama is secretly a Muslim. He says, "I've been to the same church, the same Christian church, for almost 20 years"-and he's listened to the same far-left pastor.

Obama's Christian affiliation also gives him the opportunity to dip into language that has resonated with many Americans in prior religious-left campaigns such as those of William Jennings Bryan in 1896, 1900, and 1908. Bryan, of course, lost all three times, because of a third American tendency.


De Tocqueville wrote about the American tendency to use "crisp, clear and unadorned language" in business dealings, only to turn to "bombast" and "relentless pomposity" when indulging in supposedly poetic public speaking. But de Tocqueville thought that realism would eventually win out-and so it has been in most presidential elections of the past 30 years, even when the campaigns initially were full of air.

Obama's brilliant oratory so far has allowed him to escape specifics, but Clinton's insinuations that Obama is unprepared and unrealistic allowed her to capture big majorities among Texas and Ohio voters who made up their minds just before voting. Clinton can only go so far in that approach because she shares many ideological positions with Obama, but McCain could have great success if he goes beyond abstract citing of liberal voting records and emphasizes specifics.

The coming Iraq debate will be one example. It's one thing to argue about who opposed the war in 2003, but the real question is what to do in 2008. An article by Angelina Jolie in the Washington Post late last month, with the surprising headline "A Reason to Stay in Iraq," was worth a thousand bombastic speeches.

Jolie argued that the United States should not squander what the troop surge has achieved, an opportunity to make "humanitarian progress" that will be lost if American forces pull out precipitously. Although readers voted Angelina Jolie No. 3 on their list of desired presidential candidates (behind Oprah and Jon Stewart, ahead of Bono), she apparently is not on McCain's list of possible running mates-but he should run with what she wrote.

If the race is McCain vs. Obama, the older senator will need to pop the younger's halo of humaneness. One way is to listen to Jill Stanek, the whistle-blowing nurse who saw close-up at an Illinois Senate committee hearing Obama's opposition to protecting even babies born alive after failed abortions: "Obama's clinical discourse, his lack of mercy, shocked me." The Chicago Sun-Times ran a cartoon of Obama holding a sign reading, "LIVE BIRTH ABORTION," God reaching down from heaven to a baby in front of the state senator, and Obama yelling at God, "You keep out of this!"


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