Category Archives: Politics


Our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. . . Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

– Barack Obama, inaugural speech, Jan. 20, 2009

This, right here, is why, for the first time in my life, I actually feel good about an American president. Why I have hope about our government for the first time in years. Why I’m glad I used a vacation day to sit on the couch and watch TV yesterday.

On the occasion, once every 4 or 8 years, that is a celebration of American strength, power, and pride, we see our new president speaking of humility, of peace, of moral leadership, this is something remarkable.

Past presidents have used occasions such as these to speak of crushing our enemies, of wanting people dead or alive, of grand government promises that turned out to triple the national debt.

Obama spoke of extending the hand of friendship to anyone that would unclench their fist.

He spoke that we had kicked the can down the road too far, and now we’ve reached the end of the road. We have to stop thinking that we can have everything: low taxes, expensive programs, and a large military, simply by mortgaging our future.

And he leveled with us: we all are in this together, and all have to work to make it better.

Conventional politicians assumed it would be political suicide to say even half of what Obama has said. Yet he went out there and did it.

He was blasted during the campaign by people on both sides of the political spectrum for being just “words”. He’s the first presidential candidate that meant what he said about bringing Americans, and their representatives, together. The shock in Washington has he invited — gasp! — both an openly gay bishop and an anti-gay evangelical minister to give prayers was telling. It’s as if people were saying, “Wait, he really MEANT that?”

Yes, he did. Let’s hope he can pull it off.

And as Rev. Lowry concluded with his benediction:

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream. . .

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. (amen) Say Amen! (Amen!) Say Amen! (AMEN!)


People often talk about “memorable moments” — times where pretty much everybody in the country remembers where they were at that exact time.

There are probably only two of those moments I can remember: the 1989 earthquake during the World Series and the time 9/11 happened. My car was in for service that day, and I was sitting in the lobby of the mechanics watching it on TV.

So now I have a third: watching Barack Obama win the presidency.

We were installing some new blinds in the kitchen while listening to the coverage on NPR, periodically going over to the office to watch the TV coverage on the computer. (Our TV is upstairs right now, so that was more convenient.)

A few minutes before the election was called, I remember Brian Williams saying something like “We’re going to go to local stations now, but you better not walk away. We’ll have some amazing news at the top of the hour.”

We watched that announcement, then saw McCain’s speech, and finally Obama’s speech (missed the first minute or two of it actually). What an amazing evening.

Then seeing the stories of people celebrating all around the country and around the world: the impromptu party in front of the White House Tuesday night, the small gathering at the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday morning, the Obama parties all around the world. And we watched it on TV in our house while Jacob slept. I feel like I missed out somehow.

Why I Hope

And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright, tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

For that is the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected.

— Barack Obama, Nov. 4, 2008

Politics and the Church

My church is one in which politics are checked at the door. Some church members wear their politics on their yard, or on their blog — and just about every opinion is represented in the church. But you rarely hear politics mentioned in church. When it is mentioned, it’s issue-oriented rather than candidate-oriented or policy-oriented — we’ll hear updates on efforts to create a peace tax fund, for instance.

But today, hearing about politics is just about unavoidable.

The relationship between Christianity and government has been uneasy and troubled all the way back to the religion’s founding. Many Christians, and I count myself in this, believe that our first loyalty is to Jesus, and on those grounds, refuse to say the pledge of allegiance. What, we wonder, would our word be worth if we were forced to disobey our government because of a law that was unjust or immoral? How could we even say the words “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all” when those words were written at a time when the KKK was active, lynchings were common, and are said today at a time when people treat Muslims and immigrants with modern disdain?

In short, we believe we are called to be citizens of a different kingdom first.

So, today, our pastor deliberately picked a difficult scripture passage for us: Romans 13:1-7, which reads, in part:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities. . . The authorities that exist have been established by God. . . Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. . . Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

What an extraordinary set of statements. This was written during the time of the Roman Empire, which could hardly be said to have been a just and benign government. It’s hard for me to imagine the Roman Legion being established by God.

In more modern times, it would seem to denounce the American revolution as a rebellion against authority and therefore a rebellion against God. It would also seem to denounce the protests that we see all over the world — striking workers in France, human rights seekers in Burma, war protesters in the United States. Would it even have condemned the protests in the 1960s over civil rights in this country, or the protests against war today?

One commentator notes that “Paul is not stating that this will always be true but is describing the proper, ideal function of rulers. When civil rulers overstep their proper function, the Christian is to obey God rather than human authorities” — a theme Paul mentioned more than once in Acts.

What relevance does this have for us today? It seems that we are to help our rulers act in a just way, even if we disagree with them — no matter who wins the election. It is also a reminder that a superficial reading of the Bible, taken out of context and without a deep understanding to understand the author’s point, can potentially lead to very strange conclusions.

The American National Council of Churches has issued a non-partisan voting guide, which we found in our bulletin today. It is an interesting read, and probably not what you think; it begins with, “War is contrary to the will of God.” Thought-provoking stuff.

I find it interesting that there are a lot of people out there that say that religion is responsible for a lot of ill in this country, then proceed to hold pretty much the same opinions I do for pretty much the same reasons. I just point out that the Bible is deeper than intolerance and submission.

What Traditional Values Mean to Me

A comment on Facebook yesterday got me thinking what American “traditional values” are all about. We hear it a lot, and I suspect it means something different to different people.

Here’s what it means to me.

It starts with an ethic fundamentally informed by the central tenets of Christianity — which are also excellent standards of decency by secular standards. We are called to have a relentless drive to care for the repressed, poor, downtrodden. As Jesus said, “whatever you do to the least of these, so you do to me.” It means extending the hand of friendship and compassion to all, in our own neighborhood and around the world. It means taking good care of the resources we have, acting responsibly, and affirming and supporting others so they can do the same. It means that, as our founding fathers emphasized, remembering that all people are created equal, are equally deserving of a good life, and deserve liberty and freedom. Finally, it means a constant realization that we are creating a human institution, and will always have an imperfect answer to these ideals, but that we can — and must — recognize our faults and strive to make things better.

How do these apply to our time?

We must start with the poor, the repressed, and habitually think of their situation in everything we do. That means remembering that when we drop a bomb in Afghanistan to kill a terrorist, we also usually kill 50 innocent bystanders, and devastate their families. It means remembering that illegal immigrants from Mexico come here because all they want is refuge from drug wars, food on the table, and a roof over their head. It means showing compassion in deportation proceedings: when illegal immigrant parents have a child born in the United States, the child is an American citizen and can’t be deported, but deporting the parents will create an orphan. It means actively helping the repressed people of the world, whether they be in Sudan, Georgia, or AIDS victims in Africa, Muslims in New York. It means reducing taxes on the poor, giving them the skills and tools they need to make their way in life. It means caring for those with alcohol drug addictions, helping them to summon the strength to get past those problems, rather than locking them up or throwing them out on the street. In days past, this might have meant sharing firewood with the family down the road that was at risk of freezing in winter. Today it might mean assistance with winter heating bills.

Remembering that all people are created equal means that we must provide good education for everyone, whether they live in suburban California, inner city Detroit, or rural Appalachia. We owe quality health care to everyone; those without means to pay for health care, or to pay for a car to get to a clinic, should be treated with dignity and respect, and have equal access to medicine.

Remembering that all people are created equal also means that we must provide equal justice under law, and give everyone a fair trail. We must abandon the death penalty, because we have a shocking number of people on death row — hugely disproportionately black and poor — that have been shown innocent of their crimes thanks to advances in DNA testing. We must maintain the integrity of checks and balances in government, and support judicial oversight over search and seizure. We must avoid warrantless wiretapping because it subverts judicial oversight and corrupts our justice system by making the exercise of power secret. We must denounce torture, and refuse to employ it, because no human, being created equal, deserves to be treated in such a way — and we have been applying it to innocent humans.

We owe the opportunity to grow up in a loving family, in a safe community, to every child. We must make sure that gangs no longer have the run of our streets, that drugs aren’t displacing hard work as the currency of the community, and that adoption is inexpensive and practical for more families, rather than costing thousands of dollars. Doing so will help every child grow up knowing that they are valued, are important, rather than being unwanted and therefore abused or neglected.

Extending the hand of friendship and compassion to all starts with being a good example — that shining city on a hill that Reagan talked about. We have to run an open, just, and fair society ourselves. We must not fear those that are different than us, just because they’re different. We have to recognize that citizens of Iran, Russia, North Korea, Palestine, and the United States fundamentally are humans, created equal, seeking the same thing: a safe and secure future for themselves and their families. Being able to coexist peacefully means starting from that point, and being willing to talk to them, and yes, even their leaders, regardless of how distasteful they may be.

Acting responsibly with our resources starts at home — things like not driving up credit card debt, not living outside our means. The same applies to government: massive deficits each year are exceptionally irresponsible and place us at great risk both at the present and in the future. We also have a duty to care for the planet and the environment in which we live, which means actively working to curb the things we do to harm the planet and cause global warming.

What about recognizing our faults? Perhaps the most patriotic duty asked of Americans is dissent. It is never easy, but is essential to keeping our democracy functioning. This country has a long history of successes, and also a long history of failures. We failed so many by keeping slavery legal for so long, and discrimination and lynching legal for even longer. We failed that Native Americans by forcing them from their lands and treating them with brutality. We have, to some extent, risen above these failures thanks to the ability to recognize them and try, to the best of our ability, to fix them. This is what the civil rights movement was about, and why we have a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke out against a society that said some couldn’t eat in a restaurant because of the color of their skin, or who were repressed because of their economic status. He recognized that problem in America, and by speaking out against it, helped to change this country for the better.

Today we have to recognize the things we are doing wrong, and try to change them. We are torturing potentially innocent people. We are discriminating against Muslims and homosexuals in our midst. We are giving extraordinary power to big media companies through changes in copyright law, to big communications companies through failure to enact network neutrality laws. And we are labeling people that disagree with war as unpatriotic.

Notice some things I didn’t mention, such as abortion. It’s not really relevant, and the lines we are fed by both sides present us with this false pro choice vs. pro life debate. In reality, it seems to me that both sides want the best for the children: for every child to grow up in a loving family, where he or she is wanted. We all know from research that laws banning abortion do not actually reduce it. So we ought all to come together and try to make it more rare by providing more support to single parents, by making it easier to adopt children, by trying to make the perceived need for an abortion to go away.

So, in this election, I look at the candidates and it seems pretty clear which one is promoting traditional values and which one isn’t. Obama is actively trying to reach across the aisle and find common ground. Even in his convention speech, he suggested ways to work together on abortion like I just mentioned. In the debate, he listened carefully to his opponent and acknowledged when he thought McCain was right. This is a necessary first step in working together to move forward. McCain subsequently released an ad mocking Obama for this.

What about caring for the poor? Again, Obama’s tax policies, education policies, and health care policies take care of them far better than McCain’s. About responsibility? McCain supported these deficit-busting budgets of the last 6 years, supported the oil-centric energy policies, and has been only lukewarm towards dealing with global warming. McCain and Palin mock Obama for trying to help poor Chicago neighborhoods 20 years ago, for being willing to just talk to our supposed enemies, for actually reaching across the aisle.

So yes, I am a values voter, and that’s why I can’t possibly do anything but vote for Obama.

I should stop watching Sarah Palin interviews.

I saw the interview on ABC last night and tonight. It surprised me that she quite clearly didn’t understand what the Bush Doctrine is (Charlie Gibson had to explain it to her). She dodged and evaded too many questions to count. Every foreign policy question she turned into an oil question, citing Alaska, as if somehow Alaska has played a key part in international conflict in the last decade.

Charlie asked her about the budget deficit, the economy. He got her implied assent that Bush hadn’t done well, and asked her to name three concrete ways she’d change. She dodged for a minute. He tried again. She cited lower taxes, better oversight, and I forget the third. Anyhow, it didn’t sound very different to me — and not very specific either. It’s so general that everybody from Ron Paul to the green party can agree to it.

He asked her about the deficit, and what she and McCain would do to fix it. She stumbled for a minute, then said “I certainly wouldn’t cut veterans benefits” and spent the next minute talking about how important veterans are. Which is a whole other topic. She never did say how they’d cut the deficit, just that in some magical way, they’d find inefficiencies. McCain’s had over a year to name them, and I haven’t seen the specifics yet.

I came away feeling more concerned about her than I expected. She reminds me of Bush in 2000. Cocky, self-confident, a shallow thinker on every topic, and utterly unprepared.

This process of getting to know McCain’s unknown pick is not going so well, I think.

Political Thoughts

It may come as no surprise to some of you that I actually enjoy — yes, enjoy — watching political conventions. I’ve spent some time watching them over the past two weeks.

McCain has yet to speak tonight as I write this, but I’ve got to get out a few comments.

First of all, both parties of course were attacking the presidential candidate of the other. But did you notice a key difference? The Democrats attacked McCain on policy, while the McCain people attacked Obama on biography. VP nominee Palin even went so far as to mock Obama’s work 20 years ago as a community organizer. I think that is incredibly telling. It seems to me to indicate that the Republicans know that their policies aren’t working, and are grasping at straws to find something else. There is plenty in McCain’s biography that the Democrats could go after — his involvement in one of the worst scandals in the Senate, for instance — but they aren’t.

What about the other difference? Hope vs. fear. Obama’s speech last week was truly inspiring. I don’t think I’ve ever been inspired by a politician before. Make no mistake about it, he set the bar for himself incredibly high. I don’t think anybody since Kennedy has done that. Obama realizes that there are things we must do as a country, and he also emphasized that the “ask not what your country can do for you” theme. Watching Giulianni and Palin was an exercise in fear-mongering. It’s a constant stream of “9/11 MUSLIM OIL SHORTAGE TERRORISM NUCLEAR BIN LADEN IRAN GAS PRICES RED ALERT PANIC PANIC PANIC MEXICANS 9/11 9/11 9/11 SCARY WAR WAR WAR.” It’s as if they have discovered M-x spook RET in Emacs.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are talking about reducing health care costs, making sure everyone is covered, ending war, making the economy better for working-class people. It’s an interesting disconnect that Obama highlighted well: McCain has said that the American economy has done well over the past 8 years. And indeed, by some “traditional” measures, such as productivity or GDP, it has. But the vast majority of Americans are not better off today than they were 8 years ago. Obama argues that the way McCain measures economic success is way off; our economy is not doing well if the vast majority of regular Americans are not doing well.

Also telling was how both candidates promised to reach across party lines (Bush promised that too). One actually is working to do it. Take abortion, for example. Obama said that he doesn’t agree with the pro-lifers, but surely everyone can agree that providing better funding and support for alternatives to abortion such that it becomes incredibly rare is a good thing. Where’s McCain looking for common ground? And then, of course, we have Palin wanting her family to be off limits — but only when it’s convenient to her.

I’ve voted in the past, but usually as a vote against someone rather than a vote for someone. This year, I’ll make a single vote and do both.

Obama, RFK, and Making History

I think that for the first time, when I go to vote this November, I will probably not have to hold my nose as I make a selection for president. I don’t agree with Obama on everything, of course, but the core of what he stands for — that it is time to enter a post-racial, post-partisan time — and that putting the interests of the people before those of the corporation — is a powerful message.

And I’m not the only one that thinks so. One interesting read is Why This 55-Year-Old White Lifelong Republican Wants Obama To Win by Frank Schaeffer. He’s a pro-life, pro-military Republican that actually campaigned for McCain in 2000, and this year he’s supporting Obama. He pointed out another key point: Obama does not play on our fears.

Then there’s A Transformational Moment by Jim Wallis, who grew up in a time when white people that supported civil rights were literally putting their lives on the line. He ends with:

This morning I heard several interviews on NPR with black Americans about their response to Obama’s nomination. One older woman said, “A black man running for president, did you hear what just I said? A black man running for president of the United States ….” She just kept repeating the words, and succinctly captured my own personal feelings.

Yes, it is truly historic, and the U.K. newspaper headlines captured that sentiment as did papers around the world. Nothing could change the image of America around the world more than this. But it is more than historic; it is very personal for many of my generation. A new generation just sees this as natural — he’s an inspirational leader who happens to be black, which matters little to them. But for my generation — I’m dating myself now — this is a transformational moment, one we didn’t think would come in our lifetimes. Race was the issue that changed us, shaped us, determined our path, and even defined the meaning of our faith. Now a black man is running for president of the United States. Amazing grace.

Tom Hayden reflects on the similarities between Obama and RFK, another interesting read. He concludes with:

Those who denounce Obama — and the possibilities of all electoral politics- – should ponder the effectiveness of sitting judgmentally on the sidelines while an Unexpected Future arrives through the sheer will of a new generation. They should consider whether politics and history can be reduced to a fixed determinism that is endlessly repeated, as if there are no surprises. We can have our differences with Obama’s specific policies, as I certainly do, but those should be measured against the prospect that a movement might transform him even as his very rise continues to transform the rest of us.

And now for something less inspiring. If you go look over at the latest blog entry at and read the comments, these readers frankly sound more than a little loony. There are rampant accusations that Obama “stole the election” with the help of the DNC. That makes no sense to me; he followed the rules, and the DNC gave Clinton more delegates than she should have had with the rules as they were at the start of the game (which she supported then). The Obama campaign even rejected a plan that was less favorable to Clinton at the DNC rules committee meeting on Saturday. They also go on and on about how Obama has had so many scandals (though the Clinton real estate scandals really are far more serious than a former pastor). It all looks so very petty, and I wonder why Clinton has whipped up her supporters to such a fervent extent. Perhaps it was an accident, but you’d think things like this are rarely an accident with her.

More Reasons To Like Obama

Ars has an article Previewing McCain and Obama on geek issues that is a thoroughly good read. I find myself agreeing with Obama on everything from net neutrality to privacy rights. I find it interesting that Republicans like to run as advocates of individual liberties but are the ones pushing laws that restrict them the most.

One gripe though: these are issues that are important to everyone. To call them “geek” issues implies that they are only of interest to some, and thus cheapens them. Ars ought to have a better title for their article.

Clinton Voters on Barack Obama

Some TV network did some interviews with West Virginia voters at the time of their primary. The Daily Showpicked up on it (click link for video). Among the comments:

“I guess because he is another race. I’m sort of scared of theother race because we have so much conflict with them.”

“He’s Muslim and that has a lot to do with it.”

“I don’t like the Hussein thing. I’ve had enough of Hussein.”

The segment on this starts at 1:03 into the video, and the comments start at 1:45.

By the way, if you think Obama is Muslim, check out (Though it won’t comment on the separate question of why it matters).