January 23, 2008

While reading Rod Dreher’s recent essay on “€œPutting Faith in Obama,”€ I began to feel like I was watching the final two minutes of many a B-grade vampire flick. It’s a bright summer day, the hero has killed off all the evil vampires (or so he thinks) and is just about to enjoy a nice drive in the country with his beautiful fiancée. But while kissing said buxom blonde, the hero notices two teeth marks in her neck. He yells, “€œthey got you, too!”€ as she bears her fangs and the camera pans away from the horror about to ensue.

The candidate of hope has already seduced much of the DNC establishment, those who takes cues on politics from the Oprah oracle, Andrew Sullivan, and tons of undergrads who love to attend Obama rallies and share “€œObama Girl“€ YouTube videos but probably won”€™t ever get around to registering to vote. Now it seems, Obama-mania has beguiled some religious conservative, or at least those of the “€œcrunchy“€ variety.          

“Mr. Obama is not a preacher, but he gives awesome sermons. He is comfortable using religious language in his speeches, and it’s easy for conservative Christians to imagine that, despite profound policy differences with the liberal Democrat, he and they share common ground.”

“€œRod, he’s got you, too!”€ One expects such things from Jim Wallis not so from NR contributors.  

I was somewhat relieved when I read on and found that Dreher expressed some skepticism, mentioning that Obama’s church is of the black nationalist variety and that behind Obama’s sweeping rhetoric, there’s likely only conventional liberalism or, worse, a big nothing burger.

Still, Dreher’s ambivalent fascination is representative of a broader phenomenon among religious conservatives, particularly evangelical Protestants. Bush ad man Mark McKinnon (the guy who came up with “€œMission Accomplished”€) let loose that if Obama were to get the nomination he might cease helping the GOP: “€œI just don”€™t want to work against an Obama candidacy,”€ which would, in McKinnon’s mind, “€œsend a great message to the country and the world.”€ Ex-Bushite Mathew Dowd was similarly irrepressible, babbling that he loves Obama and longs to do missionary work in Africa. I would be surprised if Gerson endorses Obama now that he thinks the GOP has lost its fire. Dreher is far more sensible than these three, but he seems to like Obama in much the same way. It’s useful to ask what’s behind all this.     

At point no point does Dreher care to explain what he thinks of, say, Obama’s healthcare plan or his proposals for Iraq. Dreher’s “€œcommon ground”€ seems to derive from a faulty-logic”€””€œmany great conservatives are people of faith; Obama is a person of faith; ergo he must be a lot like a great conservative!”€ Whether Obama’s religion of “€œsocial justice”€ and a semi-agnostic theology actually resembles any kind traditional American Christianity is dubious, but then his authenticity seems to more than make up for this.  

Dreher’s is a “€œvalues conservative,”€ but then these values seem to have little in the way of content; they”€™re free floating and thus bound to drift ever leftward. As the prophet “€œCrunchy Conservatism“€ one can image that Dreher’s experience of listening to one of Obama’s “€œawesome”€ sermons in much like biting into an “€œfair trade”€ organic apple (purchased at 3.99/pound at Whole Foods).

Faith aside, it seems to be Obama’s potential to “€œtranscend race”€ that seals the deal for Dreher and his ilk:

“€œWhat’s more, the promise that Mr. Obama could represent a decisive break with the divisive racial politics practiced by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and lead the nation toward authentic racial reconciliation, might make an Obama presidency worth risking.”€

Dreher is certainly sincere in his desire to get beyond race, but then there seems to be little reason to believe that putting Obama in the White House would be a good way to accomplish this. 

Mentioning Jackson and Sharpton, what seems to bother Dreher most about race in America is less those few instances of actual white racism and more the race-based set-asides in business, government, and universities and the media-driven shakedowns led by Sharpton & Co. Obama is attractive not so much because he’s “€œblack”€ but due to his upbringing by a white mother in a white and Asian environment in Hawaii”€”he would thus seem to avoid the Sharpton-esque black nationalist trap. Moreover, Obama has excelled at the “€œwe are one people”€ rhetoric of his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech.

It’s clear that Obama is no racist, and yet when he’s been confronted with serious political questions about race, he has been at best ambiguous at worst duplicitous. In a This Week interview, he threw out few bones to Americans fed up with affirmative action, claiming that he thinks his daughters should be considered privileged by admissions officer”€”but then breathlessly affirmed his support of the process as a necessary tool to be used in the foreseeable future to achieve “€œracial equality.”€

Then there’s the question of his “€œidentity“€: there were a lot options for churchgoing in Chicago … Barack chose the one that embraces Afro-centrism.

Let the authentic reconciliation begin! But before we all sign on, perhaps Dreher should explain exactly what kind of “€œcommon ground”€ conservatives share with Obama and offer us a criterion for evaluating him that isn”€™t purely aesthetic.        


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