SHREWDLY CELEBRATING: President Barack Obama shrewdly let his wife Michelle shine at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo: Mary F. Calvert/Newscom)
Democrats nominated President Barack Obama for a second term at their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, but the consensus among pundits was that his wife Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton outshone him in their speeches. Was his by design a more modest speech than those he delivered in 2008 to reflect the chastening of the economic crisis that has defined his tenure? It sure seemed so, as he compared himself to Depression-era president Franklin D. Roosevelt and quoted Abraham Lincoln, who said, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go”?
Speaking of nowhere to go but God, there was a tussle Wednesday afternoon over the fact that the word God initially didn’t appear in the Democratic platform this year. A line about Jerusalem being the perpetual capital of Israel disappeared as well. Just before Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie prayed the invocation, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had to ask three times for a floor vote to amend the platform to reinsert these references. Then, Villaraigosa clearly overrode a divided final vote to affirm the changes, which gave the Democrats their own Clint Eastwood moment.
Plenty of speakers talked about God, however, including United Methodist pastor and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missiouri), who went off-script Wednesday and began preaching a passionate mini-sermon. “Hope is the motivation that empowers the unemployed. … It is our hope and faith that moves us to action,” Cleaver shouted. “As long as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob sits on the throne of grace, Mr. President, hope on!”
Speaking of shouting, the convention opened with a lot of that Tuesday, most notably from Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker. “It is our most fundamental national aspiration – that no matter who you are, no matter what your color, creed, how you choose to pray or whom you choose to love, that if you are an American — first generation or fifth– one who is willing to work hard, play by the rules, and apply your God-given talents, that you should be able to find a job that pays the bills,” Booker yelled as he introduced the party platform.
As to the platform itself, support for same-sex marriage was included for the first time and language about keeping abortion “safe, legal, and rare” is gone. The drumbeat championing “choice” over Republican oppression of women’s bodies resounded from the first speaker to the last. Juliet Lapidos of The New York Times noticed and so did Michael Sean Winters, a blogger for The National Catholic Reporter. In a column at CNN, Winters said the Obama campaign has given up on courting moderate, white, working class voters who are primarily concerned about the economy. Instead he is “re-litigating the culture wars he promised to salve.” Even Comedian Jon Stewart’s Daily Show produced a bit about the party of inclusion not being so inclusive when it comes to gun-toting, God-fearing, anti-science Evangelicals.
New York City pastor and councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx) told CBN News that he was at the convention to debate the platform change regarding same-sex marriage. “I see myself as a reformer, and I’m hoping that we can put enough pressure (on the party),” Cabrera said. Other Christians were there to offer non-partisan prayers. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, Rev. Gabriel Salguero, and Blood:Water Mission founder Jena Lee Nardella were among those offering a sweet aroma of prayer amidst the partisan preaching. And Sister Simone Campbell of the Nuns on the Bus delivered a short but impassioned speech about the potential dangers of Republican congressman and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s “immoral budget” and why “our faith strongly affirms that we are all responsible for one another.”
As to those stunning speeches delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton, Obama’s was notable for its passion and clarity and for the heart-warming story of the Obamas’ humble beginnings, but also for the fact that Mrs. Obama’s autobiography excluded any mention of her ever having held a job. Instead she described herself as “Mom-in-Chief.” Clinton’s was widely regarded as being so far above others in its rhetorical skill and specificity that even right-leaning pundits conceded he gave Obama the boost he needed, which brings me back to my original point, and that is that the president may not be Bill Clinton, but he is a shrewd politician nonetheless. Just ask Hillary.
What do you think?
What were the high points and low points of the Democrats’ big party?
Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) deserves the colorful language prize of the week for describing the federal debt deal that President Obama signed into law Tuesday as a “Satan sandwich.” “There is nothing inside this sandwich that the major religions of the world will say deals with protection for the poor, the widows, the children,” Cleaver told ABC News.
But a group calling itself Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE) sent a letter to President Obama Monday urging him not to protect programs for the poor, as Circle of Protection signatories had recommended, but instead to protect those in need from programs that it says “demean the poor, undermine their family structures and trap them in poverty, dependency and despair for generations.”
Timothy Dalrymple, managing editor of the Evangelical portal at Patheos.com and a drafter of the CASE letter, said in a phone interview today that the early CASE signatories are a primarily white, religiously diverse group that came together at a conference about environmental issues. Dalrmyple said he would welcome more ethnic diversity.
“We referenced [Jim] Wallis and the Circle of Protection because, while we agree that the budget is a moral document, we believe that many other moral imperatives are being left out of the conversation. The Circle of Protection was rightly emphasizing the moral imperative to care for the poor … but we felt they were leaving out the moral imperative against the kind of severe, chronic crippling debt that we have, and leaving out the moral imperative of wise stewardship of resources. There are numerous moral imperatives involved here,” said Dalrymple.
“We don’t feel that drawing a circle of protection around one party’s argument is the best way to go,” he said, but pointed out that there are “broad areas of agreement” between the two groups.
“We’re certainly in agreement on the importance of caring for the poor. They are willing to acknowledge the importance of getting our fiscal house in order. There are differences in emphasis, but there is also, on our part, an effort to foster a broader and more nuanced conversation over the moral imperatives at play, and a challenging of the assumption that the measure of your compassion is the amount of money you devote toward ostensibly anti-poverty programs,” said Dalrymple.
At the Washington Post On Faith blog, Lisa Miller asked a handful of Christian ministers and scholars, including CASE member Eric Teetsel, what Jesus would cut from the federal budget. “All deferred an answer. Instead, they raised the same old liberal-conservative political debate that has raged at least since the Reagan years. Left-leaning Christians insisted that the way out of the debt crisis was to raise taxes. Those on the right supported slashing entitlements,” said Miller.
In a NewsOne/BlackPlanet poll conducted Tuesday, African Americans were divided when asked if they thought President Obama gave up too much to Republicans in the deal. Fifty-one percent said no; 46 percent said yes,” News One reported.
At The Huffington Post’s Black Voices, which launched today, Peter S. Goodman revisited a conversation he had last year with an economist who told him most Americans didn’t “get screwed” in the Great Recession. In light of depressing statistics about its impact on minorities, Goodman said, “Black and Hispanic households together comprise 28 percent of the American population. In other words, great numbers of Americans have indeed gotten screwed. And anyone who missed that essentially missed what was wrong with the American economy writ large.”
As to solutions, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is launching cross country job fairs, town hall meetings, job readiness programs, and seminars as part of its “For The People” jobs initiative resolution, News One reported. And concern about hiring discrimination against the long-term unemployed prompted Democrats in both houses of Congress to introduce legislation that would ban employment discrimination, according to Colorlines.
In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans to contribute $30 million of his own money to a $130 million initiative that will address the needs of the city’s minority populations. The program “would overhaul how the government interacts with a population of about 315,000 New Yorkers who are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed,” The New York Times reported.
In what may or may not be a pursuit of solutions, talk show host Tavis Smiley and Princeton University professor Cornel West are taking their “anti-poverty tour” to Chicago this weekend, The Chicago Tribune reported. The tour will shine “a spotlight on economic hardships in the president’s hometown” at a time when his former chief of staff and current Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration is, according to Chicago News Cooperative, shutting down its overnight emergency services shift for the homeless and laying off 24 employees in the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.
One can only speculate what the strain will be on affluent African and Hispanic Americans who are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods than low income whites, according to a new study by Brown University sociologist John Logan that was reported in The Wall Street Journal.
Well, it’s been a tumultuous couple of weeks talking about money, a subject financial adviser Dave Ramsey says the Bible mentions more than 800 times. Among those verses is Mathew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” As we debate these issues, perhaps we can remember too that 1 John 4:20 says we can’t love God and hate those with whom we disagree about causes and solutions to our nation’s economic problems.
Should government be more or less involved in the lives of its citizens? Most of our political clashes stem from our different answers to this question. And when Christians get entangled in the debate, the conflict often gets translated into biblical terms.