DUEL IN DENVER: Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney face off for their first debate.
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney meet in Denver tonight for the first of three debates, but both candidates have declined invitations from the NAACP and other black organizations to participate in a forum about issues of concern to African Americans, The Charlotte Post reported.
Instead, they “will be making their cases with particular attention to white working-class voters,” according to Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. His organization’s recent Race, Class, and Culture Survey found that Romney’s “considerable lead over Obama” among these voters is skewed by high numbers in “the enduringly conservative South (62 percent vs. 22 percent),” but elsewhere working-class whites are “fairly evenly divided.”
Whether it is a sad irony or just a political reality that the first black president can’t or won’t appeal to black voters, I don’t know, but race isn’t the only off-limits topic this year. God talk also appears to be on the back burner (and presumably will be at the debates), according to sources that spoke to NPR.
President Obama is talking more golden rule than Christ’s disciple this time around, the article said, and Gov. Romney is playing down his Mormon identity. The economy has taken precendence over faith for many voters, Jones told NPR. The result, he and other sources said, is that the “2012 election is more like the days before George W. Bush — when candidates wore religion lightly, not on their sleeves.”
So what exactly do the candidates hope to accomplish?
Gov. Romney will be “angling for a breakout performance” in order to close the president’s lead in key battleground states, the Associated Press reported, while President Obama is “determined to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes” that could cost him a second term.
It’s all about the horse race people.
Ah well, the first round kicks off at 9:00 pm EDT and will include six segments, three of which will focus on the economy. The other three will be about health care, the role of government and governing, AP reported. Here’s to hoping the candidates say something worth hearing.
For a round-up of how you can watch and/or participate via social media, check out The Huffington Post’s debate roundup.
What do you think?
Do presidential debates inform voters or have they become obsolete?
In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act today, including the controversial individual mandate that requires all Americans to buy health insurance beginning in 2014. However, the ruling limited the federal government’s power to punish states for not expanding Medicaid coverage, as the ACA required.
“The Court did not sustain it as a command for Americans to buy insurance, but as a tax if they don’t. That is the way Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., was willing to vote for it, and his view prevailed. The other Justices split 4-4, with four wanting to uphold it as a mandate, and four opposed to it in any form,” Lyle Denniston, the 81-year-old reporter, wrote on SCOTUS blog today.
The immediate sense is that this is a major victory for President Barack Obama and the signature legislation from his first term in office. “Whatever the politics,” the president said after the ruling, “today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it.”
But the decision also was an indication that the Supreme Court perhaps isn’t as predictably partisan as many believed prior to the announcement. Breaking with the court’s other conservative justices, Chief Justice Roberts announced the judgment that allows the law to go forward with its mission of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans. Many observers speculate that Roberts’s ruling reflected his attempt to avoid going down in history as an activist chief justice on what might be the most important decision of his tenure.
UrbanFaith spoke to a variety of legal and medical experts about what the implications of today’s decision may be.
BERNARD JAMES: “An extraordinarily important substantive issue about the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause.”
Bernard James, professor of law at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, along with three other sources UrbanFaith talked to earlier this week, expected the individual mandate to be struck down, but said the ruling has the potential to answer “an extraordinarily important substantive issue about the power of Congress under the Commerce Clause.”
The Commerce Clause refers to Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution. It gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states.
“Once it’s clear what the Commerce Clause permits and what it requires, not just health care, but all other subjects on the current agenda for this Congress will be more easily pondered and legislated,” said James.
“There were not five votes to uphold [the individual mandate] on the ground that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce between the states to require everyone to buy health insurance. However, five Justices agreed that the penalty that someone must pay if he refuses to buy insurance is a kind of tax that Congress can impose using its taxing power,” editor Amy Howe wrote on the SCOTUS blog. “Because the mandate survives, the Court did not need to decide what other parts of the statute were constitutional, except for a provision that required states to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. On that question, the Court held that the provision is constitutional as long as states would only lose,” she wrote in her summary of the ruling.
JAMES A. DAVIDS: “This is like federalism on steroids.”
James A. Davids, former president of the Christian Legal Society and a joint professor at the Robertson School of Government and the School of Law at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, said that ever since the New Deal was implemented in the 1930s, the Supreme Court has viewed federal power “expansively.” That vision of federal power was “tweaked” under the Renquist court, Davids said, in its rulings on two bills, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. As with today’s ruling, the court said then that there may be good reasons to enact these laws, but not under the Commerce Clause. “There were exceptions going into the power of the government under the Renquist court, under federalism issues, and this is like federalism on steroids,” said Davids.
Davids also said the Rehnquist court ruled that it was constitutional for the federal government to withhold highway funding from South Dakota when the state refused to comply with the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. In this case, the Court said current Medicaid funding cannot be revoked, but new funding can be withheld.
“Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his opinion. Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, cast the deciding vote to uphold the ACA.
DR. BEN CARSON:“We got what could be expected” from politicians.
For Dr. Ben Carson, the world-famous neurosurgeon and director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, Maryland, the outcome of today’s decision doesn’t change much. “The impetus behind the bill was the fact that we had these escalating costs and people who weren’t adequately covered … even though we spend twice as much per capita on healthcare as anybody else in the world,” said Carson.
He supports the concept of health-care reform, but doesn’t think the ACA was done right and compared the effort to hiring pundits to rebuild a bridge instead of hiring structural engineers. “It was done by politicians and special interest groups as opposed to by people who actually know what the problem is and know how to deal with it,” said Carson. “We got what could be expected in that situation.”
Escalating beaurocracy and a lack of comprehensive electronic medical records make the practice of medicine more difficult than it once was, Carson said. In his new book, America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great, he includes a chapter on health-care reform. He suggests using “health stamps” to incentivize the uninsured to use clinics rather than emergency rooms for their primary care. This would lead not only to cost savings, but to better care for patients with chronic illnesses, Carson said.
He also advocates Tort reform to rein in the costs of medical malpractice suits. “We’re the country in the world that has the biggest problem with that. Is it because we have the worst doctors? Of course not. It’s because of special interest groups. The Trial Lawyers Association. We will not deal with them. Every time it has come up before Congress, the House has passed it, but the Senate will not vote on it, because there are some filibustering senators who are in the hip pocket of the Trial Lawyers Association,” said Carson.
Finally, Carson said we have to come to grips with the fact that insurers make money by denying people care. “That’s a basic inherent conflict of interest. We have to find a way to deal with that,” he said.
TONY MEGGS: “We’re grateful that congress, both left and right, saw healthcare sharing ministries like ours … as being part of the solution.”
Some Christians, especially the self-employed and small business workers, are participating in medical cost sharing ministries like Medi-Share because they can’t afford the high cost of individual health insurance plans. Today’s ruling won’t have a direct impact on them, said Tony Meggs, the president and CEO of Medi-Share’s parent organization, Christian Care Ministry.
As part of an alliance of three cost sharing organizations, Medi-Share lobbied for and won an exemption from the individual mandate for its members. “We’re grateful that Congress, both left and right, saw healthcare sharing ministries like ours and the other two ministries as being part of the solution,” said Meggs.
His organization’s 19-year history of paying every eligible bill (approaching $700 million to date) and its focus on wellness and preventative care helped convince legislators that cost-sharing ministry members deserved an exemption, he said.
“They understand that they need to bend the cost curve in some way in getting people to make better choices in terms of how they live their lives. From a diet and exercise perspective, those are things that Congress was interested in, and so I think it was a combination of [that and] the fact that we’ve been here for a long time. This is how we help people. It’s credible. We’re not scamming people,” said Meggs.
Medi-Share’s steady growth “accelerated” after the ACA was enacted, Meggs said, and he expects that growth to continue because he says there is about a 40 percent cost difference between an individual health insurance plan and a monthly Medi-Share contribution.
There are differences, however. Medi-Share participants must sign a statement of faith and agree not to abuse drugs or alcohol or engage in extra-marital sex, Meggs said. Medical problems resulting from violations of these agreements are not generally “shared,” nor are mental health problems or some pre-existing conditions. Additionally, insurance companies are contractually obligated to pay for eligible services, but “sharing” medical expenses is voluntary for Medi-Share members. “There’s no guarantee. There’s no contract. Our program is strictly voluntary, but what I can tell you is that over a 19 year history, a 100 percent of every eligible bill that we’ve ever published has been shared,” said Meggs
What about you?
How will today’s ruling impact your family’s health decisions?
In his new book, How Should Christians Vote?, the Rev. Dr. Tony Evans says the Bible offers the guidance we need to make wise voting decisions, but he also says those decisions should reflect kingdom principles rather than allegiance to any political party. Evans is senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, founder and president of The Urban Alternative, a national urban renewal ministry, and host of The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, which is heard on more than 500 radio stations. UrbanFaith talked to Evans about his new book, his views on same-sex marriage, and political engagement generally. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UrbanFaith: You were recently interviewed by both NPR and CNN about your disappointment in President Obama’s statement of support for same-sex marriage. What kind of response have you gotten to those interviews?
Tony Evans: Mostly positive. We’ve had some negative, where people feel like it’s narrow minded and bigoted, but it’s been mostly positive from my constituency, which would hold to that view.
The editor of the media criticism site Get Religion has noted that because of this issue, the press is suddenly interested in what African American pastors have to say. Do journalists call you to talk about the work of Urban Alternative, its national Adopt-A-School initiative, for example?
No. That is the correct statement. We tend to be substantive with regard to the political issues of the day, not for what we do in improving people’s lives.
Why do you think the press is so interested in what black pastors have to say about same-sex marriage?
Because of its political implications. Will it affect the black vote or black support of the president? It’s a big cultural issue now in regards to the definition of the family and gay rights. So, because of its political clout, the African American tank becomes very important. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way most of the media is right now.
In your interview with NPR, you said race isn’t a choice and implied that homosexuality is a choice. Increasingly we’re hearing that race is to some degree a social construct. Are race and sexuality really so dissimilar?
They’re apples and oranges. For a person to enter into a homosexual relationship, it is their decision to do that. They have autonomy over that decision. How a person is born or the group to which they are a part of when they are born is something that the Creator has authorized. Homosexual marriage is not something the Creator has authorized. In fact, he’s condemned it. Since God has spoken on his created work and on his condemning work, and has been clear on both of those, we should not put those in the same category.
And so, when people compare the history of interracial marriage to same sex marriage, you don’t think those issues are similar?
No, they’re not similar because the way [same-sex marriage] was regarded before was wrong, and the Creator states that it is wrong. God would never have endorsed what the culture is allowing.
In your book, you says Christians should be like NFL referees when it comes to politics in that they should represent a kingdom perspective rather than identifying primarily with a political party. How can we really know what God’s will is on issues like health care or immigration law?
I believe that there are biblical positions on every issue, but no party fully represents all God’s views consistently on all God’s issues. Christians are going to vote differently because they will prioritize issues differently. My concern is that we’ve so aligned ourselves with the parties of this world that we’re missing the kingdom of God. The proof of that is that we’ve let political parties divide the kingdom of God. My illustration regarding referees is simply to say that while they sometimes vote for one team and sometimes vote for another team, they’re obligated ultimately to neither team, because they belong to another kingdom called the NFL. So, we should never let the party divisions interfere with the unity of the church, causing the church to lose its influence in the culture.
And yet, white evangelicals are very much identified with the Republican party and black Christians are often identified with the Democratic party. How do they come to such different perspectives on issues?
It’s more priority of issues. For example, the white evangelical community will emphasize right to life in the womb. The black Christian community will emphasize justice to the tomb. For me, those both are one issue, whole life, not term. Since that is one issue with two different locations, Christians can agree on the whole life issue even though they vote differently, and come out with a whole-life perspective that if we were unified both parties would have to interface with and take seriously. Because they can split us up along party lines, we do not have a single voice on the issues that represent the kingdom of God.
How can Christians become more unified despite their different political perspectives?
There should be a Christian manifesto that gives God’s view on all the prominent issues that is represented by Christians across race, cultural, and class lines. Christians should hold both parties [accountable to] speak to that manifesto.
Are you calling for something like the Manhattan Declaration?
Yes, like that, but specifically to reflect the comprehensive view, and not only to reflect it in a manifesto statement, but in how Christians come together and relate to each other, not going back to our own dug outs and separating after the manifesto is over. There should be an ongoing statement. Ultimately I think we should put forth a Christian-based candidate who is kingdom minded, who reflects a comprehensive Christian worldview.
Because President Obama grounded his advocacy for same-sex marriage in his Christian faith, would your idea of a Christian manifesto include a perspective like his?
No. It would not authorize anything that is unauthorized by God, and the definition of the family is one of those things. You can’t define the family differently than its creator defined it for cultural and political correctness. That would not be acceptable.
You advocate limited government in your book. How does limited government reflect biblical values?
In my view, the Scripture is clear that civil government is limited. Number one, because it’s not the only government. There is family government, church government, and ultimately the best government is self-government, because the more people that govern themselves, the less civil government we need. When God created Adam and Eve, there was total freedom except one narrow regulation, one tree they couldn’t eat from, but there were dire consequences. God says in 1 Samuel 8 that civil government is getting out of hand when it requires in taxes more than God requires in tithes. The mere fact that civil government should submit to God’s government means it’s going to limit itself to what God has given it responsibility for. All of these argue for limited government, freeing the other governments to do their job, not expecting civil government to intrude on the other governments God has established.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between the major parties in terms of the size of government; rather, it seems to be more a matter of where resources are directed, with one party focusing on national security and corporate welfare and the other prioritizing social supports. Does either party represent limited government?
No. First of all, we would be changing welfare on the Republican side for corporate welfare and on the Democratic side for social welfare. All of those would be reduced. All of those would be limited in a biblical worldview. A biblical worldview would never subsidize dependency. It provides help, so I’m for a safety net that, for able bodied people, demands the incurring of responsibility. For example, if your child gets federal money through Head Start, you should have to volunteer in that school. You shouldn’t be able to sit home and get the benefit without incurring responsibility.
Personal responsibility is an important value, but, these days, many people can’t find jobs that offer health insurance and they can’t afford to buy it on their own, for example. How do personal responsibility and communal responsibility interplay from a biblical perspective?
My view is that a just free market would address most of those. The problem with the free market on one side is that it often can be unjust. The problem with government is that it gets too big and therefore too cumbersome and it can’t address things properly. But a just free market—which means there are staggering consequences for breaking the law—would address most of those. If you had insurance across state lines, then competition that’s opening up the free market would reduce costs for insurances. It wouldn’t be prohibitive for businesses then to offer it. So, I believe that a just free market answers most of those concerns.
Doesn’t the combination of limited government and social conservatism just land you in the Republican party?
No, it doesn’t, because I believe that we have conservative, blue-dog Democrats who would hold to non-abortion, who would hold to the definition of a family as a man and a woman, and who would at least hold to a smaller government than now exists. I don’t believe you get locked down that way because then you become owned by that party.
You wrote in the book that you were friends with President George W. Bush. He ran on a platform of “compassionate conservatism” and tested some of these ideas. Do you think that worked out?
He got distracted by a big war in Iraq. He pushed faith-based initiatives and I do believe the more local charity becomes, the more beneficial, impactful, and accountable it becomes. The war distracted that emphasis and I was sorry to see that.
You advocate something you call “interposition,” which is “when righteous agents of God advocate on behalf of those facing imminent judgment or danger,” but critics have charged the Religious Right with not only alienating non-Christians, but also our own children. Are you concerned that the kind of political engagement you advocate will lead to alienation from the gospel?
Not if it’s done properly, if it’s done with love. One of the things I disagree with the Right about is the dishonor shown to the president. You can disagree honorably. I believe that many disagree dishonorably. You can engage in a loving way that demonstrates the heart of God, but that demonstrates the truth of God. Love must always be married to truth and truth must always be married to love. So I believe our methodology is a big part of the problem.
You provide a lot of detailed advice in the book about political engagement, but when people ask you how they should vote, what do you say?
I say, “Vote for the candidate and the party that will most give you the opportunity to advance the kingdom of God. And even though people may vote for that differently, if the kingdom of God and its advance is your primary concern, then you’ll be Democrat lite or Republican lite, so that in either party you’ll be the L-I-G-H-T.”
‘We Have a Race Problem, Mr. President’
In an excerpt from her new memoir published in Newsweek, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she didn’t think much about dire Hurricane Katrina warnings when she left Washington D.C. to watch U.S. Open tennis in New York in August 2005. Turning on the TV after a trip to an upscale shoe store in the city, she saw the devastating images of mostly black faces in New Orleans and knew right away that she should have never made the trip.
“Mr. President, I’m coming back. I don’t know how much I can do, but we clearly have a race problem,” she recounts telling the president. “I wasn’t just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the President. What had I been thinking?”
The Lingering Wound of Katrina
Rice admits that Katrina was “the first in a spiral of negative events that would almost engulf the Bush presidency” and says the federal response was slower and more flawed than anyone, including George W. Bush, wanted. Yet, for her, the “lingering wound of Katrina” is that “some used the explosive ‘race card’ to paint the President as a prejudiced, uncaring man.”
“It was so unfair, cynical, and irresponsible,” she writes, saying she remains “appalled” that it was necessary to defend him on this issue.
The Moral Case for Opposing Tyranny
In an interview with The Daily Beast about the book, Rice defends the Bush administration’s “Freedom Agenda,” framing it as both a moral and practical pursuit.
“We pursued the Freedom Agenda not only because it was right but also because it was necessary,” Rice is quoted as writing. “There is both a moral case and a practical one for the proposition that no man, woman, or child should live in tyranny. Those who excoriated the approach as idealistic or unrealistic missed the point. In the long run, it is authoritarianism that is unstable and unrealistic.”
Gadhafi’s “Black Flower in the White House”
A New York Times review of No Higher Ground focuses on clashes between Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney over the war on terror, but includes the curious revelation that recently deceased Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gadhafi was “eerily fascinated” with her and “made a video showing pictures of her while a song called ‘Black Flower in the White House’ played.”
Rice’s Biggest Regret
Neither Katrina nor Freedom Agenda challenges top Rice’s list of regrets, however. In a Q&A with readers of the Charlotte Observer this week, the former Secretary of State answered a question about what she would change from her White House tenure if she could by saying she wishes that the Bush administration had been able to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.
“Because resolving our massive immigration problem is essential to securing a prosperous future for generations, I truly wish we had been able to see those reforms come to fruition,” said Rice.
Asked what has built character in her life, she told readers that throughout every season of her life, “the Lord has built character in me as I rely on Him.”
What do you think?
Was George W. Bush’s Katrina “race problem” the beginning of the end of positive public perception for his administration? Is his record on race defensible?
Are the disparities in our nation’s educational system the most crucial civil rights issue of our time? Former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige thinks so, and he’s written a book to help move us toward the solution.
A copy of former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s new book, The Black-White Achievement Gap, arrived in our offices this week. Co-authored with Elaine Witty, Ed.D., Paige’s book tackles what it calls “the greatest civil rights issue of our time.” Paige, of course, served under President George W. Bush, from 2001 to 2005, during which time the controversial No Child Left Behind Act was put into effect.
To learn more about The Black-White Achievement Gap, check out an interview with Dr. Paige at our Daily Digest blog.