Well, this year we vote. At some point, perhaps in the early morning hours of the day after the election, perhaps not for several days, we will find out who has been selected by our Electoral College system to serve as President for the next four years. I expect that the winner will not fulfill all the promises they have made. Nor will their presidency be as apocalyptic as the prophets of doom have predicted. Both of these candidates have virtues that are worthy of our admiration, and weaknesses that merit our concern. Nonetheless, based on the deluge of Facebook posts by my friends, I expect that while somewhere around a third of you will be ecstatic over the result, another third will be bitterly disappointed.
But this post isn’t really about who is President for the next four years. We’ll all survive that. This post is about our friends, our neighbors, the stranger we see on the street, the person driving in front of you whose bumper sticker you disagree with. It’s about all of us. For no matter who wins this election, the last election, the next election — most of us will still be here. There is an old saying that we get the government we deserve. And frankly, based on the vitriol and animosity I have seen in social media surrounding this year’s presidential campaign, we don’t deserve much.
The Facebooking of Politics
I have heard friends accuse friends of being bigots and racists because of who they are voting for. I have seen friends accuse friends of being “uninformed, misinformed, communists or opposed to this country’s values” if we vote for specific candidates. I have seen friends accuse friends of being haters, homophobes, misogynists, etc., if they vote for others. I have seen friends “unfriend” friends. Frankly, I’ve been tempted to unfriend some folks myself, although I have resisted the urge. I don’t know if we are reflecting the polarization of Washington, or if the Beltway reflects the hatred and spite of the American citizenry.
Here’s what I rarely, if ever, observed: People truly listening. People asking questions of people who view the world differently than them. People seeking to understand.
To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, it’s not that we have tried to engage in gracious, thoughtful political dialogue and found it wanting — it’s that we have found it difficult and not tried. We have told people what they think rather than asking them. We have refused to believe their reasons, choosing to trust our own stereotypes. We haven’t listened to their stories — we’ve made them shallow caricatures in a story of our own creation.
I expect I have noticed this acutely the past several years during the 2008 and 2012 elections, because those were the first elections when so many of us were on Facebook in a presidential election year. But of course, politics, not to mention religion, has been a taboo topic of discussion for years, long before the Internet. It is tragic that those two disciplines that capture the depths of human values and meaning — religion and politics — are considered off-limits for many of our conversations. I expect much of this revolves around our need to be right, and our fear of people who see the world differently.
I’ve given this a lot of thought, as a friend of mine has continually jabbed at supporters of the other candidate, goading them to respond to some of the more troublesome aspects of their candidate’s platform. Always done in a shaming, blaming way. Not surprisingly, no one took my friend up on the offer to explain.
But let me make a few friendly suggestions about how we might do this better four years from now.
The Wisdom of Listening
First, ask questions. And listen. Really listen. Don’t just wait for the person you disagree with to take a breath so you can shoot down their position. Listen seeking to understand. Assume that they are a person of good faith rather than an evil, bigoted hater. Don’t tell them why they’re wrong. Try to understand why they view the world the way they do. Affirm aspects of their values and perspectives that you can respect and admire, even if you might view things differently. Make it safe for them to share their deepest hopes and fears with you. In the Old Testament, Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (ESV). Are we practicing the wisdom of listening?
You will find that when you have asked questions, listened actively seeking to understand, and affirmed common ground, that you will develop trust. You will also have created a space where they may ask you questions and give you the same respect that you have shown them. They may even be willing to express respect for some of your values and vision.
Confession Is Good for the Soul
Then, admit to them the concerns you have about your own candidate/party, acknowledging that candidates, like the rest of humanity, have their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Then, and only then, might they feel safe enough to address the weaknesses in their candidate/party that trouble you. Few of us embrace the entire platform of the candidate we vote for. You may not change your friend’s vote. But you will have deepened a friendship. And opened a mind. You cannot wait for them to take the first step; you have to do it.
And whoever wins this election, be open to the possibility that some of their policies, all of which have been informed by advisors and embraced by close to half the population, might actually succeed. Hope and pray for the success of the candidate, even if you’re skeptical. Be more concerned about the good of the country than the success or failure of political parties.
When we remain open to the virtues and vision of our elected officials’ leadership, they may be more willing to listen to our legitimate concerns about those who might get left behind by their policies.
And maybe, just maybe, this sort of political engagement will catch on.
COMEBACK KID: President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sparred early and often during the second presidential debate on October 16, 2012, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. After an uninspired first debate for President Obama, he came with renewed energy. (Photo: Stan Honda/Newscom)
President Barack Obama leaped back into the presidential campaign Tuesday, aggressively challenging rival Mitt Romney in a tense debate likely to reset the contest as it heads into the final weeks.
Obama was all the things he was not in his first faceoff with Romney — energetic, engaged, quick to defend his record and even quicker to tear into Romney. At points, he even jumped off his seat to challenge Romney.
Eager to score points from the opening minutes to the last, he cast Romney as an elitist who would help the rich, a chameleon who is all but lying to conceal his real agenda, a man whose scorn for the poor and working classes was revealed only in the secretly taped remarks in which Romney derided 47 percent of the country as freeloaders.
Romney gave as good as he got through most of the debate, reminding voters at every opportunity of the weak economy under four years of Obama’s leadership. He stumbled, however, at a turn over the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Libya, an unforced error that allowed Obama to score at what otherwise might have been a moment of vulnerability.
The 90-minute debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., likely helped Obama re-energize Democrats who were discouraged at his lackluster performance in the first debate, and sends the two rivals into their final clash Monday in Florida grappling for a breakout.
Most eyes were on Obama from the onset as he looked for ways stylistic and substantive to show voters he eagerly wants the job, and that Romney should not have it. In that first debate, he was passive at times, looking down at notes rather than making eye contact, and failing to raise such topics as Romney’s remarks about the 47 percent.
Obama worked throughout to tar Romney as a friend to the rich and powerful.
“His plan is to let the oil companies write the energy policies,” he said of Romney’s push for more energy production.
He lambasted Romney’s plan to cut taxes, saying they would necessarily force tax increases on the middle class.
“You’re going to be paying for it,” Obama said. “You can’t buy the sales pitch.”
Obama all but called Romney a liar.
“What Gov. Romney said just isn’t true,” he said of Romney’s comments on the auto industry.
“Very little of what Gov. Romney just said is true,” he said of Romney’s comments on energy.
Obama at times sat at the edge of his stool, rising quickly to physically challenge Romney face to face rather than waiting for Romney to finish and be seated.
Challenged by Romney the first time, Obama then walked away and faced the audience to answer a question. The second time Obama stood to confront him, Romney waved him back, “You’ll get your chance in a moment.”
When he wasn’t jumping out of his seat, Obama watched Romney intently.
He wasn’t Joe Biden, laughing or making hand gestures when the other guy was talking, as the vice president did in his debate last week with Republican Paul Ryan.
But Obama kept his eyes on his adversary, a noteworthy change from the first debate when he was often caught on camera looking down at his notes or away, giving voters the impression he was disinterested.
Romney refused to cede the stage, however, standing forward rather than returning to his seat while Obama spoke to the live audience in the town hall-style meeting.
Romney stayed on message most of the evening, hammering away at economic anxiety about lost jobs, rising poverty and shrinking paychecks.
“The president’s policies . . . haven’t put people to work,” he said.
“Middle-income families have been crushed,” he added.
Romney made a misstep, however, on the Obama administration’s response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
Obama stated that he called the attack a terrorist act the next day, brushing aside suggestions that his administration spent weeks giving misleading accounts that instead blamed the attacks on a riotous response to anti-Muslim video.
Romney challenged Obama’s assertion.
“Check the transcript,” Obama interrupted, and moderator Candy Crowley noted that Obama did use the word in his day-after comment. “Say that a little louder, Candy,” a confident Obama said.
Later, during the closing statements, Obama was given the final word and used it to further distinguish the differences between himself and Romney. After touting his record, he went on to finally broach the topic of Romney’s infamous “47 percent” remarks from the secret video footage that had snarled Romney’s campaign weeks earlier. Many chided Obama for not bringing up the topic in the first debate. This time he not only brought it up but saved it as his concluding shot in a match that one suspects will restore his campaign’s mojo.
What did you think of the second debate? Did President Obama redeem himself enough to get back into a close presidential race? Share your comments below.
WOOING RELIGION REPORTERS: CNN Belief Blog editor Dan Gilgoff (left) moderates panel discussion with (left-to-right) Romney adviser Mark DeMoss and Obama surrogates Broderick Johnson and Michael Wear. (Photo by Explorations Media, L.L.C.)
Personal questions about faith should be off-limits, but questions about how faith informs policy shouldn’t, representatives of the Obama and Romney campaigns told reporters at the Religion Newswriters Assocation annual meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, October 5.
Speaking as an unpaid senior adviser to the Romney campaign, Mark DeMoss said he concluded six years ago that Romney, with whom he shares “common values” but “different doctrinal or theological backgrounds,” is “uniquely qualified and competent to be the president.” The fact that Romney (a Mormon) is “a man of faith” is a “bonus,” said the evangelical DeMoss.
“I feel strongly that no one should vote for any candidate at any level because of their faith. … That mindset, in my view, is similar to a Christian yellow-pages mentality … where you would just patronize Christian-owned businesses,” DeMoss explained. People generally look for quality and competence in daily life decisions, he said. “If the selected competent choice happens to be a person of faith, that might be seen as a bonus. If they happen to be a person of similar faith, maybe that’s a double bonus.”
DeMoss alone represented the Romney campaign at the discussion moderated by CNN Belief Blog editor Dan Gilgoff. Two representatives spoke for the Obama campaign: senior Obama campaign adviser and head of Catholic outreach Broderick Johnson and national faith coordinator Michael Wear.
“It’s fundamentally important that we can’t tell reporters what to ask and we can’t control those factors, but from our campaign … and Governor Romney’s campaign, personal faith is off-limits,” said Wear.
“Barack Obama has been more willing than many Democratic candidates to talk about how his faith informs him,” said Johnson. But, he said, neither candidate talks about how they practice their faith. Johnson seemed to contradict himself when he later said, “How they practice their faith and their values does matter and gives people an important set of barometers to make decisions about who they’re going to vote for.”
Wear also referred journalists to President Obama’s convention speech as evidence that his faith informs his decisions. In that speech, Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln’s statement about the pressures of the presidency sending him to his knees. “That wasn’t an off-hand gesture; it was actually a reference he made in his [National] Prayer Breakfast speech. … So this is something that he’s talked about, but he talks about it on his own terms,” said Wear.
After the panel discussion UrbanFaith asked Wear if the Obama campaign’s tone has changed from 2008 when then-Senator Obama spoke eloquently and personally about his faith during a Saddleback Church discussion with the Rev. Rick Warren and Senator John McCain in Lake Forest, California.
“I’d say our priority on the faith vote is in talking about the choice that people of faith have in this election,” said Wear. “The president doesn’t think that it’s his job to go out and convince folks about his faith. …It’s something very personal to him and it’s something that he’s not going to be tried about. He’s not going to manufacture things.” The best “on-the-record statement” about the president’s faith can be found in his recent interview with the National Cathedral magazine, Wear said.
Asked why President Obama was so forthcoming four years ago at Saddleback, Wear said the president didn’t bring the subject up and was “introducing himself to the American people.” “[They] wanted to know who he was,” said Wear.
Coincidentally, the Pew Research Center distributed a quiz to RNA journalists in Bethesda that included a question about whether more or less Americans question President Obama’s faith identity in 2012 than did in 2008. The organization reported earlier this year that in 2008, 55% of survey respondents identified the president as a Christian, while only 49% do so now. Four years ago, 12% thought the president was a Muslim. That figure has risen to 17%.
All three campaign surrogates advocated a broader range of issues that are informed by faith than so-called “culture war” concerns like abortion and same-sex marriage. Among those mentioned were the economy, tax policy, immigration, and heath-care reform. Wear said that if faith is a daily part of politicians’ lives, “they’re going to be looking through that lens on all their decisions.”
What do you think?
Should questions about the candidates’ faith be off-limits?
MR. CONFIDENT VS. MR. SNIPPY: After last night’s first presidential debate in Denver, Colorado, many of President Obama’s most ardent supporters are wondering why he allowed Gov. Mitt Romney to administer such an unequivocal beat down. (Photo: Newscom)
It’s been interesting today, reading and listening to all the post-debate analysis. Following what most are agreeing was an unequivocal beat down of President Obama by Mitt Romney, many are wondering, What just happened? With all of the polls leading up to the debate favoring the Obama campaign, one would think the president would’ve ridden that momentum and brought the fight to Gov. Romney.
But President Obama apparently neglected to take his urgency pills before taking the stage in Denver last night. Romney, say most pundits, was the more confident, aggressive, and prepared candidate. He won the evening.
And President Obama?
Well, let’s just say the only “hope and change” his supporters are feeling after last night’s performance is the hope that he will change his approach for the final two debates.
As you might expect, there’s a ton of postmortem chatter spilling out across the Web and blogosphere. One report at Politico, titled “How Obama’s Debate Strategy Bombed,” dissects the possible reasons for President Obama’s lackluster performance:
Multiple party strategists privately attributed Obama’s demeanor to an ailment that frequently affects incumbents: a fear of appearing too aggressive and risking a larger-scale misstep that could transform the campaign. Projecting a calm, reasonable — some said “presidential” — demeanor was the strategy during Obama’s debate-prep sessions outside of Las Vegas.
But as a result, Obama allowed Romney to set the terms for much of their Wednesday night faceoff at the University of Denver. Startling his supporters, Obama did not deliver almost any of the sharpest attacks that have defined his campaign against Romney, dwelling instead on missing details from Romney’s policy proposals. The former Massachusetts governor’s private-equity background, controversial personal finances, views on social issues and recently reported comments, disparaging Americans who do not pay income taxes, went entirely unmentioned.
Obama did what anybody paying close attention would have known he would do. He played it safe. And he stuck to a rather dull rhetorical style because — he has a rather dull rhetorical style. Also because that’s what you do when you’re the frontrunner. You don’t say or do anything wild and crazy. You let your opponent jump up and down and make excitable noises. Which is precisely what Romney did. Some have read Romney’s stance as aggressive, others as pushy, but there’s one word that you’re unlikely to hear: “presidential.” Makes for good theatrics. But it won’t win you the White House.
Obama people, stop pretending. Stop trying to find the silver lining. Drop the crap about how Mitt Romney was a condescending jerk and vague on everything. Yeah, Romney was all that. And you know what? He still spanked Barack Obama in Wednesday night’s debate. Romney was smooth, easy going, clear, ended his sentences on actual periods and just kept jabbing at the president all night long.
Atlantic senior editor Garance Franke-Ruta doesn’t let Obama off the hook for his “snippy,” “downbeat” performance, but she goes deeper in diagnosing the root cause for the president’s poor showing. She writes, “Whoever Obama was when he was elected president has been seared away by two active wars, the more free-ranging fight against al-Qaeda, the worst economic crash since the Great Depression, and the endless grinding fights with Washington Republicans — and even, I am sure, activists in his own party.” She goes on to add that folks expecting a late-hour reemergence of the dynamic Obama of 2008 needs to awake from their denial. This Obama, she says, is no longer the new and shiny model from 2008, nor will he ever be again. She says:
Romney has had the luxury of being able to campaign undistracted by a day job. More importantly, he’s been able to campaign undistracted by dealing with anything substantive or difficult in recent years. Campaigns are physically taxing. But the toll of being president is something different again.
His supporters keep wanting Obama to be who he was in 2008. But that’s not who he is anymore.
As for the president, earlier today at a Denver rally he explained the previous evening’s less-than-triumphant proceedings by suggesting Romney caught him off guard. “When I got on to the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. [But] the man on stage last night does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney’s decisions … from the last year.” Mocking Romney’s smiling declaration that he would cut funding to PBS, Obama added, “Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird.”
I’m sure Obama’s supporters are glad that he’s able to find humor in last night’s ugly affair, but one wonders why he didn’t bring some of that snark last night.
After sifting through these and other commentaries, I got into a brief email chat with UrbanFaith columnist Wil LaVeist, who also was puzzled by the president’s flat performance. Here’s a bit of our discussion:
ED: What the heck happened last night?
WIL: President Obama was so flat with his style points during the debate, that I’ve got to give him the benefit of the doubt that it’s a plan. He’s either: 1) Working a “rope-a-dope” strategy where he’ll knock Romney out later when it really counts, or 2) He was thinking too much about candlelight dinner with Michelle for their 20th wedding anniversary.
ED: My wife said the same thing about the Obamas’ anniversary, but c’mon. The president’s whole life is spent multitasking — balancing the running of the country with the mundane tasks of telling the kids to do their homework and making sure he remembers the card and flowers for the anniversary. So, I can’t buy that one. But the rope-a-dope idea has merit. I’ve got to believe he was intentionally pulling punches last night. He seems to be working some sort of strategy, but did it possibly backfire? It’s awfully close to Election Day to be taking those types of calculated risks.
WIL: If Obama’s doing the rope-a-dope strategy, his aim is to strike fear in his Democratic base so that they’ll realize this election won’t be a cakewalk by any means. Democrats became lax in the 2010 midterm elections and the Tea Party-led GOP dominated. So the implicit message to the base is probably “Wake up, stand up, and get out the vote, like you did in 2008! Romney-Ryan is a stronger ticket than McCain-Palin. I need your help!”
ED: So, do you see him rebounding in round two, or is this the Obama we get now?
WIL: I think Obama will drop all of the obvious power punches (47 percent, flip-flopper, etc.) on Romney in the next two debates, but he will still need a strong voter turnout to win. On the other hand, if the Prez was distracted last night and thinking about Michele … well, as a married guy I can’t blame him. However, Michelle will always be his first lady. If he’s not careful, she won’t be ours much longer.
Much more will be said about last night between now and the next debate. And once the new round of poll numbers starts appearing, the pundits will have even more fodder with which to fill their cable news segments. But, if nothing else, last night’s debate should remind us of one thing: nothing is decided until the polls close on the evening of Nov. 6.
On the eve of the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, I ended up in a heated Facebook debate over the nature of President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comments — the latest furor in a series of election-year political clashes over tax policy, economic interventionism, class warfare, and the Occupy movement.
Not that the conclusive installment of this latest Batman trilogy has an overtly political agenda. Rather, its script, co-written by director Christopher Nolan and screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, clearly resides in the context of our current, fractured political climate. As British-American filmmakers raised in Chicago, the Nolan brothers offer a unique take on blighted urban political decay. So their epic depiction of Gotham, and the way it captures our gestalt, the spirit of our time, owes just as much a debt to David Simon’s The Wire as it does to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
I’m sorry, did I just say “owes a debt?” There I go again.
See, as much as there is to love about this film, there’s just as much to object to — that is, if your goal is to use it as political ammunition.
(Mild spoiler alert.)
One story, two sides
Liberals can choose to see it as a story of corporate greed and hubris, and see the Batman as a hero of the people, the Ninety-Nine Percent. Conservatives can choose to see it as a story of a city hijacked by a runaway mob intent on redistributing the wealth of the One Percent, foiled by the ingenuity and grit of an American business-owner.
They’re both right because political factions never have exclusive rights to the truth. There are truths that liberals and conservatives both understand and embrace more or less compared to their counterparts. In the cultivation of these truths, we are drawn to political ideologies. But the pain and bitterness we feel from the losses incurred in the unrelenting allegiance to these ideologies … well, it blinds us. It traps us. We become slaves to the system. As a result, we end up doing things we regret, things we never thought we would.
Different kingdom, different mission
That’s the bad news, that when it comes to systems of this world, we are not in charge. But the good news is that in the scope of eternity, we are not in charge. The kingdom of God is not a democracy, but a benevolent dictatorship. As such, the kingdom goes by a different set of rules than what we’ve come to expect.
After all, Paul famously told the church that in Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, but we are one in Christ. He also told us that the same spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwells in our bodies. So there’s no reason why we have to remain trapped inside the identity of the closest prevailing political bloc. The more we acknowledge His Lordship, the greater basis we’ll have for humility, unity, and cooperation.
That sense of humility in action is what I found so moving in this latest film. Part of Batman’s redemption was in the way he was able to get beyond his pain and see more value in trusting and working with others. Most of us will never experience Bruce Wayne wealth, but all of us, if we put our faith in Christ, can rise above our fears and work with others for the common good.
Not only that, if we as the church are to fulfill our mission, we must rise above. Because there are others who need to experience Christ, and they don’t have the luxury of waiting for a sequel.
So let’s keep showing up, engaging, and rising above the conflicts that divide us. Because when it comes to saving the world, I have more faith in a risen savior than any caped crusader — even one as cool as Batman.