Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Presidential Faith & Politics Forum
Last night we had some friends and neighbors over to watch and discuss the Presidential Candidates Forum on Faith & Politics hosted by Sojourners and aired on CNN. The top three Democratic candidates - Senators Edwards, Obama & Clinton - were each given 15 minutes to answer questions about how their faith affects their political decisions and personal lives. You can view video highlights of the evening here or read the transcript or CNN's summary article.

It was a fascinating event, though I came away rather disappointed. Far too much time, in my opinion, was spent on asking the candidates about their personal faith practices and beliefs - questions like "Do you pray?", "What do you pray for?", "Do you believe in evolution?", "What was your biggest sin?", and the worst question of the night to Hillary: "How did your faith get you through Bill's infidelity?"

Seriously, what are the candidates going to say to questions like these? "No, I don't pray"? I mean, c'mon, we know that none of them are atheists so of course we assume that they pray on occasion. Yet unfortunately each candidate ate up the majority of their time with fluffy platitudes about how they rely on prayer and how their faith is really important to them. (Again, would we expect them to say otherwise at a venue like this?) Frankly I think Wallis and Sojourners really missed an opportunity to really press the candidates on substantial social justice issues and instead reinforced the flawed assumption that Democrats just need to be able to talk the religious lingo in order to win over evangelical voters.

At least a few of the other questions were somewhat better. Both Edwards and Obama were asked by Jim Wallis to give specific answers about how they would combat poverty in America and globally. While Edwards talked a lot about his passion to help the poor and his past track record on this issue, Obama did a far better job of actually answering the question with specific proposals: e.g. early childhood education, job training and transitional jobs for ex-offenders when they are released from prison, minimum wage increases and making sure work actually lifts people out of poverty, as well as a revolutionary bill currently before congress to allow shareholders to vote on the salaries of corporate CEO's.

Hillary unfortunately wasted most of her time on the relatively meaningless faith platitudes. The one substantial question she got was in regards to finding common ground between pro-life and pro-choice groups to actually reduce the number of abortions. She affirmed this idea and talked about the importance of promoting abortion alternatives, sex education, and better moral guidance for young people.

Overall I think Edwards came across the most sincere about his faith and his passion for the poor, Obama came across the most confident and "presidential", and Hillary, in my opinion at least, just came across as a politician who was struggling to say what she thought the audience wanted to hear. Obama clearly "won" in my opinion, though it wasn't quite fair since he was given far better and more substantial questions than the other two - for a true comparison they should have made each candidate answer the same questions. However Edwards, I think, will be most successful in winning over evangelicals because of the natural and sincere way that he talked about his faith and especially how he used religious lingo that would be familiar to evangelicals - talking about his love for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and about being a sinner in need of forgiveness for example. Hillary, unfortunately, probably didn't do much to help her image among Christians, though she did make a good point about how too much "God talk" and "wearing your faith on your sleeve" can put one in danger of being like the Pharisees. That seems like a common approach among politicians from more mainline or Catholic backgrounds - this attitude that your faith should be lived more than talked about, since talking about it too much can come across as prideful and self-righteous.

At any rate, while I think this forum will be somewhat successful in communicating to Christians that Democrats are in fact just as sincere in their faith as Republicans, I wish they would have taken advantage of the opportunity to talk more about social justice as a faith issue. I think it may have been better if Jim Wallis had actually been moderating rather than Soledad O'Brien from CNN. Many of the questions seemed more "CNN" than "Sojourners" to be honest. Ah well, perhaps they'll do better next time, either with the Republicans this fall, or if they do something like this again next year.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 8:55 PM | Permalink |


10 Comments:


At 6/05/2007 11:11:00 PM, Anonymous Miko

as well as a revolutionary bill currently before congress to allow shareholders to vote on the salaries of corporate CEO's.

I don't think that would work. One thing I've learned from my years of investing is that backing a CEO is a better strategy that backing the company (s)he runs. Now, as a decent human being, I'll agree that CEO salaries are outrageous. But as an investor with an interest in making money, I'm not going to be inclined to do anything about it. A better strategy is setting up a plan where unions slowly buy their companies and letting the workers decide.

Hillary, in my opinion at least, just came across as a politician who was struggling to say what she thought the audience wanted to hear.

That sums up my opinion of every time I've heard her.

However Edwards, I think, will be most successful in winning over evangelicals because of the natural and sincere way that he talked about his faith and especially how he used religious lingo that would be familiar to evangelicals

I find him rather appealing as an atheist as well. Could be a nice combo.

At any rate, while I think this forum will be somewhat successful in communicating to Christians that Democrats are in fact just as sincere in their faith as Republicans

I've always wondered how many liberals really care about that. I'd think non-fundamentalists would prefer the Kennedy approach to religion.

 

At 6/05/2007 11:41:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"One thing I've learned from my years of investing is that backing a CEO is a better strategy that backing the company (s)he runs. Now, as a decent human being, I'll agree that CEO salaries are outrageous. But as an investor with an interest in making money, I'm not going to be inclined to do anything about it."

Really? Are CEO's really that important to the success of a company? I admit, I know next to nothing about the corporate world (except for all the evil it tends to perpetrate), but does the success of company really rest so much on one guy? If so, that's really sad.

"I find him rather appealing as an atheist as well. Could be a nice combo."

I was a lot more impressed by Edwards after last night. I wouldn't mind at all if he got the nomination. In fact, I think an Edwards/Obama ticket could be killer.

"I've always wondered how many liberals really care about that. I'd think non-fundamentalists would prefer the Kennedy approach to religion."

Liberal and Progressive Christians like myself probably don't care too much about whether their candidates can do the God-talk. However, borderline and moderate evangelicals do care. There are a lot of evangelicals that are disillusioned with Bush and the Republicans, and who think that Christians should care about things like poverty and the environment in addition to abortion & homosexuality, but who still have it too deeply ingrained to despise Democrats to just easily switch sides. However, if a Dem can convince them that he understands their faith and speaks their language, it might help them get past their knee-jerk bias. Edwards, I think, did a good job of that.

 

At 6/06/2007 09:50:00 AM, Blogger John

Glad to see something like this. Very interesting read. Thank you for bringing it to my attention Mike.

John

 

At 6/06/2007 11:02:00 AM, Anonymous Miko

Really? Are CEO's really that important to the success of a company? I admit, I know next to nothing about the corporate world (except for all the evil it tends to perpetrate), but does the success of company really rest so much on one guy? If so, that's really sad.

It's hard to give definitive causes for anything in the stock world, but it's a general trend that stocks tend to either shoot up or shoot down after a CEO change. From 2004 to 2007, Dell went from 36$ a share down to about 20$ a share after Michael Dell stepped down. There were certainly other factors involved, but the CEO can make a difference. A company is like driving: you're safer with a good driver in a bad car than a bad driver in a good car.

Of course, it all depends what a CEO wants. Buffett is probably the lowest-paid CEO out there (~100,000 a year) and just as probably one of the best.

But why is it sad that so much rests on one person? Isn't that the basis for most everything in our lives? One person gave us a polio vaccine, one person discovered general relativity, and one person got us into a quagmire in Iraq. It makes the world a bit scarier, but I'd think on average it's a good thing that we live in a world where one sufficiently motivated, intellegent, or powerful person can shape the course of history. It makes life so much more interesting.

There are a lot of evangelicals that are disillusioned with Bush and the Republicans, and who think that Christians should care about things like poverty and the environment in addition to abortion & homosexuality, but who still have it too deeply ingrained to despise Democrats to just easily switch sides. However, if a Dem can convince them that he understands their faith and speaks their language, it might help them get past their knee-jerk bias. Edwards, I think, did a good job of that.

Interesting point. I've always thought of the fundamentalists as being so deeply ingrained that their votes can be counted before they're cast. But Bush has basically sunk the Republican party, assuming the Democrats play their cards right. Perhaps hyped-up faith will do the trick, but I'm still disappointed it's necessary. Kennedy's Houston Ministerial Association Speech (mp3) (in which he basically says his religious beliefs should be of no interest to anyone but himself, since his job is governing the nation and not the church) is pretty much the high-point on this issue in my opinion. How I wish a politician today would or could say the same thing.

 

At 6/19/2007 05:44:00 PM, Anonymous Miko

as well as a revolutionary bill currently before congress to allow shareholders to vote on the salaries of corporate CEO's.

The CSM just published an interesting article on a topic somewhat related to this: http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0620/p02s01-usec.html?page=1

Although they don't quite say it, the idea seems to be that stockholders care about rising share value; CEOs are more likely to be fired than to get a pay cut. The talk about buyout by private equity firms is what we really want to avoid. That kind of thing would be great for them; not so great for everyone else.

 

At 6/19/2007 09:15:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks for the link. I have to be honest, I don't really know (or care) enough about the business world to really follow most of this stuff. I have a mutual fund, but all I really care about is that it does fairly well without the corporations involved acting evil (which I'm finding is usually too much to ask for).

 

At 6/20/2007 04:55:00 PM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

To be honest, I don't know who I'll be voting for or even what side of the aisle. On the Dem. side, I think people are tired of clinton/bush America. The only thing I see helping her is her gender and how recognizable she is to the public. Edwards just doesn't seem to be the most sincere, though he tries so hard to be. His oh-so annoying fist with the thumb up when he speaks just makes him look like an insincere salesman/politician. I think, however I would choose between him or Obama on the Dem. side. Obama is who I think will take it all this time. He is smart, will have the Black vote(which is crucial to the dems), and he has good plans for his administration. I still see Edwards as more of a moral man than him, yet that isn't saying much in my eyes. I haven't look ed at the Rep. side yet. I honestly think this election is hopeless for the right.
By the way, I've been wondering for awhile what IHMO or IMHO means.

 

At 6/20/2007 05:43:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

IMHO=In My Humble Opinion

I agree that the Republicans don't stand a chance this time around. I mean just look at how weak even their top three are: Guliani (the Paris Hilton of politics - what exactly are his "credentials" besides 9/11?), Romney (a flip-flopping New England aristocrat - yeah, that worked really well for the Dems in 04), and McCain (a self-described "maverick" who nonetheless sucks up to the extreme Religious Right and sticks by the President's war policy no matter what).

I'm far more impressed with the Democratic lineup this time around. I'd happily vote for Obama or Edwards at this point. However, Kucinich is actually my top choice since he actually talks regularly about things like social justice and peacemaking - I just wish he had a snowball's chance in Hell at getting nominated.

 

At 6/20/2007 06:51:00 PM, Blogger Dan Barnett.

Yeah, it's a shame the media rigs it so their fav's get in. I was surprised to see, what were there, 8 nominees? Only the top 3 get any exposure to the public eye. I think on the Rep. side, I would lean toward McCain, not because his sucking up, but his experience over the other Rep.'s and his respect he has, what little there is, from parts of both sides. Gingrich is also a top one on the right for me, but I'm not happy with either one. Thanks for the explanation. I've enjoy some big parts of your last few posts. As you and I disagree on a lot, I think your main ponts in many of your most recent are very good.

 

At 6/20/2007 10:34:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Yeah, of the GOP I'd still go with McCain over any of them - but I'm too anti-war to really support any candidate who won't say that we made a mistake attacking Iraq in the first place.

I used to really like Gingrich too back in the '90's. At least he's a true conservative and not a neo-con like our current administration. I'm all for limited government (I just want limitations on big business too.)

Anyway, thanks for sticking around despite your disagreements Dan. :)

 

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