Faithless Democrats

Yesterday, WaPo’s Michelle Boorstein drew back the veil on the Democratic Party’s much vaunted commitment to religious outreach and revealed, whoops, that the Democratic National Committee has no vestments. Howard Dean donned them, not only to considerable fanfare but also, in important races around the country, to considerable effect. You’d have thought that Tim Kaine, the Catholic ex-governor of Virginia, would possess at least as well developed a sense of the importance of connecting to voters by religion as Dean, a pretty secular guy from Vermont (currently the least religiously affiliated state in the nation). But no, that’s not how they roll at Kaine’s DNC. What gives?Take a close look at these graphs:When Obama took office, he made a point of expanding the faith office established by President
George W. Bush, which includes branches in a dozen federal agencies and a
core staff that communicates with faith leaders about policy issues.

How Obama earned it

My brilliant wife suggests that what Obama did to earn the Nobel Prize was to succeed in getting Americans to elect a black man president. That’s the historic achievement that has elicited many prior plaudits at home and abroad–and made a difference in how human beings around the world understand themselves and their relations with those of other races.Second thought: I think Obama understands this, and obliquely acknowledged it when he said in his speech that he considered the prize “an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held
by people in all nations.”Viz: African bishops.Er: So Richard Cohen’s wife agrees with my wife. Kind of.

Hear Our Cry, O…

The folks over on Religious Connections nicely summarize the case of the “blasphemously doctored” video of a pro-health care reform religious service at which the congregants’ words have been altered from “Hear Our Cry, O God. Deliver Us, O God.” to Hear Our Cry, Obama. Deliver Us, Obama.” The video has gotten a good deal of traction in the conservative religious blogosphere, including from some more or less reasonable types like Rod “Crunchy Con” Dreher.

Naming Jesus

OMG: Barack Obama invokes
the name of Jesus in public more the George W. Bush did! That must
mean…what? Politico’s Eamon Javers offers a range of non-mutually
exclusive explanations, including Obama’s need to demonstrate that he
is a Christian, his desire to appeal to religious conservatives, an
interest in reanimating a Christian Left. It’s worth adding that
Obama’s secularist base so readily puts up with this because, in
American culture, black folks are assumed to be religious and to give
voice to their spiritual commitments. What really counts, however, is the extent to which politicians associated with the
religious right hide their light under a bushel on the national stage.

The Great Equalizer

Frank Rich devoted his Memorial weekend column to smacking Barack Obama for going mute on the big equal rights issue of his presidency. The promised repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has vanished down the rabbit hole, and as a succession of states has legalized same-sex marriage, nary a peep has issued from the White House. I even suspect that Hillary Clinton’s decision to provide all domestic partners (same-sex and otherwise) of State Department employees  with the same benefits as married ones was made now in order to protect the administration from getting embroiled in a congressional fight on the issue. Last week Rep. Harold Berman dropped plans to push legislation doing the same after learning that Clinton would act.”This is a civil rights moment,” Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson told Rich, “and Obama has not yet risen to it.” No doubt, the cause of gay rights has taken a back seat to the fierce urgency of rescuing the economy and getting health care passed.

The heart of the matter

Obama made his pitch for common ground at Notre Dame today:So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking
abortions, let’s reduce unintended pregnancies. (Applause.) Let’s make
adoption more available. (Applause.) Let’s provide care and support for
women who do carry their children to term. (Applause.) Let’s honor the
conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible
conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies
are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as
well as respect for the equality of women.” Those are things we can do.

Obama Romana

Yesterday Rome spoke on The 100 Days and found that they were…not as bad as feared. According to the front-page story in L’Osservatore Romano, President Obama has operated with laudable caution, including on matters of ethics and morals. Notably, the pope’s paper found reason to praise the administration’s proposed guidelines for funding stem cell research and applauded the re-introduction in Congress of the Pregnant Women Support Act. The latter, as Tom Reese points out, is a “common ground” undertaking that has received the active lobbying support of Philadelphia’s archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities and certified Big Dog In The Church. In the face of the anti-Notre Dame campaign of conservative Catholic activists, this looks very much like push-back.

Thought for the Day

My 16-year-old son Isaac believes that if Bill Clinton was the first black president, then Barack Obama is the first Jewish president. Is there anything more to this than Obama’s being the first president to host a seder in the White House? Clinton seemed to merit his distinction by a certain elective affinity with blacks. Certainly he was wildly popular among them. Obama did just fine among Jews last November, but hardly on the same scale.

Grasping at the wrong straws

Yesterday, Wall Street Journal pontificator Daniel Henninger took it upon himself to give President Obama the old tut-tut for speaking in Turkey about seeking “mutual respect” with Islam but overlooking the lack of respect shown by Muslim countries for religious minorities in their midst. But, as pointed out in this space, the president did precisely that in his speech to the Turkish parliament. Calling on the Turks to reopen the Halki Greek Orthodox theological seminary, he said, “Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full
measure of contributions from all citizens.” This comment did not go unnoticed by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, which, in an April 7 report on the president’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew, noted: The substance of the discussions included President Obama’s mention of
the issue of the Theological School of Halki in his speech before the
Turkish Parliament, and his further discussion of the same with the
President of the Turkish Republic, Abdullah Gul. The President said
that he would follow up on the issue with a view to a favorable
solution for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Paine Wink

I spent last evening at the Connecticut Forum, where Christopher Hitchens, Peter Gomes, and Harold Kushner spent a couple of hours amusing the crowd with quips and barbs about God, religion, faith, and reason. On the anti-God side, Hitchens believes he has a new ally in the White House; to wit, that Obama is a secret nonbeliever who signaled as much in his inaugural speech not only by including nonbelievers in his array of Americans-by-religion but also by (anonymously) quoting the words of Thomas Paine that George Washington read to the troops at Valley Forge:”Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive… that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”That was from the first of Paine’s Crisis articles, the one that famously begins: THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Muslim Outreach

There’s plenty of commentary in the offing on Obama’s interview with Al-Arabiya–here’s Klein’s early guide to it–but I want to call attention to just this exchange on President Bush’s War on Terror.Q President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, “war on terror,” and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people — Islamic fascism. You’ve always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of —
THE PRESIDENT: I think that you’re making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations — whether Muslim or any other faith in the past — that will use faith as a justification for violence.