Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Barack Obama’s profession of faith

That’s the title of this week’s TAE Online column, hot off the presses. (I finished it about two hours ago. That’s what I call service. FWIW, Ben Kunkel here is just as good.)

Update: From Mark Tooley’s description of the setting of Obama’s speech, not to mention the statements of his fellow speakers, Obama emerges, by contrast, as a moral and theological/political giant.

Update #2: I’m going to give Jon Schaff the last word. Beginning from Tooley’s description of the event, and provoked (especially) by Marian Wright Edelman’s speech, Jon has this to say:

Imagine a meeting of the religious right that used this kind of language? What would we read about them? The claims to moral superiority. The belief that their policy preferences have been endorsed by God. The depiction of their opponents as "weasels."

It seems the honest way to have these debates is as follows. The left can claim accurately that Christ wants us to care for the poor. They can then claim that in their opinion a large welfare state is the best way to obey that commandment. That is different from saying Christ wants a large welfare state. Christ tells us to care for the poor, but he is agnostic on how to go about it. Likewise, all agree that Christ wants us to care for the weakest among us. Religious conservatives believe that includes the unborn. So let’s have a debate about what we owe, if anything, to the unborn.

Barack Obama would have to concede that those are "fair-minded words," unlike the ones apparently uttered by Edelman.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Great column, Joe. One can learn a lot by observing the way you closely analyze the text and the premises of a political speech. I found your older "A President, not a Preacher" column instructive on that score also.

Not sure, however, if you’re right that this text, at least, establishes that Obama says good citizens should never bring purely religion-based arguments into the public discussion. That is, his words can be interpreted as simply saying it is more effective for them and better for public discussion when religious believers do have arguments that do not depend upon an assent to religious docrtine--a common-sense point made by not a few social conservatives. That’s the weasel-room his vagueness allows him. Politicians’ tendency to carve out such weasel-room is perhaps the decisive limitation to the fruitfulness of close analysis of their speeches.


Thanks for your kind words. I can’t tell whether B.O. is weaselly or confused. By invoking the "regime" when he talks about offering reasons, but describing it weakly (pluralistic democracy), he suggests on the one side that rationality is a requirement of citizenship and on the other that our rational arguments are strategic. But in the context, it seems to me that he comes close to making it an obligation of sorts.

I don’t think Jesus was agnostic about the idea of using threats of violence to force the unwilling to part with their assets, even if the alleged purpose of the assets was to "help" the poor. BTW -- before welfare reform, did the welfare system help the poor? Or do grave injury?

Government is all about using threats of violence to force acquiesence. Should Christians advocate using threats of violence against non-believers in order to use the non-believers’ money to help the poor? Even worse, should they say that their faith teaches that such violence should be used?

Don’t think so.

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