The Further Misadventures of a False Frame
Obama internalized and expressed one of the central the frames of the religious right in his scapegoating of liberals and "secularists" for allegedly driving religious people from public life. Let's go to tape for an example:
At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that - regardless of our personal beliefs - constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, some liberals dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.
This is a crude and unsupported proposition: unsupported by Obama (and more eggregiously so by Jim Wallis before him). The episodic and annectotal experiences some -- but not all of us -- makes for unfair and outrageous generalizations. For leaders seeking to present themselves as respresenting the "values" of mainstream Christianity, this is a poor start.
Wallis, Obama and their supporters have yet to name one liberal or Democratic leader anywhere in the United States who has ever behaved in the way they describe. Does it happen? I don't doubt it. But I have not witnessed such an episode in 30 years of experience in public life. And I am not alone. For example, Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, a minister in the United Church of Christ in St.Louis writes in the comment thread on my post here at Talk to Action:
Personally having been involved with the politics of the left for sometime, I must say that never have I been made to feel unwelcome, I have never been silenced, I have never been censored by 'secularists' of any kind. If anything, I have been met with those who were grateful that someone with deep religious convictions broadened the circle of their support.
Mindless secular bashing only gives strength to the religious right, and divides progressives and democrats against themselves. But alas, Obama doesn't quite get it. Pastordan raised the matter in a post speech interview, posted at Street Prophets:
Q: I've heard that same kind of critique from people who are secular. What I found a little more compelling was the notion that portraying progressives or the Democratic as being unfriendly to people of faith buys into Republican frames.
If I understand him correctly, Senator Obama denies that scapegoating of unnamed secularists is a matter of religious right framing, and he is going to keep on secular-baiting.
Clearly this is a conversation that will need to continue. And so here we are. Again.
Senator Obama and the Democratic Party clearly seek to stand for the best of American traditions of religious tolerance and pluralism; and most of Obama's speech is devoted to expressing that. For that, I could not be more pleased. But here is the rub: The frame that the central struggle in America and indeed, the world, is between Christianity and secularism (and many variants) is specifially intended to attack the American constitutional and cultural traditions of religious pluralism; mutual respect among the vast variety of believers and non-believers; Christians and non-Christians. The frame is also a central feature of Christian nationalism.
The two frames of Obama's speech, that of the religious right, and that of religious pluralism -- are at war with each other.
But there are others who join Obama in refusing to acknowledge the validity of the concern. One of these, a blogger named Faithful Progressive at the Christian Alliance for Progress issued a lengthy attack on my take on Obama's speech. While ignoring my actual criticism, he declared that my main argument is based on guilt by association with Jim Wallis. Well, let's review:
Obama actually is associated with Jim Wallis, and it is a not an insigificant or incidental aspect of the context of Obama's remarks and his error in framing. Obama's speech many months in the making, was rolled out at a conference sponsored by Jim Wallis' organization Call to Renewal. With Wallis sitting there, and Obama referring to him as "our friend," the context is signficant. Wallis has been a principal advisor to the Democratic Party on matters of religion and public life since the last election. This relationship has been widely reported. Meanwhile Obama has clearly emerged as the party's designated point man in these matters. His speech and the media outreach flowing from the effort, from an op-ed based on the speech in USA Today, to his interview with Pastordan, to an interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Obama's role is becoming clearer all the time.
But Faithful Progressive looks at the forest, sees a single tree, and accuses me of seeing the forest.
He then goes on to suggest that my argument -- you know, the one he didn't actually address -- is intellectually intolerant, disproprotionate, and that I "believe that there is only one right way to think--or even one right way to approach a conflict of ideas or strategy." I am further accused of association with liberals and bloggers. (To the latter, I plead, guilty as charged!) There is much more, but I will address just one more item.
When he finally gets around to discussing my concern about framing, he quotes me as saying that the frame is "Democrats are hostile to religion." Well, that is not the frame, and it is not what I wrote. Yet he puts it in quotes as if it was -- and he proceeds to knock down the strawman.
Finally, lets also note that I am not the only one to notice what Obama and Faithful Progressive want to ignore. My first example comes from a seemingly unlikely source. The editors of Tikkun magazine, the hub of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) recognized it immediately and enthusiastically agreed. Here is what they wrote:
Echoing the Network of Spiritual Progressives' critique of the anti-religious and anti-spiritual sentiments in some sectors of liberal and progressive culture that see spirituality as flakiness and all religion as irrational and hateful, Obama takes on the elitists in the Left.
David Sirota of the Center for American Progress had a more critical take:
One of the most infuriating behaviors among some Democrats these days is their willingness to create fake straw men that undermine progressives and reinforce false narratives about the Democratic Party? A while back, it was Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) who ran around claiming "some" Democrats are supposedly "afraid" of national security. He, of course, didn't name any names. Why? Because they don't exist - his whole narrative is based on a false straw man. Now, unfortunately, we see the same behavior from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D).
There are those who hear the many good things in Obama's speech, and only want to revel in their joy at a speech well-written, well-delivered and that (mostly) speaks to their vision of a politics that is rooted in their faith. Others, like Faithful Progressive, primarily seek to disparage people with whom they disagree.
I gently suggest to those who want to see Obama's vision prevail -- you owe it to your most deeply held values, (or at least the fortunes of your favorite pols), to recognize the fatal flaw in the demonization of secularism. It is not possible to have an authentic politics reflecting the values of religious pluralism, while using the labeling and demonizaiton tactics of the religous right.
"No matter how religious they may or may not be," Obama said, "people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool to attack and belittle and divide."
The Further Misadventures of a False Frame | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)
The Further Misadventures of a False Frame | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 hidden)