Postmodern campaign moments

Hillary Clinton’s sniper tale is a good example of the postmodernist mindset at work: She constructed a narrative to advance her power agenda. This is legitimate, according to postmodernists, since the objectivity of truth is an illusion and, as her campaign aide put it, everyone’s perceptions are different.

My question to you is, what are some other outbreaks of the postmodernist mentality during this presidential campaign? You can draw from Mrs. Clinton, but also Barack Obama, John McCain, and any of the losing candidates from either party. (I’m thinking of doing an article on the subject, so I’m asking you to help me out.)

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Bruce

    The very idea that Barack Obama, a man without any distinguishing leadership background, could compete and likely win the Dem nomination on the basis of “fluff and stuff”. This is a huge departure from Modernism (and its commitment to rationalism) at the very least.

    Another phenomenon that may have been with us for awhile but I’m just noticing is: John McCain’s poll ratings shot up past both the Dems, and he did no campaigning. Instead, he flew to Iraq. There has to be a postmodern nugget in that strange development.

  • Bruce

    The very idea that Barack Obama, a man without any distinguishing leadership background, could compete and likely win the Dem nomination on the basis of “fluff and stuff”. This is a huge departure from Modernism (and its commitment to rationalism) at the very least.

    Another phenomenon that may have been with us for awhile but I’m just noticing is: John McCain’s poll ratings shot up past both the Dems, and he did no campaigning. Instead, he flew to Iraq. There has to be a postmodern nugget in that strange development.

  • Doug

    The substitution of words like “faux pas” and “spinning” for “lying” suggests the infiltration of post-modernist thinking.

  • Doug

    The substitution of words like “faux pas” and “spinning” for “lying” suggests the infiltration of post-modernist thinking.

  • The Jones

    I don’t know if Hillary’s sniper tale is a good proof of the prevalence of postmodernism in politics. If post-modernism was prevalent and accepted, she would not be taking the heat she is taking now. I wouldn’t call it a postmodernist mentality, I would just call it lying to your own advantage. Postmodernity is relatively new, lying is as old as dirt.

    Obama argues that his administration is a CHANGE from what we have now. That we will have HOPE in America again with fresh faces in our capital instead of Washington Insiders! We can not only change the personnel in Washington, but the MINDSET that got us into the mess we’re in. That’s why we need O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA! O-BA-oh, I’m sorry. For some reason speeches like those naturally lead to chanting. I don’t even know why. I’m tempted to say that this is Postmodernism, but “fresh faces” and “drive the rascals out” politics is so old that I can’t really confidently say that THIS time, it IS postmodernism. However, I’ll get to why this is so appealing a little ways down.

    And on John McCain, Bruce (1), his bump in the polls is not so much him jumping, but Obama and Hillary falling. Obama got a slight drop from Rev. Wright, and Hillary is scratching a clawing to the end trying to get that nomination, and she is making people (some, not nearly all, but enough to make a difference in the polls) sick of that side of the aisle. So, Postmodernism? Hardly. More of a syllogism.
    1) A or B or C
    2) Not A
    3) Not B
    4) Therefore, C

    Finally, something that speak to postmodernity in politics is a book I read for an independent study project. It’s “The Symbolic Uses of Politics” by Murray Edelman. It basically says that voters don’t want “things.” They merely want the feeling that they are getting things. They will be happy with the feeling whether things follow or not. You can see it in the black community, in political Evangelical Christianity, in arguments on gun control, and Federal Marriage Amdendment debate. It doesn’t matter to us voters what you’re getting, it just matters what you think you are getting. That’s why Obama is so popular, he sure makes people feel they are getting a change, a bridge builder, a healer, and a leader. And since people are not really concerned with actual results, who cares that he doesn’t have “experience”?

    That’s the best input I can give.

  • The Jones

    I don’t know if Hillary’s sniper tale is a good proof of the prevalence of postmodernism in politics. If post-modernism was prevalent and accepted, she would not be taking the heat she is taking now. I wouldn’t call it a postmodernist mentality, I would just call it lying to your own advantage. Postmodernity is relatively new, lying is as old as dirt.

    Obama argues that his administration is a CHANGE from what we have now. That we will have HOPE in America again with fresh faces in our capital instead of Washington Insiders! We can not only change the personnel in Washington, but the MINDSET that got us into the mess we’re in. That’s why we need O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA! O-BA-oh, I’m sorry. For some reason speeches like those naturally lead to chanting. I don’t even know why. I’m tempted to say that this is Postmodernism, but “fresh faces” and “drive the rascals out” politics is so old that I can’t really confidently say that THIS time, it IS postmodernism. However, I’ll get to why this is so appealing a little ways down.

    And on John McCain, Bruce (1), his bump in the polls is not so much him jumping, but Obama and Hillary falling. Obama got a slight drop from Rev. Wright, and Hillary is scratching a clawing to the end trying to get that nomination, and she is making people (some, not nearly all, but enough to make a difference in the polls) sick of that side of the aisle. So, Postmodernism? Hardly. More of a syllogism.
    1) A or B or C
    2) Not A
    3) Not B
    4) Therefore, C

    Finally, something that speak to postmodernity in politics is a book I read for an independent study project. It’s “The Symbolic Uses of Politics” by Murray Edelman. It basically says that voters don’t want “things.” They merely want the feeling that they are getting things. They will be happy with the feeling whether things follow or not. You can see it in the black community, in political Evangelical Christianity, in arguments on gun control, and Federal Marriage Amdendment debate. It doesn’t matter to us voters what you’re getting, it just matters what you think you are getting. That’s why Obama is so popular, he sure makes people feel they are getting a change, a bridge builder, a healer, and a leader. And since people are not really concerned with actual results, who cares that he doesn’t have “experience”?

    That’s the best input I can give.

  • Pinon Coffee

    I think I’m going to print out this thread and share it with my worldview class. We’re talking about politics and postmodernism next week, so the timing is lovely. :-)

    Dr. Veith, if you do write a column on the topic, would you mind linking it at this blog so I won’t miss it, please?

  • Pinon Coffee

    I think I’m going to print out this thread and share it with my worldview class. We’re talking about politics and postmodernism next week, so the timing is lovely. :-)

    Dr. Veith, if you do write a column on the topic, would you mind linking it at this blog so I won’t miss it, please?

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    The concept of “symbolitics” seems very postmodern.

    From the Weekly Standard:

    “In post-1950s national campaigns, the difference between steady electoral success and sudden electoral disaster has increasingly turned on each contender’s ability to strengthen voters’ perception of his link to what the public generally considers good and weaken their perception of his link to what the public deems bad. Kuo dubbed this symbolitics, and today, with television and 24-hour cable news networks and the Internet, it matters more than ever.”

    http://urltea.com/30uu

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    The concept of “symbolitics” seems very postmodern.

    From the Weekly Standard:

    “In post-1950s national campaigns, the difference between steady electoral success and sudden electoral disaster has increasingly turned on each contender’s ability to strengthen voters’ perception of his link to what the public generally considers good and weaken their perception of his link to what the public deems bad. Kuo dubbed this symbolitics, and today, with television and 24-hour cable news networks and the Internet, it matters more than ever.”

    http://urltea.com/30uu

  • S Bauer

    The very idea that Barack Obama, a man without any distinguishing leadership background, could compete and likely win the Dem nomination on the basis of “fluff and stuff”. This is a huge departure from Modernism (and its commitment to rationalism) at the very least.

        I just do not get this line of opposition to Obama nor see how his appeal to the better angels of our nature is postmodern. What exactly were Abraham Lincoln’s leadership qualifications when he ran for the presidency? How is proposing change from business as usual or talking about hope any more mere rhetorical flourish than “morning in America?”

  • S Bauer

    The very idea that Barack Obama, a man without any distinguishing leadership background, could compete and likely win the Dem nomination on the basis of “fluff and stuff”. This is a huge departure from Modernism (and its commitment to rationalism) at the very least.

        I just do not get this line of opposition to Obama nor see how his appeal to the better angels of our nature is postmodern. What exactly were Abraham Lincoln’s leadership qualifications when he ran for the presidency? How is proposing change from business as usual or talking about hope any more mere rhetorical flourish than “morning in America?”

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Can someone help me out with the definition of “post-modern”? I’m guessing it refers to today’s notion that anything goes; that we each create our own norms, gods, etc. Am I close?

    Dictionary.com says: Postmodernism defined by Terry Eagleton as “the contemporary movement of thought which rejects … the possibility of objective knowledge” and is therefore “skeptical of truth, unity, and progress.”

    What has confounded me is that no one is finding a problem with Obama’s stance with his pastor. Obama continues to justify his relationship with this man by reminding everyone that he has given many other speeches over the years that were perfectly reasonable and that we can’t just take this one incident and judge him by it. Yet, isn’t that exactly what we do with anyone else who crosses the line and says things beyond what is considered tolerable? The way that Obama refuses to call his pastor to task and separate himself from him is strange to me. The media and the public are definitely creating a new set of rules for Senator Obama and no one seems to be questioning it. That scares me. Where is justice?

    I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a comparison and the only thing I can come up with right now is Sarah Jane Olson. Her supporters claim that her years of good works as a mother, community member, etc, should erase her few acts of violence. Yet the law prevailed, justice was served and she must complete her prison term. I’m not comparing murder to hate speech; I’m trying to compare public and media reactions to various people who have done many good things and a few bad. Prison is full of such people, I would think. I hope I’m coming across clearly…

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Can someone help me out with the definition of “post-modern”? I’m guessing it refers to today’s notion that anything goes; that we each create our own norms, gods, etc. Am I close?

    Dictionary.com says: Postmodernism defined by Terry Eagleton as “the contemporary movement of thought which rejects … the possibility of objective knowledge” and is therefore “skeptical of truth, unity, and progress.”

    What has confounded me is that no one is finding a problem with Obama’s stance with his pastor. Obama continues to justify his relationship with this man by reminding everyone that he has given many other speeches over the years that were perfectly reasonable and that we can’t just take this one incident and judge him by it. Yet, isn’t that exactly what we do with anyone else who crosses the line and says things beyond what is considered tolerable? The way that Obama refuses to call his pastor to task and separate himself from him is strange to me. The media and the public are definitely creating a new set of rules for Senator Obama and no one seems to be questioning it. That scares me. Where is justice?

    I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of a comparison and the only thing I can come up with right now is Sarah Jane Olson. Her supporters claim that her years of good works as a mother, community member, etc, should erase her few acts of violence. Yet the law prevailed, justice was served and she must complete her prison term. I’m not comparing murder to hate speech; I’m trying to compare public and media reactions to various people who have done many good things and a few bad. Prison is full of such people, I would think. I hope I’m coming across clearly…

  • Pingback: Postmodern Campaign Moments » Pursuing Holiness

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  • JLarson

    If you haven’t read Ann Coulter’s recent column on this, you might be interested in some of the points she makes. None of the information is new, but her connections are enlightening, and many of the stories show how people desperately wish to adjust perception, despite the obvious truth (mainstream media’s nailing Hillary [the honorary Republican of the Democratic Party], but protecting Obama; Obama’s distancing–and protecting–his pastor; etc.).

  • JLarson

    If you haven’t read Ann Coulter’s recent column on this, you might be interested in some of the points she makes. None of the information is new, but her connections are enlightening, and many of the stories show how people desperately wish to adjust perception, despite the obvious truth (mainstream media’s nailing Hillary [the honorary Republican of the Democratic Party], but protecting Obama; Obama’s distancing–and protecting–his pastor; etc.).

  • fwsonnek

    #7 Theresa

    I am not seeing where Senator Obama is excusing the off statements of his pastor. I think his position is a very christian one. He publicly renounced the statements his pastor made that were wrong, and at the same time he did not disown him, which might have been tempting to do politically. Instead he wove the situation into a speach that should be read by probably everyone.

    Martin Marty, a former LCMS Lutheran, often attended Obama’s church as well. He wrote an article on the very things you are commenting on. you might google “martin marty wright ” or something like that on the net to find that article. it is a good one.

    it would also be helpful to you to read the entire sermon in question instead of only reading excerpted portions. It would still not excuse many things he said, but it would not make them sound quite as radical in context as fox news would have it.

    Obama said that this kind of rhetoric is not uncommon in black churches. He also said that fear and racism is not exclusively there in his speech. I would encourage you to read that speech to see where Obama is at on this dear sister Theresa.

  • fwsonnek

    #7 Theresa

    I am not seeing where Senator Obama is excusing the off statements of his pastor. I think his position is a very christian one. He publicly renounced the statements his pastor made that were wrong, and at the same time he did not disown him, which might have been tempting to do politically. Instead he wove the situation into a speach that should be read by probably everyone.

    Martin Marty, a former LCMS Lutheran, often attended Obama’s church as well. He wrote an article on the very things you are commenting on. you might google “martin marty wright ” or something like that on the net to find that article. it is a good one.

    it would also be helpful to you to read the entire sermon in question instead of only reading excerpted portions. It would still not excuse many things he said, but it would not make them sound quite as radical in context as fox news would have it.

    Obama said that this kind of rhetoric is not uncommon in black churches. He also said that fear and racism is not exclusively there in his speech. I would encourage you to read that speech to see where Obama is at on this dear sister Theresa.

  • fwsonnek

    #9 JLarson.

    Anne coulter is sorta shrill doncha think? I am not sure that a christian would want to imitate her style.

  • fwsonnek

    #9 JLarson.

    Anne coulter is sorta shrill doncha think? I am not sure that a christian would want to imitate her style.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Thanks, FW. I will do that. BTW, I don’t listen to Fox News and I did watch the speech live on TV. I’m still working on explaining what troubles me about his approach.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer Theresa K.

    Thanks, FW. I will do that. BTW, I don’t listen to Fox News and I did watch the speech live on TV. I’m still working on explaining what troubles me about his approach.

  • http://imabaldyii.blogspot.com/ KHering

    A couple of photo shots come to mind as illustrations of how narratives are constructed.
    1. Years ago at least one photographer threw dead fish into a formerly pristine lake, snapped a photo, and it was used in a story about the dangers of acid rain.
    2. More recently the photo of a polar bear and her cub sunning themselves on an ice flow graced a story about the dwindling habitat of the polar bear.

    It is not the truth that matters, but the urgency and magnitude of the cause.

  • http://imabaldyii.blogspot.com/ KHering

    A couple of photo shots come to mind as illustrations of how narratives are constructed.
    1. Years ago at least one photographer threw dead fish into a formerly pristine lake, snapped a photo, and it was used in a story about the dangers of acid rain.
    2. More recently the photo of a polar bear and her cub sunning themselves on an ice flow graced a story about the dwindling habitat of the polar bear.

    It is not the truth that matters, but the urgency and magnitude of the cause.

  • Joe

    fw – lets make sure we are clear on this, this is not about statements made in a single sermon. Wright has a pretty well established track record of stating the ridiculous. A sampling includes:

    1. The sermon describing 9/11 as America’s Chickens have come home to roost that gets much of the attention.

    2. The sermon where he called the USA the USKKK.

    3. The eulogy where he stated that the gov’t runs the Klan

    4. The sermon where he stated that the gov’t invented HIV/AIDS kill black people. (this is just insanity).

    Then there is the problem of Obama’s church giving a life time achievement award to Farrakhan. These statements would be bad enough if made at a rally or a march, but these came from the pulpit.

    Let’s also not forget that Wright is not just Obama’s once a week pastor, he is (or was until people found out who Wright really is) in Obama’s own words spiritual advisor. One of three clergymen asked to make a clip for Obama’s website’s section on faith.

    And Obama’s reaction was not a Christian one as I see it. I did not hear Obama call Wright to repent and ask forgiveness and change his behavior. Instead actually condemning Wright’s statements, he made excuses for them. Well he was a Blackman in the 1950’s and 60’s so it is understandable that he still sees America as a horrible place. Oh and by the way my grandma is a racists too! The only way Wright could still see America in that radical view is because he has chosen to ignore the progress that has been made. And when he preaches this hate-filled garbage he only makes it harder to heal the racial wounds in this country. The reaction of the folks in the pews is a testament to the fact that they are buying his hateful version of America.

    This issue raises a serious question about Obama’s judgment. He is after all running on his supposed character and judgment – and his ability to bring people together. With friends and advisors like this, Obama’s rhetoric rings ever more hollow.

  • Joe

    fw – lets make sure we are clear on this, this is not about statements made in a single sermon. Wright has a pretty well established track record of stating the ridiculous. A sampling includes:

    1. The sermon describing 9/11 as America’s Chickens have come home to roost that gets much of the attention.

    2. The sermon where he called the USA the USKKK.

    3. The eulogy where he stated that the gov’t runs the Klan

    4. The sermon where he stated that the gov’t invented HIV/AIDS kill black people. (this is just insanity).

    Then there is the problem of Obama’s church giving a life time achievement award to Farrakhan. These statements would be bad enough if made at a rally or a march, but these came from the pulpit.

    Let’s also not forget that Wright is not just Obama’s once a week pastor, he is (or was until people found out who Wright really is) in Obama’s own words spiritual advisor. One of three clergymen asked to make a clip for Obama’s website’s section on faith.

    And Obama’s reaction was not a Christian one as I see it. I did not hear Obama call Wright to repent and ask forgiveness and change his behavior. Instead actually condemning Wright’s statements, he made excuses for them. Well he was a Blackman in the 1950’s and 60’s so it is understandable that he still sees America as a horrible place. Oh and by the way my grandma is a racists too! The only way Wright could still see America in that radical view is because he has chosen to ignore the progress that has been made. And when he preaches this hate-filled garbage he only makes it harder to heal the racial wounds in this country. The reaction of the folks in the pews is a testament to the fact that they are buying his hateful version of America.

    This issue raises a serious question about Obama’s judgment. He is after all running on his supposed character and judgment – and his ability to bring people together. With friends and advisors like this, Obama’s rhetoric rings ever more hollow.

  • Don S

    Frank @ #11 — so if Ann Coulter is “sorta shrill”, what does that make the good Reverend Jeremiah Wright?

  • Don S

    Frank @ #11 — so if Ann Coulter is “sorta shrill”, what does that make the good Reverend Jeremiah Wright?

  • Carl Vehse

    A newly discovered video shows a composed Hilliary greeting people amid Bosnian explosions and gunfire -

  • Carl Vehse

    A newly discovered video shows a composed Hilliary greeting people amid Bosnian explosions and gunfire -


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