The greatest of these is change

Obama 01Do you remember back in December when all hell broke loose because Mike Huckabee put out a television ad wishing Iowans “Merry Christmas” while seated in front of a bookcase that looked like a white cross? There were dozens of broadcast reports and newspaper stories analyzing whether it was proper to evoke a cross in a political ad. Well, apparently crosses are fine in political ads now. And you don’t even have to use the subliminal ones. Barack Obama has been using fliers in southern states that really pound home his Christian bonafides, touting himself as a “committed Christian” who has been “called to Christ.” Kentucky has a primary on Tuesday and the fliers have been sent out far and wide to evangelical voters.

The media are covering this Christian outreach aspect of the campaign but they’re not asking the hard questions they asked of Huckabee when he announced he was a “Christian leader.” Here’s Shailagh Murray of the Washington Post:

The pamphlet has circulated in other primary states and is striking for its overt appeal on religion. The words across the top read “Faith. Hope. Change.” Obama is pictured at a church pulpit, with a large illuminated cross in the background. A quote at the bottom reads: “My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work.”

On the flip side is a photo of Obama in front of a stained-glass window. A few paragraphs describe his work as a community organizer in Chicago and tell of how some people he met encouraged him to attend church one Sunday: “That day Obama felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life.” The words along the side proclaim “Committed Christian.”

The article goes on to say that “one aim of the flier” is to counteract the belief that Obama is Muslim. Another aim is to compete for evangelical voters in the general election. Which, presumably, Huckabee was doing too. The Washington Times mentions these points in its brief article on the ads:

“He is making a direct appeal to evangelicals with fliers that mention his conversion experience, and they highlight a big old cross. Remember Mike Huckabee’s supposed subliminal cross in his Christmas campaign ad? Well, the Obama campaign ditches the subliminal and goes for the in-your-face cross,” said Christian Broadcasting Network correspondent David Brody yesterday.

“The Obama campaign has consistently believed that their candidate can compete for the ‘religious vote.’ A lot has been made about how Obama hasn’t done as well with Catholics compared to Clinton. But let’s remember one thing: Obama has a story to tell about how Jesus came into his life. You can bet we will be hearing more details about it on the stump in the fall.”

FOX News ran an analysis piece that also suggests the fliers are more about the general election than the Kentucky race:

“They believe they can compete with McCain and the Republicans on the faith vote,” said David Brody, a senior correspondent with the Christian Broadcasting Network, the channel launched by televangelist Pat Robertson.

“McCain doesn’t want to talk about his faith all that much,” he told “Barack Obama is comfortable talking about that. . . . He’s speaking evangelical talk, so to speak, and that resonates.”

I excerpted that just so you could see that David Brody is, in fact, the mainstream media’s go-to person for insight into how to appeal to evangelicals. The Washington Post quoted him, too.

Joseph Gerth of the Louisville Courier-Journal had a lengthy piece on the religion campaign, which is broader than the handbill. There are also television and radio ads that hammer home Obama’s Christianity. Here’s the hardest Gerth hits:

Scott Jennings, a Louisville-based political consultant, said Obama’s campaign may be reacting to concerns about so-called faith voters.

Jennings said he suspects that the campaign was forced to focus on religion by the controversy over comments made by Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; e-mail chains that claim erroneously that Obama is a Muslim; and comments made by Obama that “bitter” people in Pennsylvania were clinging “to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them … as a way to explain their frustrations.

“He’s clearly got polling that shows something is running through the Democratic voters in West Virginia and Kentucky that they are losing control of, and unless they can fix it, they can’t compete here,” Jennings said.

But Stevens said Obama is just trying to tell voters about himself, and he noted that the television and radio ads also talk about how he was raised by his mother and grandmother in Kansas and give other details about his life and platform.

So polling shows “something” is bothering voters that will be remedied by elevating his Christian credentials. Perhaps the next story can explain what that “something” is. What’s more, not a single one of these non-analysis stories has any quotes from people critical of the religiosity of the ads. They describe the ads as “startling” but they don’t back it up with a discussion of why. They mention that pundits and bloggers are critical but they don’t talk to any of them. It seems that conflict might be a good thing to include in a story.

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  • Harris

    I think you may be wanting it both ways.

    On one hand, you may react to the overt religiousity of the ads, which violates the conservative meme is that Democrats are anti-religion, that Obama is “faking it” (aka Bittergate). On the other, that something could be grounded in another kind of prejudice. The political operative in you, Mollie, is delighted to have that come to the surface as well — the supposed Islamic connection. This head-fake is the same as Sen. Clinton’s “as far as I know” comment.

    But really, is it that difficult?

    The coverage of voters in Appalachia reveals the sort of headwind Sen. Obama faces, as The Washington Post noted.

    My suspicion that the story is less what the commentariat believes (all those pundits and bloggers) than what local citizens believe. If there is a story it’s probably on the order of why so many conservatives hate muslims. But that would be distracting.

  • Rebecca W

    Could this be the reason that evangelical Christians are balking at Mr. Obama?

    Don’t blame racism

    Obama’s recent setbacks are of his own making | Joel Belz

    You’re beginning to hear it now—and I predict the accusatory chant will pick up in volume between now and the gathering of the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August. It will sound like thunder by Nov. 4.

    The charge will be that we are a racist nation after all, and that when finally presented with a golden opportunity to elect an attractive minority candidate, we are likely to flunk the test. So shame, shame! Just to avoid such embarrassment, get on the bandwagon and demonstrate your tolerant spirit!

    The problem with such an analysis, though, is that it stands reality on its head. The America I see, both through my own observation and through the often-twisted media, is an America that would dearly love to elect its first minority president—if only the first credible minority candidate for that office would demonstrate enough integrity to deserve election.

    I agree with Dick Morris, political consultant to former President Bill Clinton, who told some of us at a luncheon a few days ago what a boon it might be for America if little children from minority families everywhere could see on the walls of their homes pictures of Barack Obama as the first minority president, and respond by saying: “I could do that some day!” And I agree with Morris when he envisions little children and teenagers in other nations around the world making room, right beside the pictures they have of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., for a new American hero. What a boost for our whole beleaguered effort at good foreign relations.

    To be sure, that’s only part of such a picture. Positive as that scenario might be, I also agree with Dick Morris that the price of achieving such happy consequences would be an Obama agenda that would be unacceptably costly, both in terms of dollars and policy.

    But the point remains that there are millions of U.S. voters (maybe even tens of millions) who would genuinely welcome the opportunity to elect their first minority president—if only such a candidate would demonstrate, with integrity, a zeal for establishing a balanced, even administration that would represent all Americans.

    It isn’t some suddenly racist streak in America that has slowed down the Obama express in recent weeks. It is instead a radicalism of his own making—a lifetime of radicalism he has almost been and may yet be successful in concealing from the American voters.

    It’s the very bipartisan National Journal that says flat out that Barack Obama is the most liberal of all 100 members of the U.S. Senate. In 2005, his first year in the Senate, Obama was ranked as 16th most liberal. In 2006, he was 10th. Last year, he earned first place! (Hillary Clinton, incidentally, during the same stretch, moved from 20th to 32nd to 16th “most liberal.”)

    You will peruse Obama’s record in the Senate, keeping in mind his rhetoric about “bringing people together,” and discover not a single piece of legislation that comes even close to doing that. His policy record tends more toward dividing than uniting. And the deeper we’ve come into the primary season, the more vivid have been the lines of demarcation.

    Not for a minute am I saying that white racism is a thing of the past in our nation. I’ve witnessed its reality up close in recent months—including an unusual church discipline case. I know better than I like how ugly racism can be.

    I am saying that racism isn’t what’s to blame for the recent bumps in Barack Obama’s road. Ironically, it may have been the voters’ zeal to demonstrate that they have left racism behind that has let them ignore what would otherwise be an unacceptable expression of extremism by a major candidate.

    If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to

  • danr

    “you may react to the overt religiousity of the ads”

    No, Harris. She and others are reacting in part to the hypocricy of the overt criticism of religious conservatives (e.g. Huckabee) who invoke religion on the campaign trail (gasp – a subliminal cross!), while the relatively vague, subdued, and sparse commentary seemingly reinforces IOKIYO (it’s ok if you’re Obama).

    Others commenting even on this blog on previous posts were falling over themselves to criticize Huckabee for the audacity of preaching from a pulpit while campaigning. You tell me what the above top photo depicts.

  • Stoo

    I thought flaunting christian credentials was a preresquisite for anyone wanting a shot at the white house anyway. :-p

  • Chris Bolinger

    Pandering alert! Double standard alert! Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

    He’s speaking evangelical talk, so to speak, and that resonates.

    That is one of the funniest quotes I have read in a long time. Those silly evangelicals! They are so easily led.

  • Brian Walden

    “Faith. Hope. Change.”

    Wow, That says so much in three words. Replacing the greatest virtue of all, charity, with change is only going to further alienate Christian voters.

  • Daniel

    I propose a variant on the “It’s OK” rule. I’d offer that it’s OK if you’re a hardliner.

    Usually, hardliners get away with breaking toward the center. Their cred isn’t called into question. Conservative, anti-Communist hardliners like Nixon and Reagan were able to bring about detente without being politically destroyed. Militant Israeli hardliners like Rabin and Sharon could make overtures to the Palestinians without being electorally punished. American Evangelical hardliners like Rick Warren can cozy up to Obama and talk about social justice without losing their audience.

    And Obama, because Democrats are commonly understood to be secular hardliners, can talk religion without his secular cred being questioned. Huckabee didn’t get into media trouble because he was a Christian conservative, but because there was no meme in place to support his ability to be a Christian conservative who could run a pluralistic, secular democracy.

    So that’s the story. Why is it ok to break with orthodoxy if it means risking hypocrisy?

  • Saul

    Great, great title, Mollie! Sums up the Obama campaign so well.

  • FrGregACCA

    Context, context, context…

    Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher, was running against a Mormon, Romney, who was the frontrunner at the time. Thus, the implication was “Look, I’m a Christian and Romney is not”.

    Obama, sometimes falsely alleged to be a member of a non-Christian religion and identifying with a Christian denomination not known for promoting the sort of conversion that is at the heart of Evangelicalism, is in an entirely different position; these situations would be analogous if HILLARY were running these ads instead of Obama. As it is, we’re talking apples and oranges.

  • Pingback: When the Democrats get religion… : TRINIBLOG: FAITH. THEOLOGY. CULTURE.

  • Dennis

    A quote at the bottom reads: “My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work.”

    Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-9, ESV)

  • Jerry

    Usually, hardliners get away with breaking toward the center.

    “Only Nixon could go to China”

    there was no meme in place to support his ability to be a Christian conservative who could run a pluralistic, secular democracy.

    I think you nailed the critical point here. There was suspicion on the part of the MSM and many others that Huckabee is in favor of a theocracy.

    This is especially coming on the heels of a President who said that God told him to invade Iraq. It’s possible that’s true, but that vast majority would doubt that and wonder about Bush’s sanity. Many of those that say God talks to them in such concrete terms are on anti-psychotic drugs.

  • Mollie


    This is not the forum to debate whether Obama’s campaign literature is good or bad — discuss whether media treatment of Obama’s campaign literature has been good or bad.

    So, for instance, FrGregACCA saying that the context in which the campaign literature was issued is responsible for the different media coverage . . . that is an on-topic comment.

  • Martha

    Oh, good grief.

    The one thing I do indeed wish could be hammered home about the partition between Church and State are these kind of campaign ads.

    Not to single out Obama – they all do it. I know he’s struggling with the ‘he’s really a Muslim!’ rumour, which is also a dirty-tricks campaign (the notion seeming to be ‘he’s really a Muslim/all Muslims are our enemy/he’s secretly anti-American/how can you trust him as a President and Commander-in-Chief in the war against Islam?’, all of which is distasteful, racist, sectarian, and damn nonsense).

    Naturally he wants to emphasise his religious bona-fides.

    But damn it to Hell, I wish to God politicians wouldn’t do this. It’s like Hillary suddenly(?) telling us all about how much being a Methodist means to her, while wearing a Madonna-bracelet; John Kerry and the Communion photograph; and every hog, dog and divil that ever stumped for votes outside the church gates after Mass on Sunday morning. (Irish politicians are just as bad, if they haven’t yet got to the stage of putting out these kinds of photos).

    If you vote-grabbing hucksters are so religious, remember the verse about “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {6} “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

    I hate it, because it treats we believers as idiots. Look! John Q. Smith is standing up before a generic and inoffensively non-denominational symbol! Oh, he must be one of us and therefore we will all line up mindlessly to vote for him without reference to his policies, his character, his record, or any other question other than does he go to the right church!


    (Why yes, I do feel much better having gotten that off my chest, thank you).

  • Julia

    he was raised by his mother and grandmother in Kansas

    He was not raised in Kansas and neither was his mother. She happened to be born there but grew up all over the county as the family moved about. Barak was born in Hawaii and probably spent next to no time in Kansas, and may not have ever been there before running for President.

    Very bad fact checking.

  • James Miller

    Joking around about shooting a presidential candidate, from the other party, the first black candidate in history, in front of the NRA is criminal, not to mention sinful. There is truth in sarcasm and you’ve just crossed the line to the dark side. Humor or no humor, your asinine comment was offensive and moronic. It deserves more than just an apology.

  • James Miller

    Governor Huckabee – Joking around about shooting a presidential candidate, from the other party, the first black candidate in history, in front of the NRA is criminal, not to mention sinful. There is truth in sarcasm and you’ve just crossed the line to the dark side. Humor or no humor, your asinine comment was offensive and moronic. It deserves far more than just a simple apology.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Great post, Mollie. Linked it at The Revealer.

  • Ben Gums

    Obama demonstrated what his faith means to him by callously exploiting religion when in the early days of his campaign he sought out an interview with CBN, the remnant of the fundamentalist network of Pat Robertson who sold most all of it to ABC for bvat amounts. Then Obama sat for an interview with “Christianity Today” the fundamentalist magazine (which deceptively persists in referring to itself as evangelical and has since its founding by Billy Graham. All well and good butit seems Obama didn’t seek out at the same time main line religious media or secular media.
    The United Church of Christ of which Obama’s home congregation in Chicago is a valued member is, as they claim themselves and others acknowledge, the most liberal of all trinitarian congregations. What Obama said on CBN and to Christianity Today, norin the brochures about which you wrote,is not generally representative of UCC teaching, style or polity.
    Obama’s being given a pass for his rush to embrace folks who are far from being fellow believers, unless he’s had a lsst minute conversion of convenience. Meanwhile the Liberal left with which I identify in many ways is bashing McCain for accepting endorsements from fundamentalists and for having gone to Lynchburg to make friends with Falwell (befor he died, of course.)
    Thanks for sharing the info about Obama’s latest perfidy.

  • John Garlington

    Perhaps the problem is that Obama does a better job at articulating his faith. For me, there is an even more problematic concern, revealing itself with Evangelical circles its overt racist predisposition. It wasn’t uncommon for the Ku Klux Klan to go church by day and put on hoods by night.

    One of the clear opportunities here in electing a African American president is re-establishing our creditability in the world with a different face, because as it stands now we’re standing alone on a lot of fronts and don’t even know it. Conservatives had better wake up and smell the coffee because it’s a changing world out there.

  • Julie

    It is sad because it does not seem we will ever achieve, “The greatest of these is change”

    It seems amazing to me that many posters assign intent/motive through their own narrow prism. Every candidate has done things or said things intended to appeal to voters. None of the candidates will make everyone happy. Very few voters will be completely happy with even one of the candidates. How many potentially great Presidents never run for office because they are not willing to go through what the media and the American people put candidates through?

    How many of you have ever had to walk the line between the white world and the black world, but not really fitting into either world? Maybe if people with the capability of empathy read Obama’s book “Dreams from My Father” might gain some understanding for how why he attended Rev Wright’s church for 20 years.

    Have any of the candidates have ever been accused of being a Muslim, which means terrorist for many Americans? Now Obama has to walk the line of all the variations of Christian beliefs or other hypocrisies. Of course, Obama wants the people of Kentucky to know he is a Christian rather than a Muslim.

    Did anyone ever question whether Huckabee was a Christian?

    McCain never claimed to be a Baptist until he started running for election. McCain refuses to be baptized by submersion to qualify for membership in his Southern Baptist Church. McCain has had James Dobson trying to control his choice of VP. Dobson has been extremely judgmental of McCain’s past, which should be between McCain and God.

    Just when Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is at the top of suggested VPs for Obama, the Catholic Church issues a public statement that Sebelius should not take communion.

  • John Garlington

    Great start! In viewing the comments, however, you understand the breath of width the conversation has to go before “a real” conversation happens.

    In reading the posts, one writer suggests that dolphins and humans are the only species who have sex for pleasure but still is unable to come up with a logical reason why homosexuality isn’t natural or innate. In her ignorance, studies demonstrates primates having sex for pleasure as well; not, including, some species of birds who engage in homosexual pairing and partnering behaviors.

    In subsequent posts, I also read, “these men were gay due to not having a father in the home.” Quite the contrary, most openly gay black men have both parents in the home and are usually better adjusted than having primarily a single-parent upbringing, where you have more internalized homophobia and “down low” behaviors. In fact, having a father in the home takes the pressure off of a single-parent who posits ideas that not having a father figure in the home, influenced the son’s sexual orientation.

    Continuing myths and misconceptions won’t get at the real sciences and psychological evaluations that have been going on for a couple of centuries around sexual orientation; which, in most intellectual cycles, is no longer an issue.

    In addition, to continue to use an outdated Biblical reference that has many contradictions in its interpretation, (besides where did the eunuchs go in the Bible, or where is our modern-day eunuchs?) leaves a lot for gleaming and debating to be had.

    John Garlington, MSW

  • Teri Royal

    Religion is important, but not where politics is concerned. I’ll be voting for the candidate who answers to We The People. How about that for a



  • Teri Royal

    Religion is important, but not where politics is concerned. I’ll be voting for the candidate who answers to We The People. How about that for a change!

    (Sorry for the double post. I didn’t do it right the first time.)

  • TXatheist

    Maybe because so many southerners are misquided in thinking he’s really a muslim do to smear tactics???

  • Steve

    He had to do this to overcome the rumor of his being a Muslim and having a unusual name. If his name were Bob Smith, it wouldn’t be necessary. As an a secular person, I don’t have a cnadidate that reflects my spiritual views, so I look for other issues.
    “unacceptable expression of extremism by a major candidate”? This appplies more to organizations that just can’t wait for the end of times. Please.

  • Cheryl Spencer

    David Brody being the “go-to person” for the media and press in matters of religion and faith is where I have a problem. David Brody is a reporter for CBN, the company run by Pat Robertson. David Brody, this “go-to person” on matters of God, works for Pat Robertson, who claims to be able to leg press a ton, who tells us that he is a prophet of God, a patriot, a descendent of royalty, and he tells his viewers to “touch the tv screen for a miracle.”What makes him the “go-to person?” That the media would go to someone who would work with Pat Robertson amazes me. Why would any legitimate news network want anything to do with CBN or with anyone who is associated with Pat and Gordon Robertson? Pat Robertson uses his tv show for self-aggrandizement and meddling. He is a hate-filled, greedmongering con artist. Pat Robertson helped his fake holyman son Gordon cheat on his wife and keep the affair hidden, all the while continuing to “heal” and offer “words of knowledge” on their tv show and ask for money.

  • Cathy Lane

    After reading blog from another website where bloggers self-debated relativism of the poster, I was a little astonished, but mollified to see the poster seemed to be designed for an audience of those from Kentucky, which might be taken a peg above Virginia in demographics of school education levels achievements. That last was a nasty piece of my generalization meant to deliberately offend and shock, to bring attention to the thought that perhaps, the campaign manager was posting ads for a different audiences. I should think that political campaigns have to bring all types of issues out, especially in one lasting as long as the present one.

    Then, I read a blog from others citing the poster was further evidence that the antiChrist has arrived or whose arrival is imminent, whoever he/she was/is and thought what a load of hogwash, and I mean fresh off the farm.

    Why try to comb the Holy Word to find analogies between a possible future political leader and the biblical truths? This is USA, right? We’re not talking different galaxies? Dooowwoooddooo?

    Who in the name of democracy has to have the presidency wrapped up in a neat little package before election? We’re talking a future political leader, without ANY discernible leanings toward fascism, communism, nor a religious agenda. With Obama, we’re talking about a fresh-faced, newcomer necessarily, without a lot of underhanded baggage, with a lot of innate intelligence and wisdom as evidenced by his helpful, positivity and bringing hope that something in Washington will be either changed, overturned, or accomplished with regard to that old boy network of doing business as evidenced by many of the deeply ingrained unjust ways of doing business there.

    For me, he stands for increased and more equitable distribution of wealth and respect in this country, for the people that actually work to increase the living standards in the US, and standing of US in the world.

    Don’t tell me that Iacocca and the other scoundrels like him who were so overglorified in 1976 represented the best interests of the US and the company for which he was CEO when he received billions and millions as bicentennial posterboy? Sure, he stood on Ellis Island with his fist full, but did he share with the the people that actually worked for that automobile manufacturing company, who needed pensions, and health insurance and a viable job?

    Talk all one wants about any angle on the grafters, but the highest paid who do nothing, deserve nothing, and my hope and expectation is to see a little of that change if Obama is elected. I would not see any more fair redistribution of the country’s resources with McCain, nor with a Clinton who is too busy paying lip-service to older women and adolescent girls.

    As far as I’m concerned, the poster is a art poster. It’s design was meant to reassure those that have a little trouble understanding logic in the form of reasonableness, that Obama probably has the required amount of credible beliefs in Higher Powers as anyone else in this country with freedom of religion, and has chosed to respect a deity, in defiance of those who choose not to believe that a relatively young politician would not have both admirable personal as well as leadership qualities.