So last week, President Obama pitched his health care reform plan to religious leaders. Elizabeth looked at some of the coverage last Thursday of the “false witness” remarks. One angle that received surprisingly little mainstream coverage was Obama’s statement that “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.”
When I first heard about it last week (on Twitter, of course), I was hoping for some stories that explored what he meant. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much coverage. Some readers have pointed out the disparity in reaction to and coverage of Obama’s religious statements and former President George W. Bush’s. That’s certainly noteworthy and I’m sure we’ll have ample opportunity to look at those differences in the future.
Other readers wondered whether President Obama’s plea to Jewish leaders that they “address the health care controversy in their upcoming High Holiday sermons” was legal. It’s a question we get frequently here — folks wondering why the mainstream media isn’t covering a blatant violation of law. That’s because it isn’t. Generally speaking, religious groups may not advocate for candidates but can advocate on issues. That was the case under Bush and it’s also the case under Obama. To be sure, some folks on the call did find the request troubling, but it’s not illegal.
But I’m surprised the “God’s partners” line didn’t merit more coverage. One exception is Ben Smith at Politico. He was the first reporter, I believe, to break the news of what Obama said. And he followed up on the story yesterday with a look at what rabbis think about the line. Great idea! Here’s a sample:
Rabbi Irwin Kula, also on the call, noted that Obama had earlier quoted from a prayer with the line “who shall live and who shall die.”
“When you say ‘who shall live and who shall die, who by thirst and who by fire,’ it can also be who by getting medical care and who by not getting medical care,” he said. “If we actually find a way to ensure that there’s universal access to medical care, then we will be God’s partners in matters of life and death. It was a kind of inspirational moment speaking to religious people using religious language,” Kula said, adding that he found the line “innocuous.”
Josh Yuter, a rabbi who was more critical of elements of the call, described the words as “pablum.”
“My guess is he didn’t really mean it in the way it came out. You’re talking to rabbis and trying to explain yourself in ways they’ll understand,” he said. “I really just think he was being patronizing.”