When Democrats lose national elections, it’s because they get creamed among whites who attend church at least weekly. If we could find a candidate who could make serious inroads into that group without sacrificing what Democrats believe in, we’d have a sure winner.
There seems to have been much more news coverage of the controversy surrounding Rick Warren’s invitation to Barack Obama to speak at his megachurch than there has been of the speech itself and how it was received. But if E.J. Dionne is to be believed, Obama told the Orange County crowd that dealing with AIDS meant, among other things, making condoms and microbicides available for those not practicing sexual abstinence … and got a standing ovation at the end.
I’m well known to be a Wesley Clark fan. If Clark runs in 2008, I wouldn’t expect him to make the rookie mistakes that cost him so much in 2004. And his national security cred would be a huge plus. Compared to a Dukakis, a Gore, a Kerry, or a Hillary Clinton, he’s way more culturally Red-compatible. But I can’t see him getting a standing ovation at a conservative megachurch after talking about condoms. I’ve heard him talk about the importance of faith, and I don’t doubt he’s sincere. But he sounds like (I don’t say he is, but he sounds like) someone who believes in religion. Obama, with the Bible in his cadences, sounds like (I don’t say he is, but he sounds like) someone who believes in God.
We know how to save people’s lives. We know the medicine is out there and we know that wealthy countries can afford to do more.
That’s why it was so frustrating for me to go to South Africa, and see the pain, and see the suffering, and then hear that the country’s Minister of Health had promoted the use of beet root, sweet potato, and lemon juice as the best way to cure HIV. Thankfully, the South African government eventually repudiated this, but it’s impossible to overestimate how important it is for political leaders like this to set a good example for their people.
We should never forget that God granted us the power to reason so that we would do His work here on Earth – so that we would use science to cure disease, and heal the sick, and save lives. And one of the miracles to come out of the AIDS pandemic is that scientists have discovered medicine that can give people with HIV a new chance at life.
Like no other illness, AIDS tests our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – to empathize with the plight of our fellow man. While most would agree that the AIDS orphan or the transfusion victim or the wronged wife contracted the disease through no fault of their own, it has too often been easy for some to point to the unfaithful husband or the promiscuous youth or the gay man and say “This is your fault. You have sinned.”
I don’t think that’s a satisfactory response. My faith reminds me that we all are sinners.
My faith also tells me that – as Pastor Rick has said – it is not a sin to be sick. My Bible tells me that when God sent his only Son to Earth, it was to heal the sick and comfort the weary; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; to befriend the outcast and redeem those who strayed from righteousness.
Living His example is the hardest kind of faith – but it is surely the most rewarding. It is a way of life that can not only light our way as people of faith, but guide us to a new and better politics as Americans.
For in the end, we must realize that the AIDS orphan in Africa presents us with the same challenge as the gang member in South Central, or the Katrina victim in New Orleans, or the uninsured mother in North Dakota.
We can turn away from these Americans, and blame their problems on themselves, and embrace a politics that’s punitive and petty, divisive and small.
Or we can embrace another tradition of politics – a tradition that has stretched from the days of our founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another – and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth.
Amen, amen! Hallelujah! Preach it, Brother!
For all Obama’s excellent policy-wonkery, that sort of language, and thinking, makes him far more strange to me than Wesley Clark is. But it makes him far more familiar and far more comfortable to tens of millions of people whose votes we need. As long as we elect a President who shares my policy preferences (and has the personal integrity, intelligence, judgment, energy, sense of humor, and intellectual humility needed to do the job), I don’t much care whether we elect a President who shares my metaphysics.
Obama has two years to get some national-security cred, and is obviously a sufficiently quick study to be able to do so. Even then, he’d be well advised to pick a running-mate who can talk strategy, weapons, and tactics: he could do a lot worse than Clark, whose personality clashes with some of his fellow brass hats wouldn’t be nearly as much an issue if he were running for Veep.
But with the Democratic field shaping up quickly, it’s time for all of us to start lining up behind our candidates. Mine’s Obama.