August 2006

Et tu, Obama?

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

First it was John McCain. The Arizona Republican who took the Rev. Jerry Falwell to task over his nutty post-9/11 remarks has more recently made news. . . for giving the address at Falwell’s Liberty University during graduation ceremonies earlier this year.

Nothing’s wrong with that—it’s just a marked departure from what one has come to expect of McCain and seems a curious contradiction to some viewpoints he’s espoused. Now it’s Barack Obama, billed as the saving grace of the Democratic Party when he took his senate seat. In June, Obama suggested Democrats “court evangelicals,” or so screamed the headlines. What he actually did was chide the Democrats for their perceived failure to “acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people.”

How disappointing. Not the advice itself, but the evidence Obama is buying Republican propaganda that Christianity is somehow “under attack” at a time when religious clout in government has never packed such a wallop.

Let me be clear here. I believe in religious freedom. I’m even a practicing Christian , though I can fairly be described as “backslidden” in a number of ways. I don’t care if kids want to pray in school, so long as those who don’t wish to pray aren’t forced to. I get a kind of kick out of seeing “In God We Trust” on the penny. But I am not being oppressed simply because some folks disagree with my religious beliefs and have the guts to say so.

Uncomfortable, maybe, but I see little evidence of a government conspiracy to make me an atheist. What I do see is a frightening turn toward a Christian theocracy in the name of religious freedom.

I’d thought my fellow Democrat, Obama, was on the same page. I thought he’d have better sense than to let a phantom conspiracy rule his words.

It isn’t that some of those words weren’t sensible: “Not every mention of God in public is a breach of the wall of separation,” he correctly observed. “... we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse. If we don’t reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons will continue to hold sway.” He also— apparently, without a trace of irony — cautioned against “ inauthentic expressions of faith” for political gain.

But I fear he’s missing the point. The reason the Jerrys and the Pats “hold sway” is not because Democrats somehow show callous disregard for religion (though he went a long way toward reinforcing that belief), or because evangelicals don’t understand what the Democrats stand for. The problem is both political parties pander to special interests, including religious interests. Worse, the Democratic Party no longer seems to know what it stands for — and, with the way party leadership consistently rises to the Republicans’ bait, it shows.

Obama has been praised for daring to criticize his own party, but it’s a pity he doesn’t truly take it to task. To wit: “Why, oh why, do you always dignify blatant wedge issues with a response and allow the party to be diverted from its (presumed) platform?”

Dems could profit from being told to advance their own issues, rather than reacting to the Republicans’ agenda.

Thus: “Have you forgotten that our party was built on standing up for the little guy? Why are corporations running roughshod over everyone else; why are wages in the toilet; why can’t the average family afford decent health care?

“How in the hell did a dangerous egomaniac like George W. Bush get re-elected? It’s because you’re wasting your energy responding to partisan attacks and manipulation.

“Knock it off and get back to work. There are some so-called problems that will go away if you ignore them, and the railings about non-existent conspiracies to deprive people of their religious rights are one of them. Really.”

Obama’s remarks don’t do that. Rather, they show him as the latest in a long line of Democrats to advance a GOP Lite agenda as means of saving the Democratic Party.

But that isn’t what Democratic constituents want, and it isn’t what anyone in America needs.

Katharhynn Heidelberg, a former resident of Montezuma County, writes from Montrose.