Friday, January 9, 2009

Obama's Warren Gambit

Senator Obama, a deeply philosophical man, appears to be cleverly appealing to Christians, especially on the “right”, by way of a central tenet of Christianity that is at fundamental odds with American principles. This is not to say that Obama’s slavery/Original Sin gambit would be an easy sell. But basic premises in one’s system of beliefs is the prime driver in determining one’s stand on concrete issues. Ideas matter most. Someone who accepts the gravely unjust proposition that a person can be held guilty, sinful, or evil because of circumstances or events that occurred before he was born must necessarily be vulnerable to his “opening gambit.” Someone who doesn’t, is not, and would therefor dismiss him out of hand. Senator Obama is seeking to strike a chord, politically, with a wide Christian audience that is already philosophically attuned to the basic premise of Original Sin.

I wrote those words on April 28, 2008. Continuing on his strategy of reaching out and allying with the Christian Right, Barack Obama has chosen Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his presidential inaugural.

Thus, as E.J. Dionne writes in his article, Will the Warren Risk Be Worth It?:

President-elect Barack Obama has alienated some of his friends on the left. By accepting, Warren has enraged some of his allies on the right.

Obama and Warren have helped each other in the past, and both know exactly what they're doing.

If you're on the left, how you view Obama's move depends upon who you think Warren is, where you think he's going, and what you think Obama is up to.

Liberals who see Warren as a garden-variety conservative evangelical defined primarily by his opposition to gay marriage accuse Obama of selling them out. Gays and lesbians enraged by Warren's strong opposition to gay marriage in last month's California referendum charge Obama with pandering to white evangelicals and fear the president-elect has gone out of his way to offend them in order to curry favor with straight conservatives.

But a more benign view on parts of the religious left casts Warren as the evangelical best positioned to lead moderately conservative white Protestants toward a greater engagement with the issues of poverty and social justice, and away from a relentless focus on abortion and gay marriage. (Emphasis added.)

Just as with his Original Sin gambit, Obama’s overt campaign attack on “selfishness”, his repeated mantra that “we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers”, and his call for “community service” over money-making (corporate career) for youth is in large part intended to point to the common bond or bridge between the socialist Left and Christianity. Both rest on the same essential moral foundation, altruism.

Dionne reports that the developing synthesis between the political Left and Christian Right is a mutual undertaking:

Warren understands that a new generation of evangelicals has tired of an excessively partisan approach to religion. Evangelical Christianity's reach will be limited if the tradition is seen as little more than an extension of the politics of George Bush, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin.

An opening to Obama is the right move for this moment, and Warren appears to be genuinely interested in broadening evangelical Christianity's public agenda. In a recent interview with Steve Waldman of, Warren compared gay marriage to "an older guy marrying a child," and to "one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage." But he also called upon evangelicals to be "the social change leaders in our society" engaged with "poverty and disease and charity and social justice and racial justice." (Emphasis added. This can only be construed as an endorsement by Warren for expanding the welfare state, given his growing high-profile ties to Obama. As Dionne emphasizes, “Both Warren and Obama are shrewd leaders who sense where the political winds are blowing.”)

As I have been making the case, the old conservative-liberal political fault line is breaking down. This new and powerful emerging political alliance represents a potent danger that will accelerate Amerca’s drift toward statism.

There are, of course, plenty of steadfast pro-capitalist Christians who will not be swayed toward the Left as the breakdown of the old coalitions proceed. But the basic contradiction between Judeo-Christian ethics and the fundamentally selfish nature of capitalism will morally paralyze them in the face of the rising Christian Left.

As I have previously stated, Obama is much more than your run-of-the-mill, “pragmatic” politician. He is that as well. But he is sharply attuned, in my view, to the power of philosophy in human affairs…especially morality. This is what makes him so dangerous to America. The Republican Party, which holds the same basic premises as the Obama-led democrats, will prove to be just as impotent an opposition as pro-capitalist Christians.

The only effective counter-force to the on-rushing Obama-Warren express is for the Right to amass a proper philosophical arsenal…a strategic offense initiative. Writes Objective Standard Editor Craig Biddle in his powerful article Capitalism and the Moral High Ground:

As the politics of self-interest, capitalism cannot be defended with the ethics of self-sacrifice—nor can it be defended apart from a moral foundation (e.g., via libertarianism or mere economics). We who wish to advocate capitalism must advocate it explicitly on moral grounds. We must unabashedly explain to our allies and potential allies (i.e., people who are willing to think) that human life requires rationally self-interested action; that each individual has a moral right to act on his own judgment for his own sake, so long as he does not violate the same rights of others; that capitalism is moral because it enables everyone to act in a rationally self-interested manner; and that a mixed economy—in which no one’s rights are fully protected, and everyone’s rights are partially violated—is immoral because it precludes people from acting fully as human life requires.

We who wish to advocate capitalism must take the moral high ground—which is ours by logical right—and we must never cede an inch to those who claim that self-sacrifice is a virtue. It is not. Self-interest is a virtue. Indeed, acting in one’s rational self-interest while respecting the rights of others to do the same is the basic requirement of human life. And capitalism is the only social system that fully legalizes it. Grounds do not get more moral than that.

Biddle’s call to moral arms must be heeded.

No comments: