Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Presidential Election That Almost Was... Or Why It's Difficult for Me to Vote, 1

A couple weeks back, a dear brother in the Lord asked what I thought about the general election and who I'd be voting for. I answered him honestly when I said, "I don't know." He pressed a bit. "You're an intelligent guy; I know you have made up your mind already." I assured him I hadn't, and that frankly I was a bit disgusted with the entire thing. If he wanted to know "what I thought about the election," the honest answer was disgust and regret.

In the next few posts, I hope to explain why. There are at least four reasons, all of which have to do with the disappointment that comes from sensing potentially seismic historical and cultural shifts for the positive evaporating in the ugliness of this election as soon as the presumptive nominees were clear. The sense of hope and interest that once filled this race for me has gone up in smoke with the politics-as-usual campaigning of both parties.

Today we begin with loss #1 (not in importance, just in order of the posts): the forfeited opportunity to think careful and prayerfully about personal and group identity.

The prospect of a "racially ambiguous" president offered (offers??) the country the opportunity to think afresh about what it means to be an American, what relevance ethnicity or "race" have, and the broadening horizon available to all groups. A potential "President Obama" calls into question the extent of any continuing legacy of centuries of race-based social and political attitude and action. The viability of an Obama campaign could have put front and center the question, "What does it mean now to be an African American?" In what ways has our (i.e., American) understanding of racial identification, racial prejudice, group opportunity, and equality changed?

I'm not saying that all those things would have in fact changed with the election of a President Obama. I'm saying that the viable candidacy of an African American could have productively put those questions on the table were it not for the usual political hullabaloo that now occupies the airwaves. As it is, the cloud of negative politics overshadows anything resembling a healthy national reflection on these things.

In my opinion, the Iowa primaries were significant in signaling the possibility of an ethnic candidate not being "the ethnic candidate" but an American candidate. The moment Obama won Iowa, the country took serious notice of the candidate, but could also have taken serious notice of itself. What happened in Iowa? Potentially the first penetrating crack in a racial phalanx that has stood guard over the "highest office in the land" since the country's founding. And the fact that the Obama primary campaign successfully wooed Iowa caucus goers to support him was a testament to Iowans as much as it was to a brilliant primary strategy. The Obama campaign's focus on the caucus (a delicious word irony that I'll pass on now) states would have been a futile strategy were it not for white Iowans and others who discarded conventional wisdom and grabbed hold to hope for a different a different kind of candidate signifying by appearance if not by words a racially healthy future.

South Carolina got ugly with the former "champions" of African American causes.

Then came Philadelphia. Forced now to address "race" by an embarrassing pastor and a rival campaign that interjected "race" wherever it could, Barack Obama delivered to the country not just an excellent speech on "race" but, more importantly, an opportunity to discuss it as Americans looking forward, not backward. Some reviled the speech as the "throw grandma under the bus" speech. Some proclaimed it as an American speech as significant as Gettysburg or I Have A Dream. In potential, the latter group was correct. In my opinion, the only significant failing in an otherwise brilliant and brave speech was Mr. Obama did not flatly say that "race" does not exist. Had he done that.... Well, who knows what would have happened had he done that!

But it wasn't Obama's job to carry the mail on this issue. It was our job to do so. We haven't.

Political pundits scurried to obscure the opportunity. Too many of us joyfully pranced off after them. Perhaps we were aided in our side-taking by Obama's serious blunders days later. But having received the opportunity, we squandered it.

From Philadelphia to "hot mic" comments from Jesse Jackson to the present CNN obsession with "race" and the election (an obsession that seems to only have grown more rabid since S.C.), the steady drip of conjecture has turned an opportunity into an obstacle. Now, it seems to me, the table has been re-set and the conversation returned to the old, tired, myopic, and ultimately unhelpful speculations about racism. Like cozy slippers and a favorite robe on a cool winter morning, we've slipped right back into the tattered familiar.

And in this case, ignored the obvious. It's silly to ask "Will white people vote for Obama once they enter the booth?" Yes. Millions of them will. Millions of them have. And the overwhelming majority of them have not done it because of the color of his skin. Whether you like his politics or not, there are an awful lot of folks who do, and they're casting their lots with him in this general election as well. That's still the main story if we want to take a racial angle. There are still millions and millions of Americans of every hue prepared to happily say, "Congratulation, President Obama." That's never happened in the history of the country. And focusing on the relative few who would not vote for him because of their racial bias is a great adventure in missing the point. Something new and significant is upon us. Not the election of the first African American president, but the commencement of the first significant redefinition of American identity to include all the huddled masses--black ones as well.

We like "race" because we know this devil so well. We're unprepared to pay the social and psychological costs of re-evaluating this basic and erroneous assumption about life. And so we'd rather keep hurting one another than forge new identities and allegiances.

At least that's my opinion. And that's what saddens me. That's the election discussion that almost was, and one reason why it's difficult for me to be excited about this historic campaign. Tomorrow, Lord willing, the missed opportunity to think about the role of older persons in society and culture.


Jim Rector said...

Sorry Brother, Abortion and it alone disqualifies this man from ever getting my vote.

Robert George on Obama’s abortion extremism

Also in addition to the question "How many will vote against him just because of his skin color?" the question "How many will vote for him just because of his skin color?" should also be asked.

Jerry said...

Barack Obama's race is a very small issue in this campaign. Much larger are:

1) His radical pro-abortion record;
2) His income redistribution socialism;
3) His anti-freedom, anti-self-defense views and record;
4) His lack of judgment as shown in his associations with Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezco, etc.
5) His active involvement with and financial support of ACORN and its ongoing voter fraud and culpability in the sub-prime mess.

Not that I am a big fan of John McCain, but the prospect of an Obama presidency has me overlooking some of McCain's deficiencies.

FellowElder said...

Hi Jim,

Good addition on the second question, "How many will vote for him just because he is black?" Worth pondering.

I'm glad for your strong stance on abortion. No need for the "sorry;" I'm not attempting to move you or anyone else one iota on that point.

Jim and Jerry, please don't mistake the post for a pro-Obama plug. Tomorrow I'm writing about McCain and the opportunity I think we miss with his candidacy.

The point is: we have a significant opportunity (several, actually) in this election that we're missing. Thinking differently about "race" and ethnicity is one of them. And like it or lump it, that opportunity has only come along with the first viable "half-Black" (pardon the gruesome descriptor) candidate in American history.

JNH said...

Thabiti, on the odd chance that you haven't heard of him, I'd like to offer you a third choice. Chuck Baldwin. Read the first two lines of the platform's preamble:

The Constitution Party gratefully acknowledges the blessing of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as Creator, Preserver and Ruler of the Universe and of these United States. We hereby appeal to Him for mercy, aid, comfort, guidance and the protection of His Providence as we work to restore and preserve these United States.

They may not get everything right. But if they are hoping to do everything out of obedience to and in dependence upon the Lord Jesus, they have this much going for them... their real Candidate is never up for reelection.

Neither is yours, brother. Philippians 4:4-6 (ESV) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The Lord is at hand. All earthly leaders are lame ducks.


GUNNY said...

Good stuff. I'm also one of those who have to vote against Obama, but it is because of that one issue.

He seems like a likable guy and I can understand the appeal. I must confess to being one of those tempted to vote for him merely because of the darkness of his skin.

I'm a JC Watts fan in particular and had at one time hoped he would be the first black president.

The GOP has been flirting with a pro-life candidate for a while now (e.g., Rudy) and that concerns me, however.

Anyway, interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing.

Tordesque said...

This is why I am against aspirational politics. We're sinners, and we've been missing opportunities for millenia. It's our nature. Of course we'll never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. While we should always strive for what is right in the kingdom of man, but we should not expect politics to do something that only the Gospel can do.

I do not mean to excuse or encourage a sinful and coarse political process. I do think it explains it, though.

Unknown said...

Thank you for being honest. Cornelius

Stephen Ley said...

Pastor, I look forward to these posts. I also don't honestly know who I will be voting for. I'm still hopeful that Obama supporters and McCain supporters in the Body of Christ can maintain a gospel-driven humility throughout this election season. But it won't happen if folks spend more time reading the Drudge Report than they do reading the Bible.

Anonymous said...

Brother Thabiti,

I know this country has a lot to repent for but, I'm reminded of the sin that Cain committed and what God said to him "Thy brother blood cried unto me from the ground". Can you image the voices of the babies murder in the abortions clinics in America. Our Government mandate is to protect life. I don't believe Christians should ever support a person that doesn't support life. I made mind up when I knew the candidate position on abortion. Without life,there is no hope.

In his Honor,

Megs said...

I'm confused by your stance. In the same breath you mention that, "In my opinion, the Iowa primaries were significant in signaling the possibility of an ethnic candidate not being "the ethnic candidate" but an American candidate," as though you would like Mr. Obama's race to be a non-issue, lost in the face of his American-ness. At the same time, you herald for the distinction of the "black huddled masses" being recognized and brought into the public eye. I truly believe race is a non-issue and red flags begin blowing when I hear of the desire of Mr. Obama to become the one who is both Mr. Black and Mr. Non-Black.

I believe if we all maintain a Kingdom focus to the coming election-- recognizing both our responsibility to vote and the acknowledgement that it is God who establishes kings and removes them (Daniel 3) we will all love one another better and more thoroughly with politics truly aside.

Hayden said...


I too groan every time I hear the media bring up 'race' as the defining factor in this election. It seems to me that they are driving this talk because it fits a template.

What you groan for and yearn for resonates with me as well. A little slice of Revelation 5. Talking about 'race' as a false category would have been an amazing discussion but it never happened because those with the loudest megaphones do not wish to have that discussion.

One observation that I have had though is that it is those who are supporting Obama that seem to be bringing up race at every turn. Even minute slights in their eyes should be magnified and pinned on the McCain camp. (The McCain camp is in no way faultless, but if they were as 'racist' as the Obama camp paints them it would be more evident)

This political season has become very tiring and I fear that too many in the church are paying more attention to the news than trusting the Lord to raise up who He has chosen to lead our country. We have had good leaders and bad leaders in both political parties and yet the Lord has been over all at all times.

Take heart my friend, I do believe there are conversations going on in churches and places that we do not hear about on the issue of 'race'. (I know I have had them) They may not be in the spotlight but they are happening.

I must agree with some previous posters though, I believe the issue of life is the defining issue for me.


PS Are we going to discuss the issue of gender in this series? I have had many conversations about Sarah Palin and whether or not it is biblical for her to be a VP candidate with small children in the home. I must admit, this is not the conversation that I thought I would have during this election but it has really helped our people to thing about a complementarian view of Scripture in issues outside of the church and the home.

FellowElder said...

Hi Megs,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm not sure I know what confuses you about those two statements. One looks forward, the other backward. I think it's possible to affirm and desire a post-"race" future while at the same time acknowledging a very ugly racial past. I think that's all those comments are really doing. Drop me another note if I'm still unclear or missing your question.

Hayden, Lord willing, gender tomorrow. Thanks for your very good comments.


Anonymous said...

"In my opinion, the Iowa primaries were significant in signaling the possibility of an ethnic candidate not being "the ethnic candidate" but an American candidate."

I hope this will not be a "one state" conviction but a matter of concern for all American, every state, every boy and girl, every male and female.

Thinks for the post.


Anonymous said...

"Thank for the post" is the concluding statement.

sorry for the incovenience.