Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mr. Obama: our nation's second Stephen Douglas

"What emerges from this episode, so effectively told in The Audacity of Hope, is that its author really, really does not like being compared to Stephen Douglas on the issue of abortion, even if the analogy is entirely apt—once it is granted that abortion is first and above all a civil-rights issue," writes Edward T. Oakes, S.J., in "Can Barack Obama Be Converted on Abortion?" (First Things, May 5, 2009). "And something about that civil rights argument gnaws at Mr. Obama, as he describes here:
What they [my supporters] didn’t understand was that I could not help but take Mr. [Alan] Keyes seriously. For he claimed to speak for my religion—and although I might not like what came out of his mouth, I had to admit that some of his views had many adherents within the Christian church.

... Alan Keyes presented the essential vision of the religious right in this country, shorn of all caveat, compromise, or apology. Within its own terms, it was entirely coherent, and provided Mr. Keyes with the certainty and fluency of an Old Testament prophet. And while I found it simple enough to dispose of his constitutional and policy arguments, his readings of Scripture put me on the defensive. Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, Mr. Keyes would say, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination. Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, but he supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life. What could I say? That a literal reading of the Bible was folly? That Mr. Keyes, a Roman Catholic, should disregard the pope’s teachings? Unwilling to go there, I answered with the usual liberal response in such debates—that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can’t impose my religious views on another, that I was running to be a US senator from Illinois and not the minister of Illinois. But even as I answered, I was mindful of Mr. Keyes’s implicit accusation—that I remained steeped in doubt, that my faith was adulterated, that I was not a true Christian.
Is this a guilty conscience? If so, does Mr. Obama have one still? God knows. One thing for sure: even if Alan Keyes had zero chance of defeating Obama in the Illinois senate race of 2004, he totally succeeded in getting under his skin. We've also learned something important here: if any argument stands a chance of getting under the skin of Obama and those in his constituency, we now know what kind of argument that is.

[Hat tip to E.E.]


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