Both Men
The last of the three presidential debates ended last evening, as most everyone knows by now. I suppose the way you felt about the whole evening depended on who you are inclined to support. Most observers felt McCain did the best he has done but almost all agree that the difference was so slight that it matters very little to the outcome. I agree with this assessment. I believe debates generally do not swing elections unless one candidate really messes something up badly. One remembers Al Gore's sights and groans with George Bush and how much that turned people off. (Plus, Bush was expected to be a total dud against Gore and the low expectations helped him, so it seems.) Or we remember the last Reagan debate with Jimmy Carter and how he convinced millions that he was capable to lead us. Nixon
The most noted of all was the physical appearance of Richard Nixon when he debated JFK. In that instance Nixon and Kennedy were judged evenly by radio listeners but television viewers felt Kennedy looked so much better side-by-side.

Barack Obama is a talented and very intellectually gifted man. He handles pressure, at least from all we've seen, very well. McCain, we already know, handles pressure well. He has, however, not been the superior debater. Obama has stayed on his message and understood what he needed to do. He also has a very photogenic personality and communicates warmth and compassion that is truly sincere. (Readers who think I am being insincere because I have admitted I am voting for McCain may read something negative into my comments but I urge you not to do that since none are intended.)

Obama McCain
Both candidates said things last night, and they have in every previous debate, that are simply not true. McCain said we need to stop sending $700 billion to countries that don't like us. This is a reference to our spending on foreign oil. McCain has made this claim for months. But the figure is highly inflated. We only spent $246 billion on all imported oil in 2007. And the majority comes from nations friendly to the United States like Canada and Mexico. An additional $82 billion was spent on imported refined petroleum, products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, etc. A majority of these refined products came from the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, Trinidad-Tobago and the Virgin Islands, all countries friendly to us.

Obama actually had the bigger whopper last night. He said that for every dollar he proposed to spend he would cut a dollar to match it. This sounds great. But the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that his programs would add $281 billion to the federal deficit by the end of his first term. There is a way that this might not happen but Obama does not talk about it much: raise more taxes.This is the traditional Democrat way of dealing with the issue. In this economy raising taxes seems to be a very questionable strategy to me.

Here is my take on all of this. First, I am quite convinced Obama will win this election handily, maybe even in a major way. I thought this was possible back in July. The polls say that it could happen. I do not see McCain closing the gap. The only "wild card" is something like a major national event like another terrorist attack. I pray this will never happen but it would put "fear" into people and they might rethink who they want to lead them in such times. They still might pick Obama but such a "wild card" event could shake it up. What seems to be the case is that the economy will remain on the front page until November 4 and this clearly favors Obama. Susan Estrich, a long time Democrat, got it right when she said that whoever was in power right now would have a hard time retaining the presidency in the present economy. This underscores too things about Obama. If you study his career carefully you will see that he has almost always had a great deal of "political luck." He has it again in 2008. Second, he runs a great campaign when things are in his favor. He knows how to protect a lead and close the deal.

Bob S
Second, I will be glad when all this is over. Our elections are way too long. Though I do not agree with several of my friends who have all but suggested that such elections are not important I do agree with them that they have overwhelmed the interest of Christians and harmed the church on the whole. This is especially true for more conservative churches who say they are committed to mission when in reality more and more of their mission is about giving money to people and causes and talking about a lost culture and political elections. And I personally hate the way we attach every single election to some apocalyptic scenario. It has happened again. If Obama wins then this awful thing will surely happen. (You fill in the blank following this last sentence.)

Third, Obama's answers about abortion showed me again that he uses good words but he is as much a pro-choice candidate as we have ever had. He put into the platform of his party things about reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. Well and good but he remains an ardent pro-abortion leader. And he was not entirely truthful last night about what he really said and did in Illinois regarding live births following abortions. The position he did take is horrific and every pro-life person that follows this with any care knows it. I would only wish all my friends who will vote for Obama, and I have many of them, would admit this and then say, "I will work to change this and oppose him even though I will vote for him." I could accept that but they repeatedly tell me his views are not that bad and that he really wants to save lives. This is the fuzzy thinking I have referred to previously.

Look, you can't be half-way on abortion. A life is being taken and destroyed. A helpless human being is killed. Obama has said he doesn't know when human life begins. It would appear that he is not even sure if a human life outside the womb is really a human life if an abortion was performed unsuccessfully. I can accept that there are many reasons to like Obama and to vote for him. I cannot accept the way my fellow Christians soft-peddle his terrible pro-choice views.

Fourth, Obama may become a marvelous president. I hope he does. I am a citizen before I am a partisan. This is what I mean by being non-partisan though some readers have misunderstood my point here and accused me of being very partisan. (If this post is intensely partisan then I simply do not know how you are using the word since it doesn't fit any reasonable definition I know.) I think I have made this clear throughout 2008. I expect that a President Obama will govern in ways that will be far more to the center than his record. Most presidents do. For example, I did not expect George Bush to spend and in-debt the nation the way he did. War or no war his reckless spending and lack of leadership ability has hurt the nation.

I hope we will all realize that we could be in for some very hard times. The economy is a long way from improving. Both men honestly said that last night. There were some sober moments in this debate if you listened carefully. Both spoke of major issues taking from 7 to 10 years to resolve. Either one will inherit an unstable and dangerous world and both know that and admit it openly. Neither one had a promise that we would get out of many of our present woes easily. (I find this refreshing that both were pretty honest about what they could not do for America!)

Wouldn't it be much better if we who are Christians began to involve ourselves in caring more deeply for those who are hurting rather than putting all our efforts into an election every two or four years? I have said it over and over and will keep saying it, "Our strength is not in princes/presidents." We are afforded an opportunity to be involved in our government, which is a very good thing. But the real concern for us must be the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of the United States. Barack Obama might be good for America, in many ways, but the kingdom of God is still my priority regardless of who is the next president.

Finally, I must confess that I am weary of my Obama friends telling me that he will bring about a post-partisan America. I wish I could believe this were true. I once considered it, back in late 2007. I studied Obama and read him and watched him all over again. (Remember, I live in Illinois.) I see nothing, absolutely nothing, that assures me this will happen, especially with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid. He will listen to the other side of an argument I am sure. The question is what next? Will he compromise to help us reach consensus? Will he tell his own party to pipe down here and there? He has done very little of this in the past. Maybe he will now. I can hope for the best but right now I have my serious doubts.

This "post-partisan" idea is one reason why I think younger voters are attracted to Obama. He is sharp, fresh and seems able to get us beyond the present bitter divides. But his record does not reveal that he is a "new" Democrat. Bill Clinton was much more of a "new" Democrat when he entered the White House in 1993 than Obama appears to be right now. People change, and they change and grow in office, sometimes for the better. (I think Bush changed, more for the worse!) I hope this is the case with Barack Obama. I will pray for him and honor him as my next president.

What I will pray most is that "we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:2). The reason I will pray this way is not simply because I am commanded to pray this way but also because Paul also says in verses 3-4: "This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." This brings me back to where I've always been—the mission of Christ trumps all politics and the sooner we grasp this the better. I think the church needs to hear this message loud and clear, not the message of partisan politics.

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  1. Chris Criminger October 16, 2008 at 11:15 am

    Hi John,
    I am glad the last debate is over and I too will be glad when this election is over. The church trumps politics and yet so many in the church have such invested interests in politics.
    I have tried to at least get some to consider a new alternative and spark people’s political imaginations. Conscientious abstention from the presidential elections could be a powerful symbol of our conviction that true power—-the primary locus of God’s hand in history—-resides ultimately in the gathered church, not among the policy makers in Washington DC.
    I have also tried to suggest that American Christians still have a Constantinian hangover and tend to have more anxiety over elections and over voting for the right person.
    Christians who view government as the instrument
    for justice often overlook the political resources of their own congregations. I also believe it has been shown that people who are most disruptive or polarized in politics are much more likely to act things out in a violent manner. I hope and pray that I am wrong about this but I am concerned about outbreaks of violence in the aftermath of this election despite whoever wins.
    Lastly, voting often (but does not have to) becomes a cheap substitute for Christians doing their civil duty. But when people broaden their views of politics, when they can see resources of action within themselves and their communities, they may engage in more creative forms of witness and resistence.
    American Christians want to know who would Jesus vote for in this presidential elections? I think the witness of Jesus and the early Church’s witness is they would not vote.
    The politics of Jesus began with the rejection of conventional power and proceeded with the positive activity of bearing witness to God’s sacrificial love and covenantal faithfulness.
    The two core values that the American Church struggles to emulate today.
    May God give us the grace to change this culture rather than simply being changed by it.

  2. Nick Morgan October 16, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    Excellent post John. Sobering and true. God bless!

  3. Anthony October 17, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I will very likely vote for Obama, and I will not soft pedal my concerns, and I will straight out confess that his stance toward abortion profoundly disturbs me. He has made a confession of faith, yet this is one clear area where he departs from the Xian tradition. However, I lean towards him because though affirmation of life may be the weightiest of all the issues, I am not sure if it outweighs the constellation of all the other issues and concerns I have.
    I wonder if its possible for anyone to vote for either of the candidates without any reservations or concerns. If there are those without reservations I would suspect that they have a myopic understanding of the comprehensive nature of justice that his rendered in the Scriptures.
    What really disturbs me, however, are people who cannot see why others might have reservations with the candidate they support. This kind of un-nuanced, right or wrong thinking probably contributes to the toxicity of American Politics more than anything else, and when Xians participate in this I really get mad, because I suspect that they are subtly and insidiously bound up in a theology of empire.
    John – I want to thank you for being both strong in your convictions and yet aware of the complexities of the relationship between faith and politics. You have challenged me, particularly because of your intelligent and reflective commentary, and because through it all you have been clear that the strength of our mission and the foundation of our hope is not contingent upon who is in the Whitehouse.

  4. Chris Criminger October 27, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    Hi Everyone,
    The debates are over and for all practical purposes, this election is over too.
    This weekend we saw all kinds of Republicans jumping ship on McCain. Even Palin’s people are back stabbing her.
    And if people look soley at the polls, they may close some in the upcoming days. But it’s not popular votes that win elections (ask Al Gore about that) but it’s electoral college votes.
    I am telling you that McCain would have to almost pull off the impossible and win every conceivable state left open to win this election and its not going to happen. McCain probably has to win Virginia for example and he is ten points (double digits) down in that state alone.
    So people better prepare and brace themselves if you are voting for McCain.

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