Should Barack Obama turn out to be a one-term president, students of his presidency who attempt to explain his fate will cite high among their reasons for the president’s downfall his insistence on being too clever by a half. No better example of this process at work could be found than in Obama’s answer yesterday to the obviously planted question, “Why are you a Christian?”
For weeks, pundits had been reassuring us, based on off-the-record tips from White House sources, that we should expect visual and other reassurances that Obama was a Christian and not a Muslim, as 18 percent of the public purportedly believed him to be. For weeks, we were told, we would start seeing visuals of the president and his family going to church.
That they produced. But the stills proved just the appetizer. The president rolled out the full course meal at what was billed as a “backyard chat” with a group of carefully selected “ordinary Americans.” (How does one get to be one of those?) In his well-delivered, eloquent, and obviously rehearsed remarks, Obama, always better at playing the politician than at being president, touched all the bases. He stated that he was a “Christian by choice.” (Disclaimer: This writer did not choose his religion. Others made that choice for him and he has never seen a sufficient reason to reconsider it.)
Then, as if to strike a common chord with secular humanists in his audience and among his base (both in the “backyard” and on television), the president recounted that his mother had not raised him in the church (which denomination he did not say) and that his family did not attend church regularly. (Does he now? Should we care? Not going to church every week did Reagan no harm, politically or, presumably, spiritually.)
Obama then related that the “precepts of Jesus” spoke to him. He then cited two (“being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper” and “treating others as they would treat me”) that other faiths profess as well. (The first can be found in the Old Testament; the second in Talmud and in the writings of Hillel.) Not to be out-evangelized by Glenn Beck, who obliquely raised the question of Obama’s Christianity by saying that the president exuded sounds that were strange, distant, or even “foreign,” and with all the self-righteousness of Jimmy Carter (whom we all wish a speedy recovery), Obama professed that he considered Jesus Christ his personal savior.
With that bit of caster oil swallowed, the president assured those of us who did not already know that ours is a nation open to persons of all faiths, be they Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or non-believer. In a manner of a schoolboy, proud that he delivered his lines perfectly, Obama could return to Washington and assure his handlers that he had indeed touched all the bases.
A true statesman would have done much more. He might have asked, as Colin Powell did when he endorsed Obama for president on Meet the Press, what difference it could or should make if a presidential candidate were, in fact, a Muslim. He might have reminded his listeners that Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and other non-Christians answered what John F. Kennedy called “freedom’s call in its moment of maximum danger” and who rest among the many Americans “whose graves surround the globe.”
A true statesman might have quoted Kennedy himself. Fifty years ago, JFK stood alone before a crowd of Protestant ministers to proclaim that no one asked his brother’s religion when he volunteered for a dangerous combat mission and that there were no religious tests at the Alamo. A true statesman might make his listeners think. For all the talk about the intellectual we supposedly have residing in the White House, that has not been Obama’s way--at least not since he became president.
With every passing day, the president increasingly resembles another smooth-talking Illinoisan, who twice talked himself out of the job Obama currently holds. Adlai Stevenson betrayed the contempt he felt toward “ordinary Americans” in a crack he once made, purportedly about himself. “You have the votes of all thinking people,” he related that a voter had told him. “Madam, I need a majority,” he said he replied.
Ain’t gonna happen, Mr. President. And you heard it here first.