Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 28, 2004
By: Amy Sullivan

DECIPHERING THE EVANGO-SPEAK....I'm putting all of my religion commentary about Obama's speech in one post so that readers who don't like this stuff can just skip over it instead of complaining incessently. I've heard from a lot of you who appreciate knowing what those code phrases are, so we're going to continue this little feature as long as I feel like it.

"We worship an awesome God" The moment that phrase came out of Obama's mouth, a praise song I sang at countless Baptist services and camps in my childhood immediately went through my head. "Our God is an awesome God...He reigns from heaven above...with wisdom, power and love...our God is an awsome God." Given the popularity of the song in evangelical churches, I can guarantee that millions of other viewers had the same reaction. Brilliant use of a phrase, along the lines of Bush's "wonder working power" in the 2003 State of the Union address.

"I am my brother's keeper It got somewhat lost in the ovation following Obama's reference to civil liberties, but the line "It's that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work," was an allusion to the story in Genesis in which Cain asks God, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

"Belief in things not seen" It's a measure of how good Obama is that he could give us a riff on hope without conjuring up memories of Clinton's "a place called Hope". At the end of an excellent section about the politics of optimism, Obama had a stirring line about "the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too" that had the audience soaring along with him. And then he moved directly into a larger political point by way of a Biblical allusion. "In the end, that is Gods greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead." The reference to "belief in things not seen" comes from Hebrews 11:1, a classic rumination on the meaning of faith: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Fun with Ad Libs Obama went off text near the end to riff on the Democrats' momentum, referring to "a wind at our backs" and then upping that to "a righteous wind at our backs." It's not biblical, but it sounds cool, so I'll give him points for sounding spiritual and whipping people up without Bible-thumping. And that, really, is my point in highlighting all of these references from various speakers. Professions of personal piety often ring false with voters and are inappropriate unless the candidate intends to tell us how that relates to their ability to serve as public officials. Using powerful religious rhetoric to establish connections between secular political concerns and faith-based beliefs and priorities, however, is simply an effective strategy that helps Democrats more than it hurts them.

Amy Sullivan 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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