Monday, August 18, 2008

Obama and evil

Bill Kristol writing in the NY Times takes a look at a key component of the Saddleback forum:

Perhaps the most revealing moment was the two candidates’ response to a question about evil. [...]

Warren asked whether evil exists and if it does, “do we ignore it? Do we negotiate with it? Do we contain it? Do we defeat it?”

Obama and McCain agreed evil exists and couldn’t be ignored. But then their answers diverged.

Obama said that “we see evil all the time” — in Darfur, on the streets of our cities, in child abusers. Such evils, he continued, need to be “confronted squarely.” And while we can’t “erase evil from the world,” we can be “soldiers” in the task of confronting it when we see it.

But, Obama added, “Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for us to have some humility” as we confront evil. Why? Because “a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.” After all, “just because we think our intentions are good doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good.”

It’s nice to see a liberal aware of the limits of good intentions — indeed, that the road to hell is paved with them. But here as elsewhere, Obama stayed at a high level of abstraction.

We want to make two points regarding Obama’s treatment of evil.

First, Kristol points out that Obama “stayed at a high level of abstraction”. This is not uncommon for Obama. When confronted with real, concrete issues, especially as it relates to evil, Obama remains much more comfortable in the abstract. We have been struck by a few instances of this.

When Obama appeared at an AIPAC policy conference, he delivered this line:

"The biggest enemy I think we have in this whole process (and why I'm so glad to see a lot of young people here, young in spirit if not young in age) -- the reason I think it's so important, is because one of the enemies we have to fight -- it's not just terrorists, it's not just Hezbollah, it's not just Hamas -- it's also cynicism,"

When Obama gave a speech immediately after the Virginia Tech shooting, he delievered this:

There's also another kind of violence though that we're gonna have to think about. It's not necessarily physical violence but that the violence that we perpetrate on each other in other ways. Last week, the big news, obviously, had to do with Imus and the verbal violence that was directed at young women who were role models for all of us, role models for my daughter. [...]

There's the violence of men and women who have worked all their lives and suddenly have the rug pulled out from under 'em because their job has moved to another country. [...]

There is the violence of children, whose voices are not heard, in communities that are ignored. Who don't have access to a decent education, who are surrounded by drugs and crime and a lack of hope. […]

When Obama gave a speech at the Detroit Economic Club, he delivered this line:

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the country that faced down the tyranny of fascism and communism is now called to challenge the tyranny of oil.

Obama deals comfortably in the abstract. He moves seamlessly in comparing any level of wrong to the greatest examples of evil. He speaks in words where losing your job is as bad as being shot and killed; where cynicism is as bad as terrorists aiming rocket attacks at innocent civilians; where confronting our energy needs is as bad as Soviet gulags.

We made one “from a reader” observation in NRO’s The Corner after Obama got the Greensburg, Kansas death toll stupendously wrong, mocking Obama’s propensity to deal in abstractions:

Oh, sure, Obama was wrong about the KS story — but piece together his thinking, and perhaps that many dead isn't entirely impossible...

What if the threat of the "Tyranny of Oil" which Obama has likened to the tyranny of fascism and communism were to unite in an alliance with "Cynicism" which Obama has identified as our biggest enemy? And heaven help us if that unholy union were to engage in the "Verbal Violence" which Obama pointed us to in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

A conflation of all his abstract analogies would create an unimaginable toll, one that would create casualities in numbers like the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on a beach or like the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin or the number of roads a man must walk down before they call him a man or something.

Second, Kristol calls attention to the fact that whereas McCain clearly chose “defeat it” as his answer to Pastor Warren’s question, Obama decided to use the phrase “confront it”.

Unlike Obama, [McCain] took the question about evil to be in the first instance about 9/11. McCain asserted that “of course evil must be defeated,” and he put “radical Islamic extremism,” Al Qaeda in particular, at the top of his to-defeat list. In this context, McCain discussed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and concluded by mentioning “the young men and women who are serving this nation in uniform.”

So while Obama talked of confronting evil, McCain spoke of defeating it.

Now, there is a lot of room for interpretation as to what “confront it” actually means to Obama. But if we look at one story in Obama’s history, we may have a pretty good idea of his line of thinking here.

Jim Geraghty pulled this quote from Dreams From My Father, in which Obama’s dad and grandfather went to a bar, and were faced with a man who told the bartender he didn’t think he should have to drink “next to a n*****”:

The room fell quiet, and people turned to my father, expecting a fight. Instead, my father stood up, walked over to the man, smiled, and proceeded to lecture him about the folly of bigotry, the promise of the American dream, and the universal rights of man. “This fella felt so bad when Barack was finished,” Gramps would say. “that he reached into his pocket and gave Barack a hundred dollars on the spot. Paid for all our drinks and puu-puus for the rest of the night – and your dad’s rent for the rest of the month.

Geraghty asks in response:

Is the story true? Clearly Obama believes it is. […]

[I]f you believed that your father had an almost-hypnotic capacity to calm the most troubled soul with the right words... might you also believe that you yourself could bring someone like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to see reason?

Is this Obama’s intent when he says that, faced with evil, we must “confront it”?

1 comment:

  1. Evil ALWAYS backs down in the face of humility, donchya know?

    Actually, he put "humility" into that answer because the night was moving on and he was afraid he wouldn't get to humbly point out his humility approach to _______.