God’s Partner: Obama and our prevailing prejudices
First Things editor Joseph Bottum has offered a telling critique of President Obama’s effort to enlist the aid of religious leaders for his health care reform. In the October 2009 issue (“The Day for the Religious”), Bottum describes Obama’s conference call with 1,000 rabbis on August 19th, during which the President told the rabbis that “we are God’s partners in matters of life and death.” So as God’s partner, he naturally asked the rabbis to use their sermons to “tell the stories of healthcare dilemmas to illustrate what is at stake.”
Then there was Obama’s August webcast address to 140,000 religious leaders, whom he urged to “knock on doors, talk to neighbors, spread the facts, and speak the truth” because “there are some folks out there who are, frankly, bearing false witness.” Clearly we’ve got to find and stop those liars, and the Obama administration has tried to so. On August 4th, it set up a web page and email box for people to use to inform on their lying neighbors. Quoting the web page:
There is a lot of disinformation about health-insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end-of-life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health-insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to email@example.com.
Fortunately the informer mail box lasted only two weeks, ultimately being taken down because of a growing concern about how this information might be used. But Joseph Bottum is right: This whole thing reveals something fundamental about both the Obama administration and the prejudices of our social elites.
First, it is extraordinarily revealing that anyone—anyone—in the Obama administration could have thought it a good thing to solicit citizens to inform on each other when they express negative opinions about administration policy. Coupled with the President’s direct intrusion into elementary schools and his instructions to religious leaders about how to exercise their ministry and even write their sermons (any of which, taken alone, might not be so terribly odious), it seems fair to say that this reveals how perilously close to totalitarian thinking extreme liberals like Obama have come. That Obama is highly Messianic in his rhetoric, in his leadership style, and in the adulation he receives from his followers doesn’t tell the half of it.
Second, it is extraordinarily revealing once again how biased are the default acceptable positions in the United States, for all of this occurred without the President’s reputation being significantly tarnished. We may well ask what the reaction would have been if a Republican administration, or any conservative or traditional religious leader, had done any of these things. Imagine the righteous outcry, the total condemnation, the personal vilification. Again, Bottum is right on target: There is an instinctive one-sidedness at work among our American liberal elites that derives from an established orthodoxy of mere opinion. This one-sidedness takes a very simple form: We are trustworthy; they are not. We can do many things on our side that we would feel bound to denounce if the other side did them, for the other side cannot be trusted, whereas we can.
It is unusual to see this prejudice revealed with such clarity, though it has long been at work. We sometimes even encounter it in email correspondence here at CatholicCulture.org. Some defend their political positions (including the support of abortion) with the complacent conviction that at least the people they are voting for are not money-grubbing Republicans who look out only for themselves and don’t care about anybody else. It seems that even some nominally Catholic voters decide weighty issues based almost entirely on their certain knowledge that liberal Democrats are fundamentally good and trustworthy while conservative Republicans are fundamentally selfish and duplicitous. It boggles the mind, but the evidence for this prejudice is extraordinarily strong. Facts and rational argument do not enter into it. And no, I don't believe that all conservative Republicans are trustworthy and all liberal Democrats are untrustworthy. I am merely calling attention to the prevailing opposite prejudice.
I don’t claim any originality here. I am primarily summarizing the important points made by Joseph Bottum in First Things. But the even more recent attempt by the White House to exclude Fox News from press briefings is another case in point. Fox tends to be critical of Obama, it dominates cable news, and it has been targeted as network non grata by the Administration. To the credit of the Washington bureau chiefs of CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN, the other networks saw this exclusion of Fox as the attack on democracy and freedom of the press that it surely was. They refused to participate if Fox were excluded, and the White House backed down.
That’s great, certainly. What’s not so great is that most of us were at least mildly surprised that the other networks took that stand. Apparently, unlike President Obama, they don’t yet think they are God’s partners in matters of life and death. And, biased or not, since they aren’t God’s partners, they have declined a share in Obama’s Messiahship. They prefer—and rightly—to leave room for opposing views.
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Posted by: Bernadette -
Nov. 03, 2009 2:38 PM ET USA
Are you sure it's the 7th Commandment?
Posted by: tim.moore1408 -
Oct. 30, 2009 9:44 PM ET USA
One only commits a sin against the 7th Commandment when one does not tell the truth. The string of lies coming from Congress and the White House is being challenged on the Internet, and that is what has some Dems running scared. The day that Obama respects truth - or Pelosi for that matter, is the day pigs fly.
Posted by: michaelrafferty5029 -
Oct. 28, 2009 6:17 PM ET USA
Informer mail box? Cute. A little paranoid but just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. But what should an individual who respects the truth do in response to misinformation? Does the 7th Commandment not require something of us in the face of false witness?