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Voting for Osama… no, I mean, Obama

October 24th, 2008 by isaac · 16 Comments

Who can fill the presidential shoes of George W. Bush, a.k.a., “The Decider”? I am glad Barack Hussein Obama did because I know I couldn’t. Well, of course I couldn’t since I ain’t no good at public speaking, nor am I a good leader. But my most serious deficiency is that I suffer from the political malady called “Flip-flopping.” I can’t stick to one position when it comes to political convictions. My mind, it seems, can change depending on the weather outside or what I ate for dinner—trivialities in the face of such weighty matters. This past year, for example, I flip-flopped time and again when I thought about casting a vote on November 4th. The issue was not which candidate to vote for. I struggled instead with whether or not I would vote at all. That is an issue on which one should have a fundamental political stance, right? Especially in this historic election!

In an interview before the 2008 election, Professor Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University offered some comments that could justify my ambivalence. He said, “A National election is like the Roman circus in the first century. It is entertainment to keep us distracted from the real issues.” The commotion surrounding presidential elections distracts us from truly democratic political participation—for example, community gardening, eating with the homeless, Habitat for Humanity, protests, Industrial Areas Foundation, visiting prisoners, and church meetings, among others. These organizations and practices form political communities of change and hope. But their political significance is diminished because we find the happenings on Capital Hill much more exciting. Who wants to eat dinner with a stinky homeless person when you can watch the news or call your Senator’s office while sipping some fair trade, organic coffee?

But none of this would necessarily rule out voting. One can still cast a ballot while admitting the political insufficiency of the election booth. The roots of my troubles grow out of traditional Mennonite convictions, which are probably now passé among many in my adopted denomination. It’s simple, really. We don’t elect someone to a position that requires her or him to decide who gets killed. Yet despite my old-fashioned Mennonite sensibilities, I fell for Senator Obama. I couldn’t resist his charms. His speech in Philadelphia on race was a remarkable gift to this country. I couldn’t agree more with Obama’s constant refrain about how the decision to invade Iraq was a colossal mistake. He had my enthusiastic support when I found out that he was an advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people. I joined my voice to the multitudes and cried out, “Yes we can!”

However, as the campaign dragged on I heard a change in Obama’s political tune. He returned to the Senate to vote for wiretapping and eavesdropping. He followed his comments about Iraq with a call to divert troops to Afghanistan. And the Palestinian situation seemed to drop from his discourse as he courted the Zionists. I lost track of the ‘real’ Obama in the midst of all his savvy political posturing. I was beginning to lose my way to the voting booth. In a political landscape that looked like a “Where’s Waldo?” picture book, I could not find the Obama I had come to love: the grassroots organizing, non-flag wearing, unpatriotic peacenik. I decided I couldn’t vote. He’s a politician, and I can’t stand politicians. I wanted a community organizer from Chicago who smokes cigarettes.

But, true to form, I changed my mind again. I flip-flopped back to my original position! I decided to vote. Not because I was excited about Obama. I wasn’t. I did not hail him the “Son of promise, Child of hope” as the subtitle of a recent children’s book claimed—Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope, by Nikki Grimes (Simon & Schuster, 2008). This is what changed my mind again. When I watched the last debate, I thought Obama cleared up the nonsensical allegations by Senator McCain concerning his association with terrorists like William Ayers. Well, the day after the debate I received an automated phone call from McCain claiming that Obama associates with terrorists and so we should be afraid of him. The recorded message completely stunned me. Didn’t Obama answer the question the night before? I began to wonder if I should vote for Obama the alleged terrorist simply to spite McCain and his pals.

Later that week I went to dinner with a friend. He is a Muslim. His name is Ali—a good Muslim name. He told me about the difficulties of having a Muslim name. People look at him differently when he introduces himself. The discourse of Islamic terrorism since the tragedy of 9/11 has only made it worse. Personal mail has been looked through and some confiscated—I should say, stolen by the government. (Hopefully the US Homeland Security officer who stole his book on Walter Benjamin found time to read it.) The American discourse of Islamo-terrorism and Muslim fundamentalism terrorizes our Muslim friends and neighbors. Ali is now a possible enemy, a suspected terrorist, especially when he does radically Islamic things like prays on a mat in public.

That evening I decided to vote for Obama. I had no illusions about the “change” he would bring. I did not share his audacious hope for this country. None of that was important to me. I voted because my friend’s name is Ali and people think he looks like a terrorist.

Here’s my hope, audacious or not: Once US citizens see that a man with a name like Barack Hussein Obama can be president, then people will realize that someone’s name or radical religion doesn’t make her or him a possible terrorist. If an alleged terrorist like Obama can be president, then maybe my friend Ali can again enjoy the freedom of his American citizenship. Hopefully he will be taken off whatever Homeland Security list that he and his Muslim friends are on. My vote for Barack Hussein was a vote for my friend Ali. Only time will tell if my vote made a difference.

Tags: pop culture · theology

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 greg // Oct 24, 2008 at 6:14 am

    nice isaac, well put.

  • 2 Hugh // Oct 24, 2008 at 9:07 am

    I am afraid I have a problem voting for someone who believes it appropriate to suck a baby’s brains out right up to the day of natural birth in order to prevent them from taking that first breath, or letting them lay there and die if they do survive an abortion.

  • 3 Jason // Oct 24, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    You hit a note with me on this one. Like you, the longer the campaign has gone on, the more I’ve realized that in many ways it’s “politics as usual” for both the peeps. And politics as usual is a circus if I ever saw one. But then I visited my neighbor who’s an immigrant single mother who is supporting three kids on a low wage job. And I decided I’d vote for who she’d vote for, because that’s who the politicians are forgetting with all their middle class talk.

    And Hugh, don’t buy that media-generated-talking-point-hype: http://www.factcheck.org/elections-2008/obama_and_infanticide.html
    And McCain and Palin aren’t shining armor heroes on the abortion issue, they’re federalists, which means they want the states to choose instead of the federal government. They may be anti-roe-v-wade, but they’re still pro-choice.

  • 4 Hugh // Oct 24, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Sorry Jason, but I am one of many who don’t believe it takes a breath of air outside the womb to make a baby a person. Obama claims not to know when life begins. I would think in a life and death matter, that most reasonable people would err on the side of life.

  • 5 Chris // Oct 24, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Hey Isaac (and fellow responders), first I just wanted to say thanks for this blog entry. I also find myself having a schizophrenic response when it comes to this election. Indeed, 4 months ago I was convicted (both politically and spiritually) to jump on the radical train and NOT voting…yet I found myself last night sitting in a multi-ethnic/race/religion “Faith in Democracy” meeting at a huge Church shouting “To the polls we must…” Some may call this indecisiveness or just plain Bipolar.

    Whatever my disease is, I have come to the conclusions (not much different than Isaac’s “I’m gonna vote for my friend Ali”) and vote (tomorrow is another day). All in all, the reason I chose to respond to this blog is the smaller, yet largely un-talkative, highly un-approachable, dialogue about Abortion that is occurring here. And what better way to discuss such a controversial issue than on the internet where love, community and actual inflection get tossed out the window. But alas, I shall try.

    As Barack stated in the last pres. debate – “no one is actually for abortion” and to this I would think is true. No one has ever said (Unless your Peter Singer) “killing babies (in the womb or shortly thereafter) is ok with me..now where we gonna eat?”. So the real issue is brought up in Hugh’s statement: “[Sorry Jason] but I am one of many who don’t believe it takes a breath of air outside the womb to make a baby a person”

    True, there are “many” who believe life begins way before the baby pierces it’s cute little flesh into this world (by the way Isaac, congrats on Gryffin, and forgive me if this comes off insensitive to your recent part of creation) – but when does it? What is the Christian perspective and how does that perspective also allow science , if at all, to play a role in deciding this as well?

    This question, I believe, has fostered in every heart, in every home and in every church; When does life really begin? And, because the issue is so personal, our anxiety to the topic doesn’t allow us to rationally function and produce loving dialogue. So many church’s, including mine, have avoiding dialogue altogether. I do have somewhat of a position on this topic, but I didn’t want to come onto someone else’s blog and start a blog-off about an issue that maybe shouldn’t be had on this specific blog. Does that make blog…i mean sense?

    Peace and Love

  • 6 Jason // Oct 25, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Hugh, don’t get me wrong, I agree with you that a Christian response to abortion, especially as a pacifist, is to err on the side of life. However, my point is that I can’t stand how the debate in the political arena takes place, as though Obama hates babies and McCain/Palin are completely blameless.

    My first thought is that we have an equally weighty problem with nuclear weapons, because we keep on creating these stupid killing machines that can wipe out our world. Obama wants to see them decrease, McCain says it’s naive to think we’ll never use them. So we could ask the same question, why wouldn’t you err on the side of life?

    Second, is simply that even given a Christian pacifist position on abortion, that doesn’t give any clear road to a secular political solution. In other words, no one I’ve heard has a great idea on how to outlaw it. Are we really going to lock up millions of mothers each year? Do we think with the steady increase of the RU-486 pill that we’re going to be able to outlaw it without creating a massive blackmarket? There are no easy answers, and I think McCain/Palin calling themselves federalists is not really an answer at all. It just means that instead of having real legislation about the whole issue, they’ll just throw it up for every state to come up with they’re policy, which is similar to what we’ve done with stem cell research.

  • 7 Phil Runkel // Oct 27, 2008 at 6:16 am

    >I’m usually with Dorothy Day when it comes to >voting: “Don’t vote; it only encourages them.”

    Although Dorothy Day probably never voted, she was not given to “one-liners” like the above, and I don’t think she ever said this.

  • 8 isaac // Oct 27, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Hi Phil, thanks for your comment. You know Dorothy Day better than I do. Thanks for the correction. I’ll change it above.

  • 9 Melissa F-B // Oct 27, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Come on, Isaac. Are you telling me this has NOTHING to do with the fact that you live in one of the tastiest swing states in the nation? : )

  • 10 isaac // Oct 28, 2008 at 7:43 am

    Mel, you’re right. I repent. And I pray that I will be able to resist the temptation when election day comes around. No voting for me.

  • 11 Chris // Oct 28, 2008 at 8:19 am

    Any non-vote on Novemeber 4th in turn becomes a vote for McCain. So if you don’t vote, McCain says, “Thank you”. Now im not saying that we should vote because of this, I am just stating a fact that in order for any change in our poilitical office, one must go to the polls.

    Of course this election (like every election) is a circus about popularity and power. I guess, I ask myself, if I don’t vote, how can I transform my world (which is what Jesus found troubling with the essenes – they were too cut off from it) if I try to seclude myself from some of its major processes? Also – just because the process is a circus doesn’t mean, at least for me, can say for the next four years, “this is still a circus”. When John McCain and his foreign policy friend Henrey Kissenger think that massive air bombings on Cambodia was OK after the vietnam war – it would have been hard for me to say “what a circus”

    As Jim Wallis stated at a Politics and Faith convention, “We have spent too much time on the second part of John 3:16 (believe in Jesus and you will have eternal life) that we have indeed forgotten the former part that says “God so loved (and loves) the world…”

    Others have used John 18:36 as a source to pull away from the circus: “Jesus said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world, if it were my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the jews’...” Shane Claiborne in his latest book tries to establish a difference between the kingdom of America and the Kingdom of God. Does this mean a separation between the two?

    N.T. Wright, with use of the Septuagint, says the more authentic translation of John 18:36 has Jesus saying, “my kingdom is not FROM this world” (rather than ‘of’). Which again, I imposes the question, Can it be possible to work within the kingdom of America’s circus if we as Christians do so only be declaring first that our kingdom is not from here? Can I vote without the idea that when i cast my ballot it declares me against the Jesus Kingdom and for the American circus of popularity?

  • 12 Nancy // Oct 28, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Isaac, great post. At the end of your post, though, you said that you will vote… but in your response to Mel you say “no voting for me.” I thought you were trying to be CLEAR :)

  • 13 Melissa F-B // Oct 28, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Isaac, please don’t play with my emotions like that.

  • 14 isaac // Oct 29, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Like I said, I flip-flop.

    This time it’s because I saw this woman gallivanting around campus with two huge pins on her shirt: one that said “Vote!” and another that said “Obama.” It’s enough to compel me to elect not to vote.

  • 15 Melissa F-B // Oct 29, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Oh please. You are such a wuss.

    Since you don’t seem to care that much either way how about we just say you voted because I asked you to. Hey, you can be my swing-state proxy since my vote virtually doesn’t count. And I do care. I will even take the blame when God (and Halden sitting at her right hand and Sheldon Wolin at her left) want an explanation. Do we have a deal?

  • 16 Derek // Nov 5, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Hey man. Long time no see. We should get together soon. Much to discuss….

    Anyway, did you do it? I hope not.