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I Won’t Be on CNN Tonight for the Dobson – Obama Dust Up

I got a call today from Campbell Brown’s producers to be a guest on tonight’s CNN Election Center hosted by Campbell.  They wanted to discuss Dr. James Dobson’s comments today about Obama’s interpretation of the Bible and what Dobson called Obama’s “fruitcake interpretation” of the Constitution.  I had to turn them down because I’m in the Midwest speaking to a media conference and tonight’s show schedule conflicted.  You never know where these things will go.  They were going to set me up against Roland Martin – a CNN advisor and Democratic Strategist.  These calls are tough because in this case I have feelings both ways:

First – there’s no question that Obama’s point is lame. It’s typical of people trying to make a point to exaggerate Old Testament dietary or hygiene laws and show that since we don’t follow them today, we should question anything the Bible says.  That’s a pretty weak understanding of the Bible – especially for a candidate that’s trying to convince us he’s serious about his faith.

As I wrote in my book “Branding Faith” – it’s all about perception.  And I would advise candidates from both sides of the aisle that if they want to reach out to certain constituencies – in this case Christians – they need to be sincere and exhibit a real commitment.  People can smell a con miles away.

Just this morning the Wall Street Journal did a feature on how Obama’s irking some hard core Democrats because he’s moving toward the center.  Funny how during the primaries, he ran left of Hillary to show he was loyal to the cause, but now in the general election he’s moving to the center.  It’s an interesting and well documented story in the Journal and it brings up the “perception” issue again.  As in the Jeremiah Wright case, he seems to conveniently move in the direction he needs to for political expediency.

It leaves the perception that when you don’t have any real values, that’s what happens.

On the other hand, I had a few issues with the way Dr. Dobson presented his case as well. First – the speech he referred to was 2 years old, and his producers apparently just now discovered it because it’s gotten such wide play on Youtube and other places.  So it’s revealing, but not exactly “late breaking news.”

Second, as I listened to the broadcast, it’s harks back to the rhetoric of the evangelical right of the last decade.  As Dr. Dobson mentions, evangelicals have pushed the political influence button for years, but the dial hasn’t moved an inch on the abortion issue.

So my question is – how long before we realize that political power isn’t the best way to make cultural change happen?  Christians need to vote and be a vital part of the political process, but programs like Dr. Dobson’s today serve not to move the ball forward, but to raise money for the cause.

To his credit, Dobson is open to meeting with Obama, and I believe that type of engagement will do far more than trying to rile people up on the radio or TV.

We live in a different age – one of cultural engagement, rather than political influence.  When people of faith understand the difference, then the dial will move…

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17 Comments

  1. Phil: "…programs like Dr. Dobson’s today serve not to move the ball forward, but to raise money for the cause."

    Nicely said, Phil, but the Culture War in this country is over: We Lost. Dodson is just fund raising by saying all the expected shibboleths. And the MSM will certainly spin things in Obama's favor.

    Go see http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1817217,00.html?xid=feed-yahoo-full-nation

    When you have 57% of "evangelicals" thinking that "all roads lead to God" then they're not even hanging on to their own faith, and don't even know what they believe, and things are truely rotting from the inside out.

    And you expect them to change the culture?

    So after voting GOP all these years, we ended up with a handful of ashes.

  2. Phil,

    I'm glad you weren't on CNN tonight defending Dobson's "fruitcake" attack on Obama. If you had, I would've expected you to have listened to ALL of Obama's 2006 speech at the Call to Renewal conference (not just the parts that Dobson conveniently pulled out to criticize).

    I also assume you've heard all about Obama's "off the record" meeting in Chicago with lots of evangelical leaders (including Stephen Strang, Cameron Strang, T.D. Jakes, Franklin Graham, etc.). I haven't ready anywhere that Dobson was at that meeting. Perhaps he was, but if he's now saying he is "open to meeting with Obama" it sounds to me like Dobson didn't get an invitation to the party and now he's trying to rustle something up. That's what happens when you're interested in being close to power — and the (new) powerful don't ask you to dance. 

    You're absolutely right about the shift from political influence to relational influence (or, as you put it, cultural engagement), but I think you're wrong about Obama's "move to the middle." Check the comments again from evangelical leaders who met behind closed doors with Obama. I think that's pretty revealing about who Obama is and where he's coming from. He gets this relational thing, and he's open to listening to and receiving input from people, even those (like me) whom he knows disagree with him on some issues. That shows me his true character and values, and those are values that I embrace, which is why I'm voting for Obama in November. 

  3. It’s not about me being “wrong” on Obama’s move to the center, because the Journal story is well researched and pretty compelling.  He’s backed the domestic spying bill, opted out of the public financing system in spite of the campaign reform position by the Democrats, he’s said he would consider cutting the corporate tax rate, told Jewish voters he would supported an “undivided” Jerusalem, and has even endorsed John Barrow, a conservative, white Southern Democrat against a liberal, African-American female. 

    Listen to the left – Matt Stoller, liberal activist and blogger says it gives activists “a strong reason not to trust him.”  The endorsement of Barrow really stoked anger on the left.  OpenLeft.com said, “It’s up to us to create a progressive check on Obama.”

    It’s a fascinating change from his record of being the “most liberal Senator” according to the National Journal, and during a time when 58% of voters perceive him as liberal.   Don’t get me wrong – from a strategy perspective, moving to the center is a smart move.  But his own people are angry.  MoveOn.org  is petitioning its members to object to his support for the spy bill.

    So it’s obvious from his positions during the primary (left of Hillary) that he’s taking a definite and strategic shift now that he's in the general.  The question becomes ‘why’?  

    As I’ve said before, he’s good looking, articulate, and has a great presence on camera.  But on paper, any small business owner in America has more leadership experience.  For all of his posturing on “crossing the aisle” and “bringing America together,” show me a single time during his short career as a Senator when he did anything along that line.

    You view his “change” to the center as the real Obama.  I think the record shows it to be a strategy move.  Simple as that.

  4. I was not a Phil Cooke fan.  The first time I heard Phil speak was out at that "conference in the midwest" last night.  I got back to my hotel room and started reading the blog.  I have to agree that Obama does seem to be shifting position to apeal to the segment he needs to win.  I guess that's the politicly expedient thing to do (perhaps why I'll never make a good politician).  I agree 100% that talking with the man you disagree with is a much better tactic then attacking him.  There are just too many Christians who interpert the bible to back their particular view (or misinterpert it) or just plain use it as a club to beat somebody down.

    I'm all for change but remember that means we as Christians must be willing to change as well.  And as Christians we need to keep in the forefront that change does not mean comprimise.

    Thanks for turning down CNN to speak at ChurchMedia.Net.

  5. I'm a big fan of Cooke….as a producer, he makes a great commentator on what is really important.

    "So my question is – how long before we realize that political power isn’t the best way to make cultural change happen? "

     Yes yes and amen.

  6. We lost?  really?  Then I suppose we might as well recall all those Christians working in Hollywood and NYC, trying to make a difference in the trenches of the culture war.  They are bleeding and dying for nothing, I guess.

    Rather than focusing on the 57%, why not focus on the 43%?  They need to be bolstered and encouraged – not told the battle is over.

    I don't expect that those 43% can change the culture, but I think that God can, and that He is – through the lives of those 43%. 

    And I agree with Phil, and with your final point, Oengus.  If we trust in the Republican or the Democratic Parties to do anything but promote their own survival, we can just lay down our weapons and cloister together in some catecombs somewhere outside of Albuquerque. 

  7. Phil,

    First, as co-organizer of the conference, I want to thank you for having the integrity to keep your commitment to speak at the conference rather than chasing after the exposure of being on CNN.

    That said, I share your frustration with the inability to embrace much leadership.  Chasing after power in a democracy means appealing to the largest number of people – a task that seems to inherently contradict a call to follow a narrow road.

    As the son of a part-time local government leader, I witnessed firsthand how someone can have integrity and use the power of office positively – as long as the goal is always to serve.  However, I'm not sure how one can hold on to integrity and service and still be elected to a national office.

    It would be fun to see someone!

  8. Just way too much weirdness surrounding this guy. See below::

    San Francisco Chronicle:  

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2008/06/06/notes060608.DTL

     The Times of India

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2008/06/06/notes060608.DTL

    I guess this is how he reaches out to all sides.

    New Age speak: Aura

    Charismatic tag: Anointing

    Bottom line: Where's it coming from?

    As a strategist, Obama is working tactics all across the board. Phil, you're spot on.  Fascinating to watch, alarming to consider the significance. Either way, I'm applying for a visa outta here for the next four!

  9. Obama is a "wolf in sheep's clothing."  The term, "Christian," is used very loosely in Obama's world…does not equate with the killing of the unborn.

    He is buying the minority vote with "dues paid back" during a four-year term of office…payback means taxing the middleclass to the hilt in order to pay off his supporters with endless, money draining social promises.  Change?  Oh, it will be change alright that will break the back of America and make her more dependent than ever on BIG government. 

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