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Thursday, May 7, 2009
100 Days in Retrospect

Including a bizarre list of Obama Faith Moments.

President Obama's inauguration was January 20, which means that April 30 was his 100th day in office, if you count Inauguration Day. If you insist on there being a full 2400 hours in that 100-day span, then he reached that milestone about noon on the following day, May 1. Accordingly, we've been treated in the media (broadly defined, not just the BMA) to the usual flood of evaluations of this milestone from virtually every conceivable viewpoint.


I saw a list of (almost) 100 discontents by Laura Hollis the other day. Her view of the Obama presidency so far is much like my own. However, there are at least two sides to every question, so . . .

In the interest of balance -- which I admit is an absurd notion with the BMA more or less serving as extensions of Obama's press office -- I thought it might be fun to find a similar list from the other side, something on the order of "100 Reasons Why President Obama Should Already Be on Mt. Rushmore." I did not search the entire media universe, but I spent some serious time looking. I failed to find an equivalent "Top 100" list, but I did find a wide-ranging, very favorable evaluation of the first 100 days at NPR's web site, and a reasonable, shorter list at the Huffington Post.

Now It Gets Bizarre

Amid the many 100-day scorecards, covering such subjects as reproductive and health rights, church and state issues, money, campaign promises, terrorism, opposing torture, and numerous other subjects -- to none of which I'll link here, because there are so many, and you can google them as well as I -- I found a truly bizarre morsel at the US News and World Report: "10 Most Important Obama Faith Moments" by one Dan Gilgoff. See what you think. (I will tell you some of what I think.)

  1. Pastor Rick Warren's invocation at the inauguration. (It wasn't the racist marvel that the Reverend Joseph E. Lowery produced for the benediction, and some on the left didn't appreciate the invitation going to Warren, who is opposed to abortion rights and gay marriage. It wasn't the first time there has been prayer at an inauguration, either, but . . . are you impressed by President Obama as a man of faith yet?)
  2. President Obama granted his first television interview as president to an Arabic-language television network from Dubai. (Dubai is in the Middle East, and lots of Muslims live there. Muslims practice Islam. Islam is a religion. Therefore, this was an "Obama Faith Moment." Get it?)
  3. On the anniversary of the US Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the President issued a statement that was almost as stridently pro-abortion as some of the left wanted, but -- this according to White House officials -- he showed his respect for the pro-life position by waiting until the next day to sign a certain, long-promised executive order. On that next day he lifted the ban on federal funding for family planning groups abroad that offer or endorse abortion. (A lot of pro-life people are religious, you see, and instead of offending them further on the Roe v. Wade anniversary, which already offends them, he waited until the next day. Therefore: an Obama Faith Moment.)
  4. Whereas President Bush began cabinet meetings with prayer and encouraged the formation of Bible study groups at the White House, President Obama is more serious about religion. (So they say.) He has taken "a big step further" in embracing religion by opening many of his public events with prayers that have been commissioned and vetted by administration aides. (Among other thoughts is this one: May we therefore assume that the Obama team exerted even more control over the benediction at the inauguration? If so, is it safe to suppose that Lowery's reverse racism goes all the way to the top?)
  5. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (its name under the Bush Administration) is now the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and has an expanded mission. Instead of just helping social service groups get federal aid, it is now also supposed to reduce the demand for abortions, promote responsible fatherhood, and facilitate global interfaith dialogue. (So far, that's relatively inoffensive. But another change is being considered, because liberal groups don't like church-sponsored groups receiving federal funds and being allowed to hire only their own members. Watch for many groups to back out, if the White House insists they hire "outside their faith traditions," as Gilgoff phrased it.)
  6. The President has set up a outside advisory board comprised of religious leaders and heads of secular nonprofits, to advise on a broad range of policy issues. There's some indication that known opponents of gay marriage are not welcome on the board. (Perhaps some religious groups are more equal than others in the political world as presently constituted. But what's a little faith-based political blackballing between friends?)
  7. Joe Biden appeared in public wearing the Ash Wednesday smudge on his forehead, as practicing Catholics often do. This apparently demonstrates how comfortable Catholics in politics have become in expressing their faith publicly. (One might wonder, how is this an Obama Faith Moment? Were they uncomfortable before January 20?)
  8. The President lifted restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, thus offending many religious conservatives. He cited a religious obligation to care for each other and ease human suffering. (This shows that poking a stick in the eye of many people of faith can be an Obama Faith Moment, if you can find some piece of someone's religion to justify yourself.)
  9. The President has accepted Notre Dame's intriguing invitation to offer this spring's commencement address. (Some Catholic leaders objected to the invitation, but that would be their beef with the school, not with the White House, I suppose. So the grand instition in South Bend may be having some other kind of moment, but on the Potomac they're having . . . wait for it . . . an Obama Faith Moment.)
  10. In Turkey President Obama toured a mosque and declared in a speech than the United States is not at war with Islam. (It's true. The fascists with whom we are at war happen to be Muslims, but not nearly all Muslims are fascists. Many of them are genuinely good, faithful people who don't distort religion to the point that it justifies large-scale butchery.)

That's the list. Is it just me, or are we firmly in the realm of "damning by faint praise"? If these are Obama Faith Moments, then someone doesn't seem to understand faith or the people who exercise it. It might just be Mr. Gilgoff, abetted by whichever editor didn't laugh this article all the way out the door at US News.

Would this be a bad time to suggest that there is a fundamental difference between people of sincere religious commitment and politicians who feel the need to curry favor with groups of religious people? It's the difference between trying to live up to an ideal and trying to sell something.

. . . Which brings us to the end of this David Rodeback Blog Moment.

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