We are now just five days from Election Day, and most Americans have decided on the presidential candidate for whom they will cast their vote next Tuesday. I have decided who will get my vote, but it will be neither Barack Obama nor John McCain. And the reason in both cases boils down to personal integrity. For all of their considerable talents and leadership skills, the moral character of both of these men is too flawed to justify my support.
In the case of Obama his character flaws are apparent in his questionable associations, the most astonishing of which is his long-time pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Wright is not just a liberation theologian. He is a radical anti-American racist, whose rhetoric is more venomous than anything I’ve seen in public life. Yet Obama sat under his preaching for twenty years? Unbelievable. Another disturbing association of Obama’s is Bill Ayers, the domestic terrorist with whom Obama served on a Chicago education board. Obama’s claim that he didn’t know about Ayers’ terrorist past at the time is implausible. Finally, there is Obama’s utter insensitivity to sanctity of life issues. Set aside his unyielding pro-choice position and his breathtaking assertion that determining when human life begins is “above my pay grade.” (Come on, Barack. As difficult as that might be, you must have some belief regarding the matter. And surely anyreasonable person must admit that a pre-born child is human at least by the point of viability.) The most astounding thing is Obama’s refusal (four times) to support the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which simply mandated that babies which survive abortions should receive medical attention to keep them alive. Intentionally allowing a baby to die is, of course, infanticide. And Obama’s refusal to support legislation to prevent such is complicity with this heinous act. To say that this reveals a character flaw on his part is, well, an understatement.
As far as McCain is concerned, I do appreciate the man’s honorable service as a soldier, especially his heroic commitment to his fellow servicemen while a P.O.W. during the Vietnam War. I also appreciate McCain’s respect for the sanctity of life and his take on several other issues. But he, too, has a seriously chequered past. McCain was unfaithful to his first wife, leaving her for his current wife, Cindy, even while his first wife was recovering from a serious automobile accident. Yes, this was nearly thirty years ago, but there have been whiffs of questionable behavior since, such as regarding McCain’s inappropriate relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Adultery is no small matter, as it demonstrates a person’s willingness to flout the most sacred vow two human beings can make. If a man is willing to break that vow, then why should we trust him when it comes to his commitment to the American people? And if the Clinton years taught us anything, it is that the so-called “private life” of a President is never just that. So I cannot cast a vote for McCain. (In fact, I have a personal rule never to vote for a known adulterer.)
But I do plan to vote in the presidential election. So for whom shall I cast my ballot? At this point I plan to write in the name of someone who is consummately qualified and has impeccable character: Condoleeza Rice. I will refrain from extolling her virtues here, otherwise this post might never end! Suffice it to say that she has the moral integrity that I wish either Obama or McCain had. Oy vey.
Wait! Don’t do it! Now, Pat and I have been coming to the same voting conclusion and are SO disappointed at the thought of not voting for Barack, but I think we just might not. Of course, I cannot stomach a vote for McCain, either. So I am almost to the point of considering a write-in. (Like I’ve said, I wrote you in last time.) Now, I think you have a good idea in writing in someone who already has experience leading the country, but if we agree on who to write in, that person will have three times the chances of winning! I don’t know of the virtues of Condoleeza Rice, but would, for not much more reason, be inclined to write in Colon Powell. Any thoughts?
I think Colin (note spelling) Powell would be a good choice indeed. And I know of at least one other person who plans to do a write-in vote for him. Though we both agreed that a Rice-Powell (or Powell-Rice) ticket would be ideal.
Whatever name you write in, such a choice doubles as a positive vote for the person you choose AND as a protest against our being given the major party choices we’ve been given. This isn’t the first time I’ve taken this route, and it probably won’t be the last.
ohhhh, I soooo agree. I’d love to have an african-american woman for president. Unfortunately, even Hollywood hasn’t gotten that far…atleast I can’t think of any fictional african-american woman presidents…
Colin Powell I’m all about but I believe like Al Gore he’s too burned out on Washington politics to ever seriously consider running for president.
This all reminds me of a great quote from the “Up Series” (a documentary series from Michael Apted)…In the film “49 Up” one of the women being interviewed states “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.”
“I have a personal rule never to vote for a known adulterer.”
Dr. Spiegel — in light of this, how would you have felt about supporting David as king in OT Israel? If one doesn’t have the divine anointing to be a leader, is adultery the president’s “unforgivable sin”?
I ask this, because a coworker called McCain a non-Christian, because of the incident with his first wife. I didn’t know what implications that would have for someone like David.
Spelling noted. (I’ll try not to post with a kid on my hip next time. Thought that looked funny once I read it on the screen. Sorry, Colin.)
I have mixed feelings about write-ins. It feels somewhat like my not signing the LTC: I do it because that’s what I can do in good conscience, but it doesn’t seem to really change anything. (Sigh.) I have a hard time knowing when to choose the best option as opposed to the lesser-of-evils option. I come to the write-in this time because I don’t know if I can tell any longer which the lesser of the evils would be. It seems odd to let everyone else decide that for me in a way, especially when I know that not everyone tries to make an informed decision. (Maybe they’re balanced out by the people who know how to make a more-informed decision than me. We can hope.)
Others have asked me that question about King David. I would certainly not have voted for man after the Bathsheba affair, if I new about it and if Israel had been a democracy. But God did will that David remain in power. Of course, God’s decrees are ultimately why ANY ruler is in power, even the most nefarious despots (cf. Rom. 12:1).
And, no, I don’t think adultery is an unforgivable sin. But we’re not talking about salvation here. We’re talking about evaluating potential leaders. Nor do I mean to suggest that this rule of mine is normative for all other voters, though I do think a candidate’s adulterous behavior should to some degree diminish his/her electability in any reasonable person’s eyes.
Regarding your concern that your write-in vote won’t change anything. Consider the fact that your voting for Obama or McCain will almost certainly not affect the outcome of the presidential election. Rarely does one vote make a difference in town council elections in small towns (like Fairmount, IN). And I think its safe to say that no U.S. presidential election will be decided by just one vote. So vote your conscience! In fact, by writing in a vote, your vote serves a double function. Not only is it a positive vote for whomever you choose, but it also serves as a protest against the few unsatisfactory choices we’ve been given by major parties.
seal the borders.
drill offshore. while obviously finding other forms of energy.
stop the bailouts.
hold people accountable.
what you may not know: Walmart is actually running the show.
sarah palin is annoying and should go away.
McCain’s too old.
Barack is a commie.
i voted for bush twice. embarrassing…
my husband said that if i voted for barrack it may be a deal breaker (he almost sounded serious too :).
but if i vote for McCain he will die and sarah palin is prez.
i need to check out the libertarians.
well put julie. so where is the candidate who is going to do that? sign me up! i appreciate jim’s integrity with regards to not voting for an adulterer (though i will have ask to see the evidence on vicki iseman tonight at the dinner table) but voting for a write-in this time round seems like sitting on the fence, a very uncomfortable fence, with lots of rusty nails poking you in the bottom as if to say “get off your butt and vote why don’t you!” so i will be holding my nose and take my medicine whether i like it or not. what i want to know is have we brought this on ourselves? where are the candidates we want to vote for and would we really vote for them given the chance?
Hi Dr. Spiegel — thanks for your reply.
Out of curiosity, would you have any change of heart (or vote) for David from before Psalm 51 to after? You seemed to hint at being willing to forgive McCain for his self-admittedly greatest moral failure, but you were stayed his less-than-above-reproach behavior with Vicki Iseman.
I’m in the camp of “lesser-of-two-evils” voting and, yes, I am usually holding my nose and taking medicine while attending said camp. For me the horror doesn’t come from looking at what the candidates have said and done but what the possibilities are for what they will say and do once elected…
I’m with Julie in that I voted for Bush twice–not that it mattered– both times it was in purely Democratic states. This might be the first year I vote for a write-in…not sure who yet…my dad’s super cool and semi-retired so he’s a possibility…
What is the point of writing in someone who isn’t even a write-in candidate in your state? Do you hope to make a point to people by mentioning that you’re voting for Rice, in forums like this blog? Or do you hope to make a point to the people who look at your ballot? Is this a conscience-without-regard-to-consequences kind of decision? I’m just wondering what your reasoning is for voting for Rice instead of one of the third party or write-in candidates.
I’d be *really* interested to have an indepth conversation with you about your claim that Rev. Jeremiah Wright is an “anti-American racist”. To start with, on what are you basing that judgment? How many of his sermons have you listened to? Then, what statements / themes bring you to that conclusion?
I have only listened to the one sermon–the one that the press was pulling sound-bytes from when the whole thing blew up in public. As I remember it, I found nothing offensive in that sermon when I listened to the whole thing.
The idea of a write in gave me much to think about – thanks. After really intensely wrestling with the “lesser of two evils” stance, I realized this week I simply can not vote for a candidate I don’t trust. I was planning to simply skip the whole voting thing this year, but that doesn’t set right either. So, pen in hand, I may just head to the polls after all.
Oh, do vote! Local elections can be pretty important. Educate yourself on some of the candidates and go vote for the ones who will do the best job. Deciding who should make decisions for your county is a lot easier than deciding who should make decisions that affect our whole country and world.
And I would differ with Jim on his point about “only one vote” somewhat, since our high-stakes mayoral race in Muncie last year came down to nine votes. I had done some research and called five friends on voting day. No one will ever be able to tell me my voice doesn’t count again. However, I recognize that one vote is less persuasive in terms of our nation than in terms of my town.
I will just say that your brief comments about both candidates do not show a particularly astute understanding of their pasts. You are basically repeating the half-truths from talk radio and campaign commercials. I agree with you that both candidates have incidents in their past that cause me to question their character; in that way I suppose your brief comments about their character flaws are worth noting. I would have been happier if you would have merely said, “Because I do not have great faith in either candidate’s character for a variety of reasons, I have chosen to express my displeasure my voting for neither candidate.” There is some reason for that approach to voting.
Books & Culture’s John Wilson’s review of
Electing Not to Vote: Christian Reflections on Reasons for Not Voting
by Ted Lewis
The recommendation of Rice would need to address the burden of the foreign policy of the last eight years and her noted lack of resistance in her relationships with Bush, Tenet, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Powell as noted in the recent books about the workings of the White House and her public championing of the war in Iraq
I recommend John Stackhouse’s comments in his Christianity Today article on the complexity of political involvement for Christians.
A Variety of Evangelical Politics
John G. Stackhouse Jr.
I would also recommend Cameron Strang’s comments that Christians need to be known primarily for what we are doing rather than who we are voting for.
all the best,
One more article that Taylor students would like who are interested in Shane Claiborne and The Simple Way.
Between Sojourners and the Simple Way? Rethinking Radical, Evangelical Politics in ’08 with John Howard Yoder
by Tim Kumfer
Hey JIm- you sure put yourself out there – thanks for your thoughtful reflections. Here is a record of Obama’s statements at the third debate. My understanding (which is limited!!) is that most of the back and forth on legislative voting records are being pulled out of context. Many of these ‘bills’ reflect ulterior motives with periphery items included to try to further either a pro-life or pro-choice agenda beyond the primary issue at hand. This results in apparent outright rejection or support of the broader idea in the bill but many times really reflects a rejection of these hidden agendas ie naming the fetus a person so that any abortion could be classified as a criminal act, etc. Here is the statement I got from an issues website…….
OBAMA opposed born-alive treatment law because it was already law
McCAIN: Sen. Obama, as a member of the Illinois State Senate, voted against a law that would provide immediate medical attention to a child born of a failed abortion. He voted against that. Then there was another bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the state of Illinois not that long ago, where he voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion. That’s a matter of his record.
OBAMA: If it sounds incredible that I would vote to withhold lifesaving treatment from an infant, that’s because it’s not true. There was a bill that said you have to provide lifesaving treatment. The fact is that there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment, which is why not only myself but pro-choice Republicans and Democrats voted against it. With respect to partial-birth abortion, I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health and life, and this bill did not contain that exception
Source: 2008 third presidential debate against John McCain Oct 15, 2008
It is disappointing to me to see the sway that pro-choice democrats carry in their party – but on the other side I have not seen the moral leadership from the Republican party to take the pro-life issue seriously post election year campaigns – so from a pragmatic view – have not seen evidence that it makes any difference what someone says during a campaign because its goes immediately off the radar once elected. I’m not an expert on pro-life legislation stuff but have not seen much fortitude from congressional republicans to think its an important issue in their leadership. I have felt for years that the abortion issue is one of a handful of polarizing issues in which candidates use in campaigns but have little regard for once in office. Consequently, it has not been a litmus test position for me in my voting but rather weighed against other issue positions that a candidate is more invested in personally and philosophically. Sorry for the long and rambling comment – from a humble independent trying not to let cynicism steal my respect for those willing to be public servants in a country that seems bent on destroying the personal lives of our public leaders.
I’ve listened to several of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons and read some transcripts as well. While much of it is unoffensive and insightful, this doesn’t change the fact that he endorses a self-described “black value system” and preaches adherence to a “black work ethic” and tells his congregants to pledge allegiance to all black leadership. Just substitute “white” for “black” in those phrases, and I think the racism becomes clear. And I see no way of justifying his approach without introducing a racial double-standard.
As for Wright’s “anti-American” rhetoric, I’m referring to such comments as “What we (the U.S. government) are doing is the same thing that Al Qaeda is doing under a different color flag.” To compare the U.S. to a terrorist organization seems pretty unpatriotic to me. Also, he blames 9-11 on the United States: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9HUdF9OZa8.
I’m glad to hear that you agree with my concerns about both candidates’ character flaws. However, your “half truths” accusation is unfair (and rather condescending, I’m disappointed to say). Any brief summation of evidence on behalf of any view (especially in such public matters) could be indicted for this reason. Yes, there is much more to be said about, say, McCain’s adultery (e.g., that his first wife’s post-accident condition–both psychologically and physically–was extremely difficult for McCain to deal with). But this doesn’t change the fact that McCain failed miserably in this matter (by his own admission). As for other background details regarding some of Obama’s flaws, see my reply to Bruce’s helpful input.
Thanks for your informative and even-handed comments! Yes, I’m familiar with that exchange and have read interviews where he gives the same rationale for his approach, so I’m glad to have you cite it. But I continue to be utterly flummoxed by its irrationality. The issue of the health of the mother is irrelevant in cases where the baby is viable (which obviously applies to any third-trimester baby).
And if there was already an Illinois law in place mandating life-saving treatment to babies who survive botched abortions, then why was the BAIP Act even under consideration if it was so obviously redundant?
I really want to see the sense (or at least minimal coherence) in Obama’s position here. But it makes no sense to me. He’s clearly a highly intelligent guy, which makes his position seem disingenuous. I’d much rather he be guilty of poor reasoning than moral turpitude here. But his intelligence suggests the former is not his problem. Ugh.
The Bill Ayres and Vicki Iseman references are both not central issues in my opinion. Obama explained his relationship to Ayres in the third debate and the New York Times article on Iseman was roundly criticized as poor journalism using an inflammatory headline with a couple of unnamed sources. McCain’s service is worth noting but his “heroic commitment to his fellow servicemen while a P.O.W.” is unfounded. Similarly, as Bruce notes you mischaracterized Obama’s position on abortion though I appreciate that you are now being more circumspect and stating that your problem is a purposeful act of unclarity on the issue by him which I think you are correct about and that for many Christians is the determining factor on why they are voting against him.
To add more character flaws, I would add that Obama did not show much character until transferring to Columbia half-way through college and that after Columbia he lived with a girlfriend (as he notes in his book Audacity of Hope). McCain has a history of poor character.
See the polemical anti-McCain cover story on McCain in Rolling Stone:
A closer look at the life and career of John McCain reveals a disturbing record of recklessness and dishonesty
By TIM DICKINSON
In defense of McCain however, he has a history of trying to stand up for what is right in the Senate though his problem may be that he tries to make every issue a moral issue. After listening to a complex economic report, he asked, “Who’s the villain?”
Upon further reflection, I want to clarify that I think your general point is a very interesting one. In voting we choose someone to represent us in decisions that we can only anticipate. You want to express your frustration and displeasure with both candidates and thus you have chosen to express that in voting for a third candidate. If a lot of people did that, it might arguably communicate that there are a lot of dissatisfied voters out there pleading for better candidates. A vote for Ralph Nader signifies something similar. Others choose to protest by not voting at all. This also raises the issue of the blog–trying to articulate publicly the meaning of one’s vote that it might have more of an impact than merely voting. This also is a good and effective strategy. The difficulty I think is that in the medium of a blog post one need not footnote and support every line as in an academic paper. Thus sketching our position or throwing it out there as test balloon invites critique–which is part of the purpose of blogs to be provocative rather than definitive.
I have noticed many Christian leaders who have thrown out their political opinions get strong comments:
I very much appreciate your position, and your reasons for it. What I am personally struggling with is am I allowed to not vote against someone who stands against my most core issues. That is, for me to not vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate is a non issue. I can not cast such a vote. However, am I ethically required to vote against such a candidate? Does this make sense? Any thoughts on this?
That is an interesting way of framing it, and I have several friends who are taking just this approach (whether voting for McCain or Obama). That seems coherent to me, and if it weren’t for certain commitments I have, I might take the same approach.
Just a thought: another person who tended to associate with known disreputables was Jesus. How can the Ayers’s association possibly reflect on Obama’s character?
That’s an interesting question. But I think there’s a far cry between prostitutes and tax collectors, on the one hand, and terrorists like Ayers on the other. Also, Jesus didn’t just pal around with disreputables. He called them to repent.
It’s likely that you’ve read, watched, and listened to more of Rev. Wright than I have. (I still suspect that “liberation theologian” bears intrinsically negative connotations for you that it does not for me–although it’s also very likely you have read more, and more about liberation theology than I have.)
I think I understand what you mean by complaining of a double-standard, and I imagine I can sympathize with what might be behind that complaint, but in the end I disagree. I’m generally unimpressed, these days, with arguments that substituting “white” with “black” (or any other ‘minority’ group that has an ongoing history of suffering the injustice of systemic white racism in the U.S.) turns what would have been a comment at home in white racist rhetoric into a “black racist” comment or part of a “reverse racist” agenda. One of my friends recently complained of the “new racism” that, in his mind, was exemplified by our celebrating that the U.S. had elected its first president of color. Black pride is, IMO, an important part of working against white racism–and it isn’t necessarily racist.
I’m not all that concerned, myself, with being “patriotic”–especially if I’m letting someone else define what “patriotism” is. But I do think that the U.S. military has been guilty in recent years of horrific acts that deserve the labels “war crimes” and “terrorism”–and I think it would be in a sense unpatriotic to turn a blind eye to our nation’s immoral behavior.
Also, to keep things in context, Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on homosexuals…. Which doesn’t mean either of them was right. (It probably means that each of them is very comfortable in knowing who the bad guys and good guys are, and takes all the shots they can.)