Here is one of the questions from last night’s bizarre CNN/You Tube debate with the Democratic candidates:
QUESTION: Hi, I’m Zenne Abraham in Oakland, California. The cathedral behind me is the perfect backdrop for this question. This quarter reads “United States of America.” And when I turn it over, you find that it reads “liberty, in God we trust.” What do those words mean to you? Thank you.
And here’s how Senator Biden responded:
COOPER: Senator Biden.
BIDEN: Religion informs my values.
BIDEN: My reason dictates outcomes. My religion taught me about abuse of power. That’s why I moved to write the Violence Against Women Act. That’s why I take the position I take on Darfur. It came about as a consequence of the reasoning that we’re able to do it.
You know, look, I don’t think they’re inconsistent. I don’t find anything inconsistent about my deep, religious beliefs and my ability to use reason. I think the coin’s got it just right. I think I have it in perspective.
That’s rather muddled, though I like the part about reason dictating outcomes. Sadly, that is no longer something that can be taken for granted. I don’t follow the part about religion teaching him about abuse of power.
Happily, things quickly got better:
COOPER: Here’s a question from the other side of the coin.
QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Stephen Marsh of Thousand Oaks, California, proud citizen of the United States of America that does not believe in God. However, the former President Bush said this statement was an oxymoron.
Now, I am worried about the amount of time given to evangelical concerns while secular voters are more or less getting a snubbed — the faith and politics forum.
So my question is this: Am I wrong in fearing a Democratic administration that may be lip service to the extremely religious as much as the current one? And if so, why? Thank you for your time.
I think something got garbled here. I was watching last night when this question was asked, and I don’t recall the question being so incomprehensible.
Anyway, here’s Senator Edwards replying:
COOPER: Senator Edwards?
EDWARDS: As president of the United States, we will embrace and lift up all Americans, whatever their faith beliefs or whether they have no faith beliefs, as Stephen just spoke about. That’s what America is.
Now, my faith is enormously important to me personally. It’s gotten me through some hard times, as I’m sure that’s true of a lot of the candidates who are on this stage.
But it is crucial that the American people know that as president it will not be my job — and I believe it would be wrong — for me to impose my personal faith beliefs on the American people or to decide any kind of decision, policy decision, that will affect America on the basis of my personal faith beliefs.
Pretty good answer. Here’s Senator Obama answering the same question:
COOPER: Senator Obama?
OBAMA: I am proud of my Christian faith. And it informs what I do. And I don’t think that people of any faith background should be prohibited from debating in the public square.
OBAMA: But I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state, and I think that we’ve got to translate…
By the way, I support it not just for the state but also for the church, because that maintains our religious independence and that’s why we have such a thriving religious life.
But what I also think is that we are under obligation in public life to translate our religious values into moral terms that all people can share, including those who are not believers. And that is how our democracy’s functioning, will continue to function. That’s what the founding fathers intended.
One of the more annoying varieties of preening, self-righteous, know-nothingism are the people who say there is no substantivie difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. The reality is that there are big differences, and this is one of them. These are not answers that any of the Republican candidates (with the possible exception of Ron Paul) would have given.
The fact is the Democrats believe in the separation of church and state and appoint judges who feel the same way. The Republicans do not believe in it and select judges accordingly. More precisely, they don’t care one way or the other about it but have to pander to people who do not believe in it.
For reasons that are entirely subjective and unscientific, I believe Edwards and Obama when they talk about the importance of their faith. Obama in particular seems very at ease when he is using religious language. This is in stark contrast to Senators Biden and Clinton, who I don’t think are any more religious than I am.
That’s it for church and state. But we should take note of Senator Biden’s excellent answer to the next question:
QUESTION: Good evening, America. My name is Jered Townsend from Clio, Michigan.
To all the candidates, tell me your position on gun control, as myself and other Americans really want to know if our babies are safe.
This is my baby, purchased under the 1994 gun ban. Please tell me your views.
As you have probably surmised, his baby was a rather formidable looking gun. Biden’s reply:
COOPER: Senator Biden, are you going to be able to keep his baby safe?
BIDEN: I’ll tell you what, if that is his baby, he needs help.
I think he just made an admission against self-interest. I don’t know that he is mentally qualified to own that gun. I’m being serious. Look, just like me, we go around talking about people who own guns. I am the guy who originally wrote the assault weapons ban, that became law, and then we got defeated and then Dianne Feinstein went to town on it and did a great job.
Biden went on a bit longer, lapsing a bit into his familiar stream of consciousness mode of speaking. I love that first part, though.