Arghhh!!! Framing. What is it?

Is it a way of communicating issues effectively to diverse populations? Or is it another word for compromising your values until they become meaningless?

In his latest piece, SciBling Matt Nisbet shows it to be the latter. While many of us are shaking our heads as we are forced to choose a candidate who panders to religion, Nisbet praises Obama's strategy of co-opting the Religious Right's message by supporting faith-based charities.

If your only goal is to elect Obama, perhaps this is a good strategy. If your goal is to continue to improve our (secular) nation, this is hardly a step forward. To continue this unnatural mingling of government and religion is a mistake. It does not improve delivery of charitable services (Bush's plan has been a complete failure). It also makes services less accessible in a diverse community. If you do not wish to support your local Lutheran church, for instance, but they are the ones with the alcohol rehab program, well, that's one more barrier to recovery.

Make no mistake---funding faith-based initiatives is religious extremism. Frame it however you will, it is another erosion of our personal liberties. This is not a place for compromise.

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"If your only goal is to elect Obama, perhaps this is a good strategy. If your goal is to continue to improve our (secular) nation, this is hardly a step forward."

The trouble is, it's the only strategy. Is it less of a step forward than electing a 98-year-old Republican who was almost certainly programmed while in captivity to be a communist sleeper agent with homicidal tendencies? I mean, I'd like Angelina Jolie in my bed tonight, but the fact is I'm going to have to make do with some imaginative searches on Google video.

Besides, you guys on ScienceBlogs are waaaaay too enthusiastic about Obama. The day he's elected will be the best day of his presidency. This is your Tony Blair "Things can only get better" moment, when you elect your dream liberal candidate and wake up the next morning to find that the budget is run by a guy who has wet dreams about Thatcher, taxes are up five thousand percent, and you've just invaded Iraq.

Once again, the lauded communication expert seems to ignore what people have actually discovered about communication. Speaking "evangelicalese," says Jim Jewell of the Evangelical Environmental Movement,

means politicians are talking about their own personal faith in some way. But they don't hit on the political issues, like a pro-life platform, that have been important to evangelicals over the years. And when a politician just uses words to connect with the public, people will eventually find out that the candidate's platforms are not really in line with what they believe.

As Blaine Harden of the WaPo discovered back in 2005,

evangelicals themselves — not such groups as the Sierra Club or Friends of the Earth, with their liberal Democratic baggage — are the only ones who can do the persuading.

Authoritarian followers are not stupid — they can tell who's really part of their in-group and who is not.

Funding faith-based initiatives is nothing new in the US. The only thing that's new with GWB is the rollback on the restrictions on preaching & descrimination by the religious organizations. A Catholic shelter could get federal funds befoer GWB, provided they didn't preach to anyone or refuse to hire non-Catholics.

Basically, Obama's said that he's going to restore the rules that Bush removed. It's not what we would want, but it's definitely in the right direction, and a huge improvement on Bush (if he actually does it).

Still waiting for my comment over there to be approved.

In a nutshell: "Secularism is a compromise that brings people together" should be the frame, not 'Christians in America are special and need to be favored."

I still don't know how people think that "I support faith based initiatives" is going to diffuse the OMGSecretMUSLIMZZors!1! that Obama keeps getting hit with. Unless of course, we just admit "Faith"=Evangelical Christian, in which case we've lost the plot, the constitution and our respect for our candidate on this whole endeavor.

But of course, that makes _US_ the "culture warriors".

One thing that bothers me about this whole "framing" controversy is what it's done for the word "framing." You inevitably frame something when you debate- that's kind of what debating is in some sense- but now we can't say that without implicitly giving support to those who seek to compromise on principles. Except that by compromise, I mean capitulate principles to those who have none. Where was it that the ideas of speaking intelligently and encouraging the wholesale abandonment of principles became conflated with each other?

Here's a tip to improve your mental health: Stop reading Nisbet's blog. You'll be happier and someone might notice that traffic is down over there.

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 08 Jul 2008 #permalink

Oh Pal, how it pains me to disagree with you. But disagree I must.

For one, I don't think FBIs (yes that's what we'll call them ;) ) are that bad. As long as they're administered in an evenhanded way - as in, all religions get the money - the only problem I see with them is that they freeze out non-religious, or anti-religious, charities. While that's a downer, it's probably also, intellectually, good for our side; the only way to include non-religious charities would be either a blanket program (i.e., a program to give money to all community organizations), which would be better, or to argue that atheist organizations share characteristics with religious organizations, which leads us back to the "atheism is a religion" canard... a.k.a., leads us somewhere we don't want to do. That means the choice is between a gift program to all community organizations or our current FBI regime. While the former is superior - despite definitional problems - the latter affords the potential for political posturing, so the political process will always select the latter. I think the church/state blurring going on in FBIs is well worth the political posturing points Obama gains by supporting FBIs, especially for the following reason...

Regardless of the arguable damage his rhetoric does to the church/state line, by praising FBIs, Obama's not doing anything. Even when he's president, he can praise them to high heaven and in fact push them further, without making a whiff of doctrinal, legal difference. The last word on the church/state line, after all, is not the President but the Supreme Court, and if Obama has to rhetorically blur the church/state line to get into office and appoint justices who will shore up that line, that's fine by me.

What I mean is, essentially, that I think Barack Obama is playing the long game: a little cheap talk now affords him the chance to put the right people in power to restore the church/state border to its pre-Bush days.

Doctrinally, by the way, I think you're right about FBIs being a bad church/state mingling scenario, and I'm only okay with Obama praising them because it seems de minimis, and because it's a means to an end. Funding religious groups while not funding non-religious community groups is a problem of legislation not being narrowly tailored to its end of helping the community, and the use of public funds ought to trigger an inquiry that would find the lack of narrow tailoring fatal to the policy's constitutionality. While I think it's one of our lesser church/state doctrinal issues, it definitely is still a troublesome one.

Hmm...i like your analysis more than nisbet's...


I still don't know how people think that "I support faith based initiatives" is going to diffuse the OMGSecretMUSLIMZZors!1! that Obama keeps getting hit with.

Yeah. I mean, if the incongruity of a "secret Muslim" having a crazy Christian pastor didn't break the limits of cognitive dissonance. . . . For comparison purposes, it might be interesting to ask how the Authoritarian Right would have reacted if Senator Clinton had made the same statements about faith-based initiatives.

Nisbet praises Obama's strategy of co-opting the Religious Right's message by supporting faith-based charities.

Sort of like, I don't want my dog to shit on my clean carpet, so I shit on it first.

Is it a way of communicating issues effectively to diverse populations?

Yes, and this is exactly what Obama has been doing. He's effectively communicated to the squishy religious middle that he won't do anything that makes them uncomfortable, that it really is okay to be icked out by atheism and abortion, and that they don't have to worry about a thing. He's also effectively communicated to the female portion of the electorate that he doesn't think they're really people in the same way that men are, and effectively communicated to the misogynist faction of the crowd that he's a "bros before hos" kind of guy all the way.

Speaking as someone with a Master's degree in rhetoric who was into Lakoff before Lakoff was cool, for someone who gets as many mad props for being a hell of a speaker as Obama does, he's really not all that and a bag of chips...

By Interrobang (not verified) on 08 Jul 2008 #permalink

Please don't blow this out of proportion. He hasn't communicated any of the nonsense in the above comment. He hasn't communicated that it's OK to be icked out by atheists or abortions, he hasn't communicated that women aren't people, he hasn't communicated he's a "bros before hos" AT ALL. That's fine if you want to interpret those things from your paranoid agenda, but don't push your baseless specualtions onto the readers of this blog. Prove your nonsense!

Why do skeptics push the panic button every time that religion is involved? These faiths, all of them, do a lot of good for society. Obama has often spoken in defense of the separation of church and state. His expansion of the FBI's does not single out benefits to christianity. I'm secular, and I think supporting charities of faith can really help society.

To say that funding Faith Based Initiatives is supporting religious extremism is like saying that the government funding secular charities is supporting the devil. This is all a bunch of panic-button drama about the sky falling. Chill.

I'm with you all the way, PalMD. There's no excuse for faith based initiatives or going along with them. If you think something is a bad idea, saying anything else about is a lie. A strategic lie is a lie is a lie is a lie. Nisbet needs to get that through his big hot-air-filled head.

These faiths, all of them, do a lot of good for society.

Any desire to modify that statement?

Yeah, I think "all of them" is a little much. Aside from the fact that a good deal of religious groups net negative - I'm looking at you, Bob Jones - some are all negative. I would've thought September 11th taught us to be wary of fundamentalist Islam, and indeed fundamentalism in general. But, then again, I'm no big city lawyer.

@Aerik: "There's no excuse for faith based initiatives or going along with them. If you think something is a bad idea, saying anything else about is a lie."

So you want McCain to win?

Yes, in the world of magic and fairies and pixies and make-believe and butterflies with little wings made out of sugar candy, then politicians could be atheist and war would be over and Bin Laden would give up all the nasty stuff because he just needed a big cuddle.

Unfortunately we live in something that I like to call the "real world". In that "real world", Obama has to pander to the religious middle-ground. If he has to lie to do that, then so be it. WTF else is he going to do, deliver a speech so awesome the whole of America suddenly turns secular?

Mate, you have two realistic choices if you're an atheist who wants to be president in 2008. Lie, or lose.

But As I pointed out in the very first comment, he probably won't be that great anyway.

Look I get that it's possible for religious groups to serve a charitable role in the community. But there are many ways that government funds could wind up favoring one religion over others, accidentally fund a cult or a religious agenda, allow for faith-based discrimination, or be abused for ideological reasons.

It's already happened that Rev Moon's Cult received Faith Based Initiative funds for Abstinance-Only education. Is that panic and overreaction to note this is a legitimate concern? If they do receive funding, how is a religious-based education program that has been shown to be ineffective and mis-informative really benefiting the community? If the government refuses them funding, are they discriminating against particular faith? Do we allow scientologists funding for community services that allows them a PR victory?

It's not the end of the world, or the end of my support for Obama. It's just a bad idea, and one I don't agree with. I think Nisbet compounds that by implying "Christianity Good; Separation of Church and state is for Culture Warriors", which is going to alienate atheists, religious minorities, and pastors who understand the benefits of seperation of church and state, in the hopes that some people who think America is a Christian Nation might just vote for they guy their pastors are calling a secret Muslim.

I said "all of them" in an effort to remind the OP and others that the government's CFBI doesn't discriminate or favor one religion over another. I don't really have imperical evidence that ALL religious charities are equally benevolent, but as I understand it, any participating religion in the government program has to abide by certain secular rules that are universal to all of them despite their beliefs.

Nobody is asking the really important question though. How do you pronounce "TTTTTTTTTT?"

But seriously, I don't know how anyone can think that Faith Based Initiatives are not subsidizing religion. While there may be strict rules about proselytizing with government money, where do they think that the money freed up by the government paying for their charity work goes?

I understand the concerns here about the actual policy, but I'm not sure there's any evidence Obama is lying (or pretending to be more religious than he is) or that Nisbet thinks he is.

Obama does not simply pander to religion. The uncomfortable truth is that if you're voting for Obama, you're voting for someone who is - like George Bush - unabashed in his deference to God. Prefacing a reason that employs the phrase " religious beliefs say" with "I try not to let my religious beliefs determine my political views" is pandering to progressives. By looking the other way on this issue, we help Obama deal a tremendous blow to progressive thought. No government money for faith-based initiatives. And they should pay taxes, too.