Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 1: Character

This is the first of a weekly series of public forums on TMB. Watch for a new round every Monday (used to be every Wednesday). The schedule is available here.

Finally! The primary season has wrapped up. With Obama’s clinch in the delegate count and news that Clinton will formally concede this Saturday, it is time for the battle we have all been waiting for (or dreading).

I thought it would be a good idea to host a public forum in which individuals can sound off about the presidential candidates. I really encourage everyone to share their thoughts, even if you don’t have much to say. Although a new post will open each week, the forums from each round are meant to be ongoing, right up until November 4. (Please tell your friends!)

Each week there will be a new topic to discuss. I am intentionally leaving the forum to be quite open-ended. I will simply say that these forums are meant to cater to Latter-day Saint perspectives. So I hope that you consider that in your comments. Certainly not every comment will have to interface with LDS thought, but I hope that it is at least implicit.

Because I really want to encourage people to express their thoughts, I am holding these forums to a high standard of respect. Of course, debate is encouraged. But there’s no reason to get personal. Similarly, vulgarity and slander will not be tolerated. You will receive one warning for violating this rule (in which your comment will be edited). After a second violation, you will be added to the moderation list (in which your comments will be moderated before being approved). A third violation, and you will be banned from these forums. Clearly off topic or ridiculous comments (e.g., “Vote for Ron Paul!” or “Obama is a Muslim!”) will be deleted.

You know, one thing to simply remember (easy to forget on the Internet) is that you are talking to real people. I encourage everyone to avoid the seductive allure of anonymous rudeness (which I admit I have been guilty of on occasion).

I thought a good topic to start off is “character.” I am thinking particularly in the context of D&C 98:10:

Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.

What do you think? Who, in your view, has the noblest character? And why? What concerns might you have towards one (or both) of the candidates in this regard? What questions would you like to ask one (or both) of the candidates in this regard?

Let the games begin …

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50 Responses

  1. Obama has just to many friends in low places for this American that is a small town white middle class that clings to my gun cause I love hunting not because I’m bitter! http://goodtimepolitics.com/2008/06/04/rezko-scandal-already-casting-shadow-over-presidential-race/

  2. One more thing: I would be happy to field suggestions for future topics. Send your ideas to thinkinginamarrowbone AT gmail DOT com.

  3. Well in terms of honesty and lack of corruption, so far, that would be Obama. Don’t forget McCain’s involvement in Keating Five. McCain is awash in the interests of lobbyists while he pretends to be fighting against them. He is not an honest man. Of the two candidates, McCain leaves much to be desired.

  4. I am not thoroughly versed in the Keating Five, but McCain was young then (in legislature years) and since has had advisors watch him to avoid the very appearance of evil. I suspect that is one reason he consistently thumbs his nose at the conservatives in the Republican party. He seems to want to avoid being too close to other Republicans.

    As far as Obama is concerned, Chicago is one of the most corrupt political machines in the country. They are notorious for increasing voter rolls at the cemetary. For Obama to emerge from that atmosphere with no skeletons in his closet seems improbable.

    That said, McCain’s time in the Hanoi Hilton makes me respect him immensely as a person (despite half his policies driving me bonkers). From my perspective, Obama is an empty vessel. People pour their hopes into him despite a pretty thin track record of accomplishing what his soaring rhetoric promises.

  5. I can’t help telling you what my mother says.

    She told me that Obama gives her the creeps. As in, every time she sees him on TV, she gets this eerie feeling. She called it “evil.”

    I’m slightly amused by this and slightly unnerved. I don’t have anything against Obama–he seems like a really decent guy–so for her to have these creepy premonitions about him? Yeesh!

    She doesn’t like McCain either, though, for what that’s worth. Way to go, Mom.

    Me, I’m still waffling. Sketchy or inexperienced? Bush round 2 or Oprah’s puppet? Am I being sarcastic? You betcha. I promise I’ll take this more seriously soon. I’m just kind of sick of this whole election mess already.

  6. check this out also. I like your post though, detailed and interesting comparison.


  7. Jen,

    I got you beat. My mother-in-law said she’s going to have a hard time choosing between the anti-christ and the gadianton robber…lol!

    As for me, I’m waiting for the veep selections – if Obama chooses Hillary, his character will plummet in my book and I might consider voting for McCain at that point (especially a McCain-Huntsman ticket, which is nothing less than a pipe-dream, but I have cool dreams sometimes).

    As it stands, McCain is a little more of a politician than Obama and I tend to like sincerity more than politics.

  8. Couple of things –

    1. Personally, I’m not 100% convinced that good character is an indicator of a good politician. That’s an uncomfortable thought, but I look at somebody like Rudy Giuliani. His personal life is very suspect, but New York City is a better place now due to his leadership as mayor. He was lucky in a way because the tide was already turning and there were policies and actions in place improving New York, but Giuliani had the political deftness to not mess with what was working and encouraging things along. If you look into his personal life though, you’ll find a man of questionable character. I’m sure Giuliani is not the only person that this could be true for.

    2. That said, I give the character edge to Obama, and that is less of a comment on Obama as it is simply a commentary on the length of McCain’s political service. To succeed in politics you must be able to persuade people that when in office (power) you’ll be able to best benefit them (their causes). McCain has been doing that for a very long time, and very well. Some of the issues with Obama’s background are troubling for sure (McCain has his own skeletons) but due to length of civic servce time I have to believe that McCain is in the pocket of far more people with far greater expectations than Obama could possibly be. The one saving grace for McCain could be that he is definitely in the Twilight of his career. Upon reaching office he may be in a position to cut ties and act entirely according to personal conviction.

    3. Jen, I totally get what your mom is saying about the creep out factor, except for me Huckabee was the one that weirded me out, BIG TIME. Al Gore also weirds me out in the same way, but that’s a different issue.

    4. Occasionally there’s a suspicion that the company Obama kept in his church has a sort of “Kill whitey!” mentality. There’s evidence of some racial tension sure, but the idea that Obama really bought into it stumps me. A lot is made about Obama being the first African American presidental candidate. That’s not exactly true, although the difference doesn’t make much of a difference; Obama’s mother was white.

    Due to the makeup of his family, and the fact that his mother was his primary caregiver, I’m stumped that people would really believe that Obama is some sort of black supremacist.

    5. For me at least, the selection of VP is going to factor heavily into my vote. I’m pleased that Obama and McCain emerged, since I feel both are worthy of my support, although as of right now Obama is my choice. Obama has been talking a lot about change. If Hillary Clinton is his selection as VP, he’s abandoned the groundwork for change his whole campaign has established, and will lose my vote. Hillary’s hubris and personal ambition terrify me to no end (exemplified by stringing out Obama’s candidacy despite the mathematical impossibilities of her winning), and she is not in any way a leader I can support since she is disturbingly divisive. Obama must select a leader complimentary to his vision of more unified politics. Bayh from Indiana would be a good choice in that respect.

    For McCain, I would like to see him select Sarah Palin from Alaska. Energy is going to be a big issue, and Palin is uniquely situated to discuss possibilities for oil drilling up there. This could provide very positive effects on foreign policy, which kills two very inter-related birds with one stone.

    My nightmare is Obama-Clinton vs. McCain-Huckabee. There are no winners there.

  9. Joe O – Which one’s the anti-Christ, and which one’s the Gadianton robber? I’d be surprised if Obama is considered the anti-Christ. He’s actually one of the few Democrats that is able to openly profess his faith in Christ without any kind of party backlash.

    Also, I would say Obama’s a great politician, although McCain’s longevity suggests quality of his own. People forget, but Obama came out of nowhere. I recall a lot of people believing Hillary would steamroll through the Democratic primaries, and easily win the White House. Not only did Obama organize a campaign to defeat her, he also was able to find the right people to execute the campaign and inspire enough people to vote for him. He also has gotten some populations like the young that aren’t known for their voting habits to come it in numbers. Hopefully that ability to promote action if President becomes a hallmark of his leadership.

  10. OK, so anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows I am a fan of Obama: click here and here.

    Our biases often color, I think, what we choose to pay attention to, what we ignore, what we are skeptical of, and what we are critical about. I will admit that bias in what I have to say about Obama and McCain. I don’t think the answer is to be a cold-hearted skeptic about either individual, though.

    The one thing I will say is that I am tired of the guilt by association game. This, of course, is not to say that good arguments cannot be made regarding these relationships, but it requires more than name dropping. It’s not enough to say that Obama’s character is questionable because of Jeremiah Wright or something like that. So for those who mention connections of Obama with Rezko or the Chicago political scene, or McCain and the Keating Five or lobbyists, I challenge you to make your concerns clear. Why is it that these connections concern you? And is one candidate better than the other in this regard? And why?

    All in all, though, I think the guilt by association game is rather bankrupt. At the least, it would be very beneficial, I think, for people to make arguments that are grounded more directly in the candidate’s behavior and words.

    I will say that I am impressed with the candor and respect exemplified by both candidates thus far. Yes, there is room to be critical of both (Obama did go a bit negative on Clinton and McCain has been unfairly negative of both Obama and Romney). I think that both of these candidates, personally, are above the fray of negative politics and backbiting.

    But I do think that Obama is even higher above. It is awfully easy to chalk up his victory over Clinton (after being bloodied up time and again) to Kool-Aid drinking fans. But I think it’s more than that. I think that he showed that he can take the heat, and that he can do so with dignity, honesty, and respect. I think, moreover, that there has been a major difference between Obama’s criticisms of McCain and McCain’s criticisms of Obama. McCain basically fails to acknowledge anything commendable about Obama. Moreover, McCain’s attacks on Obama are far more personal and border on fear-mongering (and don’t even get me started about Romney — that man needs to keep his mouth shut). I hope that this type of rhetoric changes. Obama’s criticisms of McCain are more to the point: McCain really does, in the main, exemplify a continuation of the policies of George W. Bush, and this marks a shift from McCain’s previous more moderate positions (e.g., on taxes and torture). McCain has tried to accentuate his differences with Bush lately, and I commend those differences, but for the issues that are most important, McCain really is maintaining a continuation of Bush policies. So, the debate needs to be on those policies and whether they work. As of now, the majority of the American people are opposed to them.

    After I watched Obama’s very powerful speech in Minnesota on Tuesday, I asked myself, “How can McCain even compete against this guy?” And I came to the conclusion that the best he can do is to cast doubt on the messenger. That’s why this election is going to be all about Barack Obama. That is where McCain’s rhetoric will continue to stay. This, I think is very telling, because McCain wants to keep a focus away from his relationship with Bush and his policies. Thus, the focus should be on Obama.

  11. McCain: the Keating Five scandal, though long ago, still bothers me in the back of my mind. And, as others have said, being in politics as long as he has necessitates some shady dealings – but is this really worse? Does this just mean that Obama has yet to fall but will in time? However, McCain’s voting record at least indicates a willingness to break with party from time to time, which I find very admirable (and grossly lacking on Obama’s so-called “bipartisan” record).

    Obama: though successful at projecting a squeaky-clean image, Obama has his own history of dishonesty. The way he handled the NAFTA ordeal was quite shady. To begin with, educated people who spout the kind of trade rhetoric he spouts are not being intellectually honest. Then, his senior economist has a meeting with the Canadian consul, telling them that Obama doesn’t really believe his trade rhetoric, which is leaked to the press, and Obama denies it happened. Then, when the smoking gun memo is produced, Obama admits that the meeting did occur. He knew it all along – every candidate knows when the senior economist is meeting with a consul. Finally, he tells people in San Francisco that anti-trade sentiment is a result of bitterness – whence comes your anti-trade sentiment, Barack?

    Another important character profile is the company he keeps. Anti-white pastors aren’t the concern to me. Terrorists are my concern – Ayers, Farakhan, etc. While I certainly don’t think that Obama agrees with many of the social agitators he has befriended, I do find it disturbing that he is willing to keep such company. I certainly would feel very, very uncomfortable befriending terrorists.

    Finally, while some have noted McCain’s connections to special interests, Obama’s supporters seem to have not read his [Obama’s] book. In it, he basically admits that Unions have a special place in his heart. Unions are the reason he didn’t have the backbone to agree to such bipartisan efforts as McCain-Kennedy. I find it puzzling that his supporter’s claim he doesn’t have special interest connections; unions are the biggest special interest around!

    Ultimately, the biggest test of character is yet to come. Obama has promised bipartisan, unifying solutions to big problems without shifty politics. So far, judging by his record and his platform (and some of his political maneuvers), there is no indication that he can deliver. But, maybe he can. Since his platforms on Iran, Iraq, and other things have drifted since he started, it may be hard to judge his promises; but I think it can be done. When he gets into office, will he really get the troops out as fast as he promises? He just may be able to deliver that one, thanks to the progress of the Surge he prophesied would fail. Will he really fix health care without destroying our little remaining fiscal responsibility? Will he really unilaterally (and belligerently) rewrite NAFTA to benefit us more? Will he really unify the American people, something no president has done before? We shall see. As he said himself, “Say one thing during the campaign and do another thing once in office, and you’re a typical, two-faced politician.” Ultimately, he will be judged by his own standards. So far, I’m not impressed.

    And one word of warning to all populists who promise the world: in the long run, you won’t deliver. Protectionism and endless handouts only work when resources are unlimited. Sooner or later they catch up with us; every populist president’s gamble is hoping he’s out of office before we feel the crunch.

  12. I see a number of people are talking about VP selections.

    Let’s save our discussion on that for next week. The topic: VPs, Cabinet, and Appointees.

  13. Ryan,

    Of course, we’ve gone several rounds on what you have brought up. I won’t comment on the economy yet, but I promise that will be a topic soon (your time to shine).

    I’ve argued before with you that the “bitter” comment was a true slip (he said it poorly), but people have taken it way too far. I see Obama as simply saying that many people have lost trust in the government. In this context he was talking about rural Americans (he was simply focusing on them — he has said many unpopular things about the inner-city communities, let us not forget) and how some, because of their distrust in government, rely, in unhealthy ways, on things like guns and God. As one who has lived in rural Pennsylvania, I see Obama’s comment as spot on. The observation shows how “in touch” he is — unfortunately the way he said it was less than desirable. But he clearly was not condemning gun ownership or belief in God. Anyway, there’s two ways you can take a comment like this. You can say, well, I see what he meant — everyone slips up (honestly, imagine if every word you said was poured over and scrutinized). Or you can suspect that it portrays something deep seeded about his own character, such as elitism. The funny thing is that people who will do the latter often will not be fair to other slip ups of other candidates. Why didn’t those who pounced on Obama’s bitter comment pounce on Romney’s comment for “doubling Guantanamo”? Could it not be argued that this comment (meaning the way he said it) reveals that Romney is a warmongering machine? Or could it simply be a poor way of expressing oneself? All in all, we ought to be far more charitable about judging one-liners from the candidates. Depending on your viewpoint, they are pretty easy to either explain away or make into a mountain. I prefer to try to do the former, rather than the latter, even for the candidates I disagree with.

    And one word of warning to all populists who promise the world: in the long run, you won’t deliver. Protectionism and endless handouts only work when resources are unlimited. Sooner or later they catch up with us; every populist president’s gamble is hoping he’s out of office before we feel the crunch.

    I’ll transition from your quote to raise a character issue for McCain (obviously you implied a character issue for Obama). McCain has admitted in the past that lowering taxes for the rich in a time of war is irresponsible. Now he favors this action. There is a problem with “endless handouts” in more ways than one. We have endlessly been handing out to Iraqis with little support (from them in return). And we have been spending billions upon billions doing so. To do this while keeping taxes low on the wealthiest Americans obviously hasn’t worked (as McCain at least used to realize until he realized he wouldn’t win an election unless he continued Bush’s flawed tax cuts — again for the wealthiest Americans). To continue to do so is simply a way for the wealthiest Americans to benefit from the spoils of war without paying for it in any way, while the rest of America is in a major pinch.

  14. Noblest/Wisest character: Obama

    I get frustrated when Obama is criticized for wanting to have dialogue with “the enemy.” Republicans opposed to negotiations with Iran like to use Neville Chamberlain as the poster boy for failed diplomatic attempts, but why does that mean that every diplomatic attempt to avoid military conflict is doomed to failure? I’ll be the first one to admit that Ahmadinejad is not to be trusted, but how does refusing to have open dialogue with Iran help? The way I see it, if there is dialogue, then there MAY be a war with Iran someday. If there is no dialogue, then there WILL be a war, it’s only a matter of time. I think that Obama recognizes that and he also understands that US foreign policy affects Americans indirectly, as well as directly. There is a general loathing of American foreign policy in the world today, including among some of its closest allies. I think Obama is smart enough to know that negotiation attemps with Iran may be futile (his speech at the AIPAC conference made his stance crystal clear, I thought), and yet he’s also smart enough to know that exhausting all diplomatic attempts first is the only way to make any future possible wars justifiable in the world’s eyes. It may already be too late in the Middle East (at least for the current and upcoming generations there) to see America as a nation with noble intentions, but maybe not for the rest of the world. To those of us outside America, we see that Bush’s Iraq policy failed and it appears that McCain will only perpetuate that mistake. The UN was created for a reason and longtime US allies resent the fact that the world’s most powerful nation thinks its above the rest of the world, whether because of invading Iraq or disregarding international law in Guantanamo Bay.

    Obama gives Americans and non-Americans alike the hope that the next president will realize that there’s a world outside of Ameica’s borders.

  15. Rutkowski:

    Personally, I’m not 100% convinced that good character is an indicator of a good politician. That’s an uncomfortable thought, but I look at somebody like Rudy Giuliani. His personal life is very suspect, but New York City is a better place now due to his leadership as mayor. He was lucky in a way because the tide was already turning and there were policies and actions in place improving New York, but Giuliani had the political deftness to not mess with what was working and encouraging things along. If you look into his personal life though, you’ll find a man of questionable character. I’m sure Giuliani is not the only person that this could be true for.

    I think I agree, though I’m not sure I would restrict character to what one does in his/her private life(I prefer the word “private” to “personal”). In other words, character has very much to do with what one does publicly as well. The temple recommend question, “Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow men?” comes to mind. You are not disagreeing with this, but just to clarify.

    There is that verse in the Book of Mormon that talks about how a certain king did justice to his people but not to himself (sorry, I don’t remember where that is — I think in Ether). King David is another example, and the scriptures specifically note this. So it certainly is possible. I think of JFK this way, as well as (Bill) Clinton. But certainly a president would be BETTER if his/her private character was better. Giuliani, Clinton, and JFK would all have been better leaders if they had higher character in their private lives.I believe that God inspires leaders of nations, and that private righteousness is an important factor in the extent that a president might be inspired.

    However, the leader who does justice to his/her people clearly has noble “character,” to some degree.

  16. I respect John McCain and I know he has been through a lot, but I dislike his temper and occasional use of profanity in public discussions. Although he is apologetic, he can be destructively hot-headed. Obama is overall much more cautious and respectful in the way he talks to and of others– this is something we should consider when choosing a president (this is a huge deal with international PR, as well as with the way a President will interact with and respond to the concerns of the American people!)

    It looks like Obama’s criticism of John McCain is going to avoid personal attacks and focus on policies. But I have less of a sense of how McCain will speak of Obama– I think Dennis is right that it is going to be hard to attack Obama’s hopeful, eloquently expressed policies, and that McCain might end up focusing his campaign on challenging Obama as a person. He might also resort to fear tactics to rouse support for the war. If he uses these two methods, this will reflect poorly on his character and lose some of my respect– this is unethical politics. And, if so, how will Obama respond? Will he maintain a respectful approach to McCain? If so, this will reflect well on his character.

    While I realize that many men with obviously flawed characters have accomplished great things as leaders, I would say in most cases (like Guiliani’s) these are probably reasonably good men who are trying to do good. But I also believe that the very best leaders we could have would have the best moral characters. We really shouldn’t separate character/morality and the potential for a man to be a leader. I feel that a leader’s relationship with God, for example, and the extensions of scriptural understanding into their lives (the world of the text interacts with the world of the reader) really can’t be be separated from his moral beliefs, hopes, and political decisions. (Paul Ricoeur talks about how we cannot and should not separate our political lives from our hermeneutic relationships with scripture– revelation claims implications on all such choices that have such moral implications in our relationships with others). Is this idealistic? Yes, but I think this is one area where we are safe allowing the ideal to inform the real. We are often too cynical (from my experience in LDS culture) and allow ourselves to drift into very secular ways of talking about what we expect from our political leaders. On the other hand, I recognize that not every highly moral man would make a great politician. It requires certain gifts and certain kinds of intelligence. But when you combine such gifts with a great moral character, you might have an extremely valuable leader. That’s what I hope I see in Barack Obama. I have never heard a politician answer questions about his religion, his family, and the connections between faith and politics in the thoughtful, sincere way he does. And I have never seen a presidential candidate assert (even despite strong opposition) the kind of concern and compassion for human life in general and even political enemies that he does (Dennis says we will talk about abortion later, so please don’t worry about that here). If he is being honest and sincere with the American public, he seems to be an exceptional candidate in terms of character in many ways.

  17. My natural inclination is to discuss the economy (McCain and Obama are both shady here) or foreign policy (I have to disagree and say McCain is better), but the topic today is their character. As much as I read politically, I don’t feel like I know that much about Obama. His Chicago associations cause me a lot of concerns.

    All I see of Obama speaks of political opportunism. He had opponents thrown off the ballot for technicalities when he ran for Illinois state office. When Wright and Pfleger were assets, Obama was tight with them. They helped him get elected in Chicago. Now that they are liabilities in a national election, he throws them under the bus. Obama talks about McCain’s ties to lobbyists, but ties to racists and unrepentant terrorists are far more troubling.

    I also am somewhat troubled with an assumption that undergirds many Democrat foreign policy stances: namely, that America is hated in the world. I cite as exhibit number one the number of people who strive to come to the US legally or illegally. People vote with their feet. If we were really all that hated, they wouldn’t want to come here. Exhibit number two is a string of elections in Europe where the pro-American candidate has won. Merkel in Germany, Sarkozy in France, and especially Berlusconi in Italy are further to the right and more friendly to US foreign policy than each of their predecessors. If President Bush were so evil (not that anyone here has gone that far) his policies would not be validated in such a manner.

    Sorry if this digresses from an Obama/McCain character discussion, but I felt the need to address these issues. I look most forward to the debates.

  18. Faithfuldissident:


    But I’m sure Dennis is preparing for a foreign policy round sometime in the future, so I’ll leave it at your words.

  19. Tony Brown, by Obama’s “ties to racists” I only assume that you are referring to the Rev. Wright scandal. In all fairness, how does Obama’s ties to Wright’s church differ from Romney’s ties to our church, which has also seen its share of racism and racist teachings from past leaders? Both are disturbing, yet I don’t think Wright makes Obama a racist any more than I think Brigham Young makes Romney a racist. I know that Romney is out of the race, but I think it’s a relevant comparison, particularly if he should run as McCain’s VP.

    This is the kind of thing I talked about in my blog (see “Wright and Wrong”). To me, the only difference between racism in Obama’s church and ours is the fact that most of the Mormon leaders who made racist comments are dead.

  20. Fair enough. But you do cite a big difference. Mormon leaders with racist statements are dead. There is another big difference. Most of those type statements come from the Journal of Discourses. That collection comes from one man’s shorthand and was never an official collection of any leader’s statements. The Journal of Discourses is full of statements (not just racist) that are obviously contradictory to the gospel.

    Wright was Obama’s pastor, performed his wedding, and baptized his children. Pfleger has long been a thorn in the side of Catholic authorities and Obama send earmark money to him. Their views are no secret within Chicago. And Obama has had 20 year relationships with each of them. Their views are (mostly) recognized as abhorrent today.

    In the less introspective American culture of the late 1800s, LDS church leader statements were mainstream American thought (not to excuse it), but were never core to the beliefs of the Church.

  21. Tony,

    Most of those type statements come from the Journal of Discourses. That collection comes from one man’s shorthand and was never an official collection of any leader’s statements. The Journal of Discourses is full of statements (not just racist) that are obviously contradictory to the gospel.

    I don’t see how this differs all that much from the Reverend Wright sermons you will see on YouTube (same with Pfleger). In fact, these sermons are totally cherry-picked to accentuate racist comments. And, how are Wright’s sermons not obviously contradictory to the gospel? If you can recognize that a leader of your church’s statements are contradictory to the gospel, and yet remain a member, then couldn’t Obama have done the same?

  22. The whole problem with Wright and Pfleger is that Obama has cited them as major spiritual advisors. I don’t see how context can help. Another part of the problem is the congretation standing up cheering those statements. These guys knew the whole country was watching and they kept up their inflamatory remarks. Wright’s performance at the National Press Club was something else. There was no cherry picking that day.

    My contention about many troubling JD quotes is that they are not accurate. I can watch Wright and Pfleger with my own eyes. And they are big supporters of Louis Farrakhan, well known racist and anti-Semite.

    You will have to ask Obama that last question. He did leave his church because of those statements.

    I did not mean to hijack this thread. These connections trouble me about Obama, but are not deal breakers for me. He does not share their views, but they had a role in his political rise in Chicago. I am far more interested in the policy issues (which we will disagree on more decidedly).

  23. The whole problem with Wright and Pfleger is that Obama has cited them as major spiritual advisors.

    I may be mistaken, but this is not true for Pfleger. Pfleger’s connection to Obama is really quite removed. I can see how an argument can be made for Wright — but Pfleger! It’s really quite a stretch.

    You will have to ask Obama that last question. He did leave his church because of those statements.

    Not exactly. Unless you don’t believe what he said, which is that he didn’t think it was fair to the church or to his campaign for the two to be constantly implicated together. The media is quite frankly much to blame here — how would you like it every time you went to church you were hounded down by some national media person and asked about a high-profile figure in your church? As for Obama, it really is not fair that he is implicated with anything that goes on at the church.

    Look, it is quite clear that Obama does not share the ideas nor the behavior of Wright or Pfleger, any more than Jesus did the “gluttons and winebibbers” that he associated with. Please don’t make too much of the Jesus comparison — I am simply saying that it isn’t automatically sin to be involved with sinners.

    I can understand that Wright can raise suspicions about Obama. But such suspicions are only that, and if that’s all you’ve got on a man’s character when he (and everyone he knows) has been so thoroughly scrutinized by the media in the past 18 months, well, you ain’t got much.

  24. Even though the Mormon leaders who made racist comments are mostly dead, I still don’t see where the big difference is. Whether it was all “official” doctrine depends on how old you are. Take “Mormon Doctrine” by Bruce R. McConkie. It contained some very racist teachings and most (including myself, when I was a child) would read it and consider it to be exactly what it proclaimed to be: Mormon Doctrine.

    Just take Brigham Young as just one example. Anyone could easily label him as a racist. It’s up to you whether you want to call him that or not. Let’s assume that he was a racist. Do we then discount everything he ever said or taught because of his being a racist? Why do we have entire manuals dedicated to his teachings, which have selectively excluded teachings related to race or things like the Adam-God doctrine? I’m not saying whether it’s right or wrong to use such manuals, but how quickly we can overlook the racist rantings of our own people (meaning Church leaders) and yet not cut others the same slack. Either we cut them the same slack or we don’t cut anyone any slack when it comes to racism. Neither one is easy to do. It was mentioned that Wright performed Obama’s wedding, baptism, etc. How many Mormons would not jump at the opportunity to have Brigham Young, a prophet of God, perform their sealing ceremony (if he were still alive)? How many would decline because of his racist teachings?

  25. Not to entirely sidetrack the discussion, but how do you define character? It is really easy to say: “He agrees with me, so he must be good.” Most assessments of character are probably done after determining policy agreements (or disagreements) as a means of justifying the accepting (or rejecting) of a candidate.

    I liked Obama until he came out with a few policy statements that are deal breakers for me. I respect McCain, but don’t like half of his policies (especially on the economy). I have heard things about McCain’s divorce from his first wife that are very troubling. Other than that he has been a mostly admirable person.

    To me, character is a sum of the way you live your life – especially your interaction with your family (advantage Obama) – and the people you associate with (advantage McCain). Really, after all the stuff said so far, I view the question of character as a draw.

  26. I’m the one who has perhaps been sidetracked. I’ve been talking about what I consider to be “noble” and “wise” but I’ve forgotten to define character. To me, character being true to yourself, sort of like integrity, and having a strong personality, in this case for being a leader. Honestly, going on character alone, it’s at best a draw. I would perhaps give McCain the edge here mostly because of what he had to endure as a POW. To survive that and be as strong as he is today definitely takes strength of character. But when it comes to nobility and wisdom, I give Obama the nod mostly because of his foreign policy and open-minded approach to diplomacy. I generally like McCain as a person and I even like some of his policies. I just think that Obama will take the country in a better direction by pulling out of Iraq and hopefully finally giving Americans health care.

  27. Several responses:


    Your critique of my argument about populism is very valid. While Iraq is too big to address here, it is true that McCain folds to populist impulses when it comes to things like the gas tax, and he buys into the handout culture, like most Republicans, when he proposes endless tax cuts without bigger spending cuts. Thanks for catching me on that. And, I do believe this is a character issue. When politicians resort to populist ideas they usually know better, but they dishonestly push false solutions to gain votes.

    Faithful Dissident et. al.:

    1. I’m not against dialog with Iran. The Bush Admin has failed on that count. I am, however, against Presidential dialog without preconditions. Even Obama has backtracked on this; although, since he can’t use the word “preconditions” he says “preparations” instead. There is plenty of Cold War experience that says presidents talking with ridiculous dictators without preconditions is a bad idea. The dialog should be better – but it should be conducted by the state dept. More on this, of course, when Dennis gets us to foreign policy.

    2. When people talk about Obama’s ties to terrorists they’re not talking about Wright, as you assume. Wright is ridiculous but he’s not a terrorist. We’re thinking more about Farakhan, Ayers, etc.

    Tony Brown:

    I must add this: racist statements by LDS leaders are certainly not limited to the Journal of Discourses. They are abundant through the sermons of LDS top level leaders through the 1960s. Look up the racist views of Mark E. Peterson, Harold B Lee, and Joseph Fielding Smith for evidence. Due to the statements of these brethren, many Mormons still hold racist (though inaccurate) views about the pre-existence, etc. So, don’t pretend that racism in the Church is completely a thing of the past.

    My apologies, Dennis. I had to chime in off subject. But, in summary, my point to you is my main argument here. Populism is a matter of character in my mind. I believe Obama is more guilty of it than his opponent, but McCain is certainly not innocent.

  28. Ryan,

    I am, however, against Presidential dialog without preconditions. Even Obama has backtracked on this; although, since he can’t use the word “preconditions” he says “preparations” instead. There is plenty of Cold War experience that says presidents talking with ridiculous dictators without preconditions is a bad idea.

    I don’t want to get too off topic here, but I do think this is a character issue for Obama. The assumption is that — in his supposed backtracking — he either was naive before or that he is unreliable.

    I am completely open to being wrong here, but I don’t see Obama as backtracking at all. “Without precondition” means, to me, that the U.S. would not insist that there are major policy changes in the country before meeting. It certainly doesn’t mean “without preparation.” Nor does it mean “unconditionally” (a term McCain has used to caricature Obama’s position) as if Obama will meet any rogue leader at any time for any reason. McCain has been trying to say Obama is backtracking on this, and as far as I can tell, that is just ridiculous.

    I think that people (especially McCain) have been talking around each other on the crucial matters here. If Obama has stopped using the term “without preconditions” it is probably because it is a misleading term (which was never his term to begin with, it was the term of the questioner). The point is that Obama is not going to put an “embargo” on diplomacy with any leader. It certainly doesn’t mean that he is not going to meet under any condition. It certainly could mean that he will not meet with a certain leader because they will cooperate with us according to our own terms. Moreover, he never promised he would meet with these individuals in his first year. He simply said he was willing to. THAT is the key.

    Interestingly, for right or wrong, the American people are with Obama on this one, quite solidly. All the more reason that this “backtracking” business is nonsense.

    Really, to say Obama is backtracking on this is akin to saying McCain is backtracking on his 100 years in Iraq comment by clarifying that obviously he wasn’t talking about waging war for 100 years. Rather, he was suggesting that if we needed to be in Iraq, however minimally, for 100 years, so be it.

    Now to be fair, both Obama and McCain continue to caricature their opponents on these issues, but I think McCain is the more guilty one, in terms of sloppy reference and exaggerated vitriol.

    In addition, Obama could have saved himself a lot of trouble on this one by being more cautious and clear in his response in the CNN/YouTube debate. But I’ll let the person without sin (meaning the person who always says everything in detail when put on the spot with a tough question and who never has anything to add in hindsight) be the one to throw the first stone here.

  29. Ryan, I think you misunderstood my assumptions about Obama’s ties to Wright. I’ve never considered Wright to be a terrorist, bur rather just plain racist and “ridiculous,” as you stated. It’s strange, actually, that the media harped on the Wright issue so much and yet in comparison so little is said about Ayers. I watch a lot of CNN and I can’t even remember it coming up a single time.


    I have made a tentative schedule for the Obama vs. McCain 2008 forums. Click here.

    Anything you think is missing, or any suggestions you have? Email me at thinkinginamarrowbone AT gmail DOT com. The schedule is simply a tentative framework right now; I am very open to fielding suggestions.

  31. One other important character indication for Obama is his abortion history. Now, I don’t think someone’s stance on abortion should be used to make moral judgments on them. It’s a political decision. But Obama is slightly different.

    While serving in the Chicago Senate, Obama came out in support of allowing babies to be killed after birth. While the abortion debate usually centers on the time when life begins, after a baby is born, it is a life. This is murder, and it’s really disturbing. This isn’t abortion.

  32. Ryan,

    I will save a response to Obama and abortion for the Abortion forum. For now, I will simply say that what you are describing is misleading. The way you state things could mislead someone to thinking that Obama is in support of any parent killing a baby right after they are born, which is totally false. I will say, though, that what you are referring to is where I disagree the most with Obama — and, yes, it is disturbing. However, I will argue in the abortion forum why (a) it is a huge mistake for this to be a deal breaker, (b) it probably speaks less to Obama’s character than one might think, and (c) Obama is the better of the two candidates when it comes to reducing the awful evil of abortion.

    But I’d prefer not to go into it now further because it requires too much abortion background information.

  33. This deserves discussion in a treatment of character. From the Washington Post:

    Obama strongly criticized the Supreme Court decision upholding the partial-birth ban. In the Illinois state Senate, he opposed a bill similar to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which prevents the killing of infants mistakenly left alive by abortion. And now Obama has oddly claimed that he would not want his daughters to be “punished with a baby” because of a crisis pregnancy — hardly a welcoming attitude toward new life.

    [Opposition to] The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act was shot down in the Senate by the likes of Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton – certainly not softies when it comes to abortion rights. This was a very disturbing piece of legislation. Obama didn’t want to offend his liberal constituency. I’m not a far-right pro-life litmus tester – indeed, I think the Right approaches this issue completely wrong – but this kind of stuff should turn on warning lights; this guy is willing to let living babies be killed because of a botched abortion. Wouldn’t want to punish anyone with a baby. It’s disgusting.

    [Unrelated information deleted.]

    Babies aren’t punishments; they can be prevented with contraception or adoption.

    [Unrelated information deleted.]

  34. I don’t want this thread to turn into a discussion on abortion.

    As for Ryan’s comment, I’ll respond in the Abortion forum.

    Any other comments on abortion I am saving until the Abortion forum and I will post it there. So if your comment didn’t show up, that’s why.

    I will say one word pertaining to Obama’s character, regarding the “punished with a baby” comment. I don’t agree with Obama’s language here, nor what it might reflect. However, I think that Ryan *might* be overblowing things. Obama certainly wasn’t saying that babies are inherent punishments. Unfortunately, we live in a very messed up world, and the truth is that when a baby is unwanted and/or a mother is unprepared to take care of him/her, combined with a father who is out of the picture, going through a pregnancy sure can seem like a “punishment,” even if it is given up for adoption. Probably “ordeal” is a better word. That doesn’t mean it is nothing more than that, though. I see Obama’s comment as reflecting a poor way of expressing a fairly standard pro-choice position, which I disagree with. I think it does reflect on Obama’s character — but I’m unsure exactly how and to what extent.

    Although I am pro-life, I don’t see whether someone is pro-choice as that big of a character issue. I do think it is one, but one of the big problems with all of this is that the two sides have been so polarized that often more extreme positions are taken on each side. To Obama’s credit, he has expressed much more openness to working with those of both sides in this issue — as well as stating that abortion is a moral decision. This is more than many more moderate voting pro-choice politicians will say. A lot of the debate on abortion would be considerably less important, if only both sides of the aisle would work together. But more on that later.

  35. The “unrelated rant” was about the connection between Obama’s abortion history and character, which is what I thought this post was about.

  36. In fact, the “rant” did not contain profanity or personal attacks on you. It was relevant. If you are that afraid of the information, perhaps you should reconsider your support for the candidate. I’m fine with censorship if the material really is irrelevant, or the comments are profane or inappropriate. Censorship because the comments reflect a real flaw in your views is ridiculous.

  37. Ryan,

    First of all, the idea that I censored your comments because they reflect a flaw in my views is false. I welcome you to post the information related to your one paragraph when we talk about bipartisanship — that was what it was about, and, from my judgment, completely unrelated to the question of character. I don’t even particularly have a problem with someone getting a little off topic, but I saw it as an opportunistic dig at Obama in a way that was both over the top and unrelated (though the point that you were making is an important one). I deleted it because I didn’t want a long, heated discussion to get started on it because I felt it was a discussion for another day.

    In fact, Ryan, I think the point you brought up is extremely important. And I actually agree with you more than you might think. This is going to be a very important issue — you can bet the GOP is going to make fodder out of it, and what Obama does with it will speak volumes — to me and others. But I didn’t want to get in on it with you (and others) now because I think it is SO important that we wouldn’t give it the attention it deserves. So please bring this point up later. I will if you don’t. (I actually moved up the Bipartisanship forum to the week after next.) I probably should have better reflected this in my editorial — I focused more on the “rant” nature of what you were saying than the content. I apologize. I edited my remarks.

    The other information that was deleted didn’t substantively add to what you were saying at all (so I hardly was trying to hide anything), and I saw it as an unnecessary dig at me. You said something like, “let’s see how you try to explain this away” (apparently to me) — your comment assumes that I will try to explain it away, which is false and which reflects some of the bad faith that I’m trying to steer away from on this forum. (I think there was something else, but I can’t remember.) I would have done the same thing if it was towards anyone else, not just me. (In fact, I probably would have been more likely to.)

  38. While character isn’t THE most important factor in deciding who one should vote for, it is still important since our president is also our head of state and represents the US to the world. Here are my thoughts on the character of our two candidates:

    1.) Obama recently withdrew from the Catholic parish in which he has been a member for two decades because it the preachers made comments that were inappropriate and made him look bad. Now, while I cannot see a general authority going out and saying something completely ridiculous that would have made Romney look bad, he probably wouldn’t have left the church if it had happened. Obama seems like a pleaser to me. He’ll do whatever it takes to make people happy. I really wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be a completely different person as soon as he got into office.
    2.) On the other hand, McCain has temper issues which is a several character flaw. Allowing ones temper to get the better of you opens up irrational logic and quick judgments, two things that should never be used at the same time! Especially in our time of war, I would be weary putting someone with such an infamous temper behind the trigger of our military.

    All in all, I think both of the candidates are average when it comes to personal character. I don’t think I’d really put either of them up on a pedestal of a great example of character. I don’t get any creepy feeling when I look at them (but I agree with Rutkowskilives, Huckabee gave me the heebie jeebies), but I don’t feel very inspired by either as well. I think, unfortunately, that this election has become a “who is the lesser evil” type of things and I just have to take my time and figure out which is is closer overall to my ideals. Kind of sad…

  39. Marcus,

    Obama recently withdrew from his Protestant church, not Catholic. There was a Catholic minister (Pfleger) who spoke there recently, however.

    I don’t see Obama’s leaving his church as him being a people pleaser. Were that the case, he would have left earlier. Also, there is a difference between whether Romney leaves the LDS Church and whether Obama leaves his local church. If Obama left the Church (capital C), then your analogy might hold up.

  40. My understanding that other faith’s parishes and divisions don’t work the way LDS ward boundaries do. In LDS faith your geography dictates what ward you attend regardless of whether you like or even agree with the members of the ward. Many other faiths and people tend to “shop around” depending on what community they feel the most a part of, the teachings that resonate best with them, and which leaders they’re willing to pay for their services.

    I’d be interested in knowing more about Obama’s motivation to “leave” the church he’s been attending for twenty years. (I use quotation marks because in LDS language “to leave the church” is such a harsh phrase.) I’d hope there would be more history behind the decision than just a few remarks he didn’t appreciate.

  41. So much for McCain taking a high ground.

    McCain Internet ads are all over the place that show a picture of Ahmadinejad and Obama, with the caption, “Is it OK to Unconditionally Meet With Anti-American Foreign Leaders?” There are then two buttons: Yes and No. There is also a tiny box that says “Paid for John McCain 2008.”

    Both buttons take you to the same place: a site where you can sign up in order to “Elect a Leader With Good Judgment.”

    Yes, this is an official John McCain ad.

    This ad speaks poorly of McCain’s character in a number of respects. First, this is an attack ad — it sensationalizes the issue and says absolutely nothing about McCain. Second, it is blatantly false. As I discussed in a comment above, there is a HUGE difference between “unconditionally” and “without preconditions.” It is so irresponsible that McCain continues to use that term. He is either stupid or deceptive. I really hope that Obama calls him on the carpet for this one. Third, the whole quasi-poll is silly, tacky, and condescending — is there no difference between our presidential candidates and second-tiered Internet vendors?

    Of course, if McCain were to use accurate language, I suspect that his poll (if it were a scientific one) would end up as “Yes” being the more popular answer. It’s hard to have “straight talk” when your view is less popular, I suppose.

  42. Juan Cole writes in the Informed Comment blog today about Senator McCain:

    First, he sang ‘bomb, bomb, bomb/ bomb, bomb Iran’ to the tune of the Beach Boys’ ‘Barbara Ann.’ …

    Now, on being told that Iran has increased its importation of American cigarettes, he quipped “Maybe that’s a way of killing them.”

    … Coming on top of his ditty about bombing them, I come away with an increasingly sick feeling in my stomach that the man is a sadist who enjoys the idea of killing people.

    …People being killed is not funny.

    …for all the propaganda to the contrary, neither Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei nor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has talked about killing Israelis as opposed to causing the regime in Jerusalem to collapse. Can you imagine the outcry if they joked about doing it?

  43. I was impressed by this brief piece in the NY Times over the weekend reporting an Obama fundraiser at which his friend Bernie Mac provided the entertainment. Bernie made some jokes of extremely questionable taste, after which Obama got up and called him out on it.

    I had to admit I was really impressed by that. I think it takes strong character to chastise your friends in public (however lightly he did it), particularly in their presence. If nothing else, it ensures that future Obama-hosted events will be family friendly.

  44. In what might be his most controversial attack ad in a campaign dominated by them, presumptive G.O.P. presidential nominee John McCain today launched a new TV spot attacking Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill)’s two children.

    According to political insiders, a negative ad targeting a rival’s offspring is highly unorthodox, especially when the children in question are under the age of ten.

    But after the two Obama kids scored in their performance on national television last night at the Democratic convention, “we had to do something to give the American people some straight talk on those two brats,” Sen. McCain said today.

    See http://www.borowitzreport.com/article.aspx?ID=6927

    I used to respect Senator McCain. In 2000 I donated to his campaign. I used to think he might be presidential.

    You could also file this under family values.

  45. Ha ha, Leo, very funny …

  46. Dennis. Yes, it wassatire. But the negative and personal tone of the campaign is real and troubling, family fist bumps and all. And I really did once support McCain. I wonder if McCain might have actually prevent 9-11 by taking more notice of the intelligence warnings. And I really did think McCain was presidential, and I am not so sure now. He seems impulsive. File that last under Vice Presidential selection.

  47. Now would be a good time for Obama supporters to give up the fairy tale. While McCain has been harshly criticized for his dishonest campaign ads, Obama supporters have pretended that Obama is above such things. After all, his campaign is built upon his promises to bring a new kind of politics, and for those who doubt that such a thing is possible in the American political system – those who say “no you can’t get elected without playing the mud” – Obama and his disciples say “YES WE CAN!!!!!”

    Well, as it turns out, NO YOU CAN’T – or, at least, Obama can’t. Reports the NY Times:

    Yet as Mr. McCain’s misleading advertisements became fodder on shows like “The View” and “Saturday Night Live,” Mr. Obama began his own run of advertisements on radio and television that have matched the dubious nature of Mr. McCain’s more questionable spots.

    Most of us saw this coming. Obama claims and promises are just too big and too arrogant to be possible for any politician.

    Just a very few examples of Obama’s dishonesty can be found at factcheck.org.

    Most Obama people will respond that McCain started it, McCain is worse, McCain is a Karl Rove politician. Yes, everyone recognizes that McCain has campaigned dirty. But what I am asking Obama supporters to do is recognize that Obama is no different, and that much of the premise of his campaign about new politics has been FALSE.

  48. I just wanted to share a cool story about Obama that was in the news in Norway this weekend. I thought that it fit best into the “character” category because it says something about who he is/was outside in the real world. I’m including the link, but it’s in Norwegian, so here’s a quick translation”

    In 1988, American Mary Menth Andersen was 31 and had just married a Norwegian, Dag Andersen. She was looking forward to moving to Åsgårdsstrand in Vestfold, Norway, but first she had to move all her belongings to Norway. At Miami airport, 2 November 1988, there were long line-ups at the check-in counter and she was informed that she had to pay $103 in overweight baggage fees. She didn’t have the money, her husband was already in Norway, and there was no one she could call. She said she started to think about what she would have to part with, but it was difficult because it was all she owned. She started to cry, and suddenly she heard a friendly voice behind her that said, “I’ll pay for her.”

    She was overjoyed to be able to take all her belongings with her to Norway and she assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a slip of paper, “Barack Obama,” and an address in Kansas. (At that time, Obama was 27 years old.)

    Mary refers to him as her “knight in shining armour,” and the loan was repaid the day after she arrived in Norway. She says she has already voted for Obama and donated $100 to his campaign.


    I thought this was a cool story that gives a glimpse of Obama’s character outside of politics, long before he got famous. I’m sure that $103 was a lot of money for most 27 year-olds back in 1988 and he took the chance of never being paid back. Not everyone would have taken such a chance on a stranger.

  49. […] on the presidential election. We have had many great discussions on a range of topics, such as character, Iraq, the economy, abortion, relationship with LDS Church, health care, faith and family values, […]

  50. We now in Obama’s second year and he has taken over banks, private companies and spent your tax money faster than any president before him, his job approval rating has fell to an all time low. My question is are you happy now that he won the election and now showing how weak he is on terrorist, unemployment is at it highest and he is forcing government ran heath care down your throats! I did,t like McCain but he would have been a better president than Barack Obama! What do you say now 365 days later?

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