[Democratic National Convention] I guess it must just have been fate but today was an unusually religious day. It started with hanging around with some evangelical missionaries on a street corner along with about twenty cops armed to the teeth who were escorting some delegates somewhere. Then later on I had rambled to the convention center where an obligatory protester was waving a banner that said a "vote for Obama is a vote for dead babies." With a picture of Obama on one side and an aborted fetus on the other. One of those protests where the plan is to change people's minds by pissing them off. I'm sure it went well.
The image stuck with me though as I sat down for some panel discussion crafted by Josh Dubois a young up and comer in the Obama team who sits as Barack's chief Religious adviser and point person on his faith based initiative program.
The first panel was called "Common Ground on Common Good" sounds nice enough but I always wonder about more progressive faith paradigms. I believe in them but I just don't understand how they'll win over those so upset about the abortion issue.
Well the event started off with moderator Rev. Jim Wallis, evangelical activist and CEO of Sojourners, declaring that value issues were not confined to abortion and gay marriage but include Darfur, immigration, the environment and especially poverty. "My Bible has 2000 verses about [poverty] and that is at the heart of God's heart and that is at the heart of the common good," Wallis said.
So the panelists started going through how poverty, the minimum wage, immigration were all moral issues with scirptural referents. Then a speaker, former congressman and current faith advisor to the Obama campaign Tim Roemer (pictured) spoke about abortion. He spoke calmly and he even started with a wholesome joke about his daughter flubbing the Lord's prayer by finishing it saying "deliver us some eagles" instead of "deliver us from evil." And then he spoke about how Obama would break the gridlock of the abortion issue by a 95:10 program. Use education and prevention resources to prevent 95 percent of abortions in ten years. He was applauded warmly and sat down. Then Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite got up and also started talking about abortion.
The amazing thing is that while Brooks shared the same opinion of Roemer that prevention and strengthening programs like Wic and other resources was the way to go, Brooks came up to the podium with her claws out. It wasn't that she said anything so controversial except "I'm proud to be pro-choice" and "I believe women need lots of choices" but her defiant tone finally set someone off.
A few older men in frustration started shouting from the crowd "What choice did the child have?" And "So it's a convenience to murder a child?" Thistlewaite shot back saying "See this is what's called lacking a common ground." She also said as the men were hustled out of the room, "After we say goodbye to these gentleman I'll continue..."
And the old timers were bounced out of there. When Thistlewaite finished speaking the moderator Wallis said how frustrated he was by a dialogue of shouting. Most everyone there agreed, though to be fair the hecklers weren't the only shouters.
Somehow the whole scene encapsulated the democrats trouble on the issue. They were right, many issues should be considered values or religious issues, including the environment and poverty. But those issues get put on mute when the abortion vitriol starts making people's blood boil. The speaker immeditaly following the incident tried to talk about his church's role in helping ease prisoner's transition back into society. An important topic but one obscured by the tension leftover from the hecklers being kicked out.
I caught up with Roemer after the panel to ask what happened? Why did the same message from two people cause polite applause on the one hand and people getting kicked out on the other?
"What we have seen over the last thirty years is not just a couple people standing up to yell-- the entire political system has been gridlocked and frozen and unable to deal with this issue," Roemer says. "Republicans make this an issue where they win seats instead of reduce abortions.
Obama is talking about how do we break the gridlock and reduce the number of abortions? What conditions in society can be impacted to prevent number of abortions?" says Roemer mentioning better adoption tax breaks and strengthening the Women and Infant Childrens program.
"How do we get beyond the definition republicans have that life begins at conception and ends at birth?" Roemer asks.
Its a position that may have traction and have some oomph to it. But while the message may be effective the Obama camp better make sure they got the right messenger for it. (Eric S. Peterson)