Monday, August 18, 2008

It Depends On What The Meaning of the Word 'Defeat' Is

I'm a recent college grad and don't yet own a TV. It's times like this past weekend, when Michael Phelps won his 8th gold medal and when Pastor Rick Warren interviewed Senator Obama and Senator McCain, that I remind myself to get my lazy butt to Best Buy.

I'll leave Phelps to another blog. But really, while my feelings about McCain are different, they're just as strong. Especially after Saturday.

San Jose-born Rick Warren is the author of the best-selling book "The Purpose-Driven Life" and is an evangelical pastor of a Lake Forest, CA megachurch. His demeanor is a far cry from Jerry Falwell or other Bible-thumpers – he's direct and firm about his beliefs but has a truly compassionate, down-to-earth approach. He asked the candidates great questions and I really appreciated his openness and hospitality to both Obama and McCain.

One thing that's good about not having a TV is you're forced to scour the web for transcripts and video clips. It really gave me a feel for what the candidates were actually saying as opposed to wincing whenever they stuttered or listening to the TV pundits' takes. I was struck with the differences in the candidates' responses in answer to Warren's question about evil in the world, and I wanted to quote their answers in full here. I promise the difference is striking and it's worth reading.

The question from Rick Warren: was "Does evil exist, and if it does, do we ignore it, do we negotiate with it, do we contain it or do we defeat it?"

Here's Obama's response:

Obama: "Evil does exist. I mean, we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil sadly on the streets of our cities. We see evil in parents who have viciously abused their children and I think it has to be confronted. It has to be confronted squarely and one of the things that I strongly believe is that, you know, we are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world. That is God's task. But we can be soldiers in that process and we can confront it when we see it.

"Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for us to have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil, but you know a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil."

 Rick Warren: "In the name of Good?"

 Obama: "In the name of Good. And I think one thing that's very important is having some humility in recognizing that, you know, just because we think our intentions are good doesn't always mean that we're doing to be doing good."

Now check out McCain's answer:

McCain: "Defeat it. Couple points, one, if I'm president of the United States, my friends, if I have to follow him to the gates of Hell, I will get Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice. I will do that and I know how to do that. I will get that done. No one should be allowed to take thousands of American – innocent American lives. Of course Evil must be defeated.

"My friends, we are facing the transcendent challenge of the 21st century – radical Islamic extremists. Not long ago in Baghdad, Al-Qaeda took two young women who were mentally disabled and put suicide vests on them, sent them into a marketplace and by remote control, detonated those suicide vests. If that isn't evil, you have to tell me what is and we're going to defeat this evil and the central battleground according to David Petraeus and Osama bin Laden is the battles – is Baghdad, Mosul and Iraq and we are winning and we are succeeding and our troops will come home with honor and victory and not in defeat and that's what's happening. We have – and we face this threat throughout the world. It's not just in Iraq. It's not just in Afghanistan. Our intelligence people tell us Al-Qaeda continues to try to establish cells here in the United States of America. My friends, we must face this challenge. We can face this challenge and we must totally defeat it and we're in a long struggle, but when I'm around the young men and women who are serving this nation in uniform, I have no doubt, none."

Some might say that Obama's answer is nuanced, that yes, America could use some humility in international affairs. But I don't like his use of the word "humility." Oblique Obama is suggesting that going into Iraq wasn't just a strategic or intelligence mistake, but an example of American arrogance. Now we may have been over-confident in the post-Iraq war situation – I'm with Obama on that, if that's what he means. But should we be humble and more soft-spoken or just smarter when we confront the bad guys?

McCain wasn't suggesting that defeating evil means ridding the world of it for all time, which is how Obama chose to see it. McCain riffed on the idea that our duty as Americans is to defeat those explosions of evil that crop up in our time. There will be more, and yeah, God will have to ultimately beat evil and death, but Obama could not just come out and say we should defeat evil at this moment in history.

But the worst was when Obama implied that we – i.e. America – sometimes do evil in the name of good. He didn't get specific here and stayed in the safe realm of philosophy, but he seems to have equated America's invasion of Iraq with that "evil in Darfur," as well as with abusive parents and street criminals. Huh? 

You might have thought that McCain's response sounded a lot like the cowboy-ish "smoke-'em-out-of-their-holes" George Bush. I think McCain isn't a cowboy like Bush, but I'll argue about that on another day. At the very least, in Saturday's interview McCain was straightforward and clear about his goals and America's self-image. Obama kept it vague in order to stay above our heads and insert whatever assumptions we can gather about what he meant.



Ferny for McCain at Stanford said...

The most honest journalists conceded that John McCain emerged as the winner of the forum. What is really shameful is that some still trying to downplayed McCain's strong performance and "rationalize" Obama's lackluster showing.

Smart-Cookie said...

Katie - you completely hit the nail on the head. Lol ... may I recommend that when you get a tv, you keep it turned off most of the time! :-) Well, that's what I do - literally. It's been a good decision for me.

And your take on the whole thing is spot on, IMO. You said, "McCain riffed on the idea that our duty as Americans is to defeat those explosions of evil that crop up in our time." ... I could not agree with you more about the importance of that quality in McCain.

And I think you summed it up perfectly in your last two sentences. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

Earl said...

Don't get the TV, dude!! It's 'way too addictive. You will live better without it -- my wife and I both grew up without TV, and raised our kids without, as well. We all READ a whole lot more than we would if that TV was there - not to mention the money we save!

Anyhow, I agree with Obama about evil being within every human being. Somehow, though, I don't think he had welfare in mind when he talked about doing evil when we intend good....nor Social Security and Medicare, neither. Why am I nagged with the thought that all of his examples, had he been asked, would have been about George Bush and other Republicans.....?

And when the phone rings at 3 a.m., PLEASE G*d, give me McCain to answer it - we need a leader, not a philosophizer-in-chief!

Afrolistic said...

Get the TV...but for DVDs and Video Games. I stopped my satellite service 2 years ago. Now the only time I watch a TV show is at the Gym and I'm better off for it.

Excellent post though. Good contrast of the points of view on a serious topic. Obama is a classic left wing radical who believes that morality is relative. That could easily be inferred from his comments and his refusal to be specific. And while it is true that evil can exist in many forms, the form that scares me the most is the one with Ahmedinijad or AlQaeda posessing the ability to kill millions. (And also Skeletor. He's always creeped me out)

No such relativism from McCain. He correctly identified a very serious form of Evil and came up with the right action plan to deal with it.

suek said...

For the tv....check out "Freecycle" and join a group in your area. Get the individual emails and check them regularly - if something comes up that's a "goodie", it goes _really_ fast.

On the humility seems to me that he's saying "we have to be humble and recognize that we may not know the difference between good and evil...". Wow. So if you don't _know_ if something is good or evil, how do you do _anything_?

How does he _define_ what is good and what is evil??

Mike said...

I agree with the analysis in Katie's last two sentences, but not with the conclusions drawn.

Yes - McCain's answer is much more straightforward and specific; Obama's is vague, does not communicate his vision for America, and more importantly does not answer the question of whether he would defeat evil or contain it. However, he implies that he would not try to defeat it, which I think is the more practical answer.

I personally prefer Senator Obama's response. Evil does exist in many forms, and we shouldn't be under any misconceptions that Al-Qaeda is all that is wrong with the world. How about all of the other forms of evil that we have to live with in modern American society - the ones that actually affect everyone on a day to day basis? Why don't we identify, acknowledge, and do something about them?

McCain's answer, in my reading, is more of the same neoconservative warmongering rubbish we've heard for a long time. It is designed to brainwash Americans into believing the propaganda that McCain and friends will spit out the next time their hubris gets the better of them.

Obama must be applauded for one other element of his answer. He actually has the balls to call out the effects of some American policies for what they are. America does sometimes do evil in the name of good. American meddling, especially in the Middle East - whether via shoving democracy down the throats of people who don't want it, propping up Western friendly dictators, starting wars, betraying minorities, or whatever - has caused the suffering and death of more people than have ever been killed by Al-Qaeda.

Bottom line is this - anyone who thinks that the sort of evil described by John McCain is going to be destroyed on the battlefields of Iraq or by bringing Osama bin Laden to justice has a severly distorted perception of the nature of the conflict. With that approach, we will continue to ignore the lessons of the history that we write with the blood of innocent people.

Anonymous said...

Mike's comment is off the mark for me. I wish someone would publicly ask Obama just what act of evil has America committed in the 20th or 21st century? We have made mistakes, but acts of evil?