A New Kind of Politics? Or the Same Old “Religion?”

Barack Obama’s acceptance speech was historic, forthright, even “specific” at points. And as expected, it exhibited his rhetorical gifts, echoing the cadences of MLK’s preaching.

That said, what purports to be a “new kind of politics” sure sounds pretty familiar. In particular, the following stood out to me:

  • Though Hillary didn’t get the nomination, and despite all the blather that this is no longer the party of the Clintons, surely the fact that a big promise of tax cuts was central to his speech is a clear sign that this is a post-Clinton Democratic party which amounts to little more than Republican Lite. Coupled with a focus on family prosperity and an (albeit tempered) reliance on “the market,” this continues to show that what passes for “the left” in this country is almost laughable.
  • More significantly, despite all the talk of newness and change, the rhetoric and religion of Americanism still sounds the same from where I sit. In language that could have just as easily appeared in Bush’s second inaugural or the National Security Strategy of the Bush administration, Obama promised to “restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace and who yearn for a better future.” And immediately following this, he ramps it up a notch, associating America with the proverbial “ultimate sacrifice,” spilling blood for the flag:

    I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.

    So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

    Ah, yes, that last point recalls something I noted two years ago in Obama’s widely praised “Call to Renewal” speech: that Obama exhibits the same sort of politics as Jim Wallis who, at the end of the day, claims the religion must be “disciplined” by democracy. To put the question starkly: Can any Christian really say that they put their “country” first? Both Republican-speak and Democrat-speak remain committed to the god of Americanism.

  • Finally, Obama’s speech draws on the borrowed capital of Scripture in exactly the same way as the Religious Right: it invokes powerful, symbolic language of Scripture which refers to the church and transposes it to the United States of America. For instance: the speech closed with a veritable benediction: “Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.” The allusion is to Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised if faithful.” The context makes it clear that this is the church‘s hope in Christ, but here Obama idolatrously transposes that to the “American promise.” This is a “new kind of politics?” Sounds like the same old sort of civil religion we’ve heard from the Religious Right for years–the same (idolatrous) civil religion of Americanism.