Obama — Philosopher in Chief

I’ve been traveling, so I missed the Saddleback conversation with the candidates.  Nevertheless, through emails and Mike Devx’s comments, I’ve become aware of the question Rick Warren posed to the two candidates about evil.  Here’s the transcript:

REV. WARREN: Okay, we’ve got one last — I’ve got a bunch more, but let me just ask you one about evil. Does evil exist? And if it does, do we ignore it, do we negotiate with it, do we contain it, do we defeat it?

SEN. OBAMA: Evil does exist. I mean, I think 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 viciously abuse 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 because, you know, a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.

REV. WARREN: In the name of good.

SEN. OBAMA: In the name of good.

REV. WARREN: Yeah, okay.

SEN. OBAMA: And I think, you know, 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 going to be doing good.


REV. WARREN: All right. How about the issue of evil? I asked this of your rival in the previous thing. Does evil exist? And, if so, should we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it, or defeat it?

SEN. MCCAIN: Defeat it. (Applause.) A couple of 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. (Applause.) I will do that, and I know how to do it. I will get that guy. (Applause.) No one, 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 extremism. 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. (Applause.)

And we’re going to defeat this evil. And the central battleground, according to David Petraeus and Osama bin Laden, is the battle — is Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and Iraq. And we are winning and we are succeeding, and our troops will come home with honor and with victory, and not in defeat. And that’s what’s happening. (Applause.) And 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 us in uniform, I have no doubt — none. (Applause.)

Others have commented on the fact that Obama obliquely castigated the United States with his comment about how “we” have done evil in the name of good.  As it happens, that true.  Few people set out to do evil, and most people can convince themselves that they’re not doing something evil.  It helps if you have fixed moral principles, because then you can look beyond your own selfish desires to a “greater good,” but you can still make mistakes.

The problem with Obama’s approach, however, is that it’s one that leads to complete paralysis.  If you’re always afraid of yourself, and of your own motives, you’ll do nothing at all.  Obama’s approach is also a purely philosophical one.  He has no real enemies in mind — and, indeed, the only one he could think of, while evil, has nothing to do with the US — he has no solutions in mind, and he’s scared of himself.

McCain could not stand in starker contrast.  His response was as concrete as Obama’s was philosophical:  he identified an entity that is evil and that is a distinct threat to America, and he talked about what America needs to do to confront this evil.  So concrete was he in contrast to Obama’s high flown philosophies that some stalwart members of the MSM instantly leapt to his defense and accused McCain of cheating.  After all, how could McCain have had so many details at his fingertips without cheating?

Mitchell misses something fundamentally different between the two men, and it’s something that is very important to keep in mind when considering the office to which they aspire.  McCain is a do-er.  He sees problems, he analyzes the data, and he comes up with a plan for dealing with it.  Obama sees big, existential issues.  He debates with himself if anything really matters.  He deconstructs meaning.  Everything is a debate; few things are a solution.

If Obama were running for the office of Philosopher in Chief, he’d probably be an excellent candidate.  He’d lead the nation through deep philosphical talks about the meaning of good and evil, with sideline discourses into which nations, at any given second, can lay claim to the titles of most good or most evil.

But the office at issue is the Executive Office, with the office holder taking on the alternate title of Commander in Chief.  Do we really want a philosophical waffler in that office, or does it make more sense in a chief executive/commander to have someone who deals in pragmatic realities, and who is firmly on our side?

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  • suek

    This was true on the “when does life begin” question. Obama diverted it to “considering this theologically … it’s a decision above my pay grade”. Except he’s running for the office of the president. The theological relevance doesn’t really matter except on a personal moral basis, and his “pay grade” would really be the only one that counted. Laws aren’t made on the basis of theology, but they still have to be made.

    Truth be told, he just wanted to dodge the question.

  • David Foster

    The CEO of John Deere (I think it was) made some intelligent remarks about decison-making…something about the need to wrestle with all the ambiguities and come out the other side with a clean decision. What so many intellectuals (and intellectual-courting politicians) fail to understand is the “come out the other side” part. A leader needs to understand the nuances, but when it is time to make a real-world decision, the shades of gray must be resolved into primary colors.

    Relevant thoughts from Arthur Koester.

  • http://thoughtyoudneverask.blogspot.com/ zabrina

    Theoretically speaking, Obama was right. In many cases, evil is done when well-meaning people purport or attempt to do good. Two cases that come to mind are instituting busing in public school districts, when the primary good of educating the nation’s children effectively became a secondary goal to righting racial wrongs. The intent was a worthy one in itself, but the means and the results were debatable, and it is now clear that public schools are more a tool of the failed and still failing social engineers in government trying to right wrongs ineffectively than they are an effective tool to educate children well. Same with LBJ’s “Great Society” welfare programs. A great evil has been imposed on blacks in particular, with the resulting tragic intergenerational smash-up of the family structure. And the door is yet open wider to more and more government meddling, regulations, and central control in the name of doing good, which results in doing evil indeed. There seems to be no accountability for success in pushing such failed do-good policies on people, and no consequences to the politicians for the damage they cause.

    The irony is, for all his philosophical musing and warnings about humility, Obama is quite willing to head and to hold more government power and require more taxpayer money to do more well-intended evil to American society in such areas as “universal healthcare,” his energy transformation vision thing, “healing the earth,” etc. A pox on him for a twofaced hypocrit. Others do evil in the name of doing good but HE can tell the difference and has the big government solutions. Bah.

    If you get a chance, Bookworm, watch the Saddleback debate. The contrast between the two candidates on the screen (beyond the words of the transcript) was so graphic it made me decide to actually help the McCain campaign in my own locale. There may be areas in which I vehemently disagree with John McCain, but on Saturday night I saw him deliver many answers I was surprised and pleased with, and Obama’s performance confirmed my conviction that he is thoroughly unqualified to be President.

  • Tiresias

    What comes across to me most clearly in this whole thing – not just Saddleback but the entire campaign, (and events like Saddleback just underline and star it) – is how immature Obama is, how incomplete the life he’s led is, and how clear it has become that he’s been nowhere, done nothing, experienced nothing, and thought nothing for himself. All he’s been is a vessel into which such as Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers, et al have poured their own ideas, and he simply regurgitates them. (Which is why his voting record [such as it is] is often so insanely contradictory with what he says.)

    I do not like John McCain. I am in fundamental disagreement with John McCain on, probably, most issues. I think you can take this “reaching across the aisle” crap by which he’s lived his life and stick it where the sun will never penetrate (so to speak). BUT – watching these two at Saddleback it very quickly became plainly apparent that this conversation could not be other than unfair. Unfair because it was taking place between a finished, accomplished, experienced adult; and a child. McCain came across as, looked like, spoke like, and acted like what used (quaintly) to be known as a “man.” Obama? A child. Not an accomplishment in sight. No experience. No core beliefs or positions. Nothing.

    THAT’S what Barry likes to call the “fundamental difference” between himself and McCain: one’s an adult human being: the other isn’t.

    Byron York at National Review was able to invest a quarter in a phone call to Rick Warren and find out that if in fact there was an advantage in the deal, it went to the child, not the adult. (As is proper in our treatment of children.) That Andrea Mitchell either was not able to drop a quarter, or (more likely) that it never occurred to her to do so is simply reflective of what a joke she is as she masquerades as a “reporter.”

  • 11B40


    Back in the last ’80s, I was managing a printing plant for the Federal government. The part of my job that I liked least was the employee evaluations. My take was that I didn’t need such a time-consuming process to separate the producers from the non-producers. Needless to say, my intelligence did nothing to endear me to the folks over in the personnel management office.

    One of the ways I came up with to make them a little bit nuts was an evaluation criterion that I called “consumption of supervision.” By this, I told them, that all things being equal, an employee, who had only to be told once to do something, was superior to an employee that had to be reminded what needed to be done. As I had a limited amount of time not only to supervise my employees but also to accomplish my other responsibilities, this had real meaning and value.

    The personnel folks went their version of ballistic and tried using all their skills and wiles to prevent my implementation of the criterion. However, having grown up watching Fess Parker as Davy Crockett and remembering well his repeated admonition to “be sure you’re right, then go ahead,” I persisted and eventually was able to unemploy several of our non-producers.

    In a similar vein, if I were supervising Senator Obama, one of my evaluation criteria would be “propensity to bamboozle.” I remember a couple of months back, I think during the South Carolina primary, seeing the good Senator on TV warning the local people, that his opponents were going to try to bamboozle them. This immediately set off my “pot/kettle” alarm as the senator seem to be enjoying himself way too much.

    As the pressures of the campaign increase and the media and punditry begin to close in on him, keep a weather-eye out for this pattern of behavior. Whenever the walls start closing in on him, you’ll see Senator Obama reach for his favorite security blanket of bamboozlement and wrap himself up in it. And please, don’t be afraid to evaluate him as he deserves.

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Jonah Goldberg posted on The Corner, defending (sort of) Obama’s response to this question about evil. Here is the link:
    He thinks Obama DID have a specific target in mind during this answer, but it was the U.S., and his political instincts are still good enough that he knew THAT answer wasn’t going to earn him any votes, on balance.

    I think that’s about right – his first instinct seems to be a moral equivalence, at best….note what he came out with on Russia/Georgia. If he isn’t seeing both sides as equally bad, it’s the United States that comes out on the short end of Obama’s stick.

    McCain may not have been as “thoughtful” in his answer to this question, but when the excrement hits the fan, he’s the guy I want at the head of our military!

  • Mike Devx

    I second Earl’s:
    [Obama’s] first instinct seems to be a moral equivalence, at best….note what he came out with on Russia/Georgia. If he isn’t seeing both sides as equally bad, it’s the United States that comes out on the short end of Obama’s stick.
    Obama would a fantastic choice for us to appoint to the U.N. as a diplomat. NOT as the U.S. Ambassador – we continue to need John Bolton in that role! But perhaps as one of three advisors to the Ambassadorship.

    I’d like to think that would give Obama the real-world exposure he so desperately needs. Something outside of his Harvard and Chicago echo chambers, and the far-left childhood instruction/brainwashing he received. And by the way, that is my main concern about the schools he went to overseas and the far-leftism to be found at his mother’s knee. Not that he was raised as a Muslim, but exactly what kind of a viewpoint towards America did he receive when he was over there? Those are the formative years… what did he LEARN (sarcasm intended) about America?

    Obama has had forty-five years to get himself OUT of that endlessly repeating far-left echo-chamber, and he hasn’t done it yet. Perhaps he likes it in there too much to ever leave.

  • Danny Lemieux

    All this certainly helps to explain Obama’s many, many “present” votes on the all tough issues presented to the Illinois Senate. He just needed more time to debate with himself.

  • roylofquist

    One of the more perceptive expressions from my chosen career: “Paralysis by analysis”.

    The one that stuck with me from my first real job: “There are two kinds of bayonet fighters. The quick and the dead”.

    The bear has come out of hibernation. Thank God for John McCain.

  • Gringo

    In a sense, the Saddleback conversation was a job interview for the position of President.
    One of the classic job interview questions is, “Tell me about yourself.” The interviewer is not looking for an extended life history from the job candidate. Instead, the job candidate should relate to the interviewer what he/she has done that would show that he/she has the skills necessary for the job.

    “Tell me about yourself.”
    “I started out grilling hamburgers at McDonalds, and in a years’s time worked my way up to crew chief. I set schedules, trained new workers, and made sure that any dissatisfied customers left happy.” This is what the interviewer wants to hear. The interviewer doesn’t care about the job candidate’s favorite vacation spots or TV shows.

    McCain approached the question about evil as a job candidate. How does “evil” relate to the job of President? We have an evil opponent. Get at it. McCain dealt with this question in some detail, which showed that he wasn’t just repeating some stock phrase, but had pondered the issue. Whereas, Obama handled the question as if it dealt with his philosophy of life. As Book pointed out, we are not looking for a Philosopher-in-Chief, we are looking for a Commander-in-Chief.

    Mike: Are you aware that John Bolton is no longer UN Ambassador ? It was a recess appointment, because of filibustering on the part of the Democrats.

  • Mike Devx

    Hi Gringo, yes, I know John Bolton isn’t U.N. Ambassador. But during a McCain Presidency, we might very well see him back there. A bulldog among neurotic Chihuahuas.

  • Mike Devx

    Book says,
    “The problem with Obama’s approach, however, is that it’s one that leads to complete paralysis.”

    And Danny corroborates in #8
    “All this certainly helps to explain Obama’s many, many “present” votes on the all tough issues presented to the Illinois Senate.”

    I hadn’t really considered the possibility of paralysis for Obama. As Book and Danny both point out, it’s certainly been true in the past. But if he becomes President, is there any further reason for him to hide his true intentions? Remember, he’ll have a Democrat majority in the House and Senate, and no reason to equivocate on advancing the programs he REALLY believes in.

  • 1Lulu

    He did not identify the deeds of radical Islam as evil. He did not mention it at all.

    Child abuse, city streets (referring to what exactly?), and Darfur. We know Obama can’t stop child abuse, it’s a throw away line. But who, Mr. Obama, is committing the evil acts in Darfur? How will you nuance your way out of genocide?

  • suek

    >>I hadn’t really considered the possibility of paralysis for Obama.

    if he becomes President, is there any further reason for him to hide his true intentions?>>

    Two _really_ good statements. First, I think the analysis paralysis is the problem that Kerry also had…it’s a problem for any thinking person, but most practical people recognize that they _have_ to make a decision…


    statement two comes into play. Now Kerry, I think, just had the analysis paralysis. I _do_ think he was a Globalist, and way too charitable to socialists/communists, but I don’t think he actually _was_ one. He also didn’t have a lot of history to hide. But Obama…now this man was raised and in doctrinated by a communist believing mother, had as a close advisor an avowed and declared communist, and has associated himself with communists during his adult years. He has covered up or made unavailable information about his connections with these people – and when people cover up, they have to _know_ that there’s a reason why. So Obama, I think, definitely has an agenda that he recognizes that the populace will not accept if they see it. He wants to be the leader of a people who would not agree with his policies if they knew them. Can you say “Chavez”??? How far would Dems go to support him? I wonder.

    One of the things that I’ve found interesting is the reaction to the statement “you’re either with us or against us”. It drives many libs nuts. Why? at some point, you’d think they’d recognize that the voting handle has to be pulled…a decision must be made. But instead, they go on and on about “you right wingers want everything to be black and white, but there’s a lot of space inbetween”. True…there’s often lots to consider…but at some point, damn it, you _have_ to make a decision!!! If you won’t, there you are … nowhere! But I think that’s why they pick leaders like Kerry and Obama – because they feel good about _not_ making a decision about what’s good/bad, right/wrong. No decision and you can’t be wrong. You can tell the press that you “said that” last week or last month. And you probably did – don’t worry that you said the opposite the week or month before that…after all, you have to consider all sides! They’re scared silly about making a _wrong_ decision! They _can’t_ be wrong!!

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