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?