Hillary and Obama in Small Town

April 17, 2008, 12:09 pm | Posted by

*Faith in Public Life planned and co-sponsored the Compassion Forum, a presidential forum at Messiah College in Pennsylvania in April 2008. Religious leaders posed questions on issues like poverty, climate change and Darfur to then-Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton knows exactly what Barack Obama is feeling as he struggles to contain his San Francisco faux pas. Her moment came during the 1992 campaign in an appearance on “60 Minutes” when she suddenly said: “I’m not sitting here as some little woman, ‘standing by my man’ like Tammy Wynette.”

Why she said that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that every Tammy Wynette cooking dinner in a mortgaged house for three kids and a working man in some small town rose up to say, “You’re not me, Hillary.”

So it came to pass last Saturday night, in what is surely the most preposterous photo-op in campaign history, Hillary Rodham Clinton of Wellesley and Yale was pounding down Crown Royal whisky from a shot glass at Bronko’s bar in Indiana. A friend emailed that if she really wanted to win Pennsylvania, she would have drunk some of the draft beer in her left hand, dropped the shot glass into the mug and slammed that back. But hey, her heart was in the right place.

For those of us who monitor the political currents to discern direction in the nation’s life, this was one of the biggest weeks in the campaign.

Remember the culture wars? This week the Democrats sued for peace.

On Friday evening, email queues lit up everywhere with people reacting to Barack Obama’s thoughts on life being nasty, bitter and short in small-town America. Time was not long ago that a Democratic candidate could have said such folk cling to guns and religion and are hostile to “diversity” with nary a peep from his party. Not now. Obama was repudiated. Crushed. Media analysis suggested the damage could last til November.

Before midnight, Hillary was paddling down Whiskey River with the boys at Bronko’s. Then on Sunday evening, the white flag really went up over the culture war’s battlefield.

Hillary and Obama were both at an event in Grantham, Pa., in Cumberland County. That’s south of Mechanicsburg and east of Boiling Springs. John Kerry took Pennsylvania by 2.5% in 2004, but Cumberland gave George Bush 64% of its vote. Hillary and Obama were appearing on a CNN event called the “Compassion Forum.” They were at a place called Messiah College. Connect the dots.

Campbell Brown to Sen. Clinton: “And you have actually felt the presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions. Share some of those occasions.”

Hillary Clinton: “I have had the experiences on many, many occasions where I felt like the Holy Spirit was there with me as I made a journey . . . You know, it could be walking in the woods. It could be watching a sunset.”

Hit rewind on the tape of history. It is 1992, the Republican Convention in Houston, at the Astrodome. This was the moment of arrival for the “Christian right.” Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush’s VP nominee, spoke to a huge throng of evangelicals about “family values.” Pat Buchanan delivered his “culture wars” speech. The press corps, for whom all this was alien ground, was openly hostile to the GOP.

Shelves bend beneath the weight of books analyzing the “war” between religiously oriented cultural conservatives and secular libs. “Piss Christ” and all that. Abortion. Robert Mapplethorpe’s erotic photographs banned in Cincinnati. Abortion. Gun control. Michael Moore mocking Charlton Heston. Hollywood’s endless Babylon. Home schoolers. Abortion.

Though vilified, these people wouldn’t go away. The exit polls for George W. Bush’s victory in 2004 revealed that the No. 1 issue for most voters was “moral values.” Liberal analysts furiously attacked Karl Rove for “exploiting” these sentiments.

But even Karl Rove couldn’t invent God, and God and faith were everywhere in Grantham Sunday evening.

Sen. Clinton: Faith “is everything that makes life and its purpose meaningful as a human being . . . We want religion to be in the public square. If you are a person of faith, you have a right and even an obligation to speak from that wellspring of your faith . . . Our obligation as leaders in America is to make sure that any conversation about religion is inclusive and respectful. And that has not always happened, as we know.”

Sen. Obama: “Religion is a bulwark . . . Somebody like myself whose entire trajectory, not just during this campaign, but long before, has been to talk about how Democrats need to get in church, reach out to evangelicals, link faith with the work that we do . . . There is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think that’s a mistake . . . A comprehensive approach where we focus on abstinence, where we are teaching the sacredness of sexuality to our children.”

Some bloodless analysts have said for several years that Democrats had to say this to win because, you know, a lot of people “go to church.” And yes, what candidates seeking votes say may be false, faked or fantastic. What remains is the fact that these two, in competition for votes, have conferred political legitimacy and respect on this swath of America.

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April 14, 2008, 4:44 pm | Posted by

The reviews are in and mainstream, conservative and progressive sources agree: The Compassion Forum, broadcast live internationally on CNN, signaled a dramatic shift in the national conversation about religion and politics. “Last night, the faith community made a profound statement about our values,” said Katie Barge, Director of Communications for Faith in Public Life, the organizer and co-sponsor of The Compassion Forum. “We simply cannot be pigeonholed into categories of left and right. Faith transcends ideological and religious divides. A new conversation about religion and politics has begun and it’s driven by compassion issues.” Religious leaders from across the faith and ideological spectrum were present at the Forum to ask Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to address poverty, global AIDS, abortion, climate change, genocide in Darfur, and torture. Their concerns reflected the new faith and values compassion agenda. CNN transcript available here.


Faith in Public Life is setting an agenda and it is doing so with a “Big Tent” philosophy of letting different religious Americans bring their concerns to the fore. Last night a theologically diverse group of pre-selected clergy asked questions about euthanasia, environmental concerns, poverty, AIDS, the relation between science and faith, and so on. In so doing, they broadened the issue palette pertaining to religious politicking considerably. This is where Faith in Public Life is making a major contribution to national discourse. All of this was done–note this–without castigating or excluding secular Americans.

Jacques Berlinerblau, Washington Post “On Faith,” 4/14/08

Political candidates’ fortunes aside, the forum likely served as a boon to both Faith in Public Life (FPL) and Messiah College. The former is a relatively new organization founded after the 2004 election that demonstrated that it can attract not just political candidates, but also religious leaders from a broad spectrum (in fact, evangelicals dominated the FPL-picked questions from the floor).

Christianity Today, 4/14/08

I think the other point, though, is not just how much the Democrats have changed, but how much the evangelicals in the audience, when you listen to the questions, have changed. Because there was abortion, but there were also questions on torture and the environment, which was a consistent theme, and HIV/AIDS and Africa and Darfur was mentioned. And I think you’ve seen a broadening of this social justice agenda among religious conservatives. That’s also an important point.

Michael Gerson, Former speechwriter for President Bush, CNN Post-Compassion Forum commentary, 4/13/08

Finally, (I know this is a long post) a quick shout out to Faith in Public Life, the group that put on this Compassion Forum. Kudos to Katie Barge and the gang over there who are really trying to start a new dialogue with Evangelicals across the spectrum. The group isn’t just trying to ram the progressive agenda down people’s throats. Conservative Evangelicals are fully welcome.

David Brody, Christian Broadcasting Network, 4/13/08

A phenomenal conversation, and it should not be the last time the Democrats begin to deal with this, because it certainly gave me a much better understanding of both candidates and their views on issues facing America.

Roland Martin, CNN Contributor, CNN Post-Compassion Forum commentary, 4/13/08

I do think it was a good night… I wish Senator McCain would have accepted the invitation to have come and been here also because this was a non-partisan event, and I wish he would have come. It would have been good to hear how he would have answered some of the same questions.

Dr. Frank Page, President, Southern Baptist Convention, CNN, Post-Compassion Forum, 4/13/08

Messiah College, a small Bible school in the Allegheny foothills south of Harrisburg, may not be everyone’s idea of a national trendsetter. But the school hopes to be remembered as the place where America’s religious politics began to change. Messiah was the host Sunday night of a “Compassion Forum” sponsored by a Washington interdenominational group called Faith in Public Life. … Organizers hope that the event, which opens the final full week before the critical Pennsylvania primary, will initiate a major reconsideration of the role that religion — particularly the social agenda of Christian churches — plays in presidential politics.

Hartford Courant, 4/14/08

The discussion represented a remarkable departure from the Democrats’ increasingly harsh tone of campaign rhetoric. Both candidates dropped biblical references and spoke of policy issues such as energy and health care in the context of their Christian faith.

Washington Post, 4/14/08

At Messiah College near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, both candidates were given ample time to answer questions from CNN hosts Campbell Brown and Joe Meacham, as well as various religious leaders in the audience… The forum was scheduled to move beyond “standard policy issues,” according to host Campbell Brown and the candidates tackled everything from personal religious experiences to abortion, euthanasia and international human rights.

Human Events, 4/14/08

The Forum was broadcast live on CNN, CNN International and CNN en Espanol. A special package of the Forum, including exclusive candidate and faith leader interviews, will be simulcast on the Church Communications Network to more than 1,000 churches nationwide this Sunday. Senator McCain was invited, but unable to attend.

The Compassion Forum was supported by The Compassion Forum Board, represented by faith leaders from across the ideological spectrum. Organizational co-sponsors were The ONE Campaign and Oxfam America.

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Compassion Forum Clings to Religion

April 14, 2008, 4:09 pm | Posted by

*Faith in Public Life planned and co-sponsored the Compassion Forum, a presidential forum at Messiah College in Pennsylvania in April 2008. Religious leaders posed questions on issues like poverty, climate change and Darfur to then-Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Well, at least this time CNN didn’t ask the presidential candidates to disclose the biggest sin they’ve committed.

But while Soledad O’Brien’s infamous question from the June 2007 Sojourners Presidential Forum didn’t make an appearance, much of tonight’s “Compassion Forum” at Messiah College had the same vibe as that event: questions about policy and decision-making were overshadowed by the journalists’ odd stabs at what they thought religious folks really wanted to know. As at the Sojourners event, for example, the moderator asked about literal seven-day creationism.

Faith in Public Life, the group that organized and sponsored the forum, had billed it as “probing discussions of policies related to pressing moral issues that are bridging ideological divides now more than ever, including poverty, global AIDS, climate change and human rights.”

Discussions of policies weren’t probed very far, however. Instead, on the Global Day for Darfur, co-moderator Jon Meacham asked Sen. Hillary Clinton, “Many people here are concerned about Darfur and a number of other humanitarian issues. Why do you think it is that a loving God allows innocent people to suffer?”

“You know, that is the subject of generations of commentary and debate,” Clinton responded. “And I don’t know. I can’t wait to ask him. … [But] there is no doubt in my mind that God calls us to respond. … For whatever reason it exists, its very existence is a call to action.”

Call to action: AIDS

While sparks flew between the two candidates over Obama’s recent remarks about “bitter” Americans “clinging to guns and religion,” both candidates somewhat surprisingly praised President Bush, particularly for his anti-AIDS program in Africa.

“I commend President Bush for his PEPFAR initiative. It was a very bold and important commitment, but it didn’t go far enough in opening up the door to generic [drugs] and getting the costs down,” said Clinton, who also lauded Bush’s efforts after the south Asian tsunami.

“This is an area where — this doesn’t happen very often, so everybody should take note — where I compliment George Bush,” Obama said. “I actually think that the PEPFAR program is one of the success stories of this administration.”

Obama also supported abstinence education in fighting AIDS in Africa. “I also think that contraception is important,” he added. “I also think that treatment is important; I also think that we have to do more to make antiviral drugs available to people who are in extreme poverty. So I don’t want to pluck out one facet of it. Now, that doesn’t mean that non-for-profit groups can’t focus on one thing while the government focuses on other things. I think we want to have a comprehensive approach.”

Reducing abortion

Both candidates also reiterated their support for abortion rights, but said they wanted to reduce the number of abortions in the country.

“I believe that the potential for life begins at conception,” Clinton said, when asked if life begins at conception. “I am a Methodist, as you know. My church has struggled with this issue. In fact, you can look at the Methodist Book of Discipline and see the contradiction and the challenge of trying to sort that very profound question out. But for me, it is also not only about a potential life; it is about the other lives involved. … And I have spent many years now, as a private citizen, as first lady, and now as senator, trying to make it rare, trying to create the conditions where women had other choices.”

Asked the same question, Obama responded, “This is something that I have not, I think, come to a firm resolution on. I think it’s very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? … What I know, as I’ve said before, is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we’re having these debates.”

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CNN Transcript, Post-Compassion Forum commentary (Michael Gerson, former Pres. Bush speechwriter)

April 13, 2008, 5:31 pm | Posted by

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN HOST: I’m Campbell Brown in Grantham, Pennsylvania. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues now on CNN with my colleague John King.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Campbell. And I am John King on the campus here of Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. Outside of the forum. You just heard the Democratic candidates for president discuss faith and values in the so-called compassion forum. A lot to discuss in the next several minutes.

And to do so let’s bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. She is here with me on the campus. CNN contributor Roland Martin as well as Michael Gerson. He is the author and former speechwriter for President Bush who has written repeatedly about faith and values and their role in politics.

A lot of sound to discuss tonight. A lot of issues to discuss tonight. You are still watching Senator Obama there inside the hall signing autographs and speaking to some of people attending this forum. We covered this campaign back and forth. It’s about taxes, it’s about the war in Iraq, it’s about the economy.

But it was an interesting conversation tonight. We’ll play more of the sound and discuss it in the moments ahead. But I want to ask each of you first just your overall assessment. Candy, you track these candidates every day. And again, it’s about the war. It’s about the economy. It’s about John McCain. Tonight it was about when does life begin. Does god have a role in issues like AIDS? What do you think?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I actually, my first thought was, how far the Democrats have come on this issue of faith and politics. I’m even, trying to imagine Al Gore at a forum like this and talking, really so easily, as the two of them did. They seemed pretty comfortable. They didn’t have a problem talking about their own faith to a point.

So I just really thought, here’s the Democratic Party. They’ve gotten the message. You cannot ignore faith because it is such a part of the fabric of America. And, therefore, they are here and they are talking in real terms on very specific religious issues.

KING: Well, Michael Gerson, you helped elect George W. Bush on the very point candy is making. He spoke publicly about his faith. Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher. I know when you works for the president in the campaign you had the belief that Democrats simply don’t get it. They don’t talk to people of faith especially in small town America. What did you make of tonight?

MICHAEL GERSON, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: I agree. I thought it was a big change for the Democrats. I think Obama in many ways was more fluent talking about the role of religion in informing his own policy views. I don’t think that Senator Clinton did that quite as well. But I do — I think the other point, though, is not just how much the Democrats have changed but how much the evangelicals in the audience when you listen to the questions had changed. Because there was abortion but there were also questions on torture and the environment, which was a consistent theme and HIV/AIDS in Africa and Darfur was mentioned. And I think you’ve seen a broadening of this social justice agenda among religious conservative. That’s also an important point.

KING: And Roland, if the agenda has broadened among social conservatives, we’re in the state of Pennsylvania tonight. They’re important here. President Bush tried, just failed twice in this state. They are important in many other states. What did you make of the conversation tonight in terms of how we look forward in this campaign. One of these candidates will represent the Democratic Party. As Candy noted, John Kerry and Al Gore simply failed.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, it was a phenomenal conversation. Candy is absolutely right. I would have loved for Al Gore, somebody who actually went to seminary to have had a faith conversation with George W. Bush. I think the real issue here, John, that this was candidate driven and not party driven. These candidates, Clinton and Obama, both recognize the Democratic Party must begin to speak to people of faith. People like myself who are independents but who are strong believers of faith. People out there who say, look, we must go beyond issues of abortion and homosexuality.

But I think what you saw tonight, you certainly saw Obama who is a lot more comfortable as Michael said in speaking about his faith but even Senator Hillary Clinton. In her answer when she said it’s a lot more private. She she spoke more from a political standpoint. He was able to weave it in a lot more so. I think that also speaks to the individual. People have to recognize that individuals see their faith in a much different way. Some see it as a very public issue, as the essence of who they are. Others prefer to be very private. A phenomenal conversation and it should not be the last time that Democrats begin to deal with this because it certainly gave me a much better understanding of both candidates and their views on issues facing America.

KING: Roland, Michael and Candy. I want you all of you to stand by. As you can see, the forum is breaking up in Messiah College. The Democratic candidates talking about the role of faith in their life but also talking about their current dust-up on the campaign trail. Whether Barack Obama is somehow insensitive to blue collar workings facing economic anxiety. Stay with us, we’ll be right back.

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CNN to Air Live Broadcast of Presidential Candidates Forum on Faith Issues

April 7, 2008, 5:35 pm | Posted by

CNN’s Campbell Brown to Co-Moderate with Newsweek’s Jon Meacham April 13 ‘Compassion Forum’ in Pennsylvania

Credentialing Information Available:


CNN will serve as the exclusive broadcaster of a presidential candidate forum on faith, values and other current issues at Messiah College near Harrisburg, Penn., on Sunday, April 13, at 8 p.m. (ET) CNN Election Center anchor Campbell Brown and Newsweek editor and Newsweek.com election anchor Jon Meacham will moderate what is being billed as The Compassion Forum, which will take place nine days before the Pennsylvania primary.

Organized and sponsored by Faith in Public Life, the 90-minute forum will consist of wide-ranging and probing discussions of policies related to pressing moral issues that are bridging ideological divides now more than ever, including poverty, global AIDS, climate change and human rights. It will feature Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the same stage to talk about these topics as each candidate sits down individually with the moderators. The program will also stream live at www.CNN.com .

Leading up to The Compassion Forum, chief national correspondent John King will anchor live special coverage beginning at 10 p.m. (ET) on Saturday, April 12, and then again on Sunday, April 13, immediately following the forum. Special coverage on Sunday will feature analysis from commentators across the faith and ideological spectrum. King will be stationed at CNN’s Pennsylvania “mini-bureau,” the CNN Election Express bus, which has allowed the network to maintain a full-time presence in these weeks leading up to the April 22 primary. “Ballot Bowl” will also originate live from Pennsylvania and air throughout the weekend, bringing the candidates’ significant events directly to viewers in long-form, not soundbites.

Media interested in covering the event should contact Faith in Public Life directly or fill out the form located at http://www.messiah.edu/compassion_forum/media/credentials/form.html .

CNN Worldwide, a division of Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner Company, is the most trusted source for news and information. Its reach extends to nine cable and satellite television networks; one private place-based network; two radio networks; wireless devices around the world; CNN Digital Network, the No. 1 network of news Web sites in the United States; CNN Newsource, the world’s most extensively syndicated news service; and strategic international partnerships within both television and the digital media.


CREDENTIALING – Working members of the media wishing to cover The Compassion Forum must be credentialed. Credentialing is available online: http://www.messiah.edu/compassion_forum/media/credentials/form.html The deadline for credentials applications is 6 P.M. EDT Wednesday, April 2, 2008.

HOTELS – The Courtyard Marriot – Harrisburg West/Mechanicsburg (717-766-9006) and Holiday Inn Harrisburg West (717-697-0321) have rooms held under The Compassion Forum block. Please contact these hotels directly to make your reservations. A comprehensive listing of other area hotels is available online: http://www.messiah.edu/visitors/lodging.html

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