Gingrich surges and Obama sings: Politics and salvation in 2012

Cheryl Senter AP In this Nov. 21, 2011 photo, Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at a … Continued

Cheryl Senter

AP

In this Nov. 21, 2011 photo, Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at a town meeting at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

At last, drama. Both Newt Gingrich and President Obama are reinventing themselves in the never-ending American drama, “Who will save us?” of politics as salvation.

All the talk of religious “values” in the public square is not as powerful a reminder of how much American politics often plays out as a drama of salvation as when there is a sudden shift in expectation. Newt Gingrich unexpectedly, and dramatically surged in South Carolina, and he is leading Mitt Romney in Florida.

Gingrich has gained his second act in politics by sounding not just a “dog whistle” on racial resentment, but an audible police siren. Catholic church leaders warned him (and Rick Santorum) not to do that; he did it anyway and won. In this vote, were South Carolina Republicans saying that Gingrich is “gutsy enough” to “save” them from Obama? For it is political “salvation,” not just picking a candidate that surged in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, in another, but very different, dramatic political moment, President Obama sang a few bars from Rev. Al Green’s soul classic, “Let’s Stay Together” about love and the video of that went viral . After noting that the “Reverend Al Green” had performed earlier in the evening, Obama crooned, “Ahhhhm … so in love with you,” as the crowd and cheered wildly. The president broke into his trademark smile and pointed to the side of the stage. “Those guys didn’t think I would do it. I told ya I was going to do it.” And everyone laughed. You can now get a ringtone for your iPhone or other mobile device from the Obama campaign. Obama tells the voter who downloads this ringtone, every time their phone rings, ‘I’m so in love with you.”

Both of these candidates are reinventing themselves, and drawing deeply on the uniquely American approach to politics: who can get us to the Promised Land?

This is a version of Pilgrim’s Progress, the Protestant idea that came here with the Pilgrims and has become such a powerful American story: Our nation’s soul is at stake in our political life. The players change depending on your political party, but the STORY is what’s so strongly influential.

The meaning of this presidential race is being crafted in such moments for both sides. It can appear that the choice is shaping up to be “racial resentment” versus “jobs and the economy.” But that’s on the surface. At times of crisis, Americans reach into a deep religious script about this country and whether it is on the right road or not. This script, in great part, is the religious narrative of Pilgrim’s Progress, where “Christian,” the name of the protagonist, but who also stands for the archetypal human being, must journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” (or this world), toward the “Celestial City” (or that which is to come, i.e. heaven).

You don’t need to be Protestant, or even a Christian to engage this narrative. Americans from many religions or no religion can engage this drama in recognizing that there is something beyond the issues that is fundamentally at stake in such an important presidential election. The deep drama is this choice: ‘Are we on the right road, going where we need to go as a people, or are we heading for sure destruction and even ruin?’

Newt Gingrich conveys the urgency of this narrative far better than the tanned and bland Mitt Romney. Mitt is here to fix your company (or your offshore bank account, depending on whom you believe). He’s the corporation man, the technocrat. Gingrich is all about passion and vision; he can drill down into that ‘we’re going to hell in a hand basket’ resentment that white voters, who actually have been losers in the one percent economy, can grab on to and easily transfer into racial resentment.

Both sides in a presidential contest try to paint themselves as about the salvation of the country, and cast the other side as the road to ruin. Each side must tap into the emotions of voters, their deepest convictions.

Obama has been criticized (or praised) for being “cool and aloof,” but that’s not how he won the presidency. He won last time not on the issues, but on tapping into that uniquely American belief in hope. He did that in the last race about as well as the “Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan used to do, using both humor and gravity to tell Americans they could believe they were on the road to the “Celestial City” again, but only if they voted for him.

It is clear that an Obama singing about “love” has decided to reconnect emotionally with voters. Hope isn’t going to get it done this time. But love just might work.

Two powerful emotions: love and hate. This is a dramatic contest now, cast as a struggle for who will save the nation. And the third act is yet to come.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • WmarkW

    “He won last time not on the issues, but on tapping into that uniquely American belief in hope. ”

    This is the first time I remember a liberal leaner acknowledging the Obama didn’t win on issues. He won on being different and transformational and, frankly, not having a voting record he could be nailed on. He entered national consciousness at the 2004 convention as a Presidential candidate.

    He’s the biggest nothing of a President since Jimmy Carter, and will avoid the latter’s fate because the economy gets better on his watch.

  • Aldol

    Rasmussen Sunday night:

    2012 Florida Republican Primary
    Florida GOP Primary: Gingrich 41%, Romney 32%
    i am pleased that Gingrich got rid of the Romney sc**bag. I
    think that Obama has a target rich past and that McCain was inept at not using
    those weaknesses of his opponent in 2008. I believe that Gingrich will delve
    into Obama’s connections with Marxist elements, college and Law school records,
    cocaine use etc. In short he will shred Obama and all his cohorts to
    pieces, resulting in a high participation of conservative to the polls, which,
    in turn, will give us a supermajority in the house and a GOP controlled senate.
    Bottom line libs are toast. Obama with the help of Pelosi Reid and the inept
    and corrupt administration that he appointed, is going to give us a revival of
    federalism to the point that not only Clinton, carter and LBJ policies will be
    refuted, but also FDR’s Thank you

  • James210

    Institutionalized? at the very least? well, in that case.
    To all hungering for another smidgen .
    How’s the hangover?

    She knew the location as directed by the Knight, where she was to meet the escort , which would take her into the city. The crossroad just beyond the Bridge of Sorrow was on the other side of the forest . A strange place and route to take into the city. She decided to take the path along the river’s edge instead of the road, to the bridge. She knew each tree and needed the comfort of the running water and the winds to console her concerns.
    Skip
    As the escort led her to the side entrance near the rear of the castle, she started to remember some of the places she been to, as a child. The memory of a woman she thought her mother, long past , who had often brought her to the castle and, to the cellars. She remembered the days of gathering herbs and vegetables in the gardens and helping the woman bring them into the castle . The kitchens and servant quarters a vague memory, as were the halls she onced roamed .
    The escort led her through the castle interior and outside to an open garden where they crossed to the other side, where a lady was standing. The lady slightly bowed (?)to her upon greeting. “I am the house attendant” she stated, “ this way”. The maiden was worried about this appearance, and decided to be as humble as possible. “ I am no lady, that you should bow to ” she whispered the attendant. “True”, the attendant said, “but you are a honored guest at this feast and, you will represent us appropriately”, as she smiled, “this way?”. They proceeded down a path through the garden and she began to hear sound of water running on the rocks, a welcomed sound she thought. The garden opened up, beholding a pool where steam was rising(?). ” The bath awaits and be quick! For that rat nest of hair must be fixed as well!”.

  • persiflage

    Mark, while Obama could perhaps have done better (and certainly much better with the cooperation of republicans in congress) there is hardly any question that another republican president following on on the heels of the biggest presidential failure in modern times, would have done much, much worse – the Bush years without question put us in the hole we’re still in….fiscally speaking. In fact, he started the bailout process so loathed by republicans today. Ben Bernanke was the primary Bush adminstration financial advisor before he became the chief of the Fed.

    Reaganomics continues to take us down the path of no return with regard to a failed economic policy. There is simply no case to be made for republicans, or a republican president today. Mitt Romney’s goose looks pretty cooked, even with all his endless super-PAC funding for the Florida primary. He can outspend Gingrich 5 to 1 – but will that make any difference?

    Romney fans are going to have a very hard decision to make if Gingrich gets the nomination against all odds. This guy is the ultimate loose cannon. I think Obama will get an additional 4 years to straighten out the Bush mess by default – if we’re lucky and if the necessary changes in congress are also made.

    Disenchanted republicans may even take to throwing away votes on write-in candidates. It all promises to be a real mess.

  • WmarkW

    I agree it’s about 60-65 percent Obama will be re-elected because:

    1. Presidents elected during recessions get re-elected when things get better four years later (Bush II, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon); while Presidents elected during expansions tend to lose when things slow down (Bush I, Carter).

    2. The Republican field lacks a superstar (as evidenced by how quickly every new entrant into the primary field immediately jumped to the top of the polls).

    BUT: Reagan won the Cold War because he knew the Soviets couldn’t keep up economically, and Clinton ended up looking great because it was under his watch that the military was cut and stock market grew, shrinking the deficit.

    I was wrong about Iraq. I thought that they were a reasonably well-off, educated and secular-by-Muslim-standards country, that would welcome the chance to live like the West. I didn’t understand that the three tribes’ identity was much stronger than their national union as Iraqis.

    So now I’m a foreign policy fatalist, and would like to see Ron Paul convince conservatism that expeditionarism is not in our national interest.

  • persiflage

    Mark, I think Ron Paul’s real goal is a a seat at the republican policy table – and he will probably end up with more recognition and maybe more clout, than he started this campaign with. Convincing republicans to scale back their sabre-rattling on Iran will be a thankless task – Gingrich will make it a campaign issue, just like McCain did, if he’s the nominee.

    Lest we forget, the Soviet Union collapsed at least in part by way of 20 futile years in Afghanistan and near bankrupcy because of it.

    The CIA covertly supported the native mujahideen (morphed into the Taliban) by supplying advanced weaponry that destroyed Russian transport helicopters and the troops that they carried in great numbers. We are more or less reaping what we sowed now.

    So the Russian failure was perpetrated by being either too stupid and/or too stubborn to see the handwriting on the wall – something we should definitely take to heart ourselves. We’ve ultimately wasted more than 10 years there – it’s way past time to get out. I do think proximity to Pakistan has always been part of the plan regarding our presence in Afghanistan.

    Paying off a corrupt Karzi government has just gotten too expensive, and they’re in bed with corrupt Pakastani elements that are indistinguishable from the Taliban anyway. Let the drones do what they were designed to do, and save American lives.

  • iloveitaly

    “Implode”; “Pop”, etc..are terms used in reference to Newt by the news media and by other candidates. Frankly, I have seen NO implosion; NO “pop” or anything close to that description. On those rare occasions when Newt has shown his “stern” side, if you will, I’ve agreed that he should be stern…as I would if I was being attacked unfairly. Newt is right…Mitt’s “pious baloney” has now come Mitt’s “desparate baloney” as Mitt’s numbers are tumbling

  • Kingofkings1

    An excellent commentary about many issues in the presidential election

  • Kingofkings1

    This hope and change issue will now be a great advantage to anyone running againsta asitting president. i hope that’s not enough for a Gingrich win

  • Kingofkings1

    Gingrich is the epitome of the “angry old man”. That’s in addition to a womanizer, hypocrite, and a convicted of earlier political ethical violations. Which part of unelectability do the angry white voters not understand?

  • James210

    and the hybrid, said to her disciples.
    ” And if we consider the undocumented to be human, we must also consider the numerous crimes against them that go unreported(?) and the exploitation of which we do not here”. Just words!

    The sacrifice for naught. We have learned in our leaders absence, final sermon, as the they prepared for the burning and a mouldering of the hybrid.

    God forbid! the Jew rendering another “opinion” on Catholic matters(?) in relationship to the persecution of Christians? Or hath the Jew done both Renderings and Persecutions? One of the many mystery’s never to be solved.

    skip
    The dress selected had fitted almost perfectly, but why in god’s name so much material, she thought, was beyond her. The slippers of silk however were a bit different, and momentarily the thought of making sure they came back with her to the forest, did cross her mind. “No” she said, “let’s not cross that bridge just yet ”(?). The attendant smiled,” this way, maiden, for your ways are beginning to annoy me!”.
    They both smiled, as the attendant led her down a hall, as long as the castle itself, it seemed . “Where are we going now” she asked the attendant?” The Queens chambers around, the corner , where you will be met by the King and Queen, and from there you will go to the main receiving room and the other guests” . skip

    for all trying to understand this particular “insanity”- this is a short story in hopes of helping a daughter, who no longer talks to her father, understand why his life changed so?
    My time here at On faith about 3 years. I had hoped it would be timed served but, i see that the long terms of sentences are being enforced. Good bye to all, for they are dispatching me to a maximum security setting and, I will no longer be able to share, which i have enjoyed, polluting the pool! and your minds!!! Please don’t take instruction, from any of these hypocrits! Rebel against your programmed education and never listen to any Cornel lectures on So

  • James210

    “pilgrimage”

  • James210

    a third encore?
    A personal note to the “the micro-manager” the dream act.
    Supply side economics, is not the prescription to a greater health? However, through further education, we can begin to ween ourselves off the corruptions, that so endanger the foundations as stated, considering the short term thinking of most corporate thieves and their belief of , “we got no where else to go after this”.
    It should be easy to craft legislation in the terms “of” generations as often the Chinese do. Common sense in the pro forma “sense” of what we are we leaving behind for our grandchildren, should we dismantle the house, for our kids? The dollar ‘s corruption, blinds the faith of devout government practices and the true belief in the “guiding welfare” of society (service to a greater good?). hence, The root cause of the degraded society ie., Rome, Greece, Egypt and the Maya, as examples, in the advance of religion and new administrative practices.
    professors-
    and what shall we do with this illegally educated and delusional soul who preaches such conflicting pieces? Mr.Hybrid?

    Come forth demon, again?
    james a “bond” servant of Liberal “causes” and Conservative “ideals”?
    fitting don’t you think, father?
    and my final peace of belief, that draws so much spite, from so many in my community.

    The Bridge of Sorrow
    She reached the bridge just about right time, she thought the walk refreshing as always just as she approached, several deer appeared in path in front of her. No matter she thought for they just were going for their afternoon drink and no sign of alarm in their movements. One seemed interested and stood before her , her beautiful face seemed familiar. Well now, she thought, we have met before haven’t we? As always, she laid her arms and hands out to her sides, palms open to show that there be no need of fear. As she walked past she had expected it to bound a few feet, as the others often did. This one did not . “hello, young one, what issue have you

  • James210

    Role play again? I need to cheat if were going to do this?lol
    is it animal or vegetable
    is it positive or negative
    is it love or hate
    is a threat or compliment

    the moral of this excerpt., i truly understand your comments and will refrain from further character assasination!”.

    “I’ll take those flowers ” she said. “Who are they for?” she asked the maiden. “Her Majesty the Queen , I thought them to be a small gift , I have nothing else to offer”. The attendant breathed deeply in the fragrance of the wildflowers and sighed, “Her majesty have no need for them, she loathe fresh cut flowers, I will dispose of them properly”.
    This drew a frown from the maiden for she had nothing else and knew that something was required. “No worries maiden” she said, into the bath? I will be back with robing and then we will get you ready”. The attendant started off and stopped turned around and asked, how did you cut them? The maiden looked off to the side and up to the clouds. “Have you a blade, maiden?” The attendant asked. “Just one I use to cut flowers”, she replied. May I have it please”, the attendant asked. The maiden pulled out a dagger and handed it to the attendant. The attendant studied it for a moment and smiled , “Where did you get this? “. From the woman I thought my mother, she replied.
    “ Really?, perhaps I will return it to you when you depart. Do you have anything else that could possible endanger your brief stay in this world ?” no, she replied and looked down. “ off then, to the bath”?

    i need a restraining order don’t i? 500 yard radius.

  • James210

    self serving ? do you feel the lack of interaction with inanimate objects i.e. lack of higher definition “detail” to the surrounding area, is hurting the story?

    I though interaction of the animate(characters) level displaced some sense of higher learning.

    “As we walk down this hall to exit, hold you head high and show your face to the knights, I want them to remember who you are.” As they left the great hall and began to exit the front of the castle she wondered, why her? Both exited the door and she stopped in shock, for before her in the front garden, a path of knights lined the carriage path on both sides, clear out to a front gate. Perhaps two hundred or more , she thought. “Why did you do this?” she asked the queen. ”I want them to see your face and remember it”, she said. It’s more for their security then yours”, she laughed. If you should happen to bewitch them ! into say, failing at their post again! “I shall have to have them , replaced”. A most unpleasant thought for them. Good day Maiden, the queen bowed slightly, to the maiden surprise. “Good day your majesty” and she walked down the stairs towards the gate.

    hows that for stirring the pot? children of Mary?

  • James210

    My own chosen path(?) of an ever changing environment? I don’t agree with you in regards to Public Affiliation vs. Private influence?

    The ability to influence, straddle the line, between two opposing forces is lost when openly taking a postion.
    Say environment? and then friends cast you as a tree hugger and traitor to the coin.
    Say business? and the then the family says your thoughtless and inconsiderate and a traitor to your family.
    the No win scenario is never more true.(capt kirk)

    Is there a fine line? Only when one decides never to take a positon, that they can’t put their name on. The just of ensuring domestic tranquility is often ignored, on my part always.
    And, if we are going to ignore that, then what purpose either the bible or the constitution have?
    I offer myself up for your amusement again .

    Skip
    As she approached the great hall she had snuck upon when young, it seemed smaller than it had been before. She walked past the stairs that granted her access so many years before, where still a Knight stands in guard. She had remembered coming up the stair one morning, peaking just beyond edge of site and looking up to the Knight, who had looked down with a sense of bemusement. That day there seemed a great gathering and, she remembered, sneaking to the other side of the hall, the direction she was now heading, past other guards, so many she remembered and the they all looked like giants. They seemed to ignore her presence as if she was almost invisible. She smiled, remembering the fear she felt as a child upon reaching the other side, too far, she thought and” too far”, she finally said, and briefly almost as if she were there again, years ago, she could see herself running back across the floor, past the guards and down the stairs. That fear returned,” I don’t belong here”, she said. And she made her way back to her chambers.
    Skip

  • James210

    This doesn’t deserve to still be here? For all those on the homefront this is called the mockery and castigation of anything left of my reputation or lack of.

    The latter brought some laughter back from/to the pit, i see.

    Just a bit of a smile, in response to the just of accolades, the kiss of death(?) and there be no place go, but down? so what. So, another pulitzer for a work that somebody else did?
    come fort-demon!

    she sank into music, from a sad lite of a devil who seems to know what she liked and where she came from? before times or after times? The court is very disfunctional to be sure. I have an 8th grade education, what do you expect?

    Bunker Hill good case study on the abilities of patriotic determination.
    There you had an experienced, who new in the begin-ing “call to arms” that there isn’t enough, but it wasn’t about winning, it was about making a stand and gaining honor (pride over common sense). The commanding general? realized the depth of the situation,.
    And, then I’m sure the first officials to ask what happened? and why ? guilty of not throwing the funds and reserves needed on operations such as that(?) to operations that already had sufficent manpower and supply.

    What does it mean to answer a call knowing quite possibly that people are going to die, in the attempt to secure? An out of date question here, in the 21st century to be sure.

    do they still have stenographs in the basement?

    Hmmm, she thought, more of an order, then request. The gallows were not a place she remembered as being pleasant and slight fear did come upon her. She would much rather have the cover of the darkened woods then stay here but, decided to accept the invitation. She managed to nod an approval and the gentleman smiled a nod back. “South-east entrance” he said to the driver and be quick. The driver nodded and trotted the horses up the stone path around to the backside of the castle. As the carriage came to the location mentioned, she saw another escort standing nea

  • wesleym53

    The saying ‘Going to hell in a handbasket’ is absolutely ridiculous. Anyone who uses such a phrase to characterize a poor state of affairs is a brainsick nutcase. The origin of this fragment goes back to the 1920s, according to several dictionaries. But in truth it makes very little sense, unless, one means, the world will be put in a handbasket or handcart or handbag and sent to hell, which too, doesn’t make much sense either. Who’s going to put the world in one of the above objects and send us all to hell?

    Why not just say ‘Going to hell where you belong’. Although the alliteration, hell and handbasket, are not present in my fragment still it is more sensible and rational and makes sense. Plus it maneuvers itself away from evidence of a dumb down society or what I call ‘Parrot Syndrome’.

    Wake up America. It’s time to put ignorance behind us.

    Wesley McCants
    Cincinnati Ohio

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