Watch for this TV Ad about Barack Obama after the DNC Convention

pH for America will soon be running a TV ad featuring comments by Barack Obama about the proper use of the Bible in American politics. The ad is slated for release shortly after the Democratic National Convention is over. But you can see the complete video of the forthcoming ad now.

If you want to see the video, click here:

Here are a few discussion questions:

  1. What is the primary thesis of this ad?
  2. How is this thesis supported?
  3. What seems to be Obama’s approach to interpreting the Bible?
  4. Do you agree with this approach?
  5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this particular ad?
  6. Will this ad influence voters? Do you think it should?

What say you?

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

12 Responses to Watch for this TV Ad about Barack Obama after the DNC Convention

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    Peg, we should all know by now that political opportunism knows no bounds. We’ve seen it during the Democrat National Convention, and we’ll no doubt see it during the Republican Nationalism next week. With that in mind, it certainly is possible that the ad was devised by someone who is religiously neutral and does just see an opportunity to lather up conservative Christians. For that matter, pH could even object to religiously based arguments in the political arena and still craft an ad of this kind. But I wouldn’t say there’s much evidence for this.

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  2. Peg says:

    Question: Is there any evidence that the man behind pH for America (pH for America is just one guy as far as I was able to find online) is even a Christian? I took him to be just one more Beltway insider trying to make a name for himself by helping secure a few ultra-conservative Christian votes.

    As a Christian it troubles me that this ad is perceived to have been MADE by Christians. I never took it that way, and I seriously doubt it is — at the very least I hope it’s not. I agree with what everyone above has said that the ad is presented in a very un-Christian spirit. Unfortunately there are a lot of unscrupulous people leading religious-sounding movements… now as always wisdom is needed to tell charlatans from authentic people of faith.

    At any rate IMO the only people who will believe this ad are people who have already decided not to vote for Obama but are feeling insecure enough about their decision to accept any shoddy argument they can find to keep on believing what they already believe. Most likely it will backfire and benefit Obama in the long run.

    Which still leaves Obama’s real speech in need of authentic examination from a religious standpoint…..

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  3. Doug Geivett says:

    To their credit, the sponsors of the ad we’re discussing, a group called pH for America, post a link to Obama’s original speech and encourage people to read the full text. The link they provide goes directly to the speech posted on Obama’s own government website: http://obama.senate.gov/speech/060628-call_to_renewal/

    I’ve read this speech in full, now. There’s much in Obama’s speech that is worthy of detailed examination.

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  4. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Tom,

    I agree completely. A charitable reading of the few sound bytes used in the ad requires that we consider reasonable interpretations that are perfectly consistent with a completely different conclusion than the one the ad would have us accept.

    Have the sponsors of the ad done their job well if they have not demonstrated that alternative interpretations are implausible? One might say that depends on their objectives. If they simply want to influence Christian viewers to vote against Obama in the election, the ad may be effective. But the sponsors are, presumably, people of faith themselves. At least that’s how they represent themselves. So one of their objectives should be to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit and practice Christian virtue. This objective is at odds with a crassly utilitarian aim to get people to oppose Obama, using unfounded scare tactics and specious evidence.

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  5. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Peg,

    The ad does seem to have the texture of deliberate manipulation, as if, because the comments don’t speak for themselves, they require commentary so the rest of us will understand the subliminal message.

    The commercial falls into the “attack ad” category, and this is troubling, sponsored as it is, apparently, by people of faith. At the very least they run the risk of appearing to be unscrupulous in their denunciations of a candidate they disapprove.

    It’s possible that the fuller remarks by Obama amply support the conclusion asserted in the ad, that Obama’s actual point of view is precisely what the ad suggests, and even that people of faith should weigh this in their assessment of Obama’s candidacy for President of the United States. Again, these are possibilities; I’m not saying that’s how things are. But even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that these are realities, the ad by itself does not provide adequate evidence.

    In effect, anyone who accepts the argument of the ad is ultimately simply believing its assertions on the basis of the authority of the sponsoring organization. Of course, there are things we believe, have to believe, and are justified in believing on the the say-so of others. But in some cases we should have independent evidence for an assertion issued by a presumed authority, and in general (though not always) we should have special reason to believe that the testimony issued comes from a reliable source.

    This ad is provocative. But it fails, I believe, to warrant conviction that Obama’s attitude toward Scripture is scurrilous. So it seems to me to be irresponsible, epistemically speaking. And because it seeks to undermine Obama’s reputation in such a whimsical fashion, it is at least borderline ethically dubious.

    This is yet another instance of the danger of engaging in culture war antics among people of faith.

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  6. Peg says:

    Hi Doug,

    I appreciate your reply and I see what you’re driving at. After viewing the ad just once I had no problem figuring out that Obama was poking fun at people who misinterpret and misapply the Bible. And quite frankly there are some folks out there who need to have their chains pulled because they misinterpret Scripture so often.

    However the voiced-over comments following the video clip were so deliberately misleading and so obviously designed to manipulate Christians I had to shut it off about 2 minutes short of the end because it was turning my stomach. This ad is IMO an example of everything that’s wrong with American politics: the inability to listen, the unwillingness to answer a person’s point of view point-for-point, the setting up and tearing down of straw men, the provocation of angry emotions, and the constant attempts to manipulate people of faith, particularly conservative Christians.

    Quite honestly if I were in Obama’s shoes I wouldn’t dignify this ad with a response. But then I probably wouldn’t make the best politician in the world. 😉

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  7. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Howard,

    Context is key to understanding all the sound bytes, isn’t it? I think I know what you mean by the two remarks that John McCain has made and that have been quoted against him repeatedly by Obama supporters.

    What did McCain really mean when he told Rick Warren that if a person makes five million then that person is rich? Surely he didn’t mean that if you make five cents less than five million you aren’t rich. Maybe the same goes for making two million less. Or three million less. (And why did Rick Warren ask that question in the first place?)

    What did McCain really mean when he said he’d be willing to keep our military in Iraq for a hundred years? Surely he didn’t mean that he wouldn’t be willing to pull them out any sooner than a hundred years from now. Who knows? He might even be willing to bring them home during his first year as President, if he wins the election.

    The problem is, we don’t let, or require, candidates to embellish when they make statements that can be so easily misconstrued—even intentionally misconstrued. Unfortunately, partisanship prevents people from giving the other side the benefit of reasonable doubt, of reading their remarks with charity as well as discernment.

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  8. Tom says:

    I thought the ad was badly done. Maybe Obama’s remarks here are suggestive of a dismissive attitude toward Scripture, but it’s not just obvious that they are: it’s consistent with the remarks in the commercial that he’s merely pointing out that applying the Scriptures to public policy is no straightforward matter, that facile application of just any bit of the text to the current scene gives plainly crazy results.

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  9. howard says:

    Maybe it would help if Obama & ph read Paul’s charge to Timothy in ll Tim 4:1-5.
    Obama sure seems to pander to his audience. Ph may be doing the same.
    Context is good, also! Like: 5 mil income is rich, or, 100 yrs in Iraq.

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  10. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Peg,

    It would help to know more about the context of Obama’s speech and specific comments about the Bible. Suppose we had only the comments that are lifted from the speech and included in the ad. Would discerning people really draw the conclusions inferred by the sponsors of the ad?

    It does appear that Obama misses the point of passages he quotes, and that he believes there is no objective way to interpret the Bible and relate its principles to contemporary political exigencies. But appearances can be deceiving.

    It’s possible that Obama is actually poking fun at abuses of Scripture by people who seek to justify unwarranted policies with specious appeals to proof texts. Who can say, without access to the full text of his speech?

    If the ad is broadcast and it causes a stir, maybe Obama will respond. Maybe we’ll even have the opportunity to hear his original remarks in their fuller context. Then we’d have a better idea what to make of the message of the ad.

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  11. Peg says:

    Personally I think the ad was developed by a Beltway insider who is looking to promote his career and make a name for himself. The ad doesn’t address Obama’s point at all, it just tacks on a bunch of unrelated accusatory questions designed to arouse anger in Christians. It’s also a sad commentary on modern American Christianity that so many churchgoers aren’t able to tell when they’re being manipulated by political con-men.

    To anyone who receives a link to this in their email inboxes — as I have — be aware that the link you click is not a link to YouTube but to pH’s website, and he is tracking all his visitors. Oh, and don’t fall for the political BS. The video and the message is totally bogus.

    I’m a Republican and I approve this message.

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  12. Dan Radmacher says:

    Interesting that this ad takes the position that Obama is “mocking” the Bible, as well as taking the passages out of context. Interesting that this ad is committing the same error with Obama’s speech. Nevertheless, this ad seems to suggest that Obama is questioning the legitimacy or integrity of the Bible by quoting passages that are difficuilt to understand. Instead, it would seem to this viewer that Obama is making a more sophisticated point, which is that there are a variety of passages in the Bible that need interpretation and reconcilation in order to be understood correctly and applied. In this wide country of ours, with all of its religious diversity (let alone Christian diversity) to whom should we turn for an authoritative interpretation of the material in the Bible? I would add to his point: would not turning to one group for interpretation be placing that group–as well as one religious document–above all the rest? Is this what democracy and religious diversity is all about?

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