Guilt by Association

This week's Washington Post / Newsweek question to religious columnists is:

Obama and Wright. McCain and Keating. Palin and Muthee. To what extent is it right or wrong to judge candidates by the company they keep?
Here are a few excerpts from the responses:

If association with someone establishes guilt or similar condition, doctors who associate with sick people must be sick. Lawyers spending time with suspected criminals must be suspected of crime. Jesus was said to be a friend of sinners, then he must be suspected of being a sinner. -Gardner Calvin Taylor

Associations with persons and causes can be relevant when we size up a candidate, but only if the accuser makes or traces a valid pattern of behavior, attitude of mind or current position. We all change our minds, sometimes for the better, thank God. It's blindingly obvious to me at least that if there was ever a time to stay on the issues and try to deal with the awful mess we're in, it's now. Judgment works both ways, and I think a lot of us are going to judge candidates who lean heavily on guilt by association, a discredited American political idea if there ever was one. -William McD. Tully

It is also easy to condemn people unfairly for their acquaintances. "He keeps company with tax collectors and sinners," said the Pharisees about Jesus. Both McCain and Obama have repudiated the actions of these acquaintances, who have nothing to do with their campaigns and would have nothing to do with their administrations. Enough of this guilt by association campaign tactic. It is time to return to the issues that matter to the American people and the world. -Thomas J. Reese
I chose all three of these because they reference how the Pharisees judged Jesus according to the people that He hung around with. I also chose them because I tend to agree with the way that they answered the question.

How would you have answered he question?


  1. I've only really read about Obama/Wright(or Ayers) and McCain/Keating.

    The Obama case is about what you believe. Wright and Ayers are both radical leftists in their politics. If sharing a belief in radical leftist political figures is an indication of one's own political leanings, it is very relevant. If the experience with Wright helped shape Obama's political ideology, why would we not take that into account?

    On the other hand, McCain/Keating is also very relevant. The question I ask is "What did you learn and how have you changed?" In the case of McCain, it was his dealings with Keating that was the trigger for his strong political beliefs and actions on campaign finance reform and governmental deregulation. He (in an article I read not too long ago) said that he did nothing wrong(illegal), but that brush with Keating was a "light bulb moment" (my term). In that moment, his ideology was formed. If the experience with Keating helped to shape McCain's political ideology, why would we not take that into account?

    The difference between Obama and McCain? Obama says, "that's not the guy I knew" (as if he could sit in the guy's church for 20 years and not know...AND write about the political beliefs of Wright and not know about them).

    McCain says, "it looked wrong, I should not have done it and because of my experience I'm going to work toward fixing the system.

    It's not about "GBA". It's about what formed the political ideologies, how close are the ideologies of the student to the ideologies of the mentor (which is how Obama has described Wright).

    It is about "what have you learned and how have you changed?"

    McCain has told us and shown us. If Obama sat in Wright's church for 20 years and cannot tell us what he has learned and how it has changed him...that says volumes about Obama.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Ellen. What Ayres/Wright ideologies in specific do you see evidenced in Obama's life either in the way Obama conducts his life or in something that he has said?

  3. I'm sure Ellen's got her own, but how about these two:

    Ayers is a far left idealogue who supports teaching kindergarteners about sex and encouraging homosexuality. Obama voted for Senate Bill 99, which mandated that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children before the sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten.

    Jeremiah Wright is a racist who believes that the white man is the enemy. Obama referred to his own grandmother as a "typical white person." You don't think he's been influenced by Dr. Wright and Dr. Cone?

  4. I don't see that specific Ayers/Wright influence Casey because you are generalizing and not speaking in specific.

    The post is about guilt by association. The idea is that Jesus was deemed guilty of being a sinner becuase he palled around with sinners. What exactly do you deem Obama to be guilty of? Terrorism? Bad judgment? It would good to be specific.

  5. Bad judgement. I don't think Obama is a terrorist. Let's not forget that he has compiled the most liberal voting record in the Senate. You can't tell me that he hasn't been influenced by these people.

    I'm not saying he's guilty of the things these people are guilty of. I'm saying he has either been influenced by them or he associates with them because he shared their views to begin with.

    I don't think anyone out there is arguing that Obama is guilty of terrorism because he associates with Ayers or that he is guilty of racism because he associates with Dr. Wright. The whole argument (in the form of a question) is a scarecrow.

  6. Thanks for the clarification Casey.

    I agree that he has shown bad judgment staying in Wright's church and I have said so before.. but I am not willing to say that he is an advocate of what Wright preached as he has condemned that message.

    I am not convinced that his judgment has been swayed by Ayers with regard to domestic terrorism.. he condemned Ayers involvement with terrorism.

  7. Well, what is the original question?

    To what extent is it right or wrong to judge candidates by the company they keep?

    Judge: "To form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration"

    Politically, "judgment" is not about deciding who or what is right or wrong, it's about judging a political agenda.

    As a voter, I'd better be "judging" (forming an opinion - at least hopefully after careful consideration). I'm not basing my vote on whether or not I think Barack Obama is going to be talked into bombing the Pentagon - I don't think so. I'm basing my vote on whether or not I think that Barack Obama will be the most liberal president the United States has ever seen, whether or not he'll move toward or away from socialism, on whether he will appoint judges that will judge according to ideology or according to the Constitution.

    And when you have the job (as voter do) of making the judgment of who vote for - based on political ideology, it is right to look at who their mentors are, who their associates are and who their political allies are.

    Ayers and Obama were allies in the politics of education.

    He went to a church for 20 years that was involved in racial politics.

    If we want to know who the "politician" Barack Obama is, who better to look at then those he shares political ideologies with?

    It's not about terrorism, it's about politics. This election (as is most others) about who we think will govern most in line with what we believe is right. The party line. And for that, we have to look to where the party is.

    Specifically, I have more about the Ayers/Obama connection - the politics of education connection. Yes, I believe it is absolutely right to judge a man's politics by the political allies that he has. (I'll post another comment to avoid links that will send it to a moderation que.)

  8. I am not convinced that his judgment has been swayed by Ayers with regard to domestic terrorism..

    I think the mistake has been to focus on Ayers' history as a terrorist. It is much deeper, more more recent and maybe more relevant than that.

    Much has been made that Obama "sat on a board with" Ayers. That is only skimming the surface - or maybe not EVEN skimming the surface. That board was the "Woods Foundation".

    But there is another, the "Chicago Annenberg Challenge" (CAC).

    It's not that Ayers was on the CAC board...he helped start the CAC - he helped write the original grant. It's not that Ayers and Obama were on the board together (I've sat on volunteer boards with people I didn't know at all) - it's that they were chairs of the CAC.

    There were two "functions" of the CAC. One is the fiscal arm - which was chaired by Barack Obama. The other arm is called the "Colloaborative", which shaped education policy. Together, these two men steered the CAC - together, they advanced the politics of education.

    Ayers set the agenda and Obama approved the funding.

    So we have Obama approving funding for Ayers' educational agenda. What was Ayers' politics of education?

    It appears so far that Ayers and Obama worked closely within the CAC - they were movers and shakers in the Chicago educational movement.

    What are Ayers' beliefs on the politics of educations (remember, Obama knew and approved of funding)

    In 2006, Ayers spoke at the World Education Forum in Venezuela. The forum was hosted by Hugo Chavez. Ayers voiced support for "the political educational reforms under way here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution…I look forward to seeing how all of you continue to overcome the failures of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane.” (from Ayers' blog)

    This was not a board that they merely sat on together. This was a board that Ayers helped to create, then then placed Obama in the position of overseeing where the money went (can you say ACORN?)

    It's not about judging terrorism. Not at all. But it is about judging politics and that's what voting should be about.

  9. So Obama condemns the message, but he sat in Wright's church for over 20 years? Doesn't sound like he has very much personal conviction. He only condemned the message when it became public. I think as a Pastor, Bob, you give people the benefit of the doubt. That's a good thing, I think. I'm more cynical, personally. He's condemning these people now, but he didn't see anything wrong with them before.

  10. Also, as far as Wright's church, we have more to go on than the fact that Obama attended for 20 years without picking up on the political agenda.

    Obama's book, "Dreams of my Father" tells of the first time he visited Trinity. While I wouldn't recommend paying money for the book, go ahead and check it out of the library.

  11. Great discussion here Ellen and Casey. Here is my brief feedback on the dialog:

    1) Obama exercised poor judgment staying in Wright's church. His renunciation of Wright was too little too late.

    2) The linkage to Ayers is a valid one.. the extent to which Obama is/was influenced by Ayer's ideology is not as clear to me as it is to others.

    3) Obama was involved with the CAC (a Chicago public school reform project from 1995 to 2001 that worked with half of Chicago's public schools and was funded by a $49.2 million, 2-to-1 matching challenge grant over five years from the Annenberg Foundation). Not sure that there is evidence that Ayers ideology negativey impacted Chicago public schools.. anything specific that you could share on this would be helpful.

    4) I don't think that John McCain has ever been involved with reform of public education in an urban environment.. not sure that the plight of the poorest amongst us is something that McCain has ever shown any leadership on or interest in.

    5) Agree that we should be exercising good judgment on the candidates. I think that both of these guys are seasoned politicians with handlers that control what we know about the candidates. I think that our disagreements are somewhat gauged by what we are reading between the lines.

    Ellen and Casey, you are both pro-McCain and I respect that.. I may vote for him myself.

    Transparently I have to say that much of my difficulty embracing McCain is that I think he looks a lot like Bush.. graduated at the bottom of his class.. embraces trickle down economics.. seems to narrowly define what winning in Iraq means.. doesn't seem to be involving Palin in campaign decisions.. and seems to lead more from his gut than anything else. I may be dead wrong about him.. I hope that I am.

    All that said I have to admit that Obama is not a very attractive candidate for me. I don't like his big government approach to spending and taxing. I don't like his position on abortion. I am very concerned what DC would look like with the Dems in ccontrol of the executive and legislative branches.

    In hindsight (and in closing) I think that it is sad that our choices have come down to Obama and McCain.. why couldn't it have been Romney, Huchabee or Thompson? If we Republicans lose DC in 3 weeks we will have no one to blame but ourselves.. both spendaholic Republican politicians and we voters who elected them.. sigh.

  12. 2) The linkage to Ayers is a valid one.. the extent to which Obama is/was influenced by Ayer's ideology is not as clear to me as it is to others.

    Not as clear...and also not as relevant.

    Frankly, I don't care if Obama is the chicken or the egg. Whether his associations made him liberal, or whether he chooses his associations because he is liberal. It doesn't matter if I will be making a judgment about whether or not he is too liberal for me to vote for for president.

    The question is not "did Obama's associations make him liberal?" The question is "do Obama's associations reveal his liberal ideology?" I believe they do.

    Obama's book reveals that he did know that Wright was considered radical. I left one church because I changed my beliefs and I left one because the church changed its teaching. Either way, it is the responsibility of a church member to discern the direction of a church.

    Obama blew it here and if he can't recognize radical racial politics under his nose in his own church, how is he going to be able to discern it in the White House? Are we really supposed to trust in with the direction of our country, when he didn't even manage to move his family in a direction away from Trinity?

  13. That last paragraph is a good one Ellen.. decisions about how one leads their family are valid in my book.. another reason that I am yet undecided.

    In fairness I think that it is also okay to question McCain's decision to not move his family to live with him in DC.. especially after his wife had drug problems in the early 1990s.. it is also a question of judgment in how one leads their family.

    Really.. I am inceasingly disappointed with the major candidates.. I may go with Bob Barr..

  14. This is the first election for both my kids. My daughter asked if she could write in Mickey Mouse...

  15. Very interesting discussion here. I am an Obama supporter, and thought I might add a slightly different point of view.

    **On Sex Ed.**

    I work at an alternative High School. Part of our student body is made up of young mothers and mothers to be, as young as 13! This is awfully close to 6th grade.

    Casey complained that "Obama voted for Senate Bill 99, which mandated that issues like contraception and the prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases be included in sex-education classes for children before the sixth grade, and as early as kindergarten."

    I'm afraid that Casey and those who share this view are closing their eyes to the reality faced by children today. I was called a "prude" in sixth grade over 20 years ago, because I refused a joking offer of sex. Today's kids face that and more!

    The argument against educating kindergartners forgets to mention the statistics showing that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys in our country is sexually molested in some form, many at a VERY young age. Those are horrendous numbers and anyone who thinks they don't need to be taught about proper and improper touching, etc, is either closing their eyes to the facts.

    My children were at a private school for their early elementary years, and I remember a volunteer group that came with puppets and gave a very tasteful talk on exactly this topic. My boys did come home with healthy questions, and it did open up good conversations that we might not have otherwise had.

    **On Rev. Wright**

    I grew up in a middle class, white home, but had the privilege to study abroad during High School.

    One of the hardest things for me was to wrap my mind around the information that we, as a nation, are not seen, and have not always proven ourselves, to be the good Policemen of the World as I had grown up believing. Instead of bring peace and justice to those around us we have, unfortunately, often brought violence and injustice.

    When I heard Rev. Wright mention Panama, I believe I had a different perspective than the majority of TV viewers, and I wished that the truth in what he said could have been brought up. I felt that the three, overly repeated, radical quotes were most likely taken out of context, although I have not heard the complete sermons myself either. I do know that life with a Hispanic husband has opened my eyes to a level of racism that I had not experience as a "typical white girl." It's hard to recognize our shortcomings as a nation, and I have shed many tears over the years as I discover more and more injustice. So, from my point of view, I wished that Obama could have chosen to explain the truths in Rev. Wright's sermons, perhaps with a recognition that no one, not even pastors, are perfect. But I understand that it would have been political suicide.

    ** In conclusion**
    I wrote way more than I planned, but I do hope people realize that there are two sides to the coin. Yes, I'm sure people are influenced by those with whom they associate, but ultimately they will decide for themselves where they stand on the issues. When picking a candidate, please look at their own statements, and judge their plans for our country on their own merits.

  16. Thanks Heather Ann for adding a different perspective to the conversation. I appreciate that you shared your take from your personal experience.


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