Sunday, August 19, 2007

Exterminator at a Loss for Words?

NOTE: On today’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos broadcast, the Democratic party’s presidential candidates engaged in a “debate.” The following horrifying sequence is reprinted exactly as recorded in the ABC news transcript.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on now. We've got a question -- we've got an e-mail question from Seth Ford of South Jordan, Utah. And he said, "My question is to understand each candidates' view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened?" I'd like each of you to answer it. Let me start with you, Senator Clinton.

CLINTON: You know, it's hard to hear you up here, George. I apologize.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll keep it up, and I'll just repeat it again. My question is to understand each candidate's view of a personal God. Do they believe that, through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could've been prevented or lessened?

CLINTON: Well, I don't pretend to understand the wisdom and the power of God. I do believe in prayer. And I have relied on prayer consistently throughout my life. You know, I like to say that, if I had not been a praying person before I got to the White House, after having been there for just a few days I would've become one. (LAUGHTER) So I am very dependent on my faith, and prayer is a big part of that.


DODD: I agree with what Hillary has just said here. I would not want to try and second-guess the lord's intentions here and to assume that part of his great plan includes some of these actions we see, for a variety of different reasons, here. And the power of prayer I think is important to all of us. I hope it is, recognizing that we don't do anything without His approval.

EDWARDS: I have prayed most of my life; pray daily now. He's enormously important to me. But the answer to the question is: No, I don't -- I prayed before my 16-year-old son died; I prayed before Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer. I think there are some things that are beyond our control. And I think it is enormously important to look to God -- and, in my case, Christ -- for guidance and for wisdom. But I don't think you can prevent bad things from happening through prayer.

GRAVEL: What I believe in is love. And love implements courage. And courage permits us all to apply the virtues that are important in life. And so you can pray -- I was always persuaded or struck by the fact that many people who pray are the ones who want to go to war, who want to kill fellow human beings. That disturbs me. I think what we need is more love between one human being and another human being. And then we'll find the courage to dispel many of the problems we have in governance. The answer to governance is not up here on the dais. The answer is with the American people and the people of Iowa. That's where the answer is. And I have a proposal, and it's the only one that talks of change. The change is to empower the American people with a national initiative. And my colleagues, with all due respect, don't even understand the principle of the people having the power. (APPLAUSE)

RICHARDSON: I pray. I'm a Roman Catholic. My sense of social justice, I believe, comes from being a Roman Catholic. But, in my judgment, prayer is personal. And how I pray and how any American prays, for what reason, is their own decision. And it should be respected. And so, in my view, I think it's important that we have faith, that we have values, but if I'm president, I'm not going to wear my religion on my sleeve and impose it on anybody.

BIDEN: George, my mom has an expression. She says that, "God sends no cross you're unable to bear." The time to pray is to pray whether or not you're told, as John was and I was, that my wife and daughter are dead, to have the courage to be able to bear the cross. The time to pray is to pray not only before, but pray that you have the courage, pray that God can give you the strength to deal with what everyone is faced with in their life, serious crosses, serious crosses to bear. The answer to the gentleman's question is, no, all the prayer in the world will not stop a hurricane. But prayer will give you the courage to be able to respond to the devastation that's caused in your life and with others to deal with the devastation.

OBAMA: I believe in the power of prayer. And part of what I believe in is that, through prayer, not only can we strengthen ourselves in adversity, but that we can also find the empathy and the compassion and the will to deal with the problems that we do control. Most of the issues that we're debating here today are ones that we have the power to change. We don't have the power to prevent illness in all cases, but we do have the power to make sure that every child gets a regular checkup and isn't going to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma. We may not have the power to prevent a hurricane, but we do have the power to make sure that the levees are properly reinforced and we've got a sound emergency plan. And so, part of what I pray for is the strength and the wisdom to be able to act on those things that I can control. And that's what I think has been lacking sometimes in our government. We've got to express those values through our government, not just through our religious institutions. (APPLAUSE)

KUCINICH: George, I've been standing here for the last 45 minutes praying to God you were going to call on me. And my... (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) And I come from a spiritual insight which says that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have a direct pipeline, Congressman. (LAUGHTER)

KUCINICH: I come from a spiritual insight which says that we have to have faith but also have good works. So when we think of the scriptures, Isaiah making justice the measuring line; Matthew 25, "whatever you do for the least of our brethren"; where the biblical injunction, "make peace with your brother" -- all of these things relate to my philosophy. Now, the founders meant to have separation of church and state, but they never meant America to be separate from spiritual values. As president, I'll bring strong spiritual values into the White House, and I'll bring values that value peace, social and economic justice, values that remember where I came from. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

THE EXTERMINATOR: I think Mr. Ford’s question has no place in this debate. But I’ll answer it because I realize how important it is for Mr. Stephanopoulos’s ratings that he cater to his religious viewers. I do not believe at all in the power of prayer. (BOOS AND HISSES) I believe in the power of the human mind, and in compassion, and in empathy, and in having a sense of history and a deep respect for science. (TOMATOES THROWN) Nor do I think that prayer is an appropriate strategem for the President of the United States. (VERBAL THREATS) The idea that any individual has a personal pipeline to a supernatural being is dangerous, and, when such an idea is embraced by the leader of a country, results in extreme abuses of power. Those who claim, or even imply, that they would incorporate prayers in any way into their governing decisions are ignoramuses or scoundrels, or both. (LYNCH MOB APPROACHES STAGE)

Well, maybe I made up that last response. But all the other ones are frighteningly real. Since my face is frozen into “The Scream,” I'm speechless. I hope my readers will provide some commentary, in which I'll join once I've regained my tongue.


BlackSun said...

I sympathize. But they have no choice. They don't want a Republican in the White House four more years. Much as it galls me, they have to say it.

Though I liked Edwards and Gravel's answer the best, especially Edward's part about "I don't think you can prevent bad things from happening through prayer." In other words, it doesn't work.

The Exterminator said...


Why do "they have to say it"? Why do "they have no choice"? Am I supposed to trust a candidate who, you hint, lies in order to get votes from the religiously motivated? If you're implying that these guys merely acceded to realpolitik, what evidence do I have that they aren't lying about other issues as well?

Gravel's answer sounded like a naive song lyric from the late sixties. Nice sentiment, stupid idea. What's he on, anyway?

I agree with you only partially about Edwards. His answer demonstrated no small amount of courage, particularly in light of the other nonsense that was being spouted. But I'm hugely disgusted by his claim that it's "enormously important to look to God ... for guidance and wisdom." Why don't we Americans just say "fuck it" and elect a high priest instead of a president?

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is - for Darwins's sake (not the evolutionary Japanese drink), why are you not watching football? It's Sunday!

I thought Biden did the best job, while still in full Brownbacking mode, when he said:
The answer to the gentleman's question is, no, all the prayer in the world will not stop a hurricane. But prayer will give you the courage to be able to respond to the devastation that's caused in your life and with others to deal with the devastation.
In other words, you can talk yourself into feeling better about that which you have no power over, and no one else does either. That's semi-realistic.

John Morales said...

"THE EXTERMINATOR: I think Mr. Ford’s question has no place in this debate."

Why not?

Information is useful - the answers reveal their public position, but you'd have to be naive to accept them at face value.

I suspect Blacksun is pointing out that they're politicians seeking votes. And their lips were presumably moving.

Anonymous said...

All very good points. The message from the candidates seemed to be, "live your life by ritual and slogan, leave reality to others."

If the vote of traditionalist Hawaiians suddenly became the most important thing to get one elected I can imagine that the throwing of virgins down calderas would become a signifigant thing. They would probably with ernsst gravity endorse such a practice as being an important charactor indicator.

The Exterminator said...

Yes, Biden's response was marginally better than some of the others. But did you count the number of times he mentioned the cross?

J. Morales:
Mr. Ford's question had no place in the debate because (1) religion should have no role in American politics, (2) we've already heard the same type of query ad nauseam, and (3) it was a softball question which elicited bucketsful of meaningless crap. Yes, voters will use all kinds of ridiculous criteria to decide which candidate to vote for, but the media doesn't have to encourage a simple relgiious test. I've previously suggested some more revealing questions about the candidates' religious positions. And here are a series of queries that would reveal other cultural attitudes.

As far as being naive to take the candidates' answers at face value, of course you're right. But by what criteria are we to decipher what they really think? Should American voters silently condone being lied to by people who want to become their president? Haven't we had enough of that during the current administration?

Aha! Now I understand why some of the presidential contenders say we'll have to make sacrifices.

Anonymous said...

It always amazes me to hear a group of people answering a question like that and all of them taking God's existence as a given. It's scary when I think that they're candidates to be arguably the most powerful person on this planet.

My vote still goes to the Exterminator.

John Evo said...

Exterminator - I have to disagree with you on this one. I think Gravel gave the ONLY statement that I could live with.

At NO POINT in his answer did he kowtow to faith in ANY FORM. Did he sound kind of faded? Yeah. He's smokin' some good stuff! But look closely at his answer and compare it to every other answer, including Edwards, and you'll see he is the only one coming from a somewhat rationalist viewpoint.

Why do these people believe that they have to pander to religion? Has anyone ever tried to express their own decency in atheistic terms and then gotten their butts handed to them for it? I don't think any Presidential candidate has ever TRIED to articulate an answer like the one you presented.

Maybe a whole lot of people would say "AHHHH, what a breath of fresh air! I believe there's a god out there somewhere, he (or she) doesn't, but I really ADMIRE his/her honesty"!

Now, I'm not an idiot. I know this could never work for a Republican candidate in the primaries. They have made their party and they have to stew in it. But the Dems? Come on! It could be a brilliant strategy and it may finally get this nation over the hump and we could join the rest of the world's great democracies in NOT making religion a political issue!

Then there is the scary possibility that they were all being completely honest.

PhillyChief said...

Wow I was scrolling through here thinking "am I the only one who saw Gravel as giving the best answer"? Thanks John for saying it first.

Look closely, because his answer could be that of a closet atheist. He said "so you can pray", not "so I pray". He never admits to praying or any belief in a deity. In fact, he went on to point out that it's the ones praying that are in a rush to go to war. So for those keeping score, he's the ONLY ONE to:
• not say he prays
• not admit to a belief in a deity
• cast those who do pray in a poor light
Furthermore, he emphasizes that the answer lies in people.

If he said "reason" instead of "love", he would have hit a grandslam. Anyway, it was far and away the best answer.

C. L. Hanson said...

I think it's interesting that none of them said that prayer would have any effect on the physical outcome of anything. They almost all found some way of saying "If you want something real to happen you need to actually do something real. Yet prayer is still very, very important!!! Because God uses his miraculous supernatural powers to make you feel better."

The Exterminator said...

Well, Gravel may be technically OK in the faith area, but his emphasis on "love" smacks a little of veiled sixties-style Christianity to me. In any case, he's really OUT there. You're right, though: If he had said "reason" instead of "love" I'd be campaigning for him.

Excellent point. Too bad Stephanopoulos didn't follow up with a second (and third) question: If prayer has no practical effect, why bother? Can't people find other ways to give themselves strength in crises?

John Morales said...

I know you asked "But by what criteria are we to decipher what they really think?" somewhat rhetorically, but I can't resist providing an answer.

C. L. Hanson's excellent point is one of those criteria. I think there there are others.

Reason's Whore said...

Hey, what's wrong with advocating a little more love on the planet? You know: "make love, not war"? Maybe if George had gotten a blow job from an intern he wouldn't have had time or inclination to invade Iraq. Maybe if he actually had some compassion for people he wouldn't be so cavalier about killing tens of thousands of human beings.

I also thought Gravel sounded like a closet atheist or at least agnostic.

I was disappointed with all the other replies, although I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

The Exterminator said...

j morales:
Yes, C. L.'s point is excellent. But why should I, a voter, be put in the position of having to "translate" what the candidates say? Why didn't a single one of them respond, "I object to that question on the grounds that it's irrelevant"?

You said I also thought Gravel sounded like a closet atheist or at least agnostic. OK, so why is he in the closet? Are we supposed to support that craven position?

John Morales said...

I consider you're in that position because of the voters themselves, in aggregate.

The candidates are (almost by definition because of the position they are in) excellent politicians.
Excellent politicians have great skill at being elected. This they do by tailoring their public persona and sound-bites at all times.

I admit that I believe that they would not use this approach, were they of the opinion that another approach would be more successful.

If this is so, then the solution is to somehow change the candidates' perception of the electorate.

Real life is messy.

John Morales said...

Sorry, I realize I've only answered your first question.

Regarding the second question, I believe that some politicians view the opportunity to speak in response to a question as a license to say whatever they like.

I don't know how many times, in my youth, I was exasperated and thinking "nice answer, but not to the question that was asked!"

But of course, as I said in my original comment, it is still information.

The Exterminator said...

J Morales:

You can't have it both ways. Either the candidates are "tailoring their public persona and sound-bites at all times" (i.e. they lie), or they reveal information about themselves. Yes, you could argue that the way they choose to lie reveals information about them, but that's still accepting a premise I don't think we should. If the candidates are lying, then all the information they reveal is suspect. Anyone who has ever served on a jury can tell you that.

Now, I agree with your implied statement that the electorate is made up of idiots. But my point is: you and I don't have to be among them.

John Morales said...

Fair enough.

A couple of clarifications:

I live in South Australia, not the USA (so I have to put up with far less public piety than you), and am not a stakeholder in this issue.

I tend to choose my words deliberately. If I had wished to say they were lying, or that the electorate is stupid, I would have.

An analogy of what I meant would be my persona when I am at work, compared to when I am, say, relaxing with friends or engaged in competitive sport.
Politicians are basically "at work" whenever in public, and so I said "at all times".

I'm sure you've seen examples of the brouhaha when, inadvertently, a politician says or does something contrary to their party line. They probably feel that sort of thing is not good for their re-election chances.

In the specific instance you posted about, though, they were "officially" hard at work.

So far as the electorate goes, I think you're being a little harsh.
I do agree that most people either don't bother to or can't critically analyse political claims, and seem to take a more... visceral approach to their assessment thereof.

The Exterminator said...


Well, I'll have to remember to use "visceral" as a euphemism for "stupid."

You're quite a politician yourself.

John Morales said...

Yikes! I'd hate being a politician!

Admit it, you're just jealous of my use of euphemism and felicitous phrasing :)

Seriously, though, I'm on your side and cheer you on. I was merely quibbling your protestation of, ahem, stupefaction upon encountering said broadcast.

John Morales said...


I have corrected my blogger display name, as you can see (I was somewhat timid when creating the account).

John Evo said...

'as you can see (I was somewhat timid when creating the account).'

Well, now that you have exploded on to the scene and we all know that you are "John (not just "J") Morales" and located somewhere on the continent of Australia, we can take you more seriously!

Just kidding... annonymity is cool. At least with me. I'm "John - Evolutionary Middleman" - what the HELL does THAT mean??

John Morales said...


It's disconcerting to be merely J:, and confusing that there's 3 Johns in these comments.

BTW: I've pointed out before just how much religion is embedded in our language and culture. John, for example.

Anonymous said...


I agree with Blacksun. If we want to wrest the WH back from the Republicans, we have to walk a fine, fine line. And you will notice that NO ONE except for Edwards even came close to answering the original question.

Can't agree with Blacksun about Gravel, though. When I began to read Gavel's response, I half-expected to hear a Barry Manilow song start playing in the background! lol.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I've been voting for twenty-six years now, and I can't REMEMBER when I "trusted" any politician, whether or not I voted for him!