A President Obama's Neoliberal Theocracy

Barack Obama's first vocational choice was to help people in a poor African-American community. Later, he joined a church founded on black liberation theology. This combination could result in an Obama presidency that embodies something new in American history -- a Neoliberal Theocracy. 

When we in the West hear the word theocracy, we think of mullahs, fatwas, and human pronouncements issued with the presumptuous authority of divine edicts.  But not all theocracies are so dictatorially dogmatic. They range from the theocratic-lite nature of the United Kingdom's monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, to the industrial-strength theocracy of Iran where the two top offices, Supreme Leader and head of the Guardian Council, are reserved for Shiite clergy. A new, softer-and-gentler American theocracy may be in our future.  

What does "Neoliberal Theocracy" mean?

In a Neoliberal Theocracy the principles of political liberalism that guide decisions of statecraft are aligned with beliefs thought to constitute a moral theology. In other words, the federal government, particularly the Executive Branch, acts in accordance with a defined, theological belief system.

Neoliberal is to liberal as neoconservative is to conservative.  It represents the evolution of thinking that occurs when a stable ideological platform (contemporary political liberalism) is applied to new circumstances (Barack Obama's deeply held theological belief system).  
The social gospel of an Obama presidency could be traced back to the race-based class dialectic of the black liberation theology movement. That movement emerged as the theological wing of the broader Black Power movement of the late 1960's - early 1970's. Among a constellation of groups and personalities representing Black Power were: the 1968 Olympic Black Power salute; the Black Panthers; Malcolm X; Bobby Seale; the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee ("snick"), etc. 

Black liberation theology forms the core identity of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ (UCC) - Obama's home church for two decades.  Today, that congregation espouses a Black Value System.  It reflects the movement's class dialectic that remains unabashedly race-based. The black values concept was first introduced by one of the founders of the black liberation theology movement, Dr. James H. Cone, in Black Theology & Black Power (© 1969, Harper & Row, 1969, p.127).

"To carve out a Black Theology based on black oppression will of necessity mean the creation of new values independent of and alien to the values of white society...They will be alien because white American ‘Christian' values are based on racism."

While the media didn't hesitate to probe the religious beliefs of Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, reporters have been reluctant, until recently, to inquire into Obama's religious principles. Perhaps political correctness has made them hyper-sensitive to giving the appearance of delving into racial issues. Their hesitancy persists, even though Obama has used biblical literary devices in his speeches.  He juxtaposes his interpretation of Christianity to those of the religious right who, he claims, have "hijacked" the faith.  It's as though he has invited religion questions from a media too timid to ask.

When addressing a faith-based audience, Obama, quoting largely from his book The Audacity of Hope (p.202), lent an existential spiritual tone to his campaign. 

"They [Americans] want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives.  They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness, a feeling supported by a recent study that shows Americans have fewer close friends and confidants than ever before. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long highway towards nothingness."   

Message: Obama, the helper, cares for those who hurt.

In that same speech, quoting again from of his book (p. 207), Obama said,

"I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change...Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope."  

Message: The black church truly understands the social gospel.

The channel of Christianity that Obama entered at Trinity UCC gave a theological motive to his preexistent passion to be a helper. There he found a social gospel that, today, undergirds his advocacy for an activist federal government more aggressively involved in social programs, both foreign and domestic.   

How would this represent a theocracy of any kind?

In this way: His presidential social activism would be based on an economic-based class dialectic that is theologically grounded. In language conveying near messianic overtones, the authors of his primary campaign document, The Blueprint For Change, wrote,

"He will help the world's weakest states to build healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty..."  

How might a Neoliberal Theocracy influence U.S. foreign relations? 

Tyrants test adversaries they perceive as weak. Khrushchev interpreted Kennedy's failure to provide American air assets at the Bay of Pigs as weakness, and tested him with missiles in Cuba. The November 26, 1979 cover of TIME magazine displayed a small photo of an unsmiling Jimmy Carter against the full page backdrop of a scowling Ayatollah Khomeini. The caption read: THE TEST OF WILLS.  Khomeini and Ronald Reagan won that test.

Our adversaries would test a President Obama if they perceived him as weak.  How? Imagine these ways:

  • A company-sized, elite unit of North Korean commandos infiltrates across the 38th parallel, decimates a platoon-sized American unit, then hurries back across the border, taking their own casualties and a few captured U.S. soldiers with them.  Democrats in Congress ask: Why are we still in Korea anyway?  The U.S. protests the incursion to the U.N. Security Council. Then, as a condition of our gradual withdrawal from the Korean peninsula, the N. Koreans blandly apologize and blame the incident on a maverick military commander. Tensions between the two Koreas are eased in favor of N. Korean dominance as a formal end to the Korean War is negotiated.  
  • Venezuela's Hugo Chavez denies any involvement when several hundred lightly-armed students, shouting anti-American slogans, spontaneously invade the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and hold the occupants captive.  Obama and Chavez meet face-to-face in Havana to ease tensions.  Subsequent discussions designed to resolve the crisis are assigned to a three-party Crisis Resolution Commission that includes the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), since they claim involvement in the embassy take-over. Eventually, the future of the Organization of American States is called into question as Nicaragua, Ecuador, and a reluctant Bolivia begin talks to form a new regional alliance.
  • Late one morning, several of the new U.S. Consulates that the Obama Administration had recently opened in Africa, fulfilling a specific campaign pledge, are targets of suspected Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah terrorists, leaving hundreds dead.  A few African nations immediately ask the U.S. to downscale its diplomatic presence in order to lessen the danger to their citizens.  Kenya demands an increase in American aid to better fend off the threat from Islamic insurgents. 

If you discount these as fanciful and impossible, remember: The last president to flirt with conducting foreign policy from a theological perspective was Jimmy Carter. 

Here's the hub of matter.  In his speech to the Democrat convention in 2004, then Candidate for the U.S. Senate Barack Obama said,

"It is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keep, I am my sister's keeper -- that makes this country work."

That's not so. While that may express Obama's theological worldview, and is an ageless, altruistic principle behind countless good works, it is not what makes this country work.

What makes this country work is the fundamental belief that we are born with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The two beliefs - keepers of each other and inalienable rights - live independent lives.  And that's why we should be very wary of a Neoliberal Theocracy, or any theocracy for that matter.