Obama, Person of the Year, isn't religious?

obama_coverTime magazine's Person of the Year feature rightly focused on President-elect Barack Obama. Unfortunately, while the magazine managed to slip in an unremarkable (but first-person) look at Obama's basketball skills and its influence on his life, none of the magazine's four articles on the Person of the Year Obama touched on the influence of religion on the campaign of the influence faith has had on Obama's life. I like basketball as much as the next Hoosier (I even made a weak effort at getting Obama to play at my gym on one of his campaign visits to Indianapolis), but if the magazine can afford to spend space on sport), why couldn't they talk about Obama's faith? Is Time trying to be the un-Newsweek magazine?

Even the magazine editors' interview story with Obama failed to touch on faith (the fourth article I am counting is the editor's explanation for why they chose Obama as their Person of the Year. No religion here either.).

As for the feature article, the following is the closest item I could find that touches anywhere close to Obama's faith:

"A presidential campaign is like an MRI of the soul," says David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist. "And one of the great revelations of this process, certainly the most thrilling revelation to me, was to learn what a great manager this guy is. We had no way of knowing that when we started. When he decided to run, we had no political infrastructure at all. There was just a handful of us, and we were setting off to challenge the greatest political operation in the Democratic Party."

Keep in mind that Obama, as Rudy Giuliani put it at the Republican Convention in September, had "never led anything, nothing, nada" -- certainly not a sprawling organization spread from coast to coast. But he did have a philosophy of leadership, which he explains like this: "I don't think there's some magic trick here. I think I've got a good nose for talent, so I hire really good people. And I've got a pretty healthy ego, so I'm not scared of hiring the smartest people, even when they're smarter than me. And I have a low tolerance of nonsense and turf battles and game-playing, and I send that message very clearly. And so over time, I think, people start trusting each other, and they stay focused on mission, as opposed to personal ambition or grievance. If you've got really smart people who are all focused on the same mission, then usually you can get some things done."

I really wished the magazine's editors had looked closer at that soul issue. In an average presidential election cycle (not that any of them are average), religion plays a role. But when was the last election cycle where religion played this significant of a role in a presidential campaign?

If one looks back on the President Bush's 2004 Time Person of the Year feature, religion was mentioned several times both in regards to Bush's faith and how faith played a roll in the election:

People close to Bush have their theories about this. Some think he likes the cries of outrage because they signal that he's making tough calls, which is how he views his job description. "Part of it could be his faith," says an adviser. "Being persecuted is not always a bad thing." Some of it may be learned. He has hated the political echo chamber ever since he watched insiders he viewed as self-preserving and backbiting carve up his father's Administration. When you're a lie-in-wait politician like Bush, who has gained so much from being underestimated, absorbing criticism toughens your skin and eases the wait for the coming reward. "There's no victory for Bush that is sweeter," says an aide, "than the one he was told he couldn't have." ...

If you go hunting for Bush's margin of victory, you won't find it among Evangelicals, who voted in roughly the same proportion as in the past. You'll find it among groups that traditionally don't vote Republican. Bush improved his standing among blacks, Jews, Hispanics, women, city dwellers, Catholics, seniors and people who don't go to church. His biggest improvement came in the bluest of regions, the corridor from Maryland up through New Jersey and New York to Massachusetts. In Kerry's home state, Bush found close to 200,000 more voters than he did in 2000. He won a majority of the vote in a country that a majority of voters thought was heading in the wrong direction. Since, according to polls, more people consider themselves conservatives than liberals, he didn't need to win over a majority of the voters in the middle. He just needed to convince enough to put him over the top.

You can see previous years' Person of the Year along with links to the stories here.

In the past, Time has covered religious issues when it comes to national political issues. The one I can remember right now is its list of 25 most influential evangelicals, which was fairly well researched and reported. Perhaps in a couple of weeks Time will look back on the effect faith had on Obama's campaign and Obama personally and the effect the Obama campaign had upon faith.

Two significant areas that should be examined closely: how the country's African-American churches responded to the Obama campaign along with the Jeremiah Wright stories from the primary campaign and how Obama's campaign influenced the country's evangelical churches.

With that, I wish everyone a Happy New Year and hope that religion coverage in journalism all around the world improves in 2009.

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