Friday, February 29, 2008

Evangelicals and the Vote

For much of the last twenty years, if you are a Christian in America (and statistically speaking, you probably are), politics has probably been a way for you to exercise your faith in action. Whenever an election year rolls around, we find ourselves bombarded with candidates looking to appease the vast number of evangelical christians, champing at the bit to realize the vision of a "Christian nation". And evangelicals, for their part, were more than happy to tell the candidates exactly which issues mattered to them most.

For example, any candidate for any office, regardless of their ability to affect the issue would be shot down by the collective religious voting bloc for being pro-choice. Look how many self-proclaimed athiests and agnostics curently hold congrssional seats to see how large a role religion plays in getting elected. Prayer in schools, funding for controvertial art, the appointment of conservative judges, abortion, constitutional amendments to "protect" marriage, leaving mentions of "God" in the Pledge of Alliegance and on the currency, these are all topics that Christians lauded as some of the most important issues facing our nation. They were not afraid to cast a vote for candidates based on their stands on these issues, and for the most part, Republican candidates were happy to offer themselves as the most acceptable choices.

In 2000, George W. Bush was happy to tell the conservative christian movement that, despite having binged on alcohol and cocaine in the 70's and 80's, he was now fully in the Jesus Camp and ready to represent them when he became President. They accepted this, and it played no small part in his victory in 2000. Well, that and a lot of voter fraud. But I digress...

Once in office, Bush went on the offensive, flying the religious right's flag into battle like a latter-day Joan of Arc. From faith-based initiatives to nominating Supreme Court judges eager to overturn Roe V. Wade, Bush cut a wide swath across many social issues. When the Democrats nominated an unapologetic Catholic as the 2004 replacement for Bush, evangelicals went into Belfast mode, drawing voting lines along their faith. In America, Protestants outnumber Catholics, and Kerry lost. Again, voter fraud played its role in the 2004 passion play, but that's another blog for another day.

The other day I read a story on NPR's site about how evangelical voters may not be voting like they used to vote. The death of Jerry Falwell last year has allowed the torch to be passed to newer evangelicals, and simply put, things have changed. Once, they rallied against gay marriage and abortion. Now they may be turning their focus instead to issue like poverty and the environment.

It makes sense that Christians would be focus on these issues instead. Indeed, it begs the question: why weren't these the core issues from day one? Now, let me qualify here: I'm not a Christian. But that isn't to say I'm an emeny of the christian church, or even christian principles. I was raised as a Christian, and I've read the Bible more than once. My understanding of Jesus' teachings seemed to focus on the concept that the Kingdom of God was within all of us. In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells the story of the sheep and the goats, wherein the Judgement Day is described. On one side, God lines up the "sheep", those going to heaven, and on the other side we have the "goats", those going to hell. As God welcomes the sheep into paradise, he lists their good deeds, and this passage alone reads like the Liberal Playbook: "...for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." When the sheep fail to remember having performed these deeds for God, he reminds them: "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." To me the translation is crystal clear: how we treat the poor, the sick, the convicts, to the degree that we are willing to fight for the underdogs in the world is the measure of our love for God.

The truth is that is has always been the liberals in our government that have fought for a decent minimum wage for the poor. It is the liberals that fought to make education possible for all, regardless of race. It is the liberals that are pushing now to turn our country's attention away from the business of war and instead focus on giving quality healthcare to those who cannot afford it. When the school lunch programs were in jeopardy in the 80's, it was the Democrats that fought to make sure our children had food. Democrats are often stigmatized for creating a welfare state, which as far as I can tell, means that we make it the business of government not to let poverty destroy any american lives.

Gay marriage and abortion are ultimately going to be issues settled state-by-state. National politician recongize that after all the posturing is over, these are simply too divisive to ever reach a national concensus. In the end, the only things politicians are going to be remembered for are what they did, not what they believed. Poverty and healthcare are issues that can be successfully addressed, and no one group, not conservatives nor liberals, need be against it. I say that if the Republican party wishes to truly identify itself as the party of christian values, it read the parable of the sheep and goats. In the end, all we will be remembered for is how we treated people.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Civility in Politics?


The other day at a John McCain rally in Cincinnati, Bill Cunningham served as the warm-up speaker. His job was to get the crowd revved up in anticipation of McCain, and rev them up he did. For those unfamiliar with the story, Bill Cunningham is a conservative radio talk show host. He spent much of his time trashing liberals in general, and on the topic of Barack Obama, insisted on using his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, with the emphasis on the Hussein part. The implication was obvious: Obama shares a name with Saddam Hussein, and therefore it's okay to associate all the negativity we've been conditioned to feel towards the Muslim world with Barack Obama. This "guilty by association" premise has been used by other conservative radio and television pundits in recent weeks, and more frequently as Mr. Obama emerges as the Democratic frontrunner. It is a despicable tactic, exploiting the ignorance and prejudice of the American voter.

What interests me about this particular episode of hatemongering is what happened next: McCain came out and addressed the media, saying that Bill Cunningham's disrespect for Senator Obama did not reflect his own feelings, and that he wanted to treat both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton with the respect they deserve as United States senators. He made it a point to both distance himself from the negative remarks offered by Cunningham, while accepting responsibility for the unfortunate incident.

His willingness to be accountable for the blowback despite his apparent ignorance of it in advance, to me, hearkens back to the days of Harry Truman. On Truman's desk in the Oval Office was a sign that read simply, "The Buck Stops Here". The idea that a President (or a presidential candidate) is ultimately accountable for the actions of his administration is one we have sadly not seen much of since the days of Truman. To be clear, I have no intention of voting for John McCain, but it comforts me to know that if elected, there are signs that he would display integrity and accountability.

But an even larger issue is the genial atmosphere. Politics, especially in an election year, is an ugly business. From the general mudslinging to the underhanded Swift boat tactics of 2004, the notion seems to be "vote for me, because the other guy is a weasel". I've stated previously my aversion to the notion of voting for the lesser of two evils. Call me idealistic, but I think it's nobler to build a platform around the idea that you're the best choice for the job, not that the other guy is a bum. That, to me, is using distraction. I want to vote for a candidate that I believe in, not vote against the candidate I hate more.

I know all politicians are, to some degree, sellouts. I've made peace with that. They pander, the promise, they choreograph the photo-ops to show them kissing the babies. It's the way the political machine works, especially in the era of YouTube and the 24-hour news channel - always smile. Shake hands until your arm goes numb. Talk tough about the issues. Speak in sound bites. Demonstrate that even though it's been years since you had anything less than a six-figure income, you can still feel for and relate to the working poor. Add to all this, the idea that the easiest way to get elected is not by promoting yourself, but by assassinating the character of your rivals.

By conservative radio and talk show estimates, we’re to believe that if elected, Obama will reveal himself to be a closeted radical Muslim. We’re to believe that Obama (and Clinton) can’t wait to get into office if only to declare defeat in the war on terror and expose America's soft underbelly to the hordes of bloodthirsty savages around the world. We’re to believe that if elected, the two Democratic frontrunners will waste no time opening the borders to all manner of criminals. Then the thought occurs: these guys are supposed to be stumping for the other guy. Why are they giving so much air time to the opposition, especially when any intelligent person knows that these media hacks are in the business of skewing the truth. Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on why McCain is a better choice? Shouldn’t they be exploring the promises, the policies, and the record of their own candidate, rather than the opposition’s?

Right about then is when I remember one of the great axioms of modern journalism: if it bleeds, it leads. People don’t tune in to the news to hear about what went well, what went smoothly and according to plan. Just ask NASA about that. No, the American public surfs the channels like sharks trolling for the scent of blood in the water. When we catch wind of scandal, of disgrace, of those in high places being brought low, we focus with rapt attention. Just ask Roger Clemens and Britney Spears.

So politics is more interesting when the candidates go for blood, is that it? We watch them circle one another like gladiators. We place our bets and root, root, root for the home team. During the twenty or so debates between Obama and Clinton, the press has lamented the “love fest”, openly wishing the claws would come out. To watch the debates is a lesson in civility. To hear the commentators in the aftermath, commenting on the two trading body blows, I wonder what debate they were watching. To be fair, these two do manage to take the occasional swipe at one another in stump speeches, but when brought together, they always seem to arrive at the same conclusion: we’re not so different, you and I.

Would that this trend continued through November and beyond: to see civility trump nastiness, mutual respect trump character assassination. Hopefully, we have seen the last of the Karl Rove-style of politics, which is to spend more time trying to dig up dirt on the other guy. I would just love to have the candidates simply say: “I respect my opponent, I think they have the country’s best interest at heart, but I believe my plan is a better one, and I’ll tell you why.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Support

With the talk this election year turning to the war, there is much talk about "supporting the troops". I think it's time to examine this sentiment.

Now, I was never in the armed forces. Let me establish that for you right up front. But before you label me some hippie peacenik, know that in 1991 I tried to enlist in the Navy. I took the ASVAB, and passed with flying colors. Then came the physical exam. What I learned then, much to my own surprise was that I was too hard of hearing. I couldn't believe it mattered - I had never met a soft-spoken military man in my life, including my father. I was PDQ'ed - permanently disqualified from military service. So much for a government funded college education. So much for my future membership at the VFW. So much for all the good that a few years in the Navy would have done for me. All protests in vain, I remain to this day a lifelong civilian. They couldn't draft me now if they wanted to: I'm pushing 40, and too old to die for my country.

So I watch from the spectators' bleachers whenever our country goes to rattle its sabers, and my opinion as a civilian is inevitably dismissed as naive at best. I simply do not understand the scope of war. I've never witnessed it firsthand, like much of my fellow citizens; it's a few seconds of news from my daily CNN fix, a transitory topic barely acknowledged in a barrage of information that seems to want to focus more on the emotional state of Britney Spears.

You can't blame the media at this point for treating the war like old news - it is old news. We were attacked more than six years ago, and the war seems to be losing relevance day by day. Are we still pissed about 9/11? Of course we are. But it begs the question, what does this war have to do with 9/11? All we ever hear about is Iraq, and Iraq wasn't involved in that terrible attack. None of the 19 alleged hijackers were Iraqi citizens. They didn't train in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, by our own government's admission, wasn't part of 9/11's planning committee; neither did he finance the training.

So I cannot support the war. If I could see a direct relationship between September the 11th and our war in Iraq, I might feel differently. As I've posted previously, I think the war as it stands is a farce, a distraction, a crime, a sham. I believe that it does not serve our interests as a nation to be embedded in a war in Iraq, and it never did. I see no gain, no profit, and no benefit to us, our soldiers, our national interest, or our standing in the world community. I do not believe that the suicide bombings in Iraq will ever cease so long as our soldiers patrol its streets. I believe that whatever good we had hoped to accomplish has either already been accomplished, or never will be. There is no hope to turn that country into an eventual ally. We have done too much damage and refused to understand the people and their perspectives. They resent us, they want us out, and they have every right to feel that way.

Also, I cannot support the President. Apart from my long list of other grievances with this man, I believed that he knowingly and willfully misled the Congress and the American public into this war. I believe that the he knowingly made false claims about the level of threat that we faced from Iraq. I believe that he consciously distorted the facts to make it appear as if we needed to attack them for our own safety. I believe that there has been no good argument put forth as to why we should stay there one more minute. "Iraq will descend into chaos if we leave" is the resounding battle cry of the "stay the course" crowd, but I'll give you two good reasons why that logic is flawed: first, it's already chaos, and our presence only exacerbates that, and two, using that logic, it will never be safe for us to leave. Fifty years from now, we'll still have ourselves convinced that without our presence, they couldn't fend for themselves. That, my friends, is called arrogance. Our national sin is pride, to the degree that we believe we are the right for all the world's wrongs, and only by forcing our point of view can we affect peace and stability. This war will end someday, like it or not, and the question we need to answer now is how will we quantify an accomplished mission? By what benchmarks will we not only define progress, but completion?

This brings me at long last to the troops. These men and women, fighting and dying in foreign lands, believe that they serve their nation in the process. Now it's true, that to lay down one's life for what one believes is truly the height of nobility. Most of us have something or someone in our lives that we would defend at personal risk, even unto death. I love my country, I love my family, I love my way of life. Attack my child, my wife, even my pet, and there's no limit to the suffering I would gleefully inflict in response. Perhaps this isn't the most enlightened point of view, but if we're ever going to understand how things got to the point they did, it's important to acknowledge our baser instincts and give them their proper due. To fight for another is a noble cause. So my grievance is not with our soldiers. They follow orders - this is the first and most important thing they are told as soldiers. You define yourself as a good soldier by your ability to follow orders. They do not set policy, they enforce it. They do not declare war, they fight the war. That a corrupt President misled a wounded and angry nation into an illegitimate war is not the fault of the soldiers. Their nobility is not in question because their commander-in-chief's is.

When I hear people say "support the troops" they almost inevitably mean that we should support the President and his policy to stay forever locked in this pointless war. To me, these are separate issues. I can support the troops and be grateful to them. I can take pride in the willingness these men and women demonstrate to fight for their country, to do the right thing, to put themselves in harm's way on my behalf. But that has nothing to do with the man who knowingly sent 4,000 of them to an early grave to advance his clandestine agenda. George W. Bush should be considered guilty for causing the deaths of every American soldier who has died in Iraq because he willingly deceived the American people into believing that this war was necessary, justified, and winnable. These brave people who gladly laid their lives down did so because they believed they were fighting for something good and noble. The truth is they were deceived into fighting a madman's war for no good gain. My heart goes out to every family member of these fallen soldiers, and I encourage my nation to hold this man accountable for what this is: war crimes.

So I do support the troops. They have my admiration, my thanks, and my eternal gratitude. This war, however illegitimate, was fought by men and women who loved their country. But now it is time to honor the efforts of these brave patriots and give them the greatest gift we can: peace. It is time to call them home, to the families that miss them, to the communities that need them, and to the nation that honors them. I am sure we can find something for them to do, whether it's provide aid when the next natural disaster strikes or securing our borders. I have no doubt that if we are ever called upon to fight a true and honorable fight against those with the means and will to hurt us, our military will answer the call, and that they will fight valiantly for this nation. Knowing what we now know about the war, about the President and his lies, the truest gesture of support we can offer our troops is to welcome them home.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Freaking Out Neocons 101

Ding Dong, the witch is dead.

With Romney out, this leaves John McCain as the heir apparent to the Republican presidential nomination. Wring your hands all you want about Huckabee, fantasize all you want about a Superbowl-style come-from-behind victory for Ron Paul - they're fantasies. The reality is, come November, if you cast your vote for a Republican president, it will be John McCain.

Personally, I'll be voting Democrat, which allows me the opportunity to be objective about the Republican race. Simply put, it doesn't matter to me who wins the Republican nomination. But the fact that McCain is now basically running unopposed makes me smile, in only a slightly smug way.

Hearing Ann Coulter threaten to campaign for Hillary Clinton before she'd vote for John McCain tosses a surreal glaze over the whole proceeding. Does it get any better than this? The neoconservatives in the Republican party hate McCain. They think he's a sellout because he's dared to co-author legislation with the dreaded liberals. They think he's soft on immigration. They still haven't gotten over the whole campaign finance, which makes sense when you consider that Republicans were used to getting a lot of their election funds from the same big businesses that sent your jobs overseas and left you with nothing more than a lot of pollution. They are so upset over the idea that they might have to collectively hold their noses and vote for McCain in November, they don't kow what to do with themselves.

Here's some advice to the neocons:
  • Recognize that your day is done.- Step aside gracefully and acknowledge that the candidates you championed in 2000 and 2002 have made a royal mess of things.
  • Acknowledge that more Americans disagree with you than agree.
  • Realize that now it's time for the other side to clean up the mess you've made of things (again).
  • While you're not in charge for the next few years, collectively go back to the drawing board and re-examine your platform. Figure out where you went wrong.
  • Appoint leaders that are more concerned with meeting America's needs in the 21st century than they are with reincarnating Ronald Reagan (who was, I'm sorry to say, not as great as you remember).
  • Retreat, regroup, and come at us in 2012 with fresh ideas.
  • A word to the wise: forget gay marriage and flag burning.
  • Don't try to talk us into wars. We've had it with war.
  • Make your goals fiscal responsibility and limited government.
  • Abandon your quest for world domination, and forswear the police state you've tried to create.
  • Admit, just admit, that mexicans are not our enemies.
  • Recognize that it should be more important to make sure our citizens have healthcare than it is to conquer enemies abroad.

Do these things and we'll see about giving you back power. In the meantime, it's going to be McCain, Clinton, or Obama.

Deal with it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Election 2008: The Plot Thins

And then there were four...

I suppose it was inevitable that Rudy Giuliani would bail out. This guy’s got more baggage than Paris Hilton on safari. For the Republicans to consider taking him seriously would be to throw all of their own Lewinsky-era morality into serious doubt. Simply put, you cannot be the party that supposedly champions “Family Values” and nominate a guy who’s on his third marriage. Incidentally, we may want to keep this logic Tupperware-fresh, just in case Newt Gingrich ever decides to count on our collective amnesia and make a run for the White House.

The one I’m sorry to see go is Edwards. Call me na├»ve, but I was really buying into his man-of-the-people pitch. It didn't hurt that there were no small reminders of JFK there, what with the youthful enthusiasm and all. I suppose his surrender marks the official end of hope that we can usurp the Status Quo, even if we manage to elect a woman or a black man to the Presidency. I think that Edwards would still do well to serve, perhaps as Attorney General? I can just see Big Oil and Big Insurance reaching for their collective antacids at the mere thought.

Which leaves Clinton, Obama, Romney, and McCain. The four horsemen (gender notwithstanding) of the Electoral Apocalypse are upon us, ladies and gentlemen, and until we have certainty which two of the four will go head-to-head, it behooves us to examine the merits of each choice.

Let’s start with the Republicans.


McCain is fun, if for no other reason than because he pisses off the neoconservatives as badly as he does. To see Ann Coulter threaten to vote for Hillary before she’d vote for McCain was just plain surreal. He is portrayed as weak on immigration, which as far as I can tell translates into the notion that he doesn’t hate Mexicans enough. And this comes as no surprise: the man is a Senator from a state that borders Mexico (and New Mexico, for that matter). More than any representative from a non-border state, he has a much more intimate knowledge of the impact of Mexican immigrants. His state, comparatively speaking, is riddled with Mexicans, both here legally and otherwise. And he understands what he needs to understand about Mexicans: that they are not a threat. Too many of the right wing voices would have us thinking that we are at war with Mexico, and they are sending in troops disguised as day laborers to subvert white culture and force our children to speak Spanish. McCain, to his credit, doesn’t fall for the xenophobia these people try to instill. He does believe that our immigration laws need to be enforced, and more importantly that the laws need to be re-examined and amended to work in a 21st Century America. For that, he is charged with being weak on immigration, a charge which sounds suspiciously like a McCarthy-era “communist sympathizer” ploy. On the war issue, we have here a candidate who actually served in the military, even being captured and kept as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. This gives him a unique perspective among most Republicans when it comes to the questions of Guantanamo Bay and the general use of torture in our so-called War on Terror. Again, he is portrayed as soft on the issue, not towing the party line, which seems to be “kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out.” Of the two Republican candidates, he is the one I would be less likely to move to Canada over.

Romney: I must confess, he is the candidate I know the least about. He’s been governor of Massachusetts, a state which led the way on the gay marriage issue. How this didn’t sink his campaign from the get-go, I’ll never know. The mere fact that he is from New England, which is notoriously blue, casts serious aspersions on his prospects to get the nomination. To compensate for this, he comes out as being tough on terrorists, strong on family, friendly to big business, and anti-abortion. True, he is a Mormon, and while this chafes the collective ass of the Christian Conservative movement on the right wing, he is at least some kind of religious. And although it’s not the WASP version, the Bible thumpers will eventually settle with him, as any port in a storm will do. Then there are his looks: he is a good looking guy, but in a slick politician way. Something about him reminds me of every villain from every Steven Seagal movie ever made. The whole thing makes me a bit uneasy.

Which brings us to the Democrats.

I’ll start with Hillary. Part of me is afraid NOT to vote for her, as I’ll no doubt be accused of sexism. For the record, I would love to see a woman in the White House. Those who think a woman can’t be in charge of a country. I have two words for you: Margaret Thatcher. Or we could always reference Irish President Mary McAleese, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Eva Peron, and so on. Also she is a Clinton, which for me is both a reason to vote for her, and a reason to not vote for her. First, let me say that I was a huge fan of Bill Clinton. While I can’t give my blessing to everything he did, I believe he did more good for this country than any president in the last fifty years. He fixed the huge deficit run up by Reagan and Bush the Father, he brought welfare levels down to their lowest levels in over thirty years, he managed to keep us safe, except for that little scrape in 1993 where some nut blew up a van underneath the World Trade Center. (And on that topic, let’s just say that the people responsible for that attack are currently in jail, having been tried and convicted. I’ll bet Bush the Son wishes he could say the same about the people who attacked the World Trade Center on his watch. But I digress.) When Clinton left office we weren’t at war and we had a budget surplus. If Hillary gets elected, I can take comfort in the fact that Bill Clinton, while not President, will have the opportunity to advise the President in ways no one else will. If there was anyone I could choose to hold sway over the President, it would be someone who knows how to do the job right. But if she is elected, that will mean we will have dedicated twenty years of our nations leadership to two families, the Bushes and the Clintons. The thought that comes to mind is “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. My wish is that whoever is in charge is not drunk with power, but the truth is that kind of legacy is almost too much power to give such a small group of people. There’s also the fact that Hillary voted in favor of the war and the Patriot Act. This does not bode well for her.

And finally we come to Barack Obama. If elected he will be the black man (half black, whatever) to be President. As a white guy, I don’t feel the least bit threatened by this. The fact that his middle name is Hussein is a thorn in the side of neocons everywhere. It’s as if they believe that upon taking the oath of office, he’ll immediately wrap himself in a turban and declare himself the Twelfth Imam. Fantasies aside, it cannot help but improve our ability as a nation to reach out the Islamic nations of the world by having a man in charge that actually spent time as a boy in a Muslim schools. Even if the man were a die-hard Muslim, I still feel it would only help us in international relations. The truth is, most Islamic nations feel estranged from the United States. They feel that America just doesn’t get it, and they’ve got a point. We swagger around on the world stage in our best John Wayne mode, declaring ourselves the New Sheriff in Town and insisting that white Christian Capitalism is the manifest destiny of the planet, and labeling those who disagree as trouble. American tourists are not welcome in much of the world, and it’s no wonder. Personally, I would love to visit places in the Muslim world, but as an American I know what I would represent to the locals. Having a man in charge who would make ending the war in Iraq a top priority is exactly the kind of leadership we need to re-establish our reputation.

I believe that in making a choice in this election, we must first establish what our priorities are. What is important to us, nationally and internationally? Which problems need fixing, and who is the best qualified to fix them? What would we like to see different? For me, the top concern is the war; end it already. On that alone, I will be giving my support to Obama. I believe he is the most committed to resolving the war quickly, and since Hillary voted for the war in the first place, I question her dedication to that goal. Add your comment: who would you vote for, and why?