Wednesday, April 18, 2012
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT POLITICS
I have been following presidential politics since FDR ran for a fourth term. I was in the Navy then, and loyal to my Commander-in-Chief. I was one who did not want us to “change horses in mid-stream.”
I’ve always considered myself an Independent, and as an ordained minister I registered as an Independent, because I wanted to be able to address the issues in the pulpit from a Christian perspective, when they impacted our moral and spiritual life as individuals and as a nation, without being accused of being partisan. I have always voted for the person not the Party.
Although I hadn’t voted for him in 1968, I voted for Richard Nixon’s reelection in 1972, because I believed his ambition to leave a legacy would make him an effective second-term President. His trip to China and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China was a good start. But then we learned about Watergate!
In recent years I have been registered as a Democrat, primarily because the Democratic platform consistently matches more closely my personal convictions and principles. Anyone who has ever read the Bible knows that God is on the side of the poor, and that’s where I want to be as well.
People of good conscience often disagree in their interpretation of principles. The extent, for example, to which the laissez-faire doctrine is applied to the government’s involvement in the economic enterprise is a matter of continual debate.
To cite another example, there was considerable disagreement regarding the application of the Second Amendment1 to justify the right of private citizens to own handguns, until the Supreme Court in 2008 settled the matter in a landmark 5 to 4 decision ( District of Columbia v. Heller), ruling that Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to own firearms for lawful purposes, including self-protection in their own homes. The N. R. A., of course, was elated that the conservative Justices on the Court had prevailed. Many private citizens, however, myself included, were dismayed. And our fears have been realized by the increase in deaths involving handguns, a trend that has been alarmingly spiked by the so-called “stand your ground” laws that some states have enacted.
Another much-debated principle is that of the separation of church and state. As a preacher I avoid engaging in partisan politics from the pulpit, although my remarks may sometimes appear that way to the people whose political toes have been stepped on. I’ve never understood that principle to mean that a clergyperson has no right to speak to whatever issues he or she believes need to be addressed, because at their root all socioeconomic issues have theological implications.
I view many if not most issues from the perspective of Christian stewardship —stewardship of the environment, stewardship of the earth’s natural resources, stewardship of life, and so on. So issues relating to health care, birth control, voting restrictions, civil rights, women’s rights, immigration, capital punishment, taxation, “stand your ground” laws, off-shore oil drilling, fracking, gun laws, anti-abortion legislation, unemployment, use of torture in the interrogation of prisoners, warfare in general, to name just a few, are all stewardship issues, having to do with responsibilities as well as rights. As a Christian I want to vote for candidates whose positions most nearly reflect the teachings of and example of Jesus Christ, be those candidates Christians or non-Christians.
I have always wanted the political parties to pick the best possible candidates, who could rise above partisan loyalty for the good of the nation. I want to be able to like and to trust whoever is elected, and I wanted that person to do well for the sake of our nation, whether or not I voted for him or her. I admired my Dad’s attitude toward the President elect. Once the President was elected, my father was loyal, respectful, and supportive, whether or not he had voted for the winner. He wanted the President to succeed for the good of the country.
My Dad’s attitude must have rubbed off on me. I remember, for example, what a difficult choice it was for me between Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, because I liked and admired both men so much. I ended up voting for Eisenhower, but I would not have been disappointed if Stevenson had won, and I would have wanted him to succeed as President. Though there were marked differences in the two men and their Party platforms, the political discourse was for the most part civil.
How different is the political climate today. Instead of wanting President Obama to succeed for the sake of our country, his opponents want him to fail for the sake of their Party. Their leaders unashamedly announced that their main goal was to make him a one-term President. In that spirit they have opposed every piece of legislation his administration has proposed. They have reversed their positions when he has attempted to compromise by incorporating their original proposals. They have filibustered, second-guessed, and criticized, and they have too often caved in to the ultra-conservative Far Right, even the moderate members of the Party.
I waited and hoped in vain for those whom I have admired, like Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, to speak up and speak out against the extremists, but with a few recent exceptions,2 they haven’t. The exceptions have related primarily to the legislation which some States have passed restricting a woman’s right to have an abortion by mandating that she have an invasive ultrasound. The majority of women are outraged by these developments.
Historians tell us that there have been periods of bitter controversy in American politics, but I have never seen such meanness as has been exhibited toward President Obama by his opponents. They have given him no credit for the positive impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (3.6 million jobs created thus far), for reforming Wall Street, for saving the automobile industry, for signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was passed when the Democrats controlled both Houses3, for ending the war in Iraq, for ridding the world of Osama Bin Laden, and for many effective Executive orders that have raised the ethical standards of government and streamlined many of its practices.
Most notable of his accomplishments was the passage of health-care legislation (the Affordable Care Act) that no other President had been able to accomplish. His opponents derisively called it Obamacare, ignoring the millions of Americans who for the first time will now have affordable health care. They pointed out the Act’s flaws and cumbersomeness, forgetting the fact that most of the law’s weaknesses were the result of the Administration’s efforts to compromise by incorporating many of their suggestions.
The President has been subjected to unceasing and merciless criticism throughout the Republican primaries. Now that he has finally begun to differentiate between his views and those of his opponents, they’re accusing him of bullying! What is even more disturbing is the way the President of the United States has been personally attacked by his opponents and their constituents. They impugn his motives, question his citizenship, his patriotism, his faith. Governor Romney continually refers to him derogatorily as “this President.”
George W. Bush had his critics, and I was one of them, but never was he treated that way Mr. Obama has been treated. People made fun of Mr. Bush’s verbal goofs, and many disagreed with his policies, but they never questioned his patriotism or accused him of not doing what he thought was best for America.
Mr. Obama’s Republican detractors are inconsistent in their attacks, however, accusing him on the one hand of accomplishing nothing, and on the other hand of acting like a dictator! You can’t have it both ways, but that doesn’t seem to matter to his critics. Whatever he says, they twist and attack. Whatever he does, they denounce or belittle. I cannot help feeling that much of the hatred being expressed toward Barack Obama reflects a latent if not overt racism.
Mitt Romney has deservedly earned himself a reputation of saying anything to get elected. He has proven himself to be the quintessential flip-flopper. One of his own senior advisers likened Mr. Romney’s intention to reinvent himself and change his views during the presidential campaign to an Etch A Sketch, a sobriquet his Republican opponents were quick to seize upon. Now that his chief opponent, Rick Santorum, has pulled out of the race for the Republican nomination, we are seeing the Etch A Sketch at work.
I hope the American people are perceptive enough to see through what’s going on, especially as Mr. Romney attacks the President for the very things for which he himself has been criticized by his Republican rivals. It’s a karlrovian (don’t look it up, I invented the word) tactic that the Republicans have used effectively in the past. The Romney Super PACs’ use of negative advertising is unsurpassed, and they’re now unleashing it against the President. The sad truth is that negative advertising works, because too many Americans are not discerning enough to see through it.
I hope the President doesn’t stoop to that level. He doesn’t need to fight that kind of nasty fire with fire. Far better that he keep to the high road, stick to the truth, and focus on the facts, which speak for themselves.
One of the things I admire most about our President is the thoughtful and reasonable way he responds to the pointed questions he is asked by the media and others about very sensitive issues. His very heartfelt reply to a reporter’s question about the Trayvon Martin case is a good example. He has represented our nation well at home and abroad, and I know I’m not alone in taking great comfort from that.
One would expect that any person who wants to be President of the United States has to be ambitious, but candidates should not sell their soul in the process. Nor should their personal ambition be oozing out of every pore. We have the right to expect them to want what is best for our nation, and to argue their points of view on the issues as vigorously and effectively as they can, but not by misrepresenting their opponent’s positions, and resorting to half-truths and outright falsehoods. We know politicians are addicted to exaggeration, and we can forgive their customary hyperbole, but we have a right to expect them to be fair and honest.
We shall have the opportunity in the forthcoming Presidential campaign to see which candidate best meets that test.
1The Second Amendment reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
2 Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski is a good example.
3 The Bill received the support of only three Republicans. It was the first legislative act signed by President Obama.President Obama.