DemocracyMeansYou

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Opening Day

Welcome to the new DMY semidaily blog. Here’s an inaugural mind-feast for you. Hope it’s not too long and onandon.

Today I finished a letter to a friend of mine, who responded to a letter I wrote to her about “why in God’s name are you voting for Bush?” (See: Christian, Compassionate, and Conservative, http://www.democracymeansyou.com/articles/article.php?ID=91 my original letter.) She finally wrote back to me, and I still can’t make heads or tails of it. So I spent the last week going over this letter to try to make my point once again—and even just to clarify for myself. Her response to the original:

Dear Ian,

At long last, my response! I’ve thought about it a LOT over the past months, and it’ll be good to finally say my piece.

First, though, Happy New Year! I’m observing Yom Kippur for the first time this year, going to temple and fasting - the whole bit. I’m praying for the peace of Israel, though that means a little something different to me than it does to most.

Here’s a quote I’ve been saving for months: "All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia." That’s from Orwell. I agree, mostly, which is why I’m not much of a political animal like my mom or, say, you.

Politics will not save us. The government will not fix the world’s problems. I look to a higher power than government for that job. This does not mean that who gets into office does not matter. It often matters a great deal. It is a matter for much and regular prayer, which I engage in. It’s just that I don’t really trust political engagement with the masses as it’s currently practiced in most of the world.

Swift Boat Veterans, forged documents, the Bush advisor who had to resign after being linked to the Swift Boat Veterans, blah blah blah. I hope you’re as sick of the drivel that passes for real political discourse as I am. I actually heard said the other day on a news show what I’ve long suspected: the anchor said, basically, "The president doesn’t really have that much control over the economy, but since that’s the perception of the general populace, how should each candidate position himself?"

It seems like terrible misdirection and misinformation to tout big economic plans as part of a campaign, and yet it also seems that it’s what candidates are forced to do because that’s what’s expected of them. Icky. I feel that it’s the case with lots of other issues, or ways of talking about the issues. So many people think Big Daddy President is going to fix everything.

No dice. However, the president still holds an important role. He is still able to do some powerful stuff, such as defend the unborn by encouraging and signing such legislation. That’s just one example, but it’s indicative of just how important who sits in the Oval Office is. Here’s my belief, and it’s kinda radical, so hold on to your desk chair: abortion has actually tainted the spiritual ground of America [and whatever other countries it’s freely practiced in] and blocks the blessings of God. And eventually will unleash the wrath of God. With that frame of mind, it becomes particularly important for the prosperity [and I don’t just mean financial] of our nation that our president fights against abortion.

Now, you may counter with the immorality of the war in Iraq. Look, I don’t have any easy or pat answers for this issue. Who likes war? Of course I don’t want people killing each other, young lives being snuffed out, but it goes on all over the world without my consent. And, since WWII, the idea of a "just war" has gained credence. Is this war one of them? I’m not sure. But to glibly ask, "What would Jesus do?" is to assume that he always had all the answers and acted on his own. No, it is quite clear from the Gospels that he got his assignments daily from his Father. Sometimes he loved on and blessed little children; sometimes he slammed religious leaders publicly. So the answer to the question, "What would Jesus do?" is that he would listen for, hear, and obey God. Is that what George Bush did? How can you or I definitively say no?

Sadly, what most happens in politics is that you and I and everybody else have our minds made up about which side or person is right, and from there we ignore the flaws of our candidate, gloat over and demonized the flaws of the other candidate, or both. It comes down to the opinion you hold about the person and/or party in general. You dislike Bush, so many of his actions [ex: Halliburton contracts] seem nefarious and self-serving. I disliked Clinton, so I assumed that the bombing of the factory in Sudan [I think that’s where it was] was a wag-the-dog maneuver to divert attention from the Monica scandal. And so forth.

I learned some things about myself from how I perceived our last president vs. how I perceive this one. I pray for Pres. Bush almost every day; I rarely prayed for Clinton, and usually when I did it was obliquely, as in, "Lord, please get him out of office!" That’s not right. I always believed the worst of Clinton and tend to believe the best about Bush. That’s not necessarily right, either. That’s what I see most people doing, though. In our busy lives, most of us don’t have time- or take the time- to really pay attention to the real issues or dig for the bigger picture, so we devolve to stereotypes and soundbytes. We lionize and demonize in equal turns because that’s easiest.

But it isn’t right, of course. I am trying to change that in myself and, with God’s help, I will succeed. So, that’s all I have to say. I’m glad I got a chance to say it, actually. It helps me think things through.

Love,

S____


It gave me some insight into how at least one person voting for Bush is thinking, and most likely, why other people are as well. S_______ may seem a little “radical” as she says, but believe me, she’s a wonderful, loving and accepting person, which is part of why I can’t understand her position Here’s my reponse:


Hi S_____,

Thanks for your reply, and before the election, to boot! I hope you're well and happy. I'm glad to get your response, and the understanding it gives me. Of course, we totally disagree here, but I appreciate your candor.

I will honor you with the same.

First, Jesus was political, as much as he was religious. Religion was the political power of the time. And he'd be the first to agree with Orwell. But he'd also be the last to abandon political means because of it.

"All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia." Orwell, of course, was a socialist, fantastically political, and would no doubt oppose Bush and the current iteration of the GOP with every fiber (fibre, in his case) of his body, if he were American--or even alive today. He would also no doubt criticize you for mixing politics and religion to the extent that you were voting politically for someone who more than not, presents himself as a religious figure.

And frankly, Bush and Rove and the hard right have done everything they can--especially through the media--to make people as cynical as possible of politics--and turn to religion instead. Through a constant degrading of political perception, beyond what it's been in the past, they have successfully lowered the expectations of the political world to a point where they can peel off parts of the electorate with ultra-specific wedge issues and a faux religiosity.

If no one believes in the potential of political action and solutions anymore, the only answer is a religious one. That's the most cynical thing of all to do in a democracy, and fantastically cynical if one truly does believe in God. And they have managed to convince a large portion of the voting public that the only way to preserve any dignity and Godliness is to vote for the Republican candidates. Which is really ironic considering the actual current Republican agenda.

Of course, Clinton had his part in it, but their 10-year witch hunt on him was at least 80% of the result, not his 20% poor choices. If the intensity of investigation, mudslinging, and character assassination were done to nearly anyone, their life choices would look almost as poor--or worse, perhaps. (For one resource, see: The Hunting of the President http://www.thehuntingofthepresident.com/) There is much question as to Bush's fidelity, Bush's cocaine use, his business and political ethics and more. (Recall that Bush’s good buddy, Enron’s Ken Lay, donated the plane for Bush to travel on during the 2000 election.) But because Bush is Republican, the nastiest assassins aren't after him. After all, Nixon was the master of dirty tricks, and Rove was in fact his and Lee Atwater's understudy.

I personally do not believe Bush's public religiosity. In my eyes, he's a Pharisee, praying loudly and piously on street corners, embroidering the Ten Commandments on his clothes while evicting widows and giving money to the rich. Still, it's not my place to say whether he is sincere in it or not. Even if he is, I can’t imagine how one could fit his policies together with compassion, love, generosity, understanding, patience, tolerance, working for the poor, and peacemaking. (Remember “Blessed are the peacemakers” and all that?)

I do believe that Osama bin Laden is at least as sincere in his prayers to his idea of God as Bush is. So who's right? Constantine? Apparently.

I absolutely agree that Jesus was listening to God when he took the actions he did. I believe we need to do the same. I believe Bush is taking what he hears from God and finding a way to make it fit to what he hears from his base... the rich, those who Jesus condemned, if you recall. But I also believe that politically "conservative" Christians often contort themselves to rationalize why the actual words of Jesus shouldn't be followed, because they're unrealistic in this world, because they're anachronistic, because of whatever fits to avoid the reality of "if you have two coats and your neighbor has none..."; of "love thy neighbor as thyself"; of "turn the other cheek"; and "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get to heaven."

And devout Christians wonder why others often turn away from the church or religion, find it hypocritical, judgmental, unaccepting, unloving, or worse. It's because so many supposed serious followers of Christ conveniently forget the nuts and bolts teachings when confronted with day-to-day life, but shower down righteousness on others because of the "really important" things like homosexuality. Oy. It seems that so many are quick to remember the harshest condemnations of Genesis to Deuteronomy but are the first to forget the Beatitudes.

S_____, I agree that prayer is fantastically important. I do it numerous times daily. I believe in it. I encourage it. I have seen it work for me and for others. I believe it can help heal the world. But I don't go telling everyone to vote for me because I do it. And I don't expect my political representatives to be religious leaders. I'll save that for Iran and other theocracies. I much prefer that my public officials are held accountable by citizens. Religious beliefs belong in politics as a guide. Our beliefs, whatever they are, should guide us to organize and act both personally and politically. They should not be part of our political or legal system. One can have ethics without having religion. The law, and society, should be based on ethics. To impose religion is unethical, and frankly, sacrilegious.

I much more deeply respect the beliefs of someone like, say, our friend D______, who clearly has spirituality and acts in accord with it. I see Kerry as someone who is not public about his spirituality, but clearly has a spiritual and religious background. I am much more likely to trust someone who is not so in-your-face about it, especially when the in-your-face comes with such Saulian self-righteousness as it does with Bush.

Of course, perhaps Matthew is a more trustworthy source than I:

"And when you pray, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward."

"But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret."

— Jesus, Matthew 6:5 - 6:6

I haven’t seen an American leader who prays more publicly and loudly than Bush. Except maybe his Attorney General.

There are also myriad references by Jesus and the apostles about “beware of false prophets.” I am extremely suspect of anyone who loudly proclaims his religiosity, piousness, or the rest. It’s too easy to fake and take advantage of. We are voting for a President of a Democratic Republic, not for a religious leader of a Theocracy. It’s about policy.

Even the Crawford, Texas paper, The Iconoclast, which supported him in 2000, denounced him and his (An excellent article, and an excellent laying out of the real Bush agenda as shown by actions, not promises):

http://news.iconoclast-texas.com/web/Columns/Editorial/editorial39.htm


10 Nobel Laureates in Economics oppose Bush and endorse Kerry

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5818277/

I fear, S_____, that Karl Rove has succeeded in masterfully using wedge issues such as abortion, gay marriage, "God" in the pledge, and the like, getting people to support his candidate while numerous other issues which are at least as important are ignored.

The NY Times just reported about Catholic Bishops who are basically taking a public stance backing Bush because of the abortion and stem cell wedge, providing voter guides to churches, and completely ignoring issues like the death penalty, war, poverty, and other supposedly Christian values. I’d be surprised if a one of them publicly opposed Bush’s war in Iraq. Jesus would be apoplectic.

They also said that voting for Kerry would be considered a sin, and would require confession before receiving communion. (New York Times, 10/12/04, GROUP OF BISHOPS USING INFLUENCE…)

I would ask that you read this excellent article by one of our writers, William Miller, a Christian, and more knowledgeable than I in matters of Christ.

Jesus Rules. One Nation Under Jesus? Bring it on. http://www.democracymeansyou.com/articles/article.php?ID=109

But you'll see that I do have an editorial comment at the end, and I believe with all my heart that the louder the public official is about his religion, the bigger a hypocrite he is as well.

As far as your "radical" notion of believing that abortion is more or less an insult to God and that it may bring down his wrath upon America, I don't find the basic foundation of it so radical. I believe that what we do affects the whole. I can see your sense of abortion destroying some of America's integrity, although I don't agree with you. I have never found abortion to be either as evil--or as prevalent--or as easy a decision for women to make--as it is painted to be by those who use it to manipulate public opinion towards conservatism using abortion as a lever. But just as importantly, I do not believe in a punitive God who is waiting for an excuse to pour down his wrath upon us.

I do, however, believe in wrathful and punitive people who use fear and division as tools to manipulate concerned people like yourself.

What I do find radical is your and others' apparent willingness to apparently ignore other, equally important issues that blatantly show the hypocrisy of the GOP and the Bush administration. Seriously, how can someone be against abortion and pro-death penalty? Anti-abortion and pro-war. Anti-abortion and pro-tax cuts for the wealthiest. Anti-abortion and pro-greed. Pro-hate: not by proaction but by implication and inaction. And frankly S_____, the Just War theory you mentioned was Just Used to make another excuse to make war. Just war theory or not, Iraq was not and is not a just war. And the Pope said so from the start, as did every other major religious leader from the Dalai Lama on down. Sadly, that stopped at Falwell and his ilk (all big Bush supporters), one of whom recently showed his own respect for Jesus by opposing abortion on one hand and saying this on the other:

----

Jimmy Swaggart: "I'm trying to find the correct name for it ... this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. ... I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain; if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died."

The remarks were met with applause from his congregation.

----

But I assure you that every one of the congregation will be both opposing abortion and voting for Bush because they feel they and he are righteous. I'd put $1000 on it.


S_____, I have so much respect and admiration for you and because of that I am almost speechless to hear your rationalizing of why Bush is a good choice. I think he and his have been fantastically successful dividers, not uniters, are masters of the wedge issue, and masters of selling something in order to put through an agenda that has little to do with their brochures.

Politicians are not here to lead us to God. We are here in part to lead them and ourselves to godly actions of lovingkindness and generosity wherever possible. I am suspect of any political leader who claims God, as they have proven over the years that those who claim God most follow him least. Gandhi and ML King Jr., while political, were not seeking political office. And they, and any others you most likely could name, are as far from Bush's policies as possible.

S_____, it pains me to see you believe wolves in sheep’s clothing like this, over issues they have chosen for that precise reason: to lure otherwise wise, compassionate, and intelligent voters to their side by focusing on emotional issues, cynically using religion and cherry-picked morality to distract from the details of their agenda (remember the details? God's and the devil are both, as I recall), and using fear as a foundation for it all.

I'm sure I can't convince you or anyone else to change their vote based on argument when there are deeply felt emotional reasons for your vote, but I at least hope I can get you to see the utter hypocrisy and cynicism of the people you're going to try to put in office, and I hope quite honestly that it will at least make you feel a bit ill about casting that vote before, during, and after. And I guarantee, if Bush gets elected, while you may feel better about abortion, the rest of this representative republic will deteriorate at a more rapid pace than ever. It's the details of defunding things like Head Start, or passing the Clear Skies Act that actually creates more pollution, or a Medicare bill that does nothing for consumers and everything for drug companies (one of the highest profit industries).

While Kerry is far from perfect, he is at least sensible and intellectually curious. While the Republicans have so distorted his record, positions, and actions that it sounds a little funny, he is also consistent. He is supportive of real family values like helping others and tolerance and getting people working, of funding education, providing health care rather than corporate care. He realizes the importance of working with others (remember the playground?), and having friends. And Edwards is similarly solid.

Kerry talks sense, which is why he is mocked. Bush talks imagery, which is why he has such an emotional response from people, and so seductive. As a poet, you should know that.

I would ask you, at base, to remember that a vote for Bush is also a vote for Cheney, a vote for Rumsfeld, a vote for Ashcroft, a vote for Wolfowitz, for Chalabi, and all those others they stand with, from the Saudis on down. These are not good or kind people. They would like you to think it’s about issues like abortion and religion. That's why they're talking about it so much and not the rest. It's not. Politics is of this world, and it's about money, power, and control. It's about whether large corporations have more influence than citizens. It's about whether public education is funded or Halliburton is funded. Whether drug companies are handed a giveaway or if drugs are made more easily available to give away. It's about whether we believe in public discourse or calling people unpatriotic for wanting to debate a war and policies.

It’s the details of policy, not the wedge issues. Vote for this world. Save this world, through strong compassion, tolerance, and kindness, not the politics of division and fear. In doing so, we bring ourselves closer to the world of God, and it closer to us.

With Love,

Ian

1 Comments:

  • At October 14, 2004 at 6:49 PM, Blogger Helena said…

    Greetings Ian. What a good, patient friend you are. Your reply was none other than exceptional, and if that doesn't convince your friend, nothing will. I'm absolutly exhausted and frustrated by the amount of time "undecideds" seem to be taking. Maybe there's a deep psychological need on their part to "want to be wanted" and this gives them the chance to be in the spolight. Who knows. Anyone at this point who hasn't made up their mind, just isn't thinking. I heard today on CNBC, a previously undecided Republican (Arab-American at that!) convert to Kerry and give the following reason: "It's time to stop thinking about what's good for me and start thinking about what's good for America. Amen to that!

     

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