Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why I Vote the Way I Do--Part 2

I actually believe in the American Ideal. You see, when I studied them, I took the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution seriously. I really believe all that stuff about people being created equal, and being entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe in America and I want her to be what she was envisioned to be--the City Shining on the Hill, the beacon of freedom…the land of the free and the home of the brave.

It’s fashionable right now among the right-wing chattering classes and talking heads to impugn the patriotism of those who disagree with their jingoistic, xenophobic approach to politics. To be honest, I feel the same way about them. I really question whether they truly love this country at all.

Loving your country means more than waving (or wearing) a flag. It even means more than joining the military. I am grateful to those who put their lives on the line in our armed services, but I do not believe that makes them better Americans than the rest of us.

Loving your country means you do your damnedest to protect the ideals on which your country was founded--government by, for, and of the people.

Loving your country means that you don’t allow it to engage in activities that bring it into disrepute, or that undermine its foundational tenets. It means you ask hard questions of those in power and don’t stop until you get solid answers. It means you hold your elected officials responsible for their actions--and you never, ever, EVER give them a blank check with no accountability. (Do you hear that, Congress?)

Loving your country means you participate in the political process. It means you work to ensure free and fair elections. It means you educate your children about their civic responsibilities. It means you don't ever offer an excuse about why you couldn't be bothered to vote.

Loving your country certainly means more than shouting “9/11!” every time someone questions an approach to domestic or international politics…or handing over your civil liberties because some politician tells you that doing so will keep you safe from “Terrorists™.”

Loving your country requires intelligence, courage, skepticism, patience, and perseverance. Waving a flag or slapping a bellicose bumper sticker on your car are piss-poor substitutes for real patriotism. Saying “My country, right or wrong!” or “America: love it or leave it!” makes you an idolater in my book--not a patriot.

I love my country and I have fought for the ideals on which she was founded my entire adult life--as far as I’m concerned, that's the definition of patriotism. I expect better of her than what I've seen for most of the last eight years. Hell, I expect better of her than most of what I've seen since I was born in 1963.

It is no secret that we have rarely lived up to the ideals enshrined in our founding covenants. America deserved better than de jure racial segregation--and people put their lives, and their children’s lives, on the line to get it. We deserved better than sexism written into law--and women and their male allies fought until we changed a lot of it. (Miles to go before we sleep on both issues, but it’s a start…)

We deserved better than Vietnam, and Richard Nixon, and Love Canal. We deserved better than U.S. support for murderous regimes in Latin America and Africa. We deserved more than Iran-Contra and Reagan’s unconscionable silence on HIV/AIDS. We deserved better than Clinton’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and the infamous Blue Dress. And we CERTAINLY deserved better than anything we’ve gotten in the last eight years from George W. Bush and his cronies--the “Patriot” Act, Abu Ghraib, the ongoing debacle in Iraq, the current financial crisis, the privileging of bad theology over science in public health…to name just a few.

One of the first things you learn to tell your children when they are old enough to understand is “I don’t always like what you DO, but I love YOU.” That is how I feel about America--and why I vote the way I do.

No matter how many times I am disappointed by my country, I refuse to give up on her. I still believe in America--the America enshrined in those yellowed parchments in the National Archives. That America is worth fighting for, and I’ll fight for her until I draw my last breath.

So I vote for people who share that vision--who believe that what has made America great is not her military might, but her commitment to the ideals of freedom. And I vote for policies that will create that vision…for my children and yours.

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I was born on third base. I will not make a liar out of myself by pretending that I hit a triple.
I vote for progressive politicians and policies because I’ve been so damned lucky—and I can imagine what life would be like if I hadn’t been.

I have had every opportunity that a woman born into a white, upper-middle class family could have. A loving and supportive family. An excellent education. Financial help--especially in times of crisis in my life. I have not gotten where I am today solely on my own merit--I won the lottery in life. To act as if the playing field is level--or that I somehow "deserve" what I have--would make me the worst kind of liar.

No one can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.* No one. Each of us is called to work on our own behalf, but we do not do so in a vacuum. There is no such thing as a blank slate--you are born into a world that is already set up to work either for or against you, based on the socioeconomic status of your family, the color of your skin, your gender, and your sexual orientation. The only people who deny this are the ones on the positive end of the spectrum.

We all know people who have overcome their backgrounds to succeed in life--and we can admire and respect those individuals. But we cannot pretend that this is the norm. And I believe we must always ask ourselves: Why should we expect anyone to “overcome the odds” of their own lives? Why do we not work to lessen those overwhelming odds for those who face them?

The answer, I believe, lies in our own selfishness and fear.

I spent the past couple of days at the St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in Stoneville, NC. It is a lovely place--conceived, built, and run by a Franciscan monk who saw a great need for a contemplative place where people could meet, pray, and focus on their relationship with God. On the wall outside the office is a plaque that reads: Poverty happens when people stop caring for one another.

I believe that is true. I believe that material poverty happens when we mistakenly believe that we deserve what we have, and cling to it with both fists so that others cannot “take it away from us.”

I believe that spiritual poverty happens in that same moment.

And both material and spiritual poverty are compounded when we build social, legal, and economic structures in such a way to ensure that we maintain our unfair advantages over others. I do not want to live in selfishness, fear, and spiritual poverty. I vote the way I do because I recognize the role that culture and the social structure play in success in life--and I believe we can create structures that open the door wider for everyone, not just for the privileged few. I vote that way because I will not fall into the trap of believing that I have been blessed by God for my “specialness” and that I have no responsibility to help those in my own backyard who were not so blessed.

This does not make me a "guilt-ridden liberal," by the way. It makes me a clear-eyed one, who believes to the depths of my being that every child born in this world should have the right to the same things I had (and have). A supportive family and community. A decent place to live. Food to eat. Health insurance. A good education. Help through the inevitable rough spots of life.

In my earlier post, I mentioned John Rawls’ Theory of Justice. If you don’t know Rawls’ work, I encourage you to check it out. Rawls was a political philosopher who thought deeply about the issue of distributive justice. He asked people to consider how they would build a society from scratch if they could not know in advance what their position in that society would be.

Since I suspect most of my readers are well-educated whites from the middle and upper-middle class, I ask you to do the same. Consider what your life would be like if you had none of the advantages you enjoyed growing up. Think long and hard about what it took for you to succeed—outside of your personal ambition. Good schools? Safe home environment? Medical care? Etc.

Then ask yourself:

  • Would I trade places with an African American or a Latino in the current culture?

  • Would I trade places with a gay or lesbian person in the current culture?

  • Would I willingly put my children in the "worst" public school in my city?

  • Would I support the current health care system if I did not have health insurance?

  • Would I be satisfied with the current mental health care system if I, or one of my loved ones, had to be treated in it?

  • Would I be satisfied with the justice system if I had to enter it without money?

  • Would I support our current system of prisons if someone I love had to be incarcerated?

I ask these questions of myself all the time. To you, I will say, that if you answer "No" to any of them, then you need to ask yourself why, and then look long and hard at the kinds of policies you are supporting.

Because if you wouldn't choose to be a minority in this culture, you need to work to create a society where your lot in life doesn't depend on the color of your skin--or whom you happen to love. Because if you wouldn't want your child to attend any school in the system, you shouldn't consign other people's children to substandard education. Because if you wouldn't want to have to go to the emergency room to be treated because you didn't have insurance--or wouldn't want your own child to go without medical treatment for that reason--you shouldn't condemn other people to that status. Etc.

I vote the way I do because I believe Rawls was right---and because I won't condemn people to lives of poverty or misery just to maintain my status on third base.

*Please forgive the poor grammar.

Friday, September 26, 2008

This Just In...

This Just In....

Doxy is away at EFM mentor training--and has no Internet access. She'll be back posting on the voting issue by Sunday.

Posted by Ghostblogger on Doxy's behalf with great love!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why I Vote the Way I Do--Part 1

Doxy's Note: Yet another series of very long posts...sorry. I started writing and couldn't stop--apparently I needed to sort it out for myself and writing is the best way I know to do that. You know what to do if it bores you.

If you do manage to slog through the whole thing, well...you probably deserve a medal. You surely have my thanks for your patience.

If you leave a challenge in the comments, I probably won't argue with you there, at least until I finish the series. I never finished my series of posts on racism because I got bogged down in the comments---lesson learned.
In the course of writing this, I've come to realize that it is important to me to get all the way to the end of it. Call it a spiritual discipline, if you like.

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In my last post, I talked about a disturbing encounter I had with a friend who is very conservative. I complained that he wanted me to justify the way I vote to him, but he's never done me the courtesy of explaining why he votes the way he does.

Just as a bit of background---as most of my regular readers know, I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church and attended a school run by that church. As was expected of me by my teachers, I grew up to be a good little conservative. I cast my first vote in a presidential election for Ronald Reagan in 1984.

That all changed because I went to college and was taught to question what I was told and evaluate evidence for myself. I started out as president of the College Republicans at my alma mater, Memphis State University, and ended up pretty much where I remain today---a strongly progressive feminist with deep commitments to social justice and humane economics.

Since my college days, I've spent many years thinking very deeply and seriously about politics. From 1987-1994, I was a doctoral student in political science at Vanderbilt University, and I taught there and at two other universities. Although my specialty was International Relations, I taught just about every political science topic you can think of.

Whatever else I may be, I am not an uninformed consumer of political information.

But my diatribe about my friend got me to thinking---have I ever REALLY articulated to myself, or to others, why I vote the way I do? Other than to say that I think my faith demands it?

So the other day, on my long drive from Dear Friend's back to my house in Raleigh, I started making a mental list. Following is what I came up with.

I don't pretend that any of my arguments are air-tight---but I have arrived at my positions by trying to think deeply and honestly about who I am called to be in this world and what I am called to do, by virtue of both my faith and my humanity. I think about what it would be like to have to look Jesus in the face and answer the question "What did you do for the least of my flock?" I'd like to be able to answer that question honestly and without shame. And, for all the verbiage that follows, that's the reason I do what I do.

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I vote the way I do because...

I am a Christian. First and foremost, this is my reason for voting for progressive politicians and policies. Jesus was very clear what our responsibilities on earth are---love God and love one another. Take care of the weakest and most vulnerable, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. (Matthew 25: 31-46) He explicitly says that if you don't do those things, you will be sent away to eternal punishment.

Now you probably all know by now that I don't believe in a literal hell or eternal punishment. But I do believe that Jesus was deadly serious about this issue of caring for others. And the truth is that I, as an individual, do not have the capacity to look after all the vulnerable people in my community. I certainly take it as a duty to do my part---but I consider that part to include supporting progressive social policies that provide a safety net for those who are less fortunate than I am.

(For the political scientists out there, there's also John Rawls' "Theory of Justice" to consider--one day I might need those policies myself! Empathy is a huge reason to vote progressive.)

My Christianity is not some "girly," weak-minded, "why can't we all get along and have a group hug" kind of faith, despite what my friend seems to think. It is no coincidence that my favorite Old Testament character is Jacob, and my favorite story is the one where he wrestles the angel (or could it be God in disguise?) and says "I will not let you go until you bless me!"

That is the story of my faith---an endless wrestling match with God, hard, sweaty, and dangerous. I have been marked by it, as Jacob was. I have been twisted and wrung out and I limp towards God now, one hesitant step at a time. I will never have the certainty that some Christians do---never believe that I know EXACTLY what God wants. The only thing I can do is look to Jesus, author of my salvation, who was very clear about what it takes to do his will.

I have been marked---but I have been blessed, as well. And I will NOT take that blessing only for myself and say "I've got mine. You're on your own." I vote the way I do because I don't see that attitude applauded anywhere in my Bible--and certainly not in the life or words of Jesus of Nazareth.

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I believe in a strict separation of church and state. Now, at first glance, this may seem a contradiction to my first statement. It isn't, of course. I don't want government and church mixed because I want my church to be safe from government intrusion, and I don't want the government to have the power to compel me (or anyone else) to believe or worship in a particular way.

In other words...if I wanted to live in a theocracy, I'd move to Iran.

(If you need a Christian reference, just remember what happened to the German churches under National Socialism.)

My Christian values inform my politics, but I don't want to impose them as a condition for citizenship, election to political office, or eligibility for benefits. Given the choice, I'd much rather be governed by our resident self-described atheist, IT, than I would by George W. Bush, who has made a mockery of the "Christianity" he brandishes like a billy club.

I am a Christian who believes we should honor the American social contract by extending help to all those who need it---without religious strings attached. I want my government to provide the social safety net for every American citizen, rather than relying on churches or individuals to do it all.

Churches--and individual acts of charity--are an important part of the safety net, but only secular government can ensure that people are helped regardless of their religion, race, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, etc. No one in this country should go without food, shelter, or medical attention because they don't fit the "right" profile for a religious charity. I believe that allowing such things to happen is an insult to God and a violation of the most basic requirements of us as human beings.

Caring for the "least of these" is not a strictly Christian value---you can find that in almost every religion and philosophy in the world. We can adopt the humanitarian stance embedded in religion without corrupting public policy with religious dogma or corrupting religion with political power.

I believe that confusing religion and politics does violence to all involved--not only legal, social, and economic violence, but spiritual violence as well. That means I don't want my government enforcing religious dogma on people who do not share it. For me, forcing religion on people ranks as one of the most heinous things you can do---it totally corrupts religion in the service of power. It makes a travesty of faith, demoralizes and endangers the one to whom it is done, and demonizes the one who does it.

If you don't believe me, read up on the Christian Crusades---or study the plight of women in Saudi Arabia under Islam.

"That couldn't happen here!" you say? If I hadn't followed conservative evangelical Christian politics, I might agree with you. Having done so, I believe "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." (Wendell Phillips)

I vote the way I do because I don't want the government using religious tenets to deny me the right to use contraceptives or choose an abortion. Those choices have moral dimensions, and my church has every right to declaim on them. Politicians who don't know me or my story have no business doing so.

I don't want the government using religious doctrine to tell me who I can or can't sleep with, or to keep my gay and lesbian friends from getting married.

I don't want the government involved in teaching religion in schools or in mandating that my child's science teacher teach creationism or "intelligent design" in his public school SCIENCE classroom. I don't want government supporting adult-led public prayer in public schools, either. I will teach my children theology at home and at church, thanks very much--I don't need or want the government's help in that department.

We live in a plural society, thank God. That diversity of opinion and belief is what keeps us safe from the theocrats who would impose their tiny view of God on others, and start lighting the bonfires for the heretics among us. Tinkering with the Constitution and trying to play favorites with any particular religion is playing with those fires---and we all know that, when you start playing with fire, you are going to get burned.

Jesus was pretty clear that government and religion were two separate things. In answer to a pointed question tempting him to make political statements, he said "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." (Matthew 22:15-22) This is one of the few issues that will ever cause me to say "If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me."

I'll always vote my Christian values, but I'll do it in a way that keeps religion and politics as separate as possible.

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There will be more to follow. Lots more.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Reaching Across the Divide?

After my last post, I almost hate to post this----but I need to get it off my chest.

I've been trying to generate more light and less heat in the political arena. Easier said than done.

On Tuesday evening, I had to attend the annual Open House at my daughter's school. While I was there, I ran into a neighbor---someone whom I can't help but like, despite his red-meat politics. He and his wife have been good friends since my divorce--their daughter and mine are best friends, and I see them quite frequently.

We've talked politics in the past. His wife once told me that she'd never seen anyone render him totally speechless, the way I did when I told him I was a liberal because I thought my faith demanded it of me.

On Tuesday, he seemed to rediscover his voice.

He started trying to needle me about my progressive politics, and I said "We've already had this discussion, my friend. You know why I vote the way I do."

Whereupon he put his arm around me, and started talking in this sing-songy voice:

"Why can't we all just get along, and be nice to each other? Why don't we just have a group hug?"

My response?

I looked him straight in the eyes and said "Jesus said: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God." And turned around and walked away.

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The more I think about this, the angrier I get.

My friend has never shared with me his reasons for voting the way he does. He's retired military, but that--in and of itself--doesn't give me any reason for his stance. He wants me to justify my views, but offers nothing about his own.

I can actually understand why someone would vote conservative based on their faith. I don't agree, of course. But I can talk about that---lay out my own case that caring for the least of God's flock requires progressive politics. I can argue with the best of them.

What I cannot do is mock people's faith---the way my friend did mine.

It is hard to reach across the divide when someone you know and like can patronize and mock you for your beliefs. When people who know and spend time with one another can be so dismissive of each other's beliefs, I'm afraid it doesn't bode well for our country.

I'll keep trying. I'll try to follow the sensible (and spiritual) advice of Sara Miles.

I just wish it wasn't so damned difficult.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Got Hope?

I have been too busy with work, and too depressed about the appalling state of politics in this country, to blog this week.

But last night, I got to hold Baby J. for the first time. Babies have a way of restoring your faith in the world, don't they?

He is lovely and precious. And he has his father's dark hair and Dear Friend's long, beautiful feet. I thought DF was going to burst with pride--he was positively glowing with happiness over this new addition to his family.

M. is doing better, though her blood pressure is still high. We would all appreciate your continued prayers for her return to full health.

I marveled as I watched her nurse Baby J. last night. She showed a beautiful confidence for a first-time nursing mother. I was a long-term nursing mom, myself (2.5 years with each of my two children), and it took me a long time to build up that kind of poise. She looked lovely--so peaceful and serene. She and R., Baby J's dad, are already moving so gracefully into this new stage of their lives. Watching the three of them together made me realize that the future is not something to be dreaded, but something to be welcomed. That fear may hold the moment, but love will always, ultimately, win the day.

The world keeps spinning. Bidden or not, God is present. And hope comes in the form of a tiny little boy, nursing peacefully at his mother's breast.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Thanks be to God!

Baby J. was born just after midnight last night---no surgery necessary. Mother and son are doing well.

Thank you for your prayers. I was very worried for M. and the baby and you can't know how much they meant to me and to Dear Friend.

So happy birthday, Baby J.---you're a lucky little boy!

And congratulations to the new family (and to the new grandpa!). May the blessings of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you today and remain with you always.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Prayer Request

Dear Friend's middle daughter, M., is pregnant with her first child. The baby is due on September 12th---but M. was hospitalized yesterday with high blood pressure. They are awaiting tests as I type this, and depending on the outcome, she may have to have a Cesarean section this afternoon or tomorrow.

Please pray for M., the baby, her husband, and for Dear Friend, who is by her side.