Thursday, November 1, 2012

Not a part of any political party's "base"

I couldn't vote for President Barack Obama. Having said that let me quickly add that I can't stand the barely disguised nativism and hysteria of some of his ardent foes -- I've ceased being amazed at some of the things that show up in my e-mail and Facebook -- and I think he's done a good job in some areas. I believe he's a decent ethical man, good father and husband, and someone who loves America. But I couldn't vote for him.

The reasons why revolve around "women's issues". Obama has concluded that the path to victory means getting a solid majority of college-educated white women, and the way he's going about this is to be the Cheerleader-in-Chief for Planned Parenthood, unrestricted access to abortion, and free birth control. Apparently those are the issues professional women care most about. In doing this he's forced to wink at the hook-up culture represented by writer/filmmaker Lena Dunham, whose clever pro-Obama ad has created a stir. In going after the "Lena Dunham vote" the President tacitly endorses behavior that's been disastrous for the poor African-American communities that will turn out and vote for him in overwhelming numbers.

Let it be said that the GOP's offensive and clumsy statements in this area ("legitimate rape" etc.) have made it easy for the Dems to caricature them as misogynistic Neanderthals.

So this means I'm an automatic vote for Romney. Right? Well, no.

Baylor historian Thomas Kidd has identified an emerging group of evangelical Christian voters that he calls "paleo evangelicals". I'm not crazy about the label, but I fit pretty well into what he describes.

He writes:

The paleo evangelicals are not liberal in any sense. They come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives: some are deeply conversant with the ancient history of the church, and with the Reformation; some are sympathetic to Roman Catholic social doctrines and traditions (if not all Catholic theology and ecclesiology); some are deeply conscious of the church’s mission outside of America; some gravitate toward outlets such as The American Conservative or the Front Porch Republic, publications and blogs focused on the conservative themes of local culture, limited government, and ordered liberty.
Check, check, check. He could have added -- many of them are inspired by the writings of Wendell Berry.

In other words these are folks who are theologically and culturally conservative, but deeply uncomfortable with the Republican party and what now flies under the banner of conservatism. Kidd gives three reasons for this discomfort. A suspicion of American civil religion. ("Our faith needs to be focused on Christ, the paleos say, and rooted in the deep, wide tradition of orthodox church history. We do not base our faith, in any sense, on the personal beliefs of Jefferson, Washington, or Adams.") A pessimism that any political party can do much good in the world. And problems with certain GOP positions (e.g. the Iraq War). All of this makes "paleo evangelicals" reluctant Republican voters.

Kidd doesn't mention another area: economics. My family's economic security has been shot to hell by the greed and reckless behavior of Wall Street -- the "one percent" if you will -- and so I have big problems with much of the rhetoric and substance of the Romney campaign on everything from taxes to healthcare. Not to mention my loathing of big Romney backers like billionaire playboys the Koch brothers.

So what to do? Suck it up and vote for the lesser of the two evils? If that's an open question for you let me point you to a terrific piece by Thabiti Anyabwile -- Are Christian Voters Soldiers Entangled in Civilian Affairs? -- challenging the assumption that we have a duty to vote, even if we do so reluctantly.
. . . most of us will rationalize our settling [for the lesser of two evils] by saying a few things to ourselves. These are the only two choices we have. Or, Voting for the lesser of two evils is an effort to stem the tide. Or, There’s one candidate that’s clearly better on the social issue(s) I care about. You’ll know that this is a rationalization for you if you say these things with the nagging suspicion that there’s gotta be more mixed with a pang of uncertainty in your conscience. My hope for us all is that even if one or more of those reasons tip us into the voting booth, we might have a deeper resolution to fight for something positively better next election, not just something a little less bad. 
Some others will vote in a couple weeks because they’ve heard and perhaps believe that not voting is not an option. It’s fine if people feel that way, too. If you feel a moral ought when it comes to voting, do what you believe to be right. Even write and speak to convince others that voting is right, morally good, even morally necessary. 
But I don’t hold that view. Nor do I believe that speaking against the system while not voting is less effective than speaking against the system then voting. I think that position, while I respect it, fails on two counts. First, it seems to me to assume that the fundamental freedom and action that most necessarily needs to be exercised is the vote itself. It seems to suggest that speaking alone is empty or at least incomplete. But the right of free speech comes prior to and is fundamental to voting, which is simply another form of speaking. The most necessary thing is that we speak, not that we vote. The more effective thing in a democratic society that prizes the free exchange of ideas isn’t the private, quiet, sometimes symbolic act of voting. The more effective thing is shouting from the rooftops, banging the drums or pots, repeatedly delivering the message, enacting a little civil disobedience that challenges the powers of complacency and complicity. The most effective weapon in the campaign of ideals are words, not ballots. Ballots have their place but only if they reflect what people are speaking.
Moreover, it seems to me that if we really believe the system is broken but we vote anyway, we simply nullify our contention that the system is broken. Now, we may not believe it’s “that broken,” and so we vote. Praise God. I support you if you feel that way. But if you think the farce of national democratic elections has reached an almost irretrievable state of disrepair, corrupted by big money on both sides and fundamentally manipulative and insincere in its presentation of candidates, then to vote could only end in one outcome no matter who is elected–the further entrenchment of the brokenness we decry. The vote becomes a veto. In that case, the ballot is empty and the voice is empty. You can’t decry a thing sincerely and then comply with the thing secretly. We can’t hope to bring change or reform by continuing practices and patterns that are themselves part of the problem. Broken systems call for genuine fixes.

Food for thought as we enter the home stretch. I don't know about you, but I'll wake up on Wednesday morning in a good mood no matter who wins.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

1 comment:

Rochelle said...

Well written Stephen. I always appreciate your insight. I too will wake up in a good mood on Wednesday matter whom we have elected.