My Vote in 2004

My Vote in 2004
By Steve Clemens. October 2004

I agree with Anabaptist theologian John Howard Yoder when he wrote in 1976 that voting is probably the least significant political act in we should engage ourselves as Christians. More important than voting are acts of mercy, protesting in the streets, and working for real, substantive change.

During the primary season, I supported the Democratic candidacy of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, despite the fact that he never received more than 7% of the vote state-wide. (Incidentally, he did win our local caucus vote with close to 50% of the vote with 7 other challengers). Dennis called on people to vote their hopes, not their fears. To vote for what we dream for, not for what we are against. However, in the end, as a loyal mainstream party member, he endorsed the party nominee, albeit with not a lot of enthusiasm, calling for his supporters to “work within the system [party] for change.”

For me, there are several primary issues in the selection of a President: the present reality of empire coupled with an imperialistic theology which identifies America as “special, chosen, a beacon on the hill, light for the nations”, the growing and obscene gap between the rich and the poor both here in the US and around the world, our present (and historic) habit of choosing force [or threats of force] over international cooperation and community, our endangered political freedoms and the right [and duty] of dissent, and our stewardship of the environment. Hanging over virtually all of these issues is the domination of corporate interests and the inordinate role of money in our electoral process.

We have been told by some in our nation that at the center of this election are key moral issues. I agree. I just disagree on what are those issues. Abortion should be considered as a public policy issue because how we treat the most vulnerable is important. However, the question of when life becomes human is not readily answered in the political arena and, unfortunately, many of those hollering the loudest against abortion have not supported either effective birth control programs or adequately funded programs for needy children. I support a policy [advocated locally by State Senator John Marty] which calls for governmental support for both adoption and birth control education/supplies as a way of decreasing the number [and need?] of abortions.

The threat to the institution of marriage that gay or lesbian couples present is raised as another key moral issue. Homosexual partners in loving, supportive, and committed relationships are most certainly preferable to promiscuous and exploitative sexual behavior. Heterosexual divorce is a greater threat to the “traditional marriage” yet the second marriage [after a failed marriage] of some of my friends is clear evidence to me that most of we humans are created to thrive in committed and loving relationships. I am convinced that many of my gay and lesbian and bisexual friends were born with that minority sexual orientation and, as such, are especially loved by our creator who has a special compassion for the poor and the oppressed and excluded. For me, not only permitting but encouraging committed relationships for homosexuals is a Christian political position. My marriage is in no way threatened by the ability of others to marry.

Prayer in schools, public statues of the Ten Commandments, and keeping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are also trumpeted as moral issues in the body politic but are like the two above more “wedge” issues to further divide us as a people and are more likely used to distract us from the real political choices we should be addressing. Incidentally, I don’t want politicians deciding what prayers are said in schools and I worry more about enforcing the “liberty and justice for all” before worrying about “under God” in the Pledge. I can’t recite the Pledge anyway since I’ve already “pledged allegiance” to the Kingdom of God.

The real issues

Our present wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and “against terrorism” are but symptoms and manifestations of the reality that our nation has become a world-dominating empire. Coupled with the enormous economic power of multi-national corporations, the US is actively seeking hegemony over the entire globe [not to mention the incredibly serious present attempts to militarize and dominate space as well under the bi-partisan Star Wars program]. It must be said clearly- The war against Iraq was illegal [according to the Charter of the UN] and was based on lies and fear-mongering. While our attacks on the Taliban-led government of Afghanistan had more international support, our failure to spend any significant effort to re-build that nation is both dishonest and criminal.

“Terrorism” is a political term bandied about to discredit one group against another. When cities are fire-bombed [as in WW II] or vaporized by nuclear bombs, when villages are attacked by “contras” or other “paramilitary” groups we call “freedom fighters”, those on the receiving end experience the acts as terrorism. Acts like the tragedy of 9/11 are criminal and those involved should be apprehended and brought to trial. But so should political leaders who order the bombing of civilian areas, oversee a policy of “disappearances”, and target victims primarily on the basis of religion, race, or ethnicity.

But what about leaders who standby while millions die of preventable disease (malaria) when just a few hours-worth of the present US military budget (now over $1 billion/day) could eradicate it? Is that not a form of ‘terrorism” to the families who watch their children die? War and the threat and preparations for it are, and must be, predominating moral issues in the political realm. As President Eisenhower reminded us, "Every gun made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed...."

When our national identity becomes confused with a theology of being “chosen” by God, we are at the brink of blasphemy. There is no Biblical basis for a “new Israel” and to proclaim that we are “a city on a hill” (to quote President Reagan) is in fact to confuse the Kingdom of God with a nation whose history is ripe with genocide (Native Americans), slavery (African-Americans), rape and plunder (the theft of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California from Mexico), genocide again (Philippine Islands), mass murder (fire bombing of Dresden, Tokyo, and the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), devastation of the environment (Agent Orange and napalm in Vietnam), and it continues with the use of depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq (twice).

If we are a “chosen people”, when do we get exiled to Babylon for these sins against God and humanity? Manifest Destiny was a smoke-screen for the idolatry and avarice it masked. The hypocrisy and hubris of our policy and position that the US can have weapons of mass destruction but other nations cannot makes clear that our nation labors under the presumption that we are divinely-ordained. Our nation sells more weapons to other nations than all other nations in the world combined! Somehow that picture does not mesh well with the Biblical vision of the lion laying down with the lamb.

Our empire mentality has blinded us to what is clearly evident to peoples around the world. Having 5% of the world’s population, we consider it our birthright to consume way in excess of our share of the world’s resources. We’ve substituted “dominion” for “stewardship” and now are facing [or, if Republicans, still in denial about] global warming, pollution, extinction of species, … . We cannot trust “the market” to regulate itself. The market system is part of the fallen powers of domination and it is foolish (and idolatrous) to look to it for our salvation. Short-term profits have become our god and, in the process, have raped and plundered our environment and what used to be called “the commons”.

There appears to me that there are only slight differences between President Bush and Senator Kerry. Both have indicated that they will not challenge the policy of empire- Kerry just wants it to have a little more dressing of approval from the international community. Both have called for increases in military might at a time when the US outspends all other nations in the world combined! And to do this, social programs must be cut. Education, healthcare, social security, international humanitarian aid are all sacrificed on the altar of Mars.

Yes, some Democrats seem to pick and choose among new weapon systems while Republicans want even more than the Pentagon requests. Most of the weapon systems have nothing to do with “defense” – they are offensive weapons. Study after study has shown that investments in weapon systems always produce fewer jobs than investments in almost every other sector of the economy. The Pentagon has so much money that it presently can’t account for more than $1.2 trillion it has received in the past several decades. We’ve moved beyond acting out of fear and greed to outright foolishness yet neither major candidate nor political party is willing to say “the emperor has no clothes”.

Biblically, how one treats the poor is probably the key issue in evaluating the government. Not only is this a major theme of the Hebrew prophets, but Jesus talks more about economic issues than any other. The rapidly increasing chasm between the wealthy and those without in our society call us to confront again Jesus’ parable of “the rich man and Lazarus”. Our political process has become fatally corrupted by the undue influence wielded by corporate and other wealthy interests. Who is willing and able to speak on behalf of the poor? While Christians will have honest disagreements about taxes and other fiscal policy, the question must be asked as to whether the poor are being “left behind”?

Care for the natural environment is predominately a moral issue. God created our world and called it “tov” – very, very good. Our charge to be good stewards, care-takers of this gift, should not be traded like Esau’s birthright for a “mess of pottage”. It is a crime against the creator not to pursue renewable sources of energy like solar, wind, and geo-thermal when all of us are endangered by global warming and other climate-changing threats. Fuel efficiency standards for vehicles is a moral issue, of much greater significance in my perspective than whether or not to allow a sculpture or monument to the Ten Commandments on public (secular) property.

I don’t see either major political party sharing these concerns or addressing these issues. Our present political system of “winner takes all” makes voting for a minor party ineffective [at least in the short-term]. Yet I can’t in good conscience vote for either Kerry/Edwards or Bush/Cheney. I’d much rather vote what I’m for rather than what I’m against – although I don’t totally discount “voting against” the present administration as a way to signal to the rest of the world community that I totally reject unilateralism and the pre-emptive war policies presently invoked by the President. Ralph Nader has been fairly consistent in addressing many of the concerns I’ve raised and his call for all of us to take “citizenship” seriously goes beyond just saying “no” to the present structure. Yet his unwillingness to be subject to the discipline of a party platform smacks too much of American individualism rather than corporate accountability.

So how do I vote? Prayerfully. Confessionaly. And then continue to work within the political arena to raise the moral issues which must be addressed. I’m not proud that I live in a nation which has the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world. I’m saddened that with such great medical knowledge and equipment our infant mortality rate and other health measures show us to be behind more than a dozen other nations. Despite our economic wealth, the percentage of international aid given by our government to other needier nations is well below many others.

Instead of being feared for our military might, I want to live in a nation respected for its devotion to human rights and compassion. Instead of consuming a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources, I want to be a citizen of a nation providing leadership in protecting and conserving the environment. Let’s find a way to heal the divisions in our land and work together on these issues of moral value.