Politics and Purism
Dan Hollander, among others, derides me for my support of Barack Obama as president. Hollander, who is contemptuous of pacifism, nonetheless finds me inconsistent as a pacifist supporting a non-pacifist. Others who have different forms of pacifism than I do also find me inconsistent here.
Well, I do not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. There are no pacifists running for U.S. president and none could get elected in our current climate. (The last pacifist to have a serious shot at the U.S. presidency was William Jennings Bryan, the fundamentalist preacher who was also a champion of the social gospel. A champion of the poor, he resigned as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson rather than support U.S. entry into WWI. Alas, all that is remembered of Bryan is his unfortunate and ill-informed opposition to evolution.)
Do I wish that my country was at the point that a pacifist, or even a near-pacifist like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), could get elected president? Absolutely. And, I wish Obama were closer to a Kucinich position than he is. But I am certainly going to vote for the person who is MORE oriented toward peace and justice (Obama), rather than the one (McCain) who doesn’t care how long we stay in Iraq and wants a war with Iran, too!
Christians on the Right also make such pragmatic decisions. I know those who do not consider McCain strong enough in his opposition to abortion (because in 2000 he tried to change the GOP platform to allow for exceptions to save the life of the mother or for rape and incest; he is not trying to get those exceptions into the platform this year). They support him rather than Obama because Obama is openly pro-choice. Some of these Christians may oppose the war in Iraq, but weight priorities differently than I do.
In politics, as in much else, we have less than pure choices. But if we understand that our efforts to influence the world in the direction of gospel values takes many avenues–only one of them being electoral politics–then we can vote for the best person available while also pursuing other avenues of change–political and otherwise. [Update: See this article about The Way to a Just Foreign Policy. It outlines the places where Democrats and Republicans seem like they are on different planets and the ways they are both too committed to an imperial U.S. It also highlights the role of social movements in turning politicians to a post-superpower USA–which is easier if we are electing politicians, like Obama, who already share some of these goals. Such politicians are easier to push in a progressive direction than one who shares none of these goals, like McCain.0
I support Barack Obama’s candidacy, as I have often stated, not because I always agree with him, but because his values and policies as a whole seem far closer to the values of the gospel than his opponent–as I read Scripture and our context. (I also thought that was the case vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I started out supporting John Edwards because I thought he was stronger than either on those values I give the highest priority.)
I understand if others disagree with me. And I understand that others may disagree strongly, as I do with support for McCain. But I do not think I am being inconsistent or compromising my gospel pacifism in supporting Barack Obama.
UPDATE: OF COURSE, I ALSO SUPPORT PUSHING OBAMA WHEN HE’S TEMPTED TO BE A NORMAL, CAUTIOUS POLITICIAN WITH HIS FINGER TO THE WIND. I AM CHALLENGING HIM ON TELECOM IMMUNITY, ON HIS SUPPORT FOR THE HORRIBLE SUPREME COURT SELL-OUT TO THE NRA ON GUN-CONTROL, ON HIS OPPOSITION TO THE SUPREME COURT’S DENIAL OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT TO CHILD RAPISTS (THEY SHOULD JUST SCRAP THE DEATH PENALTY ALTOGETHER), ETC. On all these things and many more, Obama needs to be pushed. That’s how change is made.
Jim Wallis likes to say that instead of changing one politician with his/her finger to the wind, we need to change the direction of the wind. I mostly agree. But it helps to have politicians who are open to winds from new directions, even if they are not consistent (and which of them ever is). We can change the wind and make it a hurricane and McCain will keep spitting into it.
Nor are presidents everything. We also need to have as many progressives elected to as many other offices as possible. True and lasting change demands good people on the inside of elected office–and MANY MORE good people on the outside pushing for change.
UPDATE II: My critics, especially Jesse Rivers, insist that I am “in the tank” for Obama because I support him “no matter what.” But I do not support him, no matter what. Should I:
1)Vote for John McCain who wants to continue to war in Iraq and start one in Iran–who is waffling on his opposition to torture, denounces Habeas Corpus for “detainees” in Guantanemo Bay, Cuba, will continue the Bush war on the poor, wants to fight global warming “only through free market means,” etc.? I will never do that. I said a year ago that if retiring GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NB), one of only two Republicans in the Senate to oppose invading Iraq in ’02, were to become the Republican nominee on a withdrawal platform, while Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) became the Democratic nominee on a “continue to occupation” platform, I would vote Republican. I stand by that. But that’s not what happened. I couldn’t vote for McCain’s platform even if Obama were far less progressive than he is.
2) Not vote at all. This is sometimes a responsible option. When elections are rigged, for instance, mass refusal to vote shows the world their illegitimacy and can even lead to a nonviolent revolution. But in the current context, to not vote is to endorse the status quo and I cannot do that.
3) Vote for a 3rd party. IF and WHEN the U.S. gets the electoral reforms (e.g., instant run-off voting; proportional representation and/or the abolition of the Electoral College) that would make other parties viable, instead of “spoilers” that throw the election to the worst possible candidate, this would make sense. Democrats are too much like Republicans, it is true. Both are far too controlled by corporate interests, although Obama’s refusal to take lobbying money, and making the Democratic National Committee to abide by the same rule, is a great step in the right direction. On foreign policy especially, the current Democratic Congress has too often caved in to the Republicans they were elected to STOP. The Green Party platform, except for its unconditional support for abortion-on-demand, best reflects my values. If and When we get the electoral reforms we need, I will switch my party affiliation to Green–unless the Democrats shape up. But I can’t vote for a 3rd Party under current conditions. That would, like not voting, throw the election to McCain as Bush’s third term.
In 2000, disgusted with the way then VP Al Gore ran a campaign too much like his rival, George W. Bush, I voted for Ralph Nader. In my defense, Bush was leading Gore by 15 points in KY and Bush’s campaign, though awful, was not as bad as his presidency. Nor was Gore as progressive as he became later. But I feel guilty, because I wonder if my example led many in Florida to vote for Nader and throw the election to Bush. (Leaving aside the illegalities done by the GOP in FL and by the Supreme Court of the U.S.) I keep wondering how much the U.S. invasion of Iraq was partly my fault and the fault of those like me who claimed that there was not enough difference between Gore and Bush to matter. I WON’T MAKE THAT MISTAKE AGAIN.
If those like Jesse Rivers think any of the above 3 options are more “prophetic” than voting for Obama, who, while not perfect, is the most progressive mainstream candidate the U.S. has had in 30 years, they are welcome to it. If McCain wins and takes us into Iran, the blood is on their hands, not mine.
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