Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Are Republicans All Sore Losers?

The question isn’t rhetorical and isn’t meant to be simply partisan, but a disturbing pattern is emerging.  Observe:

2000: U.S. Presidential election.  VP Al Gore has won the popular vote, but things are too close to call in FL and the electoral college will  be decided there in this close election. An early network calls it for Gore, but has to back off because it is clear that Bush is gaining.  Later Fox News calls FL for Bush, but the Associated Press never calls the election for anyone. It became clear that a recount was in order, but Bush sent lawyers to challenge everything and bused in fake “protesters” at the recount to intimidate canvassers, etc. Eventually, he sued in the U.S. Supreme Court to have the count stopped and him declared the winner.

2001: GOP controlled Congress passes the “Helping America Vote” act which creates touch-screen computer voting machines with NO PAPER TRAIL for recounts; machines which computer experts show can be easily hacked to give a different result than the actual voting.  Only after many mistrials with these machines in 2002 and 2004, do most states insist on paper trails.

2004:  Another close Presidential race that will all come down to one state, this time OH.  There were many shenanigans including removing voting machines in poorer neighborhoods, running out of ballots, closing polls early, always in Democratic districts.  Rather than go through a repeat of 2000, however, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) simply concedes defeat, although it is not clear who really won OH.

2004 b: In the Washington state Gov.’s race, there is a virtual tie between Christine Gregoire (D) and Dennis Rossi (R).  After both a machine and hand recount, Gregoire is declared narrowly to be the winner. Rossi sues in local court and then appeals to the WA state Supreme Court to try to get this reversed.  Gregoire is only seated as Governor after several months. (Rossi immediately planned a comeback in ’08, but Gregoire won more decisively then–although still narrowly, it was outside the need for a recount.)

2008: When it becomes clear that Sen. Barack Obama(D-IL) is likely to beat Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) decisively for the presidency, Republicans claim that the community organization ACORN is “stealing the election” by means of a voter registration fraud. (ACORN registered over 1 million voters, but Obama won by 9.2 million votes.) They attempt to interfere in the elections of several swing states.

2008b: Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), who won his seat in 2002 by beating a dead man (barely), the late liberal champion Paul Wellstone (D-MN), is in a statistical tie with challenger Al Franken (D-MN)–which will automatically trigger a recount according to MN law. Coleman calls on Franken to concede and declares himself the winner.  After 2 recounts, Franken is ahead by 225 votes. Coleman sues and the result is Franken is declared the winner by 312 votes. Coleman plans to appeal.

2009: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was nominated by Pres. Obama to become Secretary of State.  Gov. Patterson (D-NY) appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY-20) to fulfill her term until a special election is held in 2010. So, a special election must be held to replace Rep. Gillibrand.  Even though the NY 20th is a very Republican-leaning district and State Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-NY), the GOP nominee, is the NY Sen. Minority Leader who starts out the race with a 21 point advantage, we once again have a virtual tie.  Everything will be decided by absentee ballots.  With Murphy (D) ahead by 178 votes and the only remaining votes left coming from areas that lean more Democratic, Tedisco yesterday ran to court and asked to have the ballot counting stopped and himself declared the winner–even though he is 178 votes behind! UPDATE: NY state has no recount law.  After the absentee ballots were in, the machine and paper ballots were counted thoroughly.  Final result: Patrick Murphy(D)  is ahead of Jim Tedisco (R) by 273 points.  All that’s left are the 1,300 challenged ballots (most challenged by Tedisco) and most in counties that favored Murphy.  So, it is mathematically impossible  for Tedisco to win. He lost in a close race despite the fact that NY 20 has 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats and Tedisco began with better name recognition and a 21 pt. lead and RNC Chair Michael Steele put his rep. on the line saying that a Tedisco win would be proof that Republicans are making a comeback and Obama and the Dems are on the way out.  But still, here’s Tedisco insisting that the court declare him the winner while  he’s 273 points behind!

See the pattern? If you beat Republicans decisively like Obama did, you must have stolen the election.  If it is close, Republicans rush to the courts (seeking conservative, Republican judges) to have the will of the people overturned or to have ballot counting stopped so that the will of the people is not known.  (Karl Rove was the master of this use of the courts. Long before he helped G.W. Bush get “elected” in 2000, he prevented a Democrat in a close election in court for 11 months [!] before a conservative judge ruled for a Republican that was nearly 500 votes behind!) That’s not to mention the standard Republican tactic of voter suppression, gerrymandered districts, purging voter rolls (Oh, your name is only similar to a convicted felon? So sorry. Maybe you can vote next time!), robocalls giving false information about where to turn out, etc.

So, if the Republican wins, that’s democracy. If the Democrat wins, there must have been a mistake or a crime, so we must use whatever means necessary to overturn the results because Republicans are the natural rulers and must not be thwarted by the inconvenience of more people voting for their opponents?

Please, tell me these are flukes and not a pattern of absolute Republican subversion of American democracy!  In the words of Rachel Maddow, “I need a talking down.”

April 17, 2009 Posted by | democracy, elections, U.S. politics | 5 Comments

Bi-Partisanship to Believe In?

This coming Wednesday 25 March 2009, Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) are introducing the Fair Elections Now Act.  It would create, at long last, a public elections finance system that would ban lobbyist money in elections and would manage to keep the campaigns competitive for candidates who take the money.  I hope it includes mandatory free air time on TV so that candidates don’t have to spend tons of cash on commercials.  If this passes, it should mean that more candidates who are not indebted to special interests (and, thus, are more responsive to the citizens they are supposed to represent) would be elected, strengthening our democracy.

I know some liberals who gave up  on public financing when the Obama campaign managed to out-raise the Republican money machine through the internet and using mostly small contributions and no lobbyists.  But this model cannot be easily replicated without a charismatic figure like Obama and, in a recession, such fundraising is not as likely to be successful.  A level playing field (so  that we pick candidates on the issues, their character, etc., not  on who has enough  money to keep his/her name in front of us the most) is really needed for an effective democracy.

Senators Durbin and Specter  expect that a similar bill will have many co-sponsors in the House.  However, I expect it to be strongly opposed by Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who believes that money and speech are identical and that campaign finance laws thus violate the 1st Amendment’s protections of free speech!! (McConnell infamously appealed the previous attempt at campaign finance reform,  the McCain/Feingold Act, to the Supreme Court and managed to get the best parts of it declared unconstitutional!)

Can a genuinely fair elections law get passed Congress? I am sure Pres. Obama would sign such legislation if it did.  Will the recent  Democratic fundraising successes (in both ’06 and ’08, the Dems out-raised  the GOP) finally convince enough Republicans to cooperate?  Will any election law with teeth pass this incredibly rightwing Supreme Court? 

One thing’s for sure: If the answers to the above questions are all “yes,” and we do get real election reform, then the hedge fund types won’t be calling the shots in D.C. as much–whether they are buying off Dems or Repubs.  We could actually end up with a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” instead of “of the money, by more money, and for the special interests WITH the money.”  Wow.  That would almost be like living in a real democratic republic instead of a plutocracy–like Canada or New Zealand, maybe.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | elections, U.S. politics | 1 Comment

Tell Cable News: There’s More to U.S. People of Faith Than Dobson

This falls in the “What Liberal Media” genre, showing the rightwing bias (AGAIN) of mainstream U.S. media.

Is Focus on the Family president James Dobson’s opinion worth more than the beliefs of the entire American population?

The cable news networks seem to think so.

Early this week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a groundbreaking survey1 of 35,000 Americans documenting the diversity and tolerance of people of faith and the growing consensus around issues like poverty and the environment.

But what religion story dominated the cable networks yesterday? James Dobson attacking Sen. Barack Obama for a speech he gave two years ago on his faith.

In fact, on Tuesday, June 24, Dr. Dobson was mentioned a total of 189 times on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. The landmark Pew survey? Just 8.

Let the cables know there’s a lot more to faith than James Dobson. To sign the petition and spread the word, go to Faithful America.

August 4, 2008 Posted by | elections, faith, media reform, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Prayers for the Pakistani People

Former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan has been assassinated by a suicide bomber.  At least 20 others were killed in the attack.  While Ms. Bhutto was not without flaws (she had been accused of corruption before the coup which brought Bush’s friend Musharraf to power and sent her into 8 years of exile), she represented the best hope for change–for a return to democracy and the rule of law. She threatened both the secular dictatorship of Musharraf and the Islamist (not Islamic, Bhutto was a faithful Muslim) extremists and Taliban supporters in Pakistan.  Someone found her too threatening and eliminated her.  Pray for her family and for the Pakistani people.

I have further reflections on Ms. Bhutto’s death and what it means that so few in North America are willing to take such risks in democratic struggles for justice here.  The struggle may have a setback in Pakistan, but ultimately that struggle will continue. I worry more about our society where people would rather watch “Dancing with the Stars” or “WWF Raw,” etc. than follow the issues in an electoral campaign.

December 27, 2007 Posted by | assassination, democracy, elections, human rights. | 1 Comment

Changing the Direction of the Wind

        Jim Wallis, Executive Director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal and well-known progressive evangelical preacher, likes to say that for lasting, progressive change in society to happen, “it is not enough to change one polititian with his/her finger to the wind for another in the same pose; we have to change the direction of the wind.”  Polititians are infamous for responding more to polls, lobbyists, and the pressures of special interest groups (the political “winds”) than they are for standing for principles and doing what is right.  So, although casting votes and changing elected officials may be one part of what it takes to make changes that bring about a relatively more just and peaceful society, it is not enough.  (For my previous reflections on whether Christians should join political parties, click here and here.) We also need grassroots organizing in order to change the terms of conversations, change the direction of political winds. 

      For instance, in 1964, right after President Lyndon B. Johnson sign the Civil Rights Act into law, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told him that the next step was a strong voting rights act.  LBJ replied that he had exhausted his political capital in getting this legislation passed. A voting rights act was at least 10 years away.  Dr. King replied that he would find LBJ the votes “in the streets.” Less than a year later, Dr. King was at the signing ceremony for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. (Admittedly, it was one tough year!) Change often happens slowly, too often it happens TOO slowly when it is change for justice.  But if enough people are organized and committed, sometimes they can make enough changes in conditions–changing the direction of the wind–that rapid social change for justice, for peace, for human dignity, for the care of Creation, is possible.

    I want to offer some encouragement along those lines right now.  Progressive Christians and others of good will and strong conscience are beginning to change the political winds in directions of justice, peace, and earthcare.  We don’t have hurricane force winds in such directions, yet, but there are some indicators of weather vanes starting to turn in good ways.  It is important to name and celebrate those small victories.  This is something my teacher, Glen Stassen, taught me.  Peace and justice folk, he repeatedly told his classes, are usually lousy at celebrating small victories.  We win a Congressional vote defunding a new nuclear weapons program and before the first cheer is out we note how many thousands of stockpiled nukes are still out there.  Fill in your example.  This makes us killjoys and wetblankets, which makes it harder to recruit others to our causes because we are no fun to hang around.  It also leads to burn-out, approaching all our work out of guilt rather than out of gratitude for God’s delivering love and empowering grace.  Instead, celebrating small victories (recognizing God’s work in the world) gives us strength, helps us act out of grace and joy rather than guilt and burdensome duty.  An ethic of joy and grace fits better with a theology of God’s grace:  Our peace and justice work is part of our witness to God’s redeeming work in the world, especially in the victory of Christ in cross and empty tomb. But without celebration and joy our work is more in danger of being a liberal form of “works righteousness,” a temptation to violence as we fool ourselves into thinking that it is our job to “make history come out right.” (The phrase is Yoder’s but I don’t have the reference handy.)

So, here are some small victories(and they are all the more important to note in a week that saw several unjust decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court!) –some ways we are at least beginning to change the direction of the wind.

Iraq.  Many peace folk are understandably frustrated that we made the Congressional elections of ’06 a referendum on ending the war only to have Pres. Bush ignore the recommendations of his own hand-picked Iraq Study Group and push for a bloody troop surge, instead, one that, as predicted, hasn’t worked. It’s frustrating to realize that we haven’t had the votes in Congress to pass a resolution de-authorizing the war (much less with a 2/3 majority necessary to override a presidential veto) or even to defund the war.

But we HAVE changed the conversation among at least the Democratic presidential candidates.  In January, only Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) had any real plans on how to get us out of Iraq.  Most of the other candidates preferred not to even discuss it.  Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) apologized profusely for voting to authorize the war in ’02, but wanted to quickly turn to his efforts to battle poverty. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) rightly touted his opposition to the war in ’02 and since, but wasn’t putting much effort into ending the war.  Worst of all (on the Democratic side), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), whom national polls put as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, was dismissive of peace voters altogether.

   That has all changed.  Edwards has put forth a peace plan almost as detailed as Richardson’s or Kucinich’s and has been using the internet effectively to pressure Congress to end the war as soon as possible.  Obama has stepped up his anti-war activity in both the Senate and on the campaign trail.  Every Democratic presidential candidate in Congress except Sen. Joe Biden (D-DL) (a DLC-corporate Dem if there ever was one) voted against adding more funds for the war in the latest budget.  Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), usually a moderate who doesn’t make waves, even vocally championed cutting off funding for the war–beyond what Sens. Clinton and Obama were doing.  Even Sen. Clinton, who has so angered Democratic peace voters in the last 7 years with a foreign policy that has not differed much from Bush’s, and who was originally so dismissive of peace voters, has changed her tone. She is now co-sponsoring, with Sen. Dodd, legislation to reverse authorization of the war and is talking complete withdrawal in a time frame measured in months, not years–whereas before she talked about leaving “military support” in Iraq for years after “phased redeployment” that sounded much like Bush’s plans for shifting troops from Iraq to fight a new war in Iran! The difference in Clinton is especially noticeable:  At last year’s annual Campaign for America’s Future, she argued against any timetable for withdrawal (to loud boos!), this year, seeing signs that said, “End the war now” Clinton replied, “I see the signs. That’s what we’re trying to do.” Whoever gets into office will be more peace oriented if we change the direction of the wind than if we don’t.

   We aren’t where we need to be on Iraq, yet, although polls show the U.S. public ahead of almost all the presidential candidates!  Unfortunately, the only Republican candidate for ending the war (since Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NB) chose not to run) is Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a virtual Libertarian in economics whose non-war-related policies would exacerbate the widening gap between rich and poor in this nation! Getting major pro-peace voices in G.O.P. and Independent circles is still a major task if we are to change the direction of the wind, but we are seeing some signs that the lock-step loyalty behind Bush on the war is weakening in GOP circles.  Not just moderate Republicans, but party pragmatists, are realizing that if they continue in this direction, it’s appease the base, but alienate the center–and that’s a recipe for political losses. 

Torture, Civil Liberties, Habeas corpus, and the rule of law.  We aren’t as far along as on Iraq, but we are making progress–the courts keep striking down Bush’s attempts to substitute “star chambers” for legal justice and even he is talking about closing the gulag at Guantanemo Bay, now.  It is disturbing to realize how many Christians want to torture suspected terrorists, but it has been good to see faith leaders take the lead in opposing torture and human rights violations in all forms.  Here the creation of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Evangelicals for Human Rights have been especially important.  It was disappointing that the move to defund the notorious “School of the Americas” failed again, but it came closer than it ever has. We are getting close to being able to close this tax-supported U.S. terrorist training school. 

Environment.  For the first time in 30 years, the House of Representatives has increased CAFE standards on all automotive vehicles. The bald eagle is off the endangered species list.  Congress is working (not as quickly as we’d like) to introduce stronger policies for reducing global warming.  Again, we don’t yet have the force of the new winds that we need, but the conversation looks much different than it did last year. 

Health care.  So far, only presidential longshot Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is proposing a truly universal, single-payer health care system like Canada’s very successful model.  John Edwards'(D-NC) plan would achieve universal care in two stages and Barack Obama’s (D-IL) plan would combine government and employer plans to, at least insure everyone. Both promise full implementation by the end of their first term in office. (By contrast, Clinton has put forth no plan and only pointed to her failed previous attempt and asked us to trust her.) But, for the first time in U.S. history, we have not only Labor, but also major corporate leaders pushing for universal healthcare since health benefits are the single biggest labor cost for business–and a big disadvantage for U.S. companies over businesses in other nations.  With the premeir of guerilla-documentary film maker, Michael Moore’s Sicko, we could well have changed this debate considerably by the end of summer. I expect the top-three Democratic candidates to move closer and closer to a Kucinich-style universal healthcare plan as the campaign season progresses. 

Civil Liberties for GLBT folks.  Nearly every Democratic candidate and even some of the Republican ones are now vowing to end the disastrous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies for military service.  Domestic partner benefits and civil unions, considered to be “too liberal to be electable” in ’04, are now mainstream public opinions and endorsed by many candidates. Full support for civil marriage for gay and lesbian couples is still rare (the only presidential candidate supporting this is Kucinich), but polling trends, especially generational differences, show that marriage equality is the wave of the future.

The victories may seem small. We have much more to do–and these are victories simply for a relatively more just future, not for utopia (never mind ushering in the Rule of God).  But such penultimate goals are worthwhile and the small victories deserve celebration.

A new wind is blowing–and I expect it to blow harder in the near future.

July 3, 2007 Posted by | antisemitism, citizenship, elections, human rights., politics, progressive faith | 3 Comments

Democrats Should Not Write Off the South

Tom Schaller and other pundits have loudly proclaiming that November’s elections prove that he is right that the South is solidly Republican forever and that Democrats should just ignore the South and concentrate on everyplace else in the country. The Institute for Southern Studies, the only progressive think-tank that focuses on the South, has a new report with a different analysis.

Out of 19 key House races in the South, Democrats won 8 immediately (in Kentucky, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas), narrowly missed one (Virginia’s 8th district), may still pick up 2 “too close to call” recounts (Georgia’s 12th and North Carolina’s 8th) and narrowly missed in Florida’s 13th (Katherine Harris’ vacated seat), possibly due to “undervotes” from a paperless voting machine. That’s hardly a South that is uncompetitive. It shows a 47% victory and competitiveness in 63% of races in a South that people want to write off for Democrats forever instead of sticking with Howard Dean’s wise 50 state strategy.

The picture continues: Only 6 Senate seats were up this time in the South: 4 were fairly uncompetitive and these split evenly (West VA and Florida for the Democrats; Mississippi and Texas for the GOP)–as did the two highly competive races, with Jim Webb’s victory in Virginia deciding senate control for the Dems. Despite racial smear campaigns and a somewhat checkered family history, Harold Ford of Tennessee narrowly missed becoming the first African-American elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction–and his opponent, Bob Corker, spent $3 million more, including $1.35 million of his own money dumped just days before the election. Again, Democrats gained 26 seats in state legislatures in the South while the GOP picked up only 20.

Other indications from exit polls reveal that the South is far more divided politically than people like Schaller believe and the demographic trends favor the Democrats more than Republicans:

  • Racial/ethnic divide: 62% of Southern whites voted Republican, but 87% of African-Americans, 57% of Latinos (the percentage is higher if one exempts the deeply Republican Cuban-exile population of South Florida), and 52% of “all others” voted Democrat. Now, considering that the 4 states nationally with the fastest growing Latino populations in the U.S. are all in the South and that Georgia and Mississippi are on the verge of joining Texas as “majority minority” states, this is bad news for the GOP if (a) the Democrats actually respond strongly to minority concerns (less talk, more action), (b) the Democrats field strong candidates in Southern races and enforce voting rights protections, and (c) the GOP continues to fail in its efforts to make inroads in African-American and Latino populations/
  • Generation gap: Although young people of voting age still do not vote in the numbers of other age groups, they are increasing somewhat. And, in 2006, young Southerners preferred Democrats to Republicans 51% to 48%.
  • Class war: 55% of Southerners making less than $50,000 per year voted Democrat. Of the 13% of those polled who lived in a union household, 56% favored Democrats. The necessity of the Democratic Party renewing and strengthening its New Deal/Great Society commitments to Labor and to economic justice for the poor and working classes could not be clearer. (It’s corporate clone DLC Dems who get nowhere in the South. Economic populism, especially when it wears as Southern accent like John Edwards’, gains a real real hearing in Dixie.) A movement against anti-union laws and working to increase unionization in the South would work to spread justice and would increase electoral opportunities for Democrats in the South.
  • Religious divide: The white evangelical vote is still mostly Republican even though Democrats made gains here in 2006. 58% of Southern Protestants voted Republican, but all other faith groups favored Democrats–which is significant given the fast growth of Catholicism in the South.
  • Gender/Marriage: Southern married women were the staunchest GOP supporters–only 40% voted Democratic. (This shows the heavy emotional investment that Southern married women have in the patriarchal narrative promoted by the GOP-loving Religious Right. This colonized mentality has them vote against their own best interests.) Even Southern married men did slightly better for Democrats (41%). By contrast, 60% of Southern unmarried men and 63% of Southern unmarried women voted Democrat.

So, the composite picture of the GOP voter in Dixie is married, older, wealthy, and white, which puts the GOP on the wrong side of every significant demographic trend in the South (as nationwide). The conclusion seems obvious: Democrats should not “write off” the South (which is unjust–it’s not just about winning, but creating good lives for all citizens!) even if gains will be slower coming than elsewhere. They should continue for a 50 state strategy, continue to try to recruit good candidates and run populist campaigns that speak to issues of racial justice (without sounding like whites will be excluded) and economic justice–kitchen table issues. They should recruit the young, learn Spanish, strengthen Labor, and, while vigorously defending church-state separation, paint moral visions that resonate with persons of faith.

Tom Schaller to the contrary, a progressive South is possible in the not-too-distant future.

December 13, 2006 Posted by | elections, politics | 3 Comments