We Will Get Fooled Again

Every election cycle, complaints rise about how divided America is. Many bemoan the incivility (which is a problem), others, like Matthew Yglesias, argue that division is a sign of a healthy democracy.  I think I’d feel better about our democracy’s ‘health’ if the divisions were actually real.

Four years ago, my conservative friends and family were beyond worried what would happen if Obama were elected. The pundit-verse was alive with conspiracies, Jeremiads, and dire warnings of socialism, a dismantled military, and persecution of all Christians. A guy with a chalkboard explained how it all traced back to George Soros and Josef Stalin. Clearly, the sky did not fall.  Sure, the economy crashed, but it did its face plant in late 2008, before Obama was even sworn in.

This year, my liberal friends were having similar concerns about Romney. If he was elected, he’d find a way to outlaw contraception, set feminism back 50 years, invade Iran, barbecue the poor and feed them to the rich (ok, maybe they meant that one metaphorically).

We’ll never find out whether Mitt Romney was secretly a misogynist christofascist theocrat or just a big-money businessman who thought he could run his campaign the way he ran his businesses. I’m guessing it’s the latter.

The truth is, Obama’s first term has largely been George W. Bush’s third term. The “indefinite detention without trial” prison at Guantanamo Bay is still open. Granted, he’s stopped waterboarding prisoners, but our Nobel Peace Prize-winning President has replaced that practice with constant drone strikes with massive civilian casualties, and without any outside oversight as to his kill list (ahem, “disposition matrix”).

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is congruous with Bush’s new prescription drug benefit for seniors (way to court the AARP vote, there W. And it only cost $400 billion a year). Oh, yeah, and Obamacare was written by Mitt Romney, before he ran for president and had to pretend it was unconstitutional and evil.

Both Bush and Obama are both are military interventionists (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya). Both are corporate-approved. Both signed massive bailouts to big banks and corporations. Both have done almost nothing about immigration, abortion, or gun control.

Obama has distinguished himself in two areas, however. He’s deported more people than Bush, and he’s done far more raids against medical marijuana growers in California. The nerve of that dirty hippie socialist, deporting illegal immigrants and raiding pot-smoking cancer patients!

Seriously, we will survive. We survived eight years of Bush. Okay, twelve, really. We’ll survive four more. And, if things go as they have been, we’ll survive eight more, probably from a Republican (your turn!) but possibly from “the other” Clinton (tag team!).

Move to Canada if you want, but don’t think you have any real reason to go (except for Vancouver’s Richmond Night Markets. Those are fabulous).

Nothing’s really changed that much, nor will it change anytime soon. As The Who said … “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” But Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey had one thing wrong: We Will Get Fooled Again. And that’s okay.

It’s not like our Hope is in Washington D.C., anyway.

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After the Vote Rush (Wrestling the Partisan Angel)

Well, it’s all over but the shouting now.  The votes are (mostly) tallied, and the victor has been decided.  President Barack Obama has been re-elected, and will be our President for the next four years.

I’m dragging today, because I stayed up and watched the speeches last night.  Governor Romney was gracious in defeat, and seemed far warmer, more genuine, and more likable than he had during the campaign.  President Obama’s acceptance speech was Presidential, gracious, and even a little inspiring.

People predicted the apocalypse when President Obama was first elected. Others predicted a new post-racism, post-sexism utopia.  We got an Affordable Care Act modeled on Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts program, drone strikes against Pakistani and Yemeni civilians, no change on Gitmo, the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, continued surveillance, and slow-but-steady economic growth.

Competent, but surprisingly consistent with Bush, down to a similar disregard for civil liberties.

And despite the pundits’ alternate snarling and simpering, that’s what we’re likely to have for the next four years.  Some things will get better.  Some will get worse.  For the  most part, it will be more of the same.  America will survive, just like it would have under Romney.

So what is there to do now?  Only pray.  Pray for God’s guidance for President Obama and his family.  Pray for wisdom for all our elected officials of both parties.  Pray for our nation.  Pray that God will heal the divisiveness that turns us all to broken glass every four years.

Pray that we may be clearer, more compassionate, more insightful, more virtuous. Pray that we the people can model the virtues we want to see in Washington.

Pray for President Obama, whether you voted for him or not. And remember Romans 13:1-7. Pray for President Obama, whether you like or approve of the President’s policies (or abhor them), and remember that God loves him as much as he loves any of us.

Amen.

Wasted Vote? No, Clean Conscience.

Eagle and American Flag  by Pam Roth, Creative Commons

Photo by Pam Roth, Creative Commons

I voted with a clean conscience today, and it felt GOOD.  I didn’t give my approval to Obama’s drone strikes against civilians in countries we aren’t even at war with.  I didn’t give my approval to Romney’s promise to continue, and possibly expand, those attacks.

Four years ago, I let myself be suckered. I voted for “the lesser of two evils,” and I almost threw up on the way out of the polling place.  I knew it was wrong as soon as I pressed the button.

Today I was grinning.

It doesn’t matter that the third-party candidate I voted for won’t win.  It’s not like Mississippi is a swing state anyway. My vote went to “No, it is NOT right to kill Pakistani (or Yemeni, or any) children in my name.” My vote went to “No, America’s problems will NOT be solved by killing everyone who hates us.”  My vote went to “No, permanent war is NOT okay, even if it’s fought by remote control.”

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re “throwing your vote away” if you don’t vote for one of the corporate-approved, militaristic professional politicians the GOP and Democrats serve up to you.

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re a fool for opting out of the orchestrated drama wherein candidates who are 90% alike go to “war” over the remaining 10% … and then largely forget that 10% once they’re elected.

Don’t let anyone make you compromise because “this election is the most important in history!”  They have said that about every election I am old enough to remember. And the two parties keep sharing power, sharing patronage, sharing money, and shedding blood.  Very little changes.

Vote for the person you believe in, regardless of their “chance” of winning.  Don’t give your approval to things you think of as evil.  If you believe in the Democrat or Republican candidate, then by all means, give him your vote.  But don’t vote for the lesser of two evils.  Don’t do it.  Don’t give your sanction to evil.

I know this is coming too late to affect anyone’s vote in this election.  But I couldn’t have written it before I voted, and between work and election day communion service at our church, this was the quickest I could get it posted.  But I stand by it.  Vote your conscience.  Be heard.

7 Ways to Keep the Election in Perspective

1) Pray for the other guy.  Whether you’re a fan of Governor Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, or whether you’re like me and can’t vote for either man in good conscience, take some time to pray for “the other guy.”   Pray that God will guide him and give him wisdom.  This is especially necessary if “the other guy” is President Obama.  He’s our current President, and will be leading this country at least until January, and we are urged, as Christians, to pray for the leaders of our nation. [1 Timothy 2:1-2]

2) Realize that neither guy is gonna blow up the world.  As Americans, we tend to make every election into an epic battle between good and evil, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.  Neither Obama nor Romney is going to “launch the nukes” on January 21st.  World War III isn’t coming.  They’ll keep bombing “militants” with Predator Drones, in countries (even allies like Pakistan) that are too weak to stop us, but they won’t pick on anyone our own size.

3) Remember that neither guy is Nero or Caligula (or Hitler, or Stalin …).  Political partisans and Evangelical Christians have at least one thing in common: we’re all really quick to see ourselves as persecuted.  As Christians, we’ve survived much worse leaders, especially in the early days.  And there are much worse leaders in the world today, in places like North Korea or Saudi Arabia.  Neither man is going to bring back the Spanish Inquisition or the KGB. 

4) Remember that we’re fighting over 10%.  Obama and Romney agree on a lot of things: the basic shape of government and entitlements, military interventionism, corporatist “capitalism,” and so on.  Most of the time, when one or the other party says they’ll “cut” a program (whether welfare or military spending), they mean they’ll reduce the rate of increase, not actually reduce (or even freeze) the current levels of spending.

The two major candidates mostly disagree about things they have limited ability to change: gay marriage (which will be decided in the courts) and abortion (which has already been decided in the courts, and which the last four Republican Presidents managed to do almost nothing about).  Neither man is going to radically reshape America.  Governor Romney has even said he’d keep many of the Obamacare provisions, and Obamacare was far less of a radical government takeover than the healthcare systems most other industrialized nations have.

5) Democracy, at least at the federal level, is mostly theater.  Nobody reading this blog has the power to make any difference at that level: it’s all multi-billion dollar corporations and political action groups.  You can make a difference at the local level.  If you want to get involved, there’s the place to start.

6) Our hope is not in Washington DC.  Our hope, as Christians, is in the God who comes to us, the God who dwells within us.  Jesus is still our hope, our real leader.  As Dave Ramsey often says, we have to beat the recession in our own lives before we can expect America to recover.   It’s a cliche that we have to “be the change we want to see,” but it’s one that actually bears repeating.  If you want a more just, compassionate, industrious world, build those virtues in yourself and encourage them withing your personal sphere of influence.

7) No matter who votes for whom, we are still one.  As Americans, we are one nation.  As Christians, we are one people in Christ.  And ultimately, our humanity makes us one with every person on the planet.  If we love as God loves us, we can transcend partisan bickering, transcend Facebook flame wars, even transcend big money bought-and-sold politicians.  We have hope, and we have to live that hope. 

Beyond that, vote how you want.  Or don’t.  And Tuesday night, join in the Election Day Communion at a church near you.

Election Day Communion

Election Day Communion 2012

Over 500 churches across the nation are gathering on election day, November 6, 2012, to hold communion.

We gather to remember that whoever wins, God is still in control.

We gather to remember that whoever we vote for, we are all still one in Christ.

We gather to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer persecution, who don’t get to vote, who don’t get to gather publicly.

We gather to pray for our leaders, whether we voted for them or not, that God will give them wisdom and compassion.

We are gathering at South 28th Avenue Baptist Church.  We may be few in number, but we will gather.

It’s not too late for your church to join the communion, to remember our unity.

Remember, we are all one in Christ – liberals,  conservatives, independents, Evangelical, Reformed, Mainline, Catholic.  We are all one in God’s love, all saved by the same Son, the same Redeemer.

Learn more here, at http://electiondaycommunion.org

 

The Audacity of Losing Hope in Politics

I know it’s easy, in this political season, to look at both candidates and lose hope.

One promises hope and change, but wages a drone warfare against Pakistani villages, killing hundreds of civilians. The other speaks the language of conservativism and the Christian Right, but spent his career dismantling businesses and shipping jobs overseas.

Both seem utterly in the grip of corporate interests.  Neither seems apt to bring an end to warrantless surveillance, extrajudicial execution, and indefinite detention.

Yes, they’re different, but they’re different like Nero and Julius Caesar were different.  One may be worse, one may be better, but neither one will be truly good.  God warned Israel against wanting a king, but Israel persisted.  It looks like we’re still reaping that harvest now [1 Samuel 8:10-18]

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m not going to be able to vote for either President Obama or Governor Romney, because of their use of (and acceptance of continued use of, respectively) Predator drones to strike Pakistani villages.

Killing men, women, and children, burning houses, and terrorizing  entire towns semi-permanently?  Cruel and pointless.  Defining as “militants” any male of fighting age who happens to be found in these areas?  Deceptive and arrogant.  Hiding these actions from public scrutiny?  Disreputable and disgusting.

Nobody seems to be taking this seriously.  Most of my ‘progressive’ friends and most of the Emergent Evangelical voices on the blogosphere are still singing the President’s praises, as if they’d never even heard of this.  My more conservative friends wholeheartedly get behind Mitt Romney, taking an “anybody but Obama” stance.

Even the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson hasn’t ruled out continuing the drone-slaughter, even as he promises to bring the troops home.  Apparently, Pakistani lives are cheap these days.

And both candidates who actually have a chance of winning are so beholden to corporate interests that we commoners hardly even matter.  Would I have voted for one or the other, if not for this slaughter?  Maybe, but it doesn’t matter now.  I won’t support this with my vote.

I’ve heard people say that President Obama isn’t a real Christian, but never because his hunter-killer drones kill Pakistani children.  No, it’s because he’s pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.  I’ve heard people make similar arguments about Governor Romney, because his economic policies will hurt the poor.

And everybody’s so gung-ho for their candidates that they seem to think the world will end if their man loses.

The world won’t end.  Too many rich people have too much invested in this crony-capitalist, “too big to fail” model.  The world will only end when God ends it.

And that’s the thing to remember.  God is not up for re-election.  God is the king of the universe, regardless of the popular vote or the electoral college.  As Christians, we have to remember that, and remember where our true loyalty lies.

I’ve heard people question whether any true Christian can vote for President Obama.  And I’ve heard the same thing about whether any true Christian can vote for Governor Romney (not because he’s Mormon, but because of his regressive economic policies and his pseudo-Randian VP).  Frankly, both positions are ridiculous.

Christians have a lot of reasons for voting for candidates, and questioning somebody’s commitment to Christ because they don’t share your political preferences is borderline blasphemous.  Election 2012 isn’t the Messiah versus the Antichrist.  It’s two rich, connected power-players competing for the most powerful prize on the planet.  If your conscience leads you to vote for one or the other, fine.  But shut up about God’s candidate.

As Christians, we need to maintain unity, with each other and with our neighbors of other faiths.  Whoever wins will be our President, but not our true ruler.  You don’t like Romney?  You don’t like Obama?  Try living under Nero or Caligula.  Try being a Russian or Ukrainian or Lithuanian Christian during the Stalin years.  Though many were martyred, God preserved his church, and it flourished, even underground.

To quote Longfellow, God is not dead, nor does he sleep.  No matter who wins or loses, we have to stick together, to pray together, to pray for whichever man makes it to the White House, to pray for our nation.  God is our Hope, not any man.

For God or Country (Wrestling the Angel of Patriotism)

Eagle and American Flag Photo by Pam "Bubbels" Roth, Creative Commons

Photo by Pam “Bubbels” Roth, Creative Commons

Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to be a good patriotic American and a genuine Christian at once.  This isn’t an idle thought, or some kind of “blame America first” catchphrase.  It’s a genuine worry I have.

I’ve always believed that America is essentially good (though far from perfect) and that patriotism was a good thing.  I still do, for the most part.  But now I wonder if these two things – America and the Kingdom of Heaven – are not competing goods.

Part of me wants to say “no.”  Jesus said that no man can serve two masters. [Matthew 6:24]  And I’ve already talked about how America is not, and never has been righteous (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).  I can’t vote for Romney or Obama, not so long as they both support drone strikes against civilians.  For all the religious political posturing, America seems more like Rome than Jerusalem.

We do not care for the poor like we should.  The gap between the rich and poor grows.  And the mortgage crisis shows how easily the average person can be taken advantage of by unscrupulous creditors (I was a Realtor a few years back, and let me tell you, that can be an ugly field.  Finding an ethical Realtor and mortgage broker is vital, and not always easy.  I mean, really?  Approving someone for a mortgage that costs half their monthly income?  What ethical planet are you from?)

Politicians preach about Sodom, but forget what the Sin of Sodom was: Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”  That’s right: Sodom’s sin was lack of hospitality, not caring for the poor, living too richly while those around them suffered [Ezekiel 16:49].  Forget homosexuality: that’s America to the core.

On the Other Hand…

Part of me wants to say “yes.”  Part of me says that Granddaddy was both.  He fought in World War II.  He started and sustained two small businesses, on of which still employs several people in our hometown, fifty years later (thanks in large part to my Dad, who’s managed it for about 25 years).

Granddaddy was always patriotic.  He put flags on the graves on Memorial Day.  He was a proud veteran, and he modeled quiet, civic patriotism.  He was also far and away a better Christian than I am.

He spent a lot of time in prayer (time I either waste online or spend writing about my feelings *smirk*).  He was a Gideon, and active in prison ministry.  Was he perfect?  Of course not.  But he was fundamentally good, and he gave God the glory.

Was Granddaddy’s America better than the one I live in now?  Nostalgia tempts me to say “yes.”  Certainly, much of his life was lived in simpler times.  The amount of information, the access to information, was less, and even entertainment came in such limited streams that you could stand around drinking coffee and talk about TV shows and actually have people know what you mean, without having to Google it (Honey Boo-Boo?  That sounds like a bee with a scraped knee, but apparently it’s a reality TV show).

But better?  We’ve been through this (Part 1Part 2, and Part 3).  World War II was a just war if there ever was one, but America still bombed Dresden, killing 25,000 civilians, America firebombed Tokyo, killing at least 100,000 and leaving 1 million homeless, roughly as many as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and more than the bombing of Nagasaki.

These massive bombing campaigns may or may not have been necessary to win the war, but they led to massive civilian deaths.  Our ongoing drone strikes are less destructive by a couple of orders of magnitude, but they’re also unnecessary and unjustifiable.

On the home front, racial segregation was an ongoing struggle.  I have a relatively objective account that Granddaddy was about as non-racist as a white man could be at the time and still live in Mississippi (told by a friend who left Mississippi in the 1950’s in protest of the racist atmosphere).  But the atmosphere affected everyone who stayed.

So, if my grandfather was able to balance love for a deeply flawed nation with faithful service to God, why can’t I?

Maybe the times really have changed.  Maybe there is no political party I can get behind (drone strikes on civilians are a deal-breaker, as is torture).  Granddaddy voted Republican as long as I can remember, but the party was very different back then.  When he was alive, I voted Republican, and did it with a clear conscience.  This year?  I don’t know who I’ll vote for, but it will be in protest.

Maybe I’m just not trying hard enough.  Maybe loving America has nothing to do with being able to vote for a Presidential candidate in good conscience.  Maybe part of loving America is calling it as it is, not worshiping it as it claims to be.

Maybe I can only love America correctly if I first love God correctly.  If I turn my loyalties away from my own self (whether self-preservation, self-interest, or just self-introspection) and turn them to God’s Kingdom, maybe I’ll be able to love America like God does – fully aware of its flaws, with no blind jingoism, with no excuses, just grace.