Wednesday, November 17, 2004

NY Times Op-Ed "The Bush Revolution"

I should be nicer to the New York Times. Nicholas D. Kristof, writing for the Op-Ed page had a very worthwhile article today entitled The Bush Revolution. It covers much of the same ideas that I tried to address in my post yesterday but he so much more concisely puts the matter:
The central question of President Bush's second term is this: Will he shaft his Christian-right supporters, since he doesn't need them any more, and try to secure his legacy with moderate policies that might unite the country? Or, with no re-election to worry about, will he pursue revolutionary changes on the right? To me, it looks increasingly like the latter.
The piece is also worth reading for his predictions on various international issues during the second Bush term and ends with the frightening "litmus test" for deciding to leave the country -- "A litmus test of foreign policy prospects will be whether John Bolton, a genial raptor among the doves at State, is promoted to be its deputy secretary. For liberals who have been wavering on whether to move to New Zealand, that would be a sign to head for the airport."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Christian Theocracy

For me, the most worrying aspect of the recent Presidential election is the idea that Karl Rove's four million evangelical Christians (Pat Buchanan on the subject) missing from the 2000 election came out to vote in 2004, helped Bush win the election, and now will have a greater voice in our country's politics and policies. Before Dan points out that the four million may be a myth let me quickly point out that it is more important that the Bush Presidency believes that evangelical Christians made the difference in this election than whether or not they actually did make the difference.

I was raised to believe in an America that is tolerant of differences in religious, social, and cultural belief and practice. I was raised to believe that "tolerance" means "embrace diversity" not "put up with differences." And as a result I have friends that are from every religion (or none) and from many cultural backgrounds and who have made many different choices in their social behaviors.

MSNBC reports that the "electorate (is) deeply divided...", citing exit polls that show that "moral values" became a critical issue for voters in reelecting President Bush -- "...white evangelicals — a crucial voting bloc for the president — represented about a fifth of all voters. Their top issue was moral values." The Arizona Daily Star reports that:
"Moral values" is a catchphrase for conservative, religious voters who oppose abortion, stem-cell research and gay marriage, said Steven Waldman, editor and CEO of BeliefNet, a multifaith Web site for religious and spiritual issues.
The problem I have with this definition of the issue is that it inaccurately places the locus of the voter's interest on the values instead of on a desire to IMPOSE those values on the rest of the nation's citizens. Many people, on both sides of the election, hold the same beliefs on these three issues. John Kerry expressed his personal belief that marriage is between a man and a woman and his personal belief that abortion is immoral. But he did so while saying that it was not the job of government to impose the personal religious beliefs of a President on the citizens of the nation. So when we talk about Bush winning on "moral values" we should be clear -- he won based on an electorate determined to impose their moral values onto others.

I heard Pat Buchanan on the radio a few weeks ago (on NPR - archive here) making the seemingly reasonable suggestion that local electorates should be able to make decisions on behalf of themselves when it comes to public resources -- for example, if a local school district wants to have prayer in their schools, why shouldn't there be a democratic process to decide? Why not let the citizens of that district simply vote on the matter?

One of the other things that I was raised to believe about our democracy is that there is an important balance that must be struck in protecting minorities. The problem with allowing a majority vote to provide the only guidepost for our civic decisions is the risk of a "tyranny of democracy" in which a majority imposes its views on a minority.

While still a vast majority, the percentage of Americans calling themselves Christian has declined from 86% in 1990 to 76% in 2001 (American Religious Identification Survey at The Graduate Center, City University of New York) Almost 1/4 of our population is Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnositic, atheist (or one of a handful of others). This trend is expected to continue. Another interesting statistic from this study,
"In 1990, ninety percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. In 2001, such identification has dropped to eighty-one percent."
"No religion" is a staggering 13.1% of the total US adult population - staggering because it is the second largest category. Evangelical Christians might look at these statistics and see 27 million people that used to be Christians that could be brought back into the fold. And voting for public money to be spent on Christian schools might help with that agenda...

But should a democracy impose the will of the majority on that 13% of its citizens who chose to be "areligious" (no religion but not agnostic or atheist) much less on the 11% that are Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan... ?? How can a great nation like ours decide on belief-based issue like gay marriage, abortion, stem-cell research, prayer in school based on one groups beliefs?

The right has often cited that the phrase "separation of church and state" cannot be found in the constitution. Instead it is contained in a letter by Thomas Jefferson. But perhaps it is time in this great nation to suggest a 28th Constitutional Amendment, certainly more important to the nation's well being than the 27th in which we formally introduce these words and protect the minorities of our country now and in the future from the imposition of the majority's views. After all, in the future Christians may become the minority.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Third Term

While we are likely to hear many arguments from the right about why we should elect George W. Bush to a third term as President of the United States, I thought I would jump in early with an argument from the democratic side of the aisle on why we should modify the Constitution to allow him to run a third time. Don't think it is reasonable to talk about changing the US Constitution to allow a person to run for President? Tell Governer Arnold...

The partisan Fox News ran a survey this past summer that declares "Most Oppose Allowing President Third Term." The survey spoke of opposition to Clinton being allowed to run against Bush and was largely the kind of negative hit piece on liberal political candidates that we have come to love Fox News for... But there it is, the idea of a 3rd term for a President being floated publically.

And the Republican arguments for electing Bush to a third term will come, at least from the extreme right. We will hear that we should "stick with our wartime president" and that we need to keep up the fight on terrorism, and that his reforms of the tax code and social security are not yet complete...

But here is an argument for the left to consider. The problem with second terms is that the President is now a lame duck. He no longer need consider public opinion as he will not face the voters in 2008. So when will he feel the need to compromise? Or even sound like he is reaching out to all of the voters?

If we allow Bush to run for a third term in office, on the other hand, he will have a motivation to appear in front of voters, talk to reporters, provide some transparency on advisory panels for proposed energy or environmental bills... in short have some measure of accountability to the American people.

Of course, if re-elected, the same argument might be made again -- allow Bush to run for a fourth term in office... Given the possibility of President Bush for life perhaps we should be supporting a constitutional change to allow Schwarzenegger to run for President in '08 instead...