Issue statements

I had intended to attempt to formulate a complete political philosophy based on Christian morality, but as you can see it has failed to inspire me. Somehow I just can't manage to wrap all of Christian morality into a political stance without making assumptions that will end up excluding a wide swath of Christians. I'll keep working on it, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Instead, I'll make a series of issue statements that I think are supportable. This will, of course, be added to as I think of more.

Concern for the Poor: By my rough estimate, the single most talked about issue in the Bible, concern for the poor is without question a major responsibility for every Christian. In our modern world, in our modern economy, personal action, while still very meaningful and of matchless importance in the lives of those touched by it, is not the most efficient means to accomplish the ends of improving the lives of the poor. Government action, because it can help so many more people at once, is an essential part of the equation. What that action should look like is somewhat more open to discussion. Intelligent economic policies are valuable to provide the greatest opportunity to the greatest number of people, but some sort of direct assistance is desirable to help those missed by those opportunities. That direct assistance need not look much like modern welfare, but it must exist, and we must support it.

Electoral Reform: I fully endorse both the 'Agreement Among the States to Elect the President by National Popular Vote' and open-list proportional representation to elect both state legislatures and the House of Representatives. Both are needed to bring democracy to the US, and the second is needed if the two party system is to be broken. The right of the people to representation cannot be protected without eliminating wasted votes, currently endemic in our system. Protection of the disenfranchised and oppressed is central to the Gospel message.

Immigration and Border Security: Much of the national debate on immigration is supported by the basic assumption that the needs and rights of 'us' are more important than those of 'them.' This division is evil. As Christians we are called to love others as ourselves, not to love others but not quite as well as our friends and families. To declare anyone to be 'illegal' is to hate them, not to love them. Our borders will be most secure when they are open. Declared points of entry should be established, and the names and fingerprints of those seeking entry should be logged, but all who come should be admitted. Only those found to have committed an act we recognize as a crime should be denied entry. When this is the official policy, we can safely assume that anyone seeking to cross at any other point along the border is a criminal, and possibly a terrorist, who should be apprehended and investigated.

Marriage: Christian opposition to gay marriage is based exclusively on our objection to homosexuality on religious grounds. While we have the constitutional right to hold these beliefs, we cannot expect the government to outlaw something for that reason alone. Furthermore, if the subject is carefully considered, we find that all definitions of marriage are inherently religious in nature. Therefore, marriages should not be within the purview of the state, but rather left to churches to grant or deny. The state will need to establish some means by which to grant the rights currently granted through marriage, but with no ties to any sexual relationship at all. This means should not be called a 'civil union,' so as to avoid the current debate.

School Funding: Education is a public good, in that an educated populace is a great benefit to the country, and should be publicly funded. However, all education has a religious goal, the propagation of ideas about the sources of knowledge and authority. As such, it is a violation of the 1st amendment to publicly administer a school. The current public school system in every state is in violation of the 1st amendment. School vouchers offer the best way out of this problem by funding all children equally without regard to the religious choices made regarding the destination of that money.


Religious Politics

Most evangelical Christians reliably vote republican. The stereotype is either that they vote this way because of abortion and gay rights, or that the Republican Party holds those positions to keep the “religious right,” but I think for most of them that’s just a justification. The religious right has just as much commitment to the rest of republican policy, the less obviously religious aspects of conservatism, as the other groups that make up the party. Some of these policies are not easily compatible with traditional Christian morality, so how did they get sold to the religious right? Why is the religious right comfortable with ignoring the first command in the bible, to care for the earth, in favor of supposed benefit to the economy? Why are they comfortable with ignoring the principle of concern for the poor to strip social services? Why are they happy to ignore the Old Testament prophets and various New Testament passages including most of the book of James to support oppressive corporate control of the economy and corruption of our government?

The so-called protestant work ethic gives some of the answer. The Christian tradition in our country has in it elements of economic determinism, ideas that wealth equals the favor of God and that that equates to an endorsement of both how that wealth was gained and any use to which it might be put. This has translated into a tendency to leave the poor to their own devices, few though those are. Christians tend to see this as good stewardship. We have abandoned all the rest of our moral imperatives to fixate on that one point.

This has to change. There are many moral issues that have nothing to do with money or sex and we have ignored them for too long. We have deep commitments to moral ends yet we do not seek to bring them into being through political means. Why not?

That answer comes from the American ideal of separation of church and state. In the way that this idea has played out in our modern world, the state rules over everything that can be considered public and is supposed to receive no interference or even input from the church. Meanwhile, the church is free to rule over whatever people want to give it in private and is supposedly free from any interaction with the state.

There are two problems with this division. First, the way we define public and private, and second, what constitutes influence or interference. We seem to have settled on “private” meaning whatever no one else has to see you doing, and “public” meaning just about everything else. Alternatively, “private can mean nearly everything in life, and “public” can be those things we think the government ought to control. The first definition seems the more popular, while the second is heavily favored by privacy advocates and libertarians. Either way, we can say that the private is essentially the not-public. With relation to religion, since either camp defines religion as private, this means both that we are expected to keep our religious beliefs to ourselves, making proselytizing a bit awkward, and that politics is supposed to have nothing to do with religion. That touches on the second problem. Private and public are not so easily separable as the words would seem to imply. The words are antonyms, yet the concepts, at least their applications in the real world, overlap. Private is taken to mean what goes on in our own homes, or what has no impact on anyone else, yet those things do have public implications. Similarly, public things have private roots. No one takes a public action without a private motivation.

Government tells people what they can’t do; religion tells people what they should do. As long as each sticks to its role, the separation isn’t that difficult to maintain. Where it becomes difficult is when we include politicians, the people who actually make up the government. They tend to tell people what they should do, although those instructions rarely come with the force of law. Every politician, like everyone else, has a religion, and here in America every religious person gets to vote. This makes the division between the two a little tense and causes people to take it to extremes.

Religion, supposedly, should have nothing to do with politics. Separation of church and state is one thing. The church should be free from government control, and the government should not be under the thumb of any one religion or denomination. That much is clear. We take it too far. I have heard people gripe about how President Bush talks about his religious motivations for some of his actions. What’s wrong with his communication of the source of his motivation? Religion is a perfectly good motivation, an excellent one in fact. For a politician to state that he favors a particular action because his religion says he should is fine. However, religion makes very poor argument. If another politician shares the religious values and his interpretation as favoring an action, then the argument of “because the Bible says so” is redundant except as a call to action, and if the other politician does not share those beliefs or that interpretation then that argument will never convince him. Religion as argument is always either redundant or hopeless.

Religion is, however, a perfect motivator in politics. I have many opinions on many subjects, and when I examine those opinions I generally find a religious value as the source. With regards to politics, I am neither a republican nor a democrat; I have opinions on issues that would place me on both sides of that divide. Neither am I a moderate; generally my opinions are extreme in whatever direction they lean. This leads me to assume that my thinking does not lie neatly on the traditional conservative-moderate scale of political values. I am a Christian, and that is also my political identity. God may be neither a republican nor a democrat, but he does make clear his will for our actions in many of the political issues facing the world today. Why do we settle for the Republican Party as the tool to attempt to do the right thing in the political realm? Why do Christians not have a party that acts from their religious motivation?


Failing duopoly

Neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party serves the interests of the majority of Americans today, and I am referring to more than the longstanding back and forth of marginal control in congress. The array of choices presented to the voting public is sadly limited. To think that the full spectrum of political ideologies present in the American public is expressed in the choice between the slightly evolved views and beliefs of 19th century industrialists and 19th century enlightenment philosophers seems a little ridiculous. This must change. Not what the current parties offer, but what other choices are available must change. No two parties can ever adequately represent the desires and needs of 300 million people. To end this stranglehold on American politics will be very difficult, particularly because none of our current political leaders seem to have any interest in opening up the system to competition. Although a greater variety and number of political parties would solve or help many problems, including corruption, the disconnect between political leaders and the voting public, and voter disinterest, as well as improve the quality of public discourse, this is not my motivation. I want a political party I can identify with and that I can trust to represent my interests (as well as one I can feel comfortable running for office under), and I do not have that option in American politics today. The two parties are so entrenched that not only are they not anxious to change, they will not even allow other voices to be heard. For example, the presidential debates, the ones that are on tv every four years and don't actually constitute a debate, typically have only two participants not because there are only two viable candidates, although this is sadly the case, but because the forum is legally owned jointly by the two major parties and both would have to agree to allow another party to participate. Obviously, this does not often happen.

There is a group out there currently working on a plan to change the way we elect the president. Rather than get rid of the Electoral College, which would require a constitutional amendment, they seek to make it redundant. They are going to all the various state legislatures and attempting to get them to adopt an interstate agreement to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote regardless of the outcome in their own state. This plan can work. The states have the right to award their electoral votes however they want, and historically some have simply appointed them without a vote. The agreement would not take effect until a number of states constituting a majority in the electoral college signed on, at which point what the other states do with their own electoral votes doesn't matter. This will, if enacted, fundamentally change presidential elections.

It isn't enough. With this in place, presidential candidates might visit more places, and engage in more meaningful debate, the political dialogue in our country might be enriched, but there will still be only two candidates. The presidential election is not the source of power for the parties; congressional elections are. What I want is for this plan to become redundant itself. I want people to pay very little attention to the vote returns on election night, because I want everyone to already know the outcome. I want the outcome to reliably be that congress will elect the president, because no one candidate achieved a majority, and I want congress to have to find, every time, a compromise because no one party controls enough of congress to push through their own candidate without help from another party.

I have a plan, inspired by, as simple as, and potentially more effective than the plan to elect the president by popular vote. In addition, my plan would end gerrymandering forever. Unfortunately I lack the ability to put my plan into action. I have no means to go to state legislatures and pitch my idea, nor do I have any expectation that they would embrace it if they did hear it.

Without a way to get people into congress a political party will always be a small fringe movement, so congress is what must be opened to what are currently minor parties. The state legislatures have, in addition to their power over their electoral votes, the power to redraw their voting districts more or less at will. Typically this happens only every ten years with the release of new census data and the reapportioning of seats in the House of Representatives that goes with it, but Texas went ahead and redrew the map without that. I haven't heard yet whether the Supreme Court has ruled on the legality of that. That was all that was unusual about the Texas redistricting: when it happened, not how blatant the partisan redistricting was. Take a look at the map of Arizona's congressional districts and give me any other reasonable explanation for district two. Legislatures use this opportunity to solidify their districts, sometimes to maintain the balance of seats while reducing competition within districts, sometimes to attempt to shut out as much of the minority party as possible. This can be ended simply, and to do so would be a great victory for justice and equal representation.

Just get the states to say that all of their districts overlap, occupy the exact same territory, and that the seats they represent will be handed out in proportion to the votes cast, and this partisan redistricting ends forever and minority parties can grow and thrive. Currently a party has to get a majority, or at least the largest minority, in each district to win even a single seat. There might be a million people, enough to merit at least two representatives, across the country who vote, or would vote if they thought there was any point and they had a candidate on the ballot to vote for, for the green party, but since they aren't congregated in one place, they don't win a single seat. This wouldn't be completely solved without getting rid of the states' role in congressional elections, but that cannot happen without a constitutional amendment, and that amendment would never pass. Proportional representation by state is pretty good, and much more doable.

It would only take one state to get it going. Unlike the presidential plot, this one doesn't rely on the actions of any other state. Pressure to copy the first state to do this from voters who want more choices in their own state would help this grow, and states that started doing this after others had already started would benefit from the existence of working third (and fourth and fifth) parties elsewhere. Currently elections have losers. Forget the politicians who failed to get elected; the real losers are the voters whose party lost. In MA, where the majority is democratic, republican votes might as well not be cast. We hear about it most often in relation to the presidential election, but it matters more for the congressional elections. If MA is 60% democratic, why should 100% of its congressmen be democrats? That means that 40% of the people are disenfranchised. That's ridiculous.

Here's the point: I'm neither a democrat nor a republican, and I don't want to be disenfranchised. What benefits me will benefit many other people, and the country as a whole, and I want it. There's plenty of political power to go around; it ought to be spread a little more evenly.


My migration begins. The transmigration of blogs.