Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Politics, Part III (Final)

"Truth?" said Pilate. "What is that?"
Really, what it comes down to for me is that I find discerning the truth about politics and politicians nearly impossible.

This year it took me an hour and a half to fill in my ballot. I visited each candidate's website to see what they said about the given issues, and did additional research through newspaper articles, voting records, and assorted Voters Guides.

I had a very difficult time finding hard facts, or even clear statements about a candidate's position on the issues. Although most devoted a large portion of their websites to "issues," the actual content didn't provide me a very clear picture. Every outside source I tried was unmistakably biased, whether it was newspaper articles, blogs, or watchdog groups.

Add to all this the negativity and propaganda that characterize a political conversation, and the truth gets even more obscured. I haven't been able to find a source of political discourse that I can trust. As I've already said in Parts I and II, I don't think voting for any candidate will make a real difference in the issues that matter most. In addition, I worry that whoever wins the election will harm vulnerable populations with faulty policies and misguided laws. Intelligent people argue both sides, and yet I can't fully agree with anyone.

I feel like I am wandering in a mire, trying to find my way out, and every now and then I come across a path covered in signs, but none of the signs make sense, and none of them seem to lead out. So I keep wandering. Even if I pick a path, I'm not happy or confident while I'm on it, so I'm prone to strike out and search for another one.

But the thing is, there is no perfect path. This is politics, after all: messy, complicated, full of gray areas and compromise. And if I don't pick any path, then I'm just wandering aimlessly.

So what's most important when choosing how to vote? To me, the answer has to be "What God wants." Luckily, He's left us a guide. It's called the Church. And in the last few years, the Church has made her position ever clearer. More than one bishop has come forth to say, in no uncertain terms, that a Catholic may not vote for a pro-choice candidate when there is a pro-life candidate on the ballot. With all my indecision and frustration, this at least is a non-negotiable guidepost to help me choose wisely.

If I cannot feel peace in voting for a particular candidate, can I at least feel peace in bending my will to the gentle nudge of my shepherd's staff? We are like sheep, unruly, unable to fully understand. Yet if we can respond to the voice of one sent to guide us, we might yet move in the direction appointed by our Master.

I admire and deeply respect my shepherd, Archbishop Chaput. I have read his book, "Render Unto Caesar" and found it both inspiring and enlightening as to the role of the faithful in public life. In his words, then:

"So can a Catholic in good conscience vote for a pro-choice candidate? The answer is: I can't, and I won't. But I do know some serious Catholics -- people whom I admire -- who may. I think their reasoning is mistaken, but at least they sincerely struggle with the abortion issue, and it causes them real pain."

Of all the voices shouting opinions in our political climate, I have to choose one that I trust. I can't discern the truth on my own. Who better to trust than the shepherd appointed over my particular flock? In all honesty, there's no other voice I trust more.

Not even my own.

Picture credit.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Politics, Part II

Conservative vs Liberal, Or Why the Two Party System Blows

In essence, my problem boils down to the fact that our two main parties, Democrats and Republicans, are inconsistent in their interpretation of accepted philosophies. I've examined many, many political spectrum charts and definitions in an attempt to place myself somewhere on the political map. I always end up in the middle, agreeing half with one side and half with the other. Thus I don't feel at home in either camp.

What I really wish is that I could vote on issues rather than candidates. I love the last part of the ballot where all the referendum questions and amendments are given to the public for their consideration. It's the only part of the ballot where I feel my voice is truly heard.

I don't have that option, though. The parties choose how they feel about a given issue, which forces me to support things I don't support. Democrats, for example, are supposed to favor government regulation of the economy, but allow for a range of personal freedoms. Except that they don't allow for freedom of religion, consistently regulating and monitoring what religious groups are able to say/do and where they are able to say/do it, and they spend a great deal of effort trying to regulate the social aspects of the economy, such as how many minorities a business has to hire, whether they must provide health insurance, etc etc. They also willfully ignore the medical evidence that shows a developing fetus is a person, and deny the unborn their most basic freedom: life.

Republicans are supposed to favor a smaller government, except when it comes to law enforcement and moral order. They do plenty of regulation, though, especially when it comes to protecting business and the market from pesky things like justice or transparency. What this does, in effect, is to create a system where as long as you have enough money, you are above the law. To me, that doesn't create a very moral social order, nor does it allow for much movement or interaction between the classes, which is the key to equality, opportunity, and prosperity.

I can't put a Republican in charge without worrying what they're going to enact to hurt our country, and I can't put a Democrat in charge without worrying the same thing. Every now and then we get an option to vote for a third party candidate, but instead of bringing us a new option, they tend to be more extreme versions of the Republican or Democratic candidate. When they do present a different tactic, it's never the one that fits with my beliefs. Libertarians, for example, favor NO government regulation of anything. That's not what I want! And while I have proudly voted for a third party candidate whose philosophies and character I believed in, that wasn't an option for me on this last ballot because there weren't any third party candidates in most of the races.

The thing is, most of the US is like me: committed to neither party, vacillating back and forth, making their final decision based on one or two major issues facing the country in that particular election. Because so many of us change our party vote with each election, and because there is no overlap between the philosophies of the two parties, every two to four years the entire philosophy of the country's government gets turned on its head. Why does every politician talk about the importance of bi-partisanship, and then refuse to make the compromises necessary to achieve it? Party politics. I read once that the two party system is ideal because when you have two extremes, they fight it out and arrive somewhere in the middle, which is probably where the truth lies. I personally disagree with that assessment. What seems to happen is that one side imposes laws, and the other side refuses to fund them. Or one side pushes something through, and the other side enacts a bunch of restrictions to strangle it. Perhaps our Founding Fathers meant for discussion and compromise to be the order of government, but it has not worked out that way. Like a kid shunted between divorced parents, we are treated to a confusing mix of rules and standards that leave us not knowing what works, and with all our problems only partially addressed.

It's hard to know what the answer is. Those countries who have had the most success are those countries that are the most homogenous, like Japan and Finland, whose governments impose a single identity upon all the people. America is a melting pot of diverse races, religions, and cultures. Each State is radically different in climate, resources and character. Trying to unify this mass of individual preferences into a codified philosophy is a Sisyphean task. I honestly don't know if it can be done, or even if it should. I wouldn't want to live beneath the yoke of unrelenting nationalism. Although our current system doesn't exactly offer me a voice, either. After all, 51% makes a majority, even though that leaves an almost equal number of people completely pissed off and disenfranchised.

I care very deeply about politics and the role of government in our lives. I'm not happy with what we currently have going on in this society. We have an entrenched two party system, neither of whom offers me what I consider a workable option to make it better. So how am I supposed to vote?

Picture credit.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Politics, Part I

It has been very hard for me to decide to publish this series of posts. I really hate politics and the anger that enters into most political discussions, and most especially I hate the way it polarizes people and fosters judgment and disdain. However, I have very strong feelings on society and the role of government. I believe political participation is an important way that we, as Americans, can take the poor with us. It might be the most influence we have on the world at large, and to refrain from active participation is unthinkable.

However, I do not have typical Catholic sentiments towards politicians and government. I say "typical" to mean that my opinions are not usually in line with those others who attend services with the same frequency as I do, or hold to the teachings of the Church as rigidly as I do (as defined by polls which cover these things.)

Voting, in general, causes me a great deal of anguish and emotional strife. I am writing these posts in part to be honest about my struggles, but also in an attempt to work out the direction of my political involvement. Writing is the best way I know to sort my thoughts, and this forum allows me to solicit the input of like-minded believers, which I value.

So, let's get right to the most contentious bit.

Part I: My Objection to Voting Pro-Life

I live in Colorado, which had on its ballot this past week the following amendment to the State constitution:
"An amendment to the Colorado Constitution applying the term 'person' as used in those provisions of the Colorado Constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law, to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being."

This is the second time such a measure appeared on the ballot. In 2008, "biological development" had further language that made personhood apply from the moment of fertilization. The measure was roundly defeated in 2008, and reappeared this year with the modified language.

The following is part of the text from the Colorado Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding this measure, written in 2008:
"While the Church respects those promoting this personhood amendment, the Catholic Bishops of Colorado decline to support its passage because it does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending or even reducing abortions in Colorado."
This brings me to my biggest problem with voting pro-life. Despite the best efforts of pro-life politicians and faithful Catholics involved in pro-life ministries, there has been no significant decrease in abortion rights over the last 40 years. What we are mostly fighting over is taxpayer funding. While it's true that rampantly pro-abortion presidents (such as Clinton) caused great harm to the pro-life cause, it is not the case that pro-life presidents (such as Bush) have done much to help it.

While I am pleased that people of faith haven't given up on the abortion issue, I'm not convinced that the actual power of a given pro-life candidate outweighs the possible harm they could do on other issues. The anti-life culture is so ingrained in our society that politicians, no matter how well-intentioned, find it very difficult to pass any legislation that significantly alters abortion rates or rights. The more fervent and passionate a candidate is on the pro-life issue, the harder it is to get him elected.

I am pro-life. I consider our country's abortion rate a tragedy of epic proportions. There is NO EXCUSE for a country as prosperous and educated as ours to have no room in our hearts for a million little children. As a faithful Catholic and pro-life woman and mother, it pains me every time I think of the wasted lives and the gross injustice perpetrated on these innocents every single day. I argue against abortion with everyone in my life, even with my staunchly pro-choice family, even at the dinner table, even hours after the conversation has stopped moving forward and I am close to tears. They refuse to acknowledge the truth: that a baby, even unborn, is a person with the right to live. That bearing a child already conceived, even if it delays your graduation or promotion, is your responsibility as a human being. That we should be doing everything in our power to promote motherhood, adoption, and pre-natal care.

The bishops statement on the personhood amendment also declared:
"...lower federal courts interpreting this amendment will be required to apply the permissive 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is also likely that the Supreme Court, given its current composition, will either decline to review such a case, effectively killing the state amendment, or worse, actively reaffirm the mistaken jurisprudence of Roe."
In other words, the bishops affirmed not only the uselessness of any attempt to overturn abortion at the state level, but the actual harm it might pose in creating even more case-law that supports Roe v Wade. The way the Supreme Court works, any decisions it makes must be reinforced by the lower courts, and subsequent Supreme Court cases can rely on those lower judgments in their later decisions. In other words, everything builds on itself, and once a decision has been made at the Federal level, it is much, much more difficult to overturn it than it was to come to the decision in the first place.

How could the bishops refuse to support this amendment on the basis that it is unrealistic and could cause harm, yet insist that I cannot vote for a pro-choice politician based on the same argument? I do not take voting lightly. I do not make my decision on simple partisanship. Since 1970, we have had pro-life Presidents, a majority pro-life Congress, and pro-life state governors and state legislators multiple times. However, not a single pro-life President has issued an executive order banning abortion. Why not? BECAUSE THEY CAN'T. It would be immediately overturned by the legislature or the Supreme Court and the people would riot.

The most we've been able to accomplish is to impose regulations that get in the way of quick, cheap access to abortions. While this is laudable, and an important step, the long and short of it is that we've made abortions more difficult for those who are in the most need of support during an unwanted pregnancy: unwed mothers and low-income families. 60% of women who have abortions already have children, and 75% of those who have an abortion state their reason is financial, either that they cannot afford another child, or that having a child would interfere with their school/job/ability to care for other children.* Unless we are providing assistance to these women in the form of pre-natal care, maternity leave, and affordable child care, we are perpetuating the myth that children are a burden and abortion is necessary to prevent poverty and unemployment.

Two more things I want to mention here. Roe v Wade was decided by a majority conservative court appointed by Republican presidents. The closest we came to overturning it was 1986, with
Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. 7 of the 9 justices had been appointed by Republican presidents, and were told by the current President (Reagan) that they should revisit and overturn Roe v Wade. Instead, they voted 5-4 to uphold the right to abortion. There are many reasons to have conservative Supreme Court justices, but the likelihood of them overturning Roe v Wade is remote, even if they ruled as we expect, which they rarely do.

And the personhood amendment that appeared on our ballot this week? Despite my vote, it was defeated 70% to 30%. It is abundantly clear that the vast majority of our country (even in a heavily Republican state like Colorado) is against the overturning of Roe v Wade or any sort of real limitations on abortion. It doesn't make sense to me that I should put aside all the other issues and ignore reality to vote for whichever candidate is against abortion, even though that is the clear message of the Church.

I write this only to say that I am very conflicted each time an election comes around, and I find the phrase "vote your conscience" to be incredibly insulting. My conscience doesn't allow me to support any candidate in any race at any time, because there is no "faithful Catholic" party. Every line I drew on my ballot this year went AGAINST my conscience, no matter which party I supported. I will never be proud of my vote, nor will I ever be happy that a certain candidate has attained office. The entire process is riddled with guilt, doubt, frustration and disappointment from beginning to end.

I cry when I vote. And I don't wear the cheery little sticker.

*Statistics on induced abortion from the Guttmacher Institute

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