Now that it’s almost October I figured it was time to put my
cards on the table in terms of this election. I do so realizing that as a
pastor that I don’t want to speak for my congregation, which is thankfully a
purple church, a place where folks span the spectrum. I’m glad to work for a
church that respects individual conscience. Given that, I’m seeking to write from
my conscience, as an individual.
I’m also writing because I have Facebook friends who span
the political spectrum, from the Tea Party to Libertarian to self identified
Marxists to regular run of the mill Democrats and Republicans. Admittedly I’m
writing to most of my friends who are on the left end of the spectrum in that I
want to make a case for voting for Barack Obama. Romney is not an option and I
find little to agree with him on. Jill Stein and some other third party
campaigns are a different story. Keeping that in mind I’d like to offer 5 reasons I’m voting for Obama and 4 reasons why I understand why others are
Over 30 million Americans without health insurance will be covered now. That is
the most significant accomplishment of this administration. Folks will not be
denied or thrown out of their insurance plans because of pre-existing
conditions. Over 6 million young adults have already been added to their
parents plan. Discrimination based on gender eliminated. Insurance companies
actually have to spend the bulk of their premiums on health care.
Romney would repeal this. And there
is no Republican alternative on the horizon. For
those who argue that there is no differences between the two candidates, I think this issue should put that
claim to rest. Now that doesn’t mean this plan is perfect or that we’re not going to
have to go back to this issue again. 11 million undocumented workers are not
included. Cost issues are real because we avoided public health care and opted for
subsides to private insurance companies. I have some hope that states like Vermont
models that can provide a basis for further reform in the future. But the
concrete good of what was passed can’t be understated either.
New Deal and Great Society. It may seem odd to bring this up but Romney is
committed to privatizing Medicare and Medicaid, block granting most federal programs.
He’s also committed to a financial plan that would eliminate the bulk of the
funding for most basic social and governmental services outside of the
pentagon. That is significant. And not only is Romney and Ryan committed to
this, 4 out of the 9 supreme court justices were prepared to strike down
Obamacare and by extension most federal programs by going back to a pre new
deal reading of the interstate commerce clause. Which is to say that if you
believe in any collective addressing of problems, including poverty it’s highly
important that Obama picks the next Supreme Court justice and that we have a
coalition of groups, including labor that can defend, not dismantle this basic
notion. Especially in light of the success of the stimulus and the saving of
the auto industry, this principle needs an advocate more then ever.
That doesn’t mean Obama is perfect
on this issue. His desire for “a grand compromise” in cutting the deficit could
mean real harm could be done to a number of vital programs that serve seniors
and Americans across the board. He needs to have his feet held to the fire, to
protect such programs. But he is not interested in actively dismantling them
and the concrete good that means in the lives of millions of Americans can’t be
understated. As someone who is where I am because of head start and title 1,
this is a central issue in how I vote.
Again the differences are stark. Obama supports gay marriage, has ended Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell, is reforming immigration policies to recognize same gendered partners, opposes “the
Defense of Marriage Act”, has expanded access to reproductive health care to
millions. And when there have been attempts to vilify and to marginalize
groups, even when it’s not popular Obama has stood up for them. Remember the
“Ground Zero Mosque” incident? And then there’s the Dream Act, which he
supports, his working to prevent kids from being deported who were brought to
and are making a difference in our society. There is a Justice Department which
has actually defends voting rights, investigats cases of racism. It matters
who heads such departments, across the board. And again, the impact that has on
millions can’t be understated.
That doesn’t mean there are not
limits on what Obama has done. How much money is given out to religious groups
that actively discriminate through the federal funding of faith based programs.
And why hasn’t Obama tackled this? Why hasn’t Obama been more proactive in the
justices he’s appointed, as we face an unprecedented amount of unfilled seats.
Again, like any and every issue we need folks to hold his feet into the fire.
Affairs. I’ll mention this as an area even if I can see why folks are
voting against him over issues I’m concerned about too. Nonetheless, he
has ended torture. Romney promises to bring it back. Obama has prevented
us from being drug into a long and protracted war in Iran
Romney has all but promised an invasion of the country. Romney would
increase military funding $2 trillion in a decade, something I hope
libertarians are taking note of. Obama’s plans are more modest and with
his withdrawal from Iraq
the possibilities of tackling our addiction to military spending may have
some space to be addressed. When you recognize that most of Romney’s
foreign policy team served with George Bush and that belligerence is taken
as strength one should have a ready enough handle on the differences
between the two candidates.
This area is still the most
disappointing to me about the Obama administration nonetheless. The drone war
has largely affected civilians. While Obama has prevented a large scale war, he
has expanded smaller covert wars in a number of countries. And the same use of
state secrets, which marked the Bush administration, continues under the Obama
administration. Military tribunals are in force, Gitmo is still open. Too many
abuses under the Bush administration has bipartisan cover and has become the
new normal. The best case against Obama is to be found here but the only folks
making that case are the third party candidates I’ll address in a bit.
Nonetheless most of the issues shared by the peace movement would take a
definite turn for the worse under Romney.
But the fact that so much of the movement shut down during the Obama
presidency emphasizes yet again how much his feet needs to be held to the fire.
Coalition. That is to say, who backs which candidate matters. You dance
with the partner who brings you. This is certainly the case with Romney
who has changed most of his positions, sometimes in awkward ways to
embrace the GOP coalition. To agree with Romney for a bit, Obama’s
coalition represents a lot of America
who are not on top of
the economic and power structure in our country, the 47% or more actually.
Labor, minorities, women, immigrants. Those are the folks that have a
chance to be heard in an Obama administration, instead of just fighting
rear guard actions to protect past accomplishments. And that is the group
I think that can most likely secure a country for all of us. I don’t think
Romney’s coalition on the whole thinks that way. It’s rather a zero sum
society. If women get equal pay, if gay and lesbians can marry, if other
religions can build a religious center, if an immigrant can attend college
then somehow something is taken away from many in the Romney coalition. That seems to drive some
of the hyperbole that has driven our politics in the last number of years.
The other group of Romney’s coalition seem so intent on protecting their
vested wealth that if anyone else has a shot at a decent life, they are threatened as well.
Winners and takers and anyone not privileged must be by definition a
taker. I think a country that works for all, needs Obama’s coalition to have the sway in our national discussion.
Now as I have intimated, there are problems, plenty of them
to be found in the Obama administration. Enough that many of my friends are
voting third party. Unfortunately given the issues and concerns I’ve raised
I’ve already lost my Romney supporting frends. Not just because this piece is
too long but also because the issues I’ve raised are going to produce
differences as it is. So I just want to address folks who largely share my
It is clear that Obama too often will listen to corporate interests and this
has affected his policies for the worse. Almost every untenable feature of
Obama’s health care plan, not allowing export of drugs from other countries,
dropping the public option, can be traced back to some deal made with some
company. While most vested wealth backs Romney, in this post Citizens United
landscape, we can also note how many corporations back Obama and we can assume
that they also want influence.
But I think our big hurdle is
Citizens United, which Obama and the democratic congressional leadership has
come out against. And it will be democrats in state legislatures across the
country that will be an instrumental ally to see that overturned. Also again,
consider the next supreme court justice and how likely they would be to back or
overturn such a precedent.
Grand Compromiser. Obama’s continuing desire to reach such a thing will likely
increase after the election. While there may be more democrats in congress,
that is not a given. The gridlock we’ve seen in the last two years is likely to
continue. The tendency for Obama to trade away important gains whether on
Social Security, Medicare, and other budget issues is something that is both
alarming to watch and at the same time, makes congressional democrats less
likely to stand up and defend such programs. It really takes leadership at the
top and too often that has been missing. It’s a reality that the left needs to
tackle. But as dreary as it may seem, having a president who will readily sign
such cuts as Grover Norquist dreams of will certainly be worse. Again look at
the congressional budget plans by the GOP, the ones that looked to poverty
programs for 80% of their cuts for clues on what a Romney presidency might
Affairs. As was noted. The covert wars, drone attacks, the National Defense Authorization Act, the war
on whistleblowers, state secrets, it seems as
if we’re living in the Bush years. In some ways we really are. Though
Romney has promised worse on this score then the Bush administration did. After
all it was the Bush administration that slowed the drum beat for war with Iran
. Unfortunately we’ve had a peace movement that has laid down it’s picket signs
as if all was well. If these issues are bi-partisan how do we even begin to
make a dent on such issues? Thus the attraction of third party campaigns who
have raised these issues. I’ll address this later on. But suffice it to say
that we need folks who are willing to rally on these issues, talk about them,
start demanding candidates actually make commitments to not make the war on
terror state apparatus a permanent reality.
it’s clear that Romney and the GOP’s antipathy towards unions is clear by
word and deed, it’s not clear how much friendship they have received
from democrats. The plans by GOP governors
to eliminate collective bargaining, when
stopped or at least fought against, had democrats who were willing to engage in
that fight. I’m thinking of Wisconsin, Ohio
which is one step closer to
enshrining the right of labor in their state constitution. But too often Obama has
did or said nothing in the face of such attacks. And as we are now aware of with Rahm Emanuel in Chicago
, Democrats too
can launch such attacks.
As our economy drags on the lack of
income increasing number of Americans are seeing, the need for unions to build
a middle class becomes all the more apparent. And yet we heard little to
nothing on this in Charlotte
which was rather symbolic given that most every service provided to that
convention was non union labor. Also consider every trade agreement that Obama
has proposed. Again another example of labor and this administration being at
I don’t have good solutions to any
of this. I do know that labor is in the fight of their life. And I know the GOP
is leading the assault and when there has been defence, it’s been democrats
providing it. But like peace issues, it’s clear that we can’t assume friendship
with the democrats is a given as well. And the same holding the feet to fire is
In some ways, that seems like a non answer. Maybe it is. I’m
just a pastor, not a grand political strategist. How that looks like will be
made by people more seasoned and experienced then myself. But I do want to
address my third party friends for a moment.
Given the issues I’ve raised (if agreed with) it’s clear
many of the third party candidates are ruled out. In particular Gary Johnson of
the Libertarians who would as readily dismantle labor protections, the new
deal, social security as much of the Republican caucus. Outside of foreign
affairs, almost everything I’ve listed would be an example of where I part
ways. Now it may seem as if I should agree with the left third party candidates
in principle. In some ways, yes. But in some ways no.
Roseanne Barr for Peace and Freedom has little or nothing to
say about most of the issues raised. Outside of drug decriminalization, it’s
hard to see what she is adding to the conversation on the issues I’ve raised.
The Party of Socialism and Liberation and Socialist Workers does make some of the
right sounds on the issue but so much is undercut by the fact that they are
silent or supportive of unjust regimes and dictatorships. What does it mean to
support gay rights if you say nothing about the treatment of gay and lesbians
in the middle east, in North Korea
for instance. Other third party candidates like the Socialist Party has largely
abdicated even campaigning, or getting on but a handful of states.
Again they are not in a position to move the national
discussion. If one visited one of their discussion boards, it becomes clear
that the politics is so stuck in sectarianism and a language that is largely
removed from the wider left and most Americans in this country. The fringe
attracts and remains content with being fringe it seems, not engaged in the
issues that folks are dealing with in the here and now. When the 1917 revolution produces more discussion then how to defend Head Start from budget cuts, you've left the field of politics all together.
Now there is Jill Stein, with the Green Party. I honestly think
she’s the only serious candidate among the third parties in both addressing the
issues (in particular her vision of a Green New Deal) I’ve raised and running a real national campaign, on the ballot on most
states (though not mine). I have a several friends voting for her and I’m not sure I’d say much
to dissuade folks of such a choice. But I would offer questions. I voted for
Nader in 2000 and I have voted and work in 3rd
party campaigns in the
past, mainly voted Green when I was in southern Illinois
But my sense is this. Greens, Progressive Vermont, other
such groupings can move the conversation to the left when they run real and
serious campaigns. The Greens are one of the few folks who do this more often
then not. But they only have a chance when they can talk to neighbors and
organize something on the local level. Thus the Greens have done alright in a
number of places. And I’ve been glad when I’ve had a chance to be involved in
that. You can do that when it comes to school board, state legislature, county
commissions. So far not with presidential campaigns. And we know that by now.
Now of course folks try on that scale. I suppose my question
is; if one has failed to make the Democratic Party a genuinely progressive
alternative and if one is not able to win and run progressive candidates, be
involved in platform discussions shape the national discussion through the
national progressive constituencies like labor, why do we believe a third party
nationally could have any hope of doing otherwise? At least the infrastructure,
base, and possibilities of winning is had with the prior.
I have seen it work on the local level so I’m not opposed to
third parties. But I wonder about the energies on the national level. But still
an argument could be made that issues are raised that the two parties will not
address. If you run a real national campaign like Jill Stein I can see that.
Otherwise, probably not. Admittedly my vote for Obama is symbolic as many votes
for Jill Stein are, given our electoral college system. It seems as if the
election is only being had in 10 states or so. Certainly not in Wyoming
where I sit. I
suppose my only persuasion outside of the fact that the Democratic Party is
where every major progressive configuration finds itself is this…please vote
for who you will symbolically but if the state is close and it is in play think
of the concrete goods that matter in peoples lives and what is at stake. And
why, even if you agree with Jill, you want Obama to beat Romney. There is a
reason for that. And if you can tip the scales in this election please do so.
As for my Republican friends, Romney supporters. I love you even if we disagree on the issues (or even on what issues should matter). Some of you are dear friends and family to me. And I hope that our
national discourse has not been so polarized that the possibilities of
discussion, friendships, disagreements are made impossible. My small hope for
the church is that we could model that sort of relating that is missing from
our national culture. And if you’d ever like to discuss said issues feel free
to contact me.