What’s the price of xenophobia? Broken systems?

June 8, 2011, 4:36 pm | Posted by

immigration1.jpgThere’s been a lot of talk inside the Beltway about shifting demographics and the GOP’s short-sighted maneuvering on the immigration issue. They’ve been accused of ginning up xenophobic sentiment to galvanize their political base, without taking into account the fact that they’re alienating potential Hispanic supporters. But in a hopeful sign, a Los Angeles Times story last week indicated that some politically astute Republican leaders are trying to change that.

It’ll be interesting to see whether this comes up on the campaign trail and whether Republicans are forced to take a position on extreme measures like Arizona’s SB-1070, which has produced copycat legislation in a number of states including Alabama, whose recent bill may go even further.

And while Democrats have championed immigration reform and the DREAM Act, frustration is mounting with a flawed law enforcement program called Secure Communities, which links local law enforcement to federal immigration agents in order to identify and remove undocumented immigrants, and has fueled a significant increase in deportations of undocumented immigrants for minor offenses. High-profile cases like Los Angeles and New York state backing out of the program, coupled with a strong New York Times editorial today, are increasing the heat on political leaders of both parties to move beyond broken systems and angry rhetoric towards real solutions.

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Huntsman’s Moral Blindspot on Medicare

June 1, 2011, 2:01 pm | Posted by

huntsman.jpgLikely Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman’s semi-endorsement of Paul Ryan’s budget plan in the Wall Street Journal today contains this interesting line:

I admire Congressman Paul Ryan’s honest attempt to save Medicare. Those who disagree with his approach incur a moral responsibility to propose reforms that would ensure Medicare’s ability to meet its responsibilities to retirees without imposing an unaffordable tax burden on future generations of Americans.

I’m glad to see that Huntsman thinks it’s a moral responsibility for political leaders to ensure Medicare meets its promises to our elderly. But I’m confused as to why he doesn’t extend this same obligation to Ryan himself.

Not only does Ryan’s plan fail to meet this moral imperative, it doesn’t even try. Voucherizing Medicare so seniors have to pay increasingly more for their own care is the exact opposite of “meeting Medicare’s responsibilities.” And don’t Ryan’s drastic tax cuts for top earners make our tax structure less fair for future generations of low and middle income Americans (not to mention middle-class families hit hard today by Ryan’s proposal)?

The reality is that critics of Ryan’s approach have released their own budget alternatives that do make honest efforts to answer these difficult questions. The burden of moral proof is on supporters of plans that ignore or obfuscate these issues for political gain. Huntsman would do well to figure out which is which before he weighs in.

Photo credit Flickr/World Economic Forum

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Corporations or Kids?

May 19, 2011, 2:30 pm | Posted by

When we describe the budget as a moral document, we mean that it necessarily involves crucial choices about where to spend our resources. These choices reflect our moral priorities as a nation.

This ad by the non-profit Vote Kids, running in the presidential campaign states of Iowa and New Hampshire does a great job of boiling that point down to its fundamentals.

Good on them for stressing this point that cuts through the conventional wisdom about spending and debt. Candidates should be morally obliged to explain why we “can’t afford” programs that protect children and families even as we lavish tax breaks on corporations and the rich.

Politicians who support draconian budget cuts are fond of saying that it’s wrong to burden our children with debt. I’d love to hear how they reconcile such concerns with their zeal to destroy programs that help America’s youth prepare for a healthy and prosperous future.

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Trump’s uneven courtship of the religious right

April 26, 2011, 2:04 pm | Posted by

Donald_Trump.jpgOnce upon a time, Donald Trump tried to turn his name into an adjective. “You’re looking very Trump today,” a billboard for his Atlantic City casinos said. This slogan is definitely open to interpretation, but given the context “Trump” was probably meant to be shorthand for some combination of rich, dashing, and stylish.

Nowadays, Trump is synonymous with the cult of political celebrity. And some on the religious right are kind of star-struck by the thrice-married gambling magnate. This weekend Franklin Graham made headlines by suggesting he could support Trump’s presidential aspirations. “When I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, ‘Well, this has got to be a joke,’” Graham said. “But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, ‘You know? Maybe the guy’s right.’”

A few weeks ago, Trump began his courtship of Christian conservatives by sitting with CBN’s David Brody for a lengthy interview, in which he declared himself pro-life, talked about his Christian faith, and made direct overtures to religious right leaders such as Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins. In response, Reed and Perkins both gave Trump nods of mild approval. Reed:

“There is a nascent and growing curiosity in the faith community about Trump. Evangelicals will like his pro-life and pro-marriage stances, combined with his business record and high-wattage celebrity all but guarantee he will get a close look from social conservatives as well as other Republican primary voters.”

Perkins:

“Given Donald Trump’s background in the gambling industry and his flamboyancy, one would not think he would be a fit with Evangelical voters. However, given the wide open field of candidates, strong statements that Trump has recently made on core social issues combined with an overarching desire to see a new occupant in the White House, he may find support among social conservatives.”

Conservative Christian commentator Cal Thomas isn’t buying what Trump is selling though. In a recent syndicated column, he said:

…While a candidate’s faith should matter only if it affects policy, if someone wishes to use his or her faith to win votes, then voters ought to be able to judge the depth of that faith as a means of determining the candidate’s credibility.

What should we make of Trump telling Brody that people send him Bibles all the time and that he stores them “in a very nice place”? “There is no way I would ever throw anything, to do anything negative to a Bible. I would have a fear of doing something other than very positive so actually I store them and keep them and sometimes give them away to other people.”

Does he read the Bible and believe what it says? How about the parts concerning marriage, divorce, and fornication? Would that be something Trump should take to heart? Brody didn’t ask and Trump didn’t volunteer. He did say he goes to church “as much as I can. Always on Christmas. Always on Easter. Always when there’s a major occasion.” Christians know a lot of people who attend church only on Christmas and Easter and special occasions. They are usually not serious about their faith. Not to judge, but if Trump intends to use faith to win votes from people of faith, then those people have a right to determine whether he is sincere or simply trying to manipulate them.

Thomas also slammed Trump for making campaign contributions to Sen. Chuck Schumer, Hilliary Clinton and Rep. Anthony Weiner. Perhaps the divide between Perkins and Reed on the one hand and Thomas on the other reflects uncertain prospects for Trump among Christian conservatives. Or maybe it just reflects Perkins, Reed and Graham’s desire to play nice with the Republican favorite du jour…even if it means cozying up to a gambling magnate who is a very recent convert to their causes. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani in 2008 despite Giuliani’s support of gay rights and abortion rights. Early in the primary season, social issue bona fides sometimes get subordinated to political calculation.

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A New Values Debate For 2012

April 14, 2011, 11:17 am | Posted by

The following post was written by FPL Executive Director Jennifer Butler and is cross-posted on Huffington Post.

Conventional wisdom about faith and politics usually (and falsely) divides “values voters” motivated by opposition to abortion and gay marriage from an electorate focused on kitchen-table issues like jobs and taxes. This misleading script became a major media story after the 2004 presidential election when a flawed exit poll question separated “moral values” from broader concerns about the Iraq war, the economy, education and health care. This faulty premise assumed that Americans who care about economic fairness, immigration reform and other moral issues at the heart of their religious traditions left their faith and values outside the voting booth.

This old narrative has dramatically changed since 2004, as progressive and moderate religious leaders and people of faith challenge the myth that conservative Republicans have a monopoly on our nation’s moral agenda, and that agenda is limited to abortion and gay rights issues. As the 2012 presidential election season begins, faith leaders are speaking out against budget cuts that hurt the most vulnerable, condemning Islamophobia that stains our highest ideals, standing up for workers’ rights and defending the health care reform law from partisan attacks.

In fact, a recent poll shows that Catholics and evangelicals in Ohio — a key swing state — morally oppose Republican economic policies that hurt working families. Sponsored by Faith in Public Life, the poll of 2,000 Ohio registered voters found that 57% of Catholic and 59% of evangelical/born-again voters think restricting collective bargaining is wrong. Sixty-one percent of Catholics and 63% of evangelical/born-again Christians also believe that Gov. John Kasich’s approach to addressing the state’s budget challenges — which includes cuts to services such as education and health care — is unfair. These voters are speaking up. Over 1,000 people of faith in Ohio signed petitions that local clergy leaders have delivered to the State House.

Newt Gingrich, a likely presidential candidate who warned voters about a “secular-socialist agenda” at the Conservative Principles Conference in Iowa recently, will grab headlines with his reckless rhetoric. Others will continue to outdo each other by exploiting ungrounded fears of Sharia law. But I believe many voters will see through sensationalism and support leaders who speak to the authentic values of their faith traditions rather than using religion as a weapon to divide and distract us from serving the common good.

So as campaigns heat up in the year ahead, which candidates will recognize the economy is a moral issue? Who will ask why economic inequality has reached Depression-era levels? Who will stand up for families, good jobs and workers’ rights as these priorities are threatened? Values voters will be listening closely for answers.

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