Extremism on the Ballot

November 8, 2011, 3:33 pm | Posted by

VoteNoIssue2.jpgState ballot issues loom large as voters flock to the polls today. Mississippians will decide on Initiative Measure 26, which would legally classify a fertilized human egg as a person. It would not only outlaw all abortion (including cases of rape or incest), but could also prohibit in-vitro fertilization and commonly used contraceptive methods. The Mississippi Medical Association even said this measure “will place in jeopardy a physician who tries to save a mother’s life by performing procedures and employing techniques have used for years.” IM 26 is not only radical, it’s downright dangerous.

For years I’ve worked with leaders on both sides of the abortion debate to find common ground without compromising core values. This approach not only helps defuse polarization, but also builds broad support for policies that assist pregnant women and prevent unintended pregnancy, which reduces the number of abortions. IM 26 is the absolute opposite of this approach. Even the Mississippi Catholic bishops and the National Right to Life Committee don’t support it.

A victory for working families?

As we’ve discussed before, Ohio voters are deciding today on Issue #2, a ballot initiative on whether to repeal Senate Bill 5 — deeply unpopular legislation that effectively stripped teachers, nurses and firefighters of the ability to collectively negotiate for safe working conditions, reasonable benefits and fair pay.

While progressives and labor are well-mobilized, a victory can’t be taken for granted. Defenders of SB-5 have mounted a massive disinformation campaign to confuse voters. But clergy across the state are standing up for working families and helping ensure the outcome reflects their commitment to workers’ rights.

Fraudulent claims of voter fraud.

Unfortunately, many states are erecting barriers to voting that could protect unpopular legislation like SB-5 from repeal efforts. Since the 2010 elections, a dozen state legislatures have restricted voters’ ability to cast ballots by adding onerous new ID requirements, restricting voter-registration efforts, or curbing early voting. While proponents claim these measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud, numerous investigations have failed to find any evidence that fraud is an actual problem. (Voter fraud was also a pretext for Jim Crow laws such as literacy tests.)

These statutes disproportionately affect groups more likely to support progressives – students, minorities and low-income voters. Using a nonexistent problem as a pretext to prevent people from voting is a dishonest tactic that runs contrary to American values. Preventing people from voting instead of trying to win them over clearly indicates a lack of commitment to their values and their well-being.

As radical politicians push unpopular policies that undermine democracy, severely restrict workers’ rights and dangerously redefine personhood, it’s more important than ever for people of faith to bring the focus of our nation’s politics back to the common good.

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Conservative Evangelicals Ask GOP Candidates to Tone-Down Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

October 21, 2011, 5:15 pm | Posted by

G92 immigration conference.JPGDisappointingly, extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric has become a feature of the GOP presidential campaign. Nearly all the candidates seem to believe that no attack is too extreme when it comes to demonizing and threatening undocumented immigrants, some of the most vulnerable people in our country. But recent efforts by some evangelicals suggest that this swing to the right on a basic issue of fairness and compassion won’t go unchallenged.

No one would describe Mat Staver, Richard Land and Sam Rodriguez as progressive leaders, and yet even they have made a point of reaching out to the Republican candidates to take issue with anti-immigrant posturing on the campaign trail.

Land also joined Jim Wallis at evangelical Cedarville University this weekend for a conference on immigration that specifically addressed this same problem. Carl Ruby, vice president for student life at the school, compared today’s moment to the history of civil rights:

Most white evangelicals didn’t support the civil-rights movement 50 years ago, and today’s white evangelicals find that regrettable, Ruby said. He doesn’t want evangelicals to feel the same way about the immigration issue someday.

While some of these efforts are motivated by electoral politics (see Staver’s fear that alienating Latinos will “push them..into a liberal, political, leftist machine“), if religious conservatives succeed in walking the GOP back from this dangerous cliff and away from policies that would do serious harm to American families, it will be an important victory.

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Herman Cain and Common Sense Jesus, ctd.

October 21, 2011, 3:55 pm | Posted by

hermancain1.jpgWe weren’t the only ones to take issue with Herman Cain’s ridiculous descriptionof Jesus as the “perfect conservative” because he taught “common sense” and helped people without government programs.

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite makes the obvious historical point:

The biggest error Cain makes, and it is an error made by many who want to privatize helping the poor and the unemployed, and use the scripture to justify ‘keeping government off our backs, is to fail to recognize Jesus did not live in a democracy. Instead, Jesus lived under Roman occupation. Rome, a vicious, militaristic occupying power, was not exactly known for its excellent government programs to help the poor. Roman occupiers were far more likely to enslave you as to help you with food and job training.

And Tina Korbe at conservative Hot Air chides Cain as well:

I can’t help but think it’s a mistake for a Christian to call Jesus either “conservative” or “liberal,” even if certain of His principles could be labeled as such and even though Christians must necessarily decide for themselves what political ideology squares best with their religious views. To reduce Christ to a 21st-century political label is to forget that Jesus reminded His followers regularly that His kingdom is not here in this world, that He reminded them to work for what lasts, to store up treasure in heaven.

When Jesus speaks of a kingdom outside of this world — what St. Augustine called the “City of God,” as opposed to a “City of Man” — He is not saying that a Christian’s religious beliefs shouldn’t inform his life in this world. On the contrary, the Christian is to carry those beliefs into every avenue of his existence. But Jesus is reminding His followers of the transcendence of the eternal, reminding them that, on some level, who wins what political battle (among other things) will someday matter not at all.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

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Cuts That Kill: The Problem with Catch-All “Foreign Aid” Language

October 20, 2011, 3:32 pm | Posted by

Trumpeting tired, tea-party rhetoric at the GOP Presidential Debate this week, the candidates responded to a question about foreign aid by almost universally across the line declaring they would severely cut or even eliminate the foreign assistance budget to save money. (That such funds make up less than 1% of the federal budget went unmentioned).

Tapping into conservative suspicions about corruption and waste in foreign governments and international institutions, the candidates painted all aid with a broad brush to downplay the real harm such cuts to life-saving programs would cause. But this generalization disguises an important reality that U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke to Tuesday–that many of these funds go to faith-based organizations like World Relief and Catholic Relief Services that help carry out the agency’s mission. By threatening to demolish foreign assistance, GOP candidates are actually slashing the budgets of dozens of these faith-based organizations, severely limiting their ability to provide assistance to the world’s most vulnerable people.

These organizations generally enjoy broad support from across the political spectrum, including among religious conservatives. I’m guessing candidates would likely be less likely to boast about their plans to cut aid if they had to be honest about the actual people and programs such reductions would impact.

Unfortunately, Wednesday’s debate just gave us the same tired talking points and deficit peacocking we’ve seen before on this issue–all while people continue to suffer in places like famine-stricken Somalia. As other nations shrink their own foreign assistance budgets the need for real U.S. leadership on this issue is more important than ever. We can do better than this.

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Why #OccupyWallStreet Scares the Right

October 20, 2011, 12:48 pm | Posted by

Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate in Nevada featured another installment of the highly anticipated audience-cheers-something-inappropriate series.

This week, the consensus seems to be that the winner is applause for Herman Cain responding to a question about #OccupyWallStreet by reiterating his “unemployed people have only themselves to blame” commentary:

COOPER: “Herman Cain, I’ve got to ask you — two weeks ago, you said, `Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job, and you’re not rich, blame yourself.’ That was two weeks ago. The movement has grown. Do you still say that?” [APPLAUSE]

CAIN: Yes I do still say that. [LOUDER APPLAUSE AND CHEERS]

Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, and Jonathan Bernstein have already ably discussed this moment in depth. My sense here is that the audience isn’t cheering in support of Cain’s statement as much as they’re reacting against the one it implicitly rebuts. At first glance, the observation that many people are unemployed by no fault of their own seems like an uncontroversial point, a self-evident reality during a serious economic downturn. The problem is that it threatens a core conservative narrative–the belief that people get what they deserve.

Crystallized by an unwavering faith in the free market, this belief in an inherently just economy provides the moral framework for almost every conservative economic policy. In this world, material success is exclusively the result of hard work and ingenuity while poverty and unemployment are signs of individual moral deficits. It appears most prominently in the increasingly popular “makers vs. takers” and “job creators vs. moochers” language and explains the initially confusing phenomena of working- and middle-class conservatives passionately defending policies that only benefit the wealthiest few.

In order for this worldview to remain intact, #occupywallstreet must be the lashing out of envious losers rather than a genuine reflection of economic injustice. To admit that the market has left behind wide swaths of Americans who played by the rules and don’t deserve this suffering is to knock down the crucial link in this entire house of cards.

I think what we’re seeing now is the panicked anxiety of a movement desperate to preserve this fantasy in spite of the contradictory evidence piling up around them. The popular embrace of economic denialism, adoption of apocryphal history about the financial crisis, and even celebration their own economic suffering all strike me as elaborate intellectual defense mechanisms.

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