Politics matters

It’s easy to be cynical about politics and politicians. Yes, government is inefficient. Yes, wealthy people exert undue influence, and receive benefits that others don’t. There’s even some truth in the statement, “All politicians are the same.”

But cynicism is a luxury, to be indulged in when times are good. When times are bad — people come to the startling realization that politics matters. Government matters.

We’ve had eight years of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their friends, inside and outside of government (Haliburton, Blackwater). That bitter experience has moved many people to re-engage in the political process.

David Kurtz, a contributor at Talking Points Memo:

I was practicing law in Missouri, more or less happily, and enjoying our two toddlers, when Hurricane Katrina hit my home state. It was wrenching to watch from afar, a maddening combination of an intimate knowledge of the people and the place, a powerlessness to help, and a growing rage over the inhumane response and the cynical indifference.

Katrina crystallized for me what I wanted for myself. Within a year I’d decided to leave the law and return to journalism, trading a stable traditional career for a chance with a small start-up, TPM.

Publius, a contributor at Obsidian Wings:

I started blogging because of a deep anger about Iraq and the exploitation of 9/11 that bubbled in me during 2003. This deep anger caused me to return to politics — to see its importance. In short, Bush woke me up from a long slumber. And I’ve been very engaged since.

But I’m just a small inconsequential fish in a big ocean. The bigger story is that this same anger — this same frustration — has led liberals to organize in more numerous and consequential ways. In the last few years, we’ve seen new think tanks. We’ve seen blogs flower. We’ve seen the rise of media sites like TPM and Huffington with real journalistic chops. We’ve seen unprecedented efforts to register and canvass voters.

In short, we’ve seen a new energy driving liberals back to politics. …

When your strategy is to make half the country hate you [referring to Karl Rove’s polarization of the electorate], that half is ultimately going to fight back, and it’s ultimately going to win. Tonight, it did.

the back of Bushcredit: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty

And this outpouring of relief from Hilzoy, another contributor at Obsidian Wings:

After eight years of assault on our Constitution, we have elected a President who teaches Constitutional law. I cannot express what this means to me.



… All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

(2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Reconciliation is one of the most powerful theological concepts in the New Testament.

The word isn’t often used in everyday conversation anymore. The one context in which the word continues to pop up illustrates its meaning very nicely.

Sometimes, after a marriage has broken down, the couple patches up their differences and they move back into the same home. That’s when we dust off that half forgotten term, reconciliation.

Reconciliation occurs when people put conflict behind them. It occurs when separated people are reunited.

Associated terms include enmity, hostility, and peace.

… While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son …. (Romans 5:10)

For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made us [Jews and Gentiles] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. (Ephesians 2:14)

God was pleased … through [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

As you can see from the scriptures I’ve quoted, the concept, reconciliation, is at the very heart of the Gospel message. Enmity existed between God and us (and between Jews and Gentiles). Christ’s mission was to change enmity into peace.

This meaty theological concept is pertinent as Americans try to absorb what happened in the election tonight.
Obama over the top 2(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The saddest chapter of American history is the shameful treatment of blacks by whites. The result:  persistent conflict, division, enmity, hostility. Even civil war.

Now, a possible reconciliation. A chance to turn the page of history. In place of conflict, harmony. In place of enmity, peace. In place of division, unity.

Barack Obama isn’t just a symbol:  he is a man of flesh and blood, and he will soon have an opportunity to govern. But, as America’s first black President, Obama is also a symbol.

Symbols sometimes matter. They can change the way that people perceive themselves and the society in which they live. At their most potent, symbols can actually alter the course of human events.

This election may mark the beginning of a great racial reconciliation. If so, that will be good news indeed for America.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How unlikely is a McCain victory?

In order to win, John McCain needs to capture all of the “toss-up” states, plus steal Pennsylvania from Obama’s column. Here’s a good explanation:

How likely is it that McCain can steal Pennsylvania? Pollster.com’s rolling average has Obama polling at 51.8%.
Pollster.com Pennsylvania

It seems to me that an Obama blowout is more likely than a narrow McCain victory.

Obama campaign signs in Canada

Canadians wanted Al Gore to win the presidential election in 2000. But I never saw an Al Gore sign in Ottawa.

Canadians wanted John Kerry to win the election in 2004. But I never saw a John Kerry sign anywhere in Ottawa.

This year is different.
Obama campaign sign

There are three Obama signs within walking distance of my house. I’m not sure Americans fully appreciate, even now, what a tiger they have on their hands this year.

Middle ground on abortion?

I was planning to post on the topic of abortion in connection with the presidential election. Benjamin has now beaten me to it.

I would still like to weigh in and attempt to reframe the debate. People’s thinking on this topic has been regrettably unsophisticated to date.

Barack Obama has been criticized for adopting an extreme position on abortion. In his defence, I’d like to point out that legislation often is cunningly worded to trap Senators in a no-win position. They can’t support the legislation, as worded; but if they vote against it, they will suffer political damage.

(It’s akin to the trap set for Jesus when someone asked him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” As this blogger points out, “The leaders believe that they have given Jesus a difficult question because he is likely to offend at least one group of people no matter how he answers.”)

Here’s Obama’s defence of his supposedly extreme position:

On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. [emphasis added] All I’ve said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn’t have that.

Part of the reason they didn’t have it was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion … were trying … to polarize the debate.

Obama wants to escape this willful polarization of the abortion debate. He is seeking out middle ground where it is notoriously difficult to locate.

There are two interesting data points in this post by Amy Sullivan at Swampland.

First, Sullivan notes that the debate is now shifting away from the irreconcilable pro-life / pro-choice dichotomy:

There’s been growing momentum over the past few years behind an alternative approach to the abortion issue, an effort some people refer to as “abortion reduction.” The idea is that whether they’re pro-choice or pro-life, most people agree that it would be a good thing if the abortion rate could be lowered — whether through preventing unplanned pregnancies or by providing economic and social supports for women who would like to carry their pregnancies to term.

The effort got a big boost this year when Barack Obama plugged it in his acceptance speech. And it seems to resonate with Americans who are tired of the shouting matches that usually occur whenever abortion comes up — when Obama mentioned it again in the third presidential debate, focus groups dials soared.

This morning, a religious coalition is going up on the air with a radio ad calling for support for abortion reduction policies. The ad is running on Christian radio stations in 10 swing states.

As long as the debate is bogged down on questions like, “Is a fetus a human being? Is abortion murder?”, we’re faced with a binary Yes / No impasse. But Sullivan is right:  we may be able to achieve a broad consensus in support of an alternative thesis, “The incidence of abortion in America (and other Western countries) is too high, and government should take measures to reduce it.”

Second, Sullivan cites a Roman Catholic organization that promotes a broader definition of the term “pro-life”:

Prime time Obama

The blogosphere isn’t showing much interest in Obama’s thirty-minute, prime time commercial. For example, Andrew Sullivan hasn’t reviewed it. And Talking Points Memo mocks it as a way to spend all the money the campaign has raised, before the election is over.

Obama’s supporters are now holding their breath, wanting this thing to be over. Obama is ahead in the polls:  he doesn’t need to change the dynamic of this campaign. He took a risk running the commercial:  what if he misstepped, and gave John McCain an opening to turn his campaign around at the eleventh hour?

Publius worried about it all day yesterday … and so did I.

But then I actually watched the commercial. Like Publius, I thought it was pitch-perfect.

I think it will play to its intended audience:  voters. Obama doesn’t care what the talking heads think of it. Not even the Talking Points Memo heads.

The ad responded, indirectly, to McCain’s attack ads and ubiquitous robocalls. For example, the opening sequence was movingly patriotic, from a candidate who has been accused of palling around with domestic terrorists. And Obama responded to McCain’s “socialist” charge when he explained how he will use the presidency to address the economic crisis. He said (I paraphrase from memory), “These measures won’t grow the size of government” — i.e., “I’m not a socialist.” But, as Obama explained, those measures will help small businesses, for example, to create jobs.

Obama sidestepped the “celebrity” tag by making the commercial about everyday Americans. Over and over again, we heard true life stories:  e.g. of a retiree whose pension is less than half of what he expected; and of a 72-year-old man who has come out of retirement to work at Walmart, in order to cover his wife’s health care expenses.

Moreover, the ad presents the Obama campaign in a favourable light, by comparison to the McCain campaign. Senator McCain was on Larry King Live last night, performing his usual schtick:  “If Mr. Obama had agreed to a series of town hall meetings, the tone of this campaign would be very different.” In other words, it’s Obama’s fault that McCain has steered his campaign into the gutter.

Meanwhile, Obama was reminding voters, six days before the election, that he’s all about the issues. Education, health care, the mortgage crisis, lost jobs. And his original message of bi-partisan cooperation:  “We must all work together to solve the problems Americans care about” (again, a loose paraphrase from memory).

In my view, the ad was another noteable success in a campaign that has been nearly flawless. If Obama governs half as well as he campaigns, Americans are going to experience a remarkable turn around in the next four years.

The party of poorer voters

Fifty-nine percent of registered voters think McCain’s economics would favor the wealthy. That’s the finding of a CBS/New York Times poll conducted October 19-22.

(poll of registered voters)
Obama McCain
Rich 8% 59%
Middle class 38% 11%
Poor 22% 3%
Treat all same 24% 21%

Nate Silver thinks this poll is the key to understanding Barack Obama’s lead in the polls.

I’m gratified to see that Obama has won this argument so decisively. It makes no sense that middle class and poorer voters consistently support right-wing political parties.

I know, it’s because right-wing parties are socially conservative as well as fiscally conservative. Pro-religion, pro-life, tough on crime:  basically, enforce morals with an iron fist.

Somehow “morals” don’t include a redistribution of wealth of the sort advocated in the Bible. I’m thinking, in particular, of 2 Corinthians 8:9-15, where St. Paul encourages Christians in Corinth to take up a collection for the relief of Christians in Judea:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. …

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” [here quoting from the Hebrew scriptures, Exodus 16:18]

Left-wing tax policies conform to St. Paul’s moral framework, by setting out to level the economic playing field.

Right-wing tax policies favour the wealthy. More precisely, right wing economic policies favour the status quo:  they are designed to keep the rich, rich (or even increase their wealth) while keeping the poor, poor.

Wealthy people can afford the best houses, the best schools for their children, the best health care, etc., and still have plenty of disposable income left over. Lower middle class voters can barely make their mortgage payments. And (in the USA) a serious health crisis will drive them into bankruptcy.

But in election after election, those who are economically disadvantaged harm themselves by voting for right-wing candidates.

So yes, I’m gratified to see that Obama has gotten the message across. In Nate Silver’s words,

It is not as though Obama was Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney — someone who was seen coming into this crisis as an economic savant. But the basic message that a robust middle class is the foundation of economic growth is exactly the right one in troubled times like these, and Obama has delivered it with discipline and grace.

The Democrats ought to be the party of poorer voters. And in this election, they are.

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