Saturday, February 12, 2005

Confessions of a former...

For readers who know me well, you may want to take a seat before you continue reading, because this confession may shock you. I can only think of one or two people with whom I’ve ever shared this particular news. And I’d like to preface this confession by saying that we’ve all had our youthful indiscretions during our college years, and I am no different. People always warn you that you’ll get started with little things and before you know it, you’ll find yourself down a path and in a place you never expected.

It all started simply enough while I was in college. I went to school in a famously liberal town in northern California, and I started making friends who were involved in politics. It was all small stuff at the beginning: voter registration drives, small meetings with the Young Democrats, and the like. But then I got more and more involved. I volunteered for a local congresswoman and the state superintendent of public education. I was helping with fundraising dinners and making cold calls to constituents. And suddenly it all got out of control, my life took a crazy turn, and before I knew it, I was a registered Republican.

That’s right, faithful readers, I am a former Republican. This is a true story and I want to explain how it happened so that we can prevent other young liberals from treading the same path I had to travel.

It all started in the dank little office in San Francisco that my roommate and I visited twice a week during our sophomore year in college. We were interns working on the two re-election campaigns I mentioned above. I was particularly excited about the state superintendent of public education, because she was riding on the recent success of class-size reduction. I really enjoyed talking to current and retired teachers who were really excited about what had been accomplished during our candidate’s previous term.

But then I quickly realized that one issue ruled most conversations that took place in our little office and at fundraising dinners and during cold calls: the ever divisive abortion issue. The topic was omnipresent and there was only one acceptable way to participate in any abortion-related conversation: active and unwavering support for and dedication to securing access to safe and legal abortion.

Now, the affliction I have which will prevent me from ever successfully running for elected office is that I see in shades of gray. The abortion issue is already complex, but it is even more so for a religious lefty like myself. My good friends at Merriam-Webster define ambivalent as having “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action”, and this is exactly how I feel about abortion. And what this means in the real world for someone like me is that I do not support overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, but I also don’t want participation in Democratic politics to require me to actively join the fight to expand abortion rights.

The whole topic makes me queasy, and in reality my feelings are somewhere between the two extremes. Nevertheless, at the end of my internship I found myself working at a fundraising dinner for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. That night was a dizzying experience I will never forget. Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued “Jane Roe’s” case in front of the Supreme Court, was the keynote speaker, and she delivered an amazing speech. Much of it resonated with me: she painted a scary picture of a government that wants the authority to make such intimate, personal decisions about the physical bodies of women.

However, being the deeply ambivalent religious lefty that I am, much of it did not resonate with me. And in the end, I was so mad at myself for having been there in the first place, that I decided I was done with politics, and especially the Democrats! The fervent pro-choice stance seemed to be the glue that held the myriad liberal factions of the Democratic Party together, and I had found myself utterly unable to say the simple words, “Actually, I don’t really want to help out with the NARRAL dinner, because I don’t feel that strongly about the issue.” I was terrified that I would have been ostracized, so I said nothing.

The next day I got up and went straight to the post office to fill out a new voter registration card. In a daze rivaled only by the night before, I filled out the new card, checked Republican, and dropped it in the mail. Several weeks latter, the vanilla-colored confirmation of my new registration arrived in the mail. It had really happened. I had really registered as a Republican. I stood in front of the mailbox and stared at the tiny, dot-matrix letters which spelled, “Republican”. I took the card upstairs and buried it in my sock drawer.

As the next few weeks passed and I listened to Democrats and Republicans arguing on the daily news, I realized I’d buried my own Tell-Tale Heart in my dresser drawer. I listened to Republicans yammer on about one thing or another, and I realized (again) that I really wasn’t one of them. I knew that if I volunteered for one of these guys, I’d be attending fundraising dinners to support the active and unwavering fight to reverse Roe v. Wade. And I could think only of my voter registration card in my sock drawer.

Eventually, I tore up that card and went back to the post office to re-register as a Democrat. All told, I was a Republican for about six weeks. I believe my religious and political identities are more complicated than a black-and-white view of this one issue. We as Liberals and we as Christians are called to address more than just this one issue. If we will let this one issue define the depth and complexity of our values and concerns, then there are innumerable issues we will never address and countless people we will exclude from the solutions. Take it from this former Republican.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Making America a Nice Place for Christians to Live

The article linked above reports on a press conference held by the National Association of Evangelicals to provide their perspective on the involvement of evangelicals in politics over the last few decades. It’s an interesting read, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Religious Right Officially Thrown a Bone

If you are a member of one of the lobbies making up the Christian Right (or if you were one of the now-infamous “values voters” in November’s election), you eagerly anticipated about 9% of Wednesday night’s State of the Union address, which addressed issues like abortion, stem cell research, and “activist judges”.

And if you are a supporter of the Arlington Group, which rallied support for the president based on his support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, you sat on the edge of your sofa awaiting just 38 words of the entire speech:

Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be re-defined by activist judges. For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage.

For those of you who cast your votes solely because of the gay marriage issue and Mr Bush’s pre-election promise to “protect the institution of marriage”, this was your reward. The president dedicated less than 1% of his speech to letting you know that he agrees with you. This was not a war cry; this was not a call to action; this wasn’t even a promise for future action. All you got was a simple statement that he agrees with you.

Contrast Mr Bush’s statement above with the following:

To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. [No Child Left Behind]

To make our economy stronger and more competitive, America must reward, not punish, the efforts and dreams of entrepreneurs. [Regulation & Legal Reform]

To make our economy stronger and more productive, we must make health care more affordable, and give families greater access to good coverage -- -- and more control over their health decisions. [Health Care Agenda]

The same-sex marriage issue didn’t even merit a “must” in the president’s speech. All he said was that he personally supports a constitutional amendment. He didn’t call for an amendment, and he certainly didn’t say that we must have one. But all this pales in comparison to the attention dedicated to the two issues that truly dominated Mr Bush’s speech.

Almost 45% of the president’s speech was dedicated to Iraq & the War on Terror: “To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder.” These were the president’s signature issues during his re-election campaign, and he worked tirelessly during his first term to build support at home and abroad for his war in Iraq. As a result of his efforts, a significant portion of our budget and our military are dedicated to the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

About 22% of the president’s speech was spent championing private accounts for Social Security, telling us that “we must pass reforms that solve the financial problems of Social Security once and for all”. Immediately following his speech, Mr Bush launched a 2-day, five-state campaign targeting red states with Democratic senators in order to garner support for his Social Security agenda. This, my friends, is where the president will spend his “political capital” before entering the lame duck phase of his second term.

So if you cast your vote for Mr Bush based on your support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, I hope 38 words of a State of the Union address are a sufficient reward for your loyalty to the GOP.