What's Wrong with America?

Tuesday, 2 November 2004

This is an essay that I really hoped I wouldn't have to write. After four years of incompetent leadership, economic malaise, lying to the world about Iraq, and a failed foreign policy, U.S. voters tonight rewarded George W. Bush by returning him to the White House for the next four years. The rest of the world is reeling in disbelief. What can account for Bush winning another, wholly undeserved, four-year term?

Is it the fault of the Democratic Party?

The Democrats in this country are shocked like the rest of the world, since late polls seemed to put Kerry ahead. If Democrats can't defeat a person with as dismal a record as Bush, whom can they defeat? At the moment, seemingly nobody. The Democratic party is a party in search of its soul. Formerly the party of Jim Crow and racism, but also the New Deal, the Democratic party transformed itself in the 1960s into the party of inclusiveness and support for civil rights. Jim Crow voters switched to the Republican party. For these reasons, most African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans vote Democratic in election after election. The Democrats' problem, obviously, is failing to connect with white voters in large numbers. In recent years the party has drifted to the right, trying to take over traditional Republican issues like balancing the federal budget and being tough on crime. It hasn't helped; it's only alienated voters on the left who see little difference between the two parties. An opposition party is supposed to oppose the majority party, not suck up to it and try its best to be mistaken for it. Yes, the Democratic party can be blamed for many miscalculations and for failing to connect with enough voters. Still, Bush's re-election is not the fault of the Democratic party.

Is it the fault of people stealing votes?

There have been several news reports in recent weeks of Republican-leaning (and sometimes Republican-sponsored) groups purporting to register new voters either throwing away the voter registration cards of people who registered Democrat or declining to accept registrations from Democrats. Because of the refusal of Republican-owned companies that manufacture electronic touch-screen voting machines to add paper receipts that allow voters to check their votes and allow election officials to perform meaningful recounts, there is deep suspicion among many Democratic voters that their votes are not being counted. This is a reasonable suspicion, given the vehemence with which Republican politicians have blocked efforts to verify the votes. What possible reason could they have for refusing to demand a paper trail if not to participate in a cover-up of vote fraud? Of course, this sounds like paranoia, and it might be in general, though I personally have little doubt that some shenanigans have gone on with touch-screen voting machines in both 2000 and 2002. If evidence can be gathered that vote fraud has occurred, those who perpetrated it should be punished, and voters whose votes were stolen should have the chance to vote again. Despite these suspicions, however, the fact remains that voters apparently did not rise up solidly against Bush in this election, so Bush's re-election is not the fault of people stealing votes.

Is it the fault of the media?

Republicans have allowed the broadcast news media, and most of the cable channels as well, to be consolidated into the hands of a small number of right to center-right-leaning media conglomerates. The claim of Fox News to be "Fair and Balanced" is a joke, but the other news organizations are not much better. They were sucked into the war on Iraq with nary a doubt raised about the Bush administration's claims. They downplay the administrations transgressions and report on the slander of a group like the Swift Boat Veterans as though it were really news, instead of exposing their lies. Even when they're somewhat critical of the administration, they always "balance" the story with some foible of the Democrats. They almost totally ignore news from the rest of the world, unless the U.S. is directly involved. They report the propaganda of the White House as though it were gospel truth, then they downplay or refuse to correct their errors. The end result of their "reporting" is that Americans are the most ignorant people on earth when it comes to understanding not only world events but even issues concerning America (e.g., the association between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, the association between Saddam and al Qaeda, world opinion about the U.S.). The broadcast media have much for which they can be blamed, for they are failing miserably to communicate important news to the American people. Nevertheless, Bush's re-election is not the fault of the media.

Is it the fault of John Kerry?

John Kerry was not the perfect candidate, but he was a good candidate. Kerry has served in the U.S. Senate for twenty years, after serving honorably in Vietnam. His record of service, both in Vietnam and in government, dwarfs that of Bush. Kerry is a real leader, and Bush only knows how to mouth the words that others give him. Kerry is a man of intelligence; Bush is not. Kerry did make mistakes, however. His biggest mistake came in supporting the war on Iraq. He says that he believed the misinformation that the Bush administration put forth to justify the war, but many other people did not and had the courage to stand against a patently unjust war. I think Kerry also made a strategic mistake in not personally confronting the lies of the Swift Boat Veterans, who denigrated Kerry's service in Vietnam (while their preferred candidate sat the war out in Texas and Alabama) and brought shame on those who fought and died in the war. Still, no candidate is without fault, and no campaign is flawless, and Kerry ran a good campaign. Bush's re-election is not the fault of John Kerry.

Is it the fault of Ralph Nader?

Ralph Nader has been a champion of the ordinary citizen, especially the underdog, for years, and his past races for president have raised issues of value to the country. This time around, however, he seems to have run just for the sake of his ego. He ignored the counsel of many of his closest advisors, who tried to tell him that he needed to sit out this election, since defeating Bush was the top priority of all progressive voters. Nader refused to listen and ran a quixotic and counterproductive campaign. In the end, though, the votes he garnered were so few that he had no effect on the end result of the race (unlike in 2000), so Bush's re-election is not the fault of Ralph Nader.

Is it the fault of a particular demographic or ethnic group?

Before the vote Tuesday, pollsters were predicting huge turnouts across the country and particularly large turnouts by voters in the 18-29 range, who favored Kerry over Bush by a substantial margin. However, these voters did not show up in any larger numbers than those in different age groups, so Kerry did not benefit from their vote. Minority groups who traditionally vote Democrat could also be blamed for failing to turn out in larger numbers, but the fact of the matter is that they did turn out. It's just that Bush supporters turned out in equally large numbers, so Bush's re-election is not the fault of a particular demographic or ethnic group.

Whose fault is it, then?

The blame for George W. Bush's re-election lies squarely on the shoulders of one group: Christians, both conservative and progressive. People who identify themselves as Christians make up the vast majority of the population of the U.S. More importantly, conservative and fundamentalist Christians, who overwhelmingly voted for Bush, are concentrated in many of the "red" states (those that went for Bush), especially the states of the former Confederacy, the Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain states. This group of Christians claims to vote primarily on the basis of values--issues like abortion, rights for homosexuals, and the Pledge of Allegiance--rather than economic issues or foreign policy. However, their pattern of voting is based on anything but true Christian values.

The prophet Amos described the sins of the people in his day: "They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals--they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way." Jesus, the founder of Christianity, was steeped in the traditions of Old Testament prophets like Amos, and his teachings reflect many of the concerns of the prophets, and in some cases they go even farther. Christians who supported Bush in this election, despite his abysmal record over the past four years, have abandoned the core teachings of Jesus in favor of "another gospel." Here are some examples.

  1. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of economic oppression of the poor (regressive taxation, elimination of the estate tax, tax cuts primarily for the rich, refusal to raise the minimum wage). In doing so, they opposed the teaching of Jesus, who said that God will divide the sheep (the righteous) from the goats (the wicked) on the basis of how they treat the poor and needy.
  2. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of wanton slaughter of innocents in Iraq, justified only by blatant prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. In doing so, they opposed the teaching of Jesus, who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
  3. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of telling lies to the American people and refusing to admit them or repent of them. In doing so, they opposed the teaching of Jesus, who said, "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' be 'No.'"
  4. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of discrimination against homosexuals. In doing so, they opposed the teaching of Jesus to love sinners (I'm describing this from the perspective of those who view homosexuality as a sin; I view it primarily as an orientation that you're born with).
  5. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of capital punishment. In doing so, they opposed the teaching of Jesus, who abrogated the lex talionis ("an eye for an eye") and who interrupted a mob attempting to stone a woman guilty of a capital crime.
  6. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of denying decent health care to the poor. In doing so, they opposed the example of Jesus, who was known as a healer.
  7. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of extreme nationalism and xenophobia. In doing so, they opposed the teaching of Jesus, who said, "The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world."
  8. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of government support of Christianity (school vouchers for church-related schools, support for "one nation under God" in the Pledge [added at the height of the McCarthy era to root out communists]). In doing so, they opposed the teaching of Jesus, who said, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to myself" (not, "I will force all people to worship me").
  9. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of U.S. government interference in the affairs of sovereign nations, including disrupting the democratic process in those countries for the short-term benefit of the U.S. (e.g., Haiti, Venezuela, El Salvador, not to mention Iraq). In so doing, they opposed the lifestyle of Jesus, who "went about doing good."
  10. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of a politics of destruction, where anything goes and the end justifies the means (e.g., the Swift Boat ads, the Republican-sponsored efforts in some states to intimidate voters, the lies about John Kerry circulated on the Internet by Christians). In doing so, they opposed the life of Jesus, of whom it was said that "no lie was found in his mouth."
  11. Christian voters who supported Bush voted in favor of an arrogant, patronizing foreign policy and an attitude that the U.S. can do no wrong. In doing so, they opposed the teaching of Jesus, who told a parable in which the hero was the one who prayed, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!"
The only Bush policy that Christian voters can point to that might be considered a positive in terms of values is opposition to abortion. However, Christians are divided on this issue, and there are more than just two positions, pro and con. In sum, Christians who support Bush oppose the teachings of Jesus in large measure. They have put political loyalty, selfish gain, and willful ignorance of the truth ahead of their commitment to Christ. To the extent that they do that, they fail to live up to the name "Christian."

Note, however, that I said that progressive Christians are to blame for Bush's re-election as well, even if we voted against him. We are to blame because we allow right-wing, slanted, detestable "Voter's Guides" to be distributed in our churches without raising holy hell about it. We are to blame because we hear people slandering their political opponents and don't speak up to defend the truth. We are to blame because we don't get more involved in the political process than just voting (assuming we do that). We are to blame because we don't present a coherent alternative theology to the degraded Christianity pedaled by fundamentalists. We are to blame because we hear our leaders support un-Christian political and moral positions and fail to oppose them. We act as though Jesus taught that the weak shall inherit the earth rather than the meek. It is possible to be humble and civil but still strong and courageous.

America needs progressive Christians, and other people of goodwill from other faith traditions or no faith tradition at all, to oppose the perversion that passes for Christianity in the U.S. in too many churches, on too many airwaves, and in too many "Christian" schools. We can't stop people from believing the way they want to believe, but we can force them to confront the real teachings of Jesus, the actual words of the prophets, and the real words of the Apostle Paul, every single time they misrepresent the teaching of Jesus. We can shout at the top of our lungs that the Christianity of the religious right does not even come close to the teachings of Jesus. We can take strong stands on social issues and tell our fellow citizens why our views are solidly based on our religious traditions. The soul of America is at stake. The fate of the world hangs in the balance. The true message of Christ is a message of socioeconomic justice, of peace, of integrity. It's time progressive Christians start living up to it. If we had done so earlier, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now.

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