The Primaries, a reflection

A candidate who, broadly speaking, shares my values won the Democratic primary replacing Nita Lowey, my congresswoman. Of course, this is within the narrow Overton Window that is American Politics.

Almost all the primary candidates did. That said, they each would have also quickly encountered the same political constraints in practice so the claims of being “progressive” didn’t weigh too much on my consciousness. Several candidates were truly brilliant; a couple were remarkably sharp and incisive. One who I thought had the most emotional competence didn’t even get 600 votes as of this blog.

I’m concerned, however, by the way social media frames our decisions and nationalizes our discussions. In my view, local politics vets effective public leaders; it holds national politicians accountable. It teaches people what matters to the average voter. I would rather get to know someone slowly over years than in a media blitz. So in my book, competence > enthusiasm, and charisma ≠ character.

I hope that the amazing candidates who ran and lost continue to find ways to lead and be connected in their communities. We have housing issues; our county infrastructure is fragile. We have very tangible issues here in Westchester that require leaders.

Congratulations Mondaire Williams.

Does Christianity Require Monarchy?

Adam Lee does well to remind all of us that the founding of this country was certainly and deliberately secular.

He is also right that the idea of a Republic would have been strange to many readers of scripture.  But believers need not agree that they must believe that the church, or scripture, only knows biblical theocracy.  Most Christians and Catholics would not conflate  A “Christian Nation”  with biblical culture.    Biblical understandings of blood, and the ambiguous stories behind the Israelite monarchy’s establishment, do not require that a Christian should support a kingship model of government, the “biblical theocracy” Lee describes.   The closer Christian view is: do the best with what you’re given, but struggle for peace.  Continue reading “Does Christianity Require Monarchy?”

Why Obama’s Conservatism Will Cost Him The Election

Obama’s tried.  He’s negotiated with the opposition, attempted to assess all the factors and bring in the stakeholders.  But if he agrees to the budget cuts that the Republicans are proposing, he will lose the 2012 election.

Obama should recognize that the fantasy of “cut and grow” simply doesn’t hold.   Even capitalists don’t believe it.  In fact, in the Goldman study cited, the budget cuts would further contract the economy.    What Republicans are betting on is a win-win strategy for them:  keep talking about deficits; if Obama blinks, he strangles the economy.  Then the Republicans and blame him for his economic mismanagement.    They know that balancing the budget and stimulating the economy can’t be done together.  Guess which policy actually wins elections.

Obama should refuse to play the deficit cutting game.  What is on the horizon, alas, is steep price increases.  Republicans will argue that this has to do with the deficit, when it has everything to do with supply and demand.     Yet, if he doesn’t create jobs, there will be rising food and oil prices, and a more dissatisfied populace, who will be more likely to give bad economic policies a try in a different president (although, personally, I think Huckabee is more likely to have the populist capital to actually raise taxes).

So by 2012 Obama may do what the Republicans want him to do: cut the budget, thereby diminishing the economy – ensuring he becomes a one term president.   He has an alternative:  focus on jobs; and do what Harold Washington did when the aldermen talked smack about his leadership.  Visit them in their home state and tell the people directly what he can do for them.  In this way he challenges Republicans on their home turf; instructs the population how supply and demand really work; and begins his campaign for reelection.

On Politics

A lot of parishioners don’t like politics. Especially in church.

I understand. People joining the Episcopal church are often those fleeing churches where pastors are busy telling people how to think. Episcopalians are often tired of those Christians who are obsessed about homosexuality and abortion.

Further, since we also believe in the separation of church and state, we don’t want the rector telling us how to vote, or his crazy views about Distributivism and Henry George and Peak Oil.

So I promise won’t tell you if I think we should subsidize organic farms, expand our health care system, or get out of Iraq, although after much prayer and consideration, they all seem like wise ideas that I would support if someone else suggested them.

So when someone says to me, we should keep politics out of churches, I’m sympathetic. Politics makes some people into losers; it’s participants are mealy-mouthed opportunists and imprudent utopians.

Politics seems false, it seems inauthentic, it seems dirty.

But we can’t avoid politics. Not in our government, our businesses, in church, our weddings or even in our extended families. Children themselves learn to make alliances with the parent of choice or with other children. They negotiate and barter and cajole. They compete with their siblings for scarce resources, like Legos or Fish Sticks. Politics is how things get done. Or don’t get done.

Paul and Jesus knew this.

Paul however, introduced a new way of engaging in politics. Each of the communities he writes to are having political problems. Factions of people one-upping each other, competing to be closer to God, trying to be more holy. Or, in the case of Corinth, they were taking the notion of “Christian liberty” a bit too far (it gets graphic, so I won’t share the details here).

Paul attempts to mitigate the tensions created by human envy, resentment and excess. So he has a few ideas about the role of the spirit in the community. I’ll offer two.

First he often says, “Judge not.” Just because someone is wrong doesn’t mean you won’t someday be wrong yourself. Yes – state what you think, but be ready to be corrected. I recognize that some of you might be confused because if there is one thing Christians seem to do, its judge others. Although we should not be silent, we state what we know with humility and the acknowledgement we can be wrong. The most important thing is for us to regulate ourselves first.

The second is “love your enemies.” Now let’s clarify this.

In the imperial, pagan world, the meaning of life – especially in political communities – is vindication. For a good part of human history, those vindicated had the power of life and death over the losers. The victors got the women and money; the losers get killed. Vindication, if it were true vindication, is total.

Now if this seems a bit strange to you, think about the last time you were proven right at someone else’s expense. It is so very sweet to be right about something. If you’ve ever gotten into an argument with your partner or parent and been able to tell them they are absolutely wrong, with evidence, you know the feeling. It’s delicious. At least for a moment.

But Paul challenges the young Christian communities to work differently.

When Paul and Jesus say love your enemies, he’s not saying, there are no enemies. Instead, they are saying, your enemies are never permanent. In fact, you are probably a lot like your enemies.

While in the world of the Roman empire, vindication meant death to the loser. With Christ, that changed. Jesus, free of resentment, forgave the vindicated. It’s a reminder: vindication is never total, it is always temporary. And losing, failing, stumbling, does not separate us from the love of God.

When the Romans excecuted Jesus, they didn’t expect that his followers would see him alive again. The power of empire had been broken forever. Their vindication was revealed to be temporary, to be broken, to be fragile.

And we don’t need to be resentful or defensive when we lose. Its enough to get back up again, and stay connected. Our enemies are always temporary; and there is never a reason to hold a grudge. Jesus seems to say, we win some, we lose some, so lets all open a bottle of champagne whatever happens.

So there is no reason for Christians to be afraid of politics. We do politics a bit differently. In victory we do not banish the loser; in losing we do not resent the victor. That’s tough in elections, for example, where the stakes are high.

In the conversations that are the work of politics, the theologian David Tracy reminds us: “Conversation is a game with some hard rules: say only what you mean; say it as accurately as you can; listen to and respect what the other says, however different or other; be willing to correct or defend your opinions if challenged by the conversation partner; be willing to argue if necessary, to confront if demanded, to endure necessary conflict, to change your mind if the evidence suggests it.”

Obama’s Leadership on Health Care and DADT

Obama seems to have disappointed liberals with his suggestions that progressives should stop hammering senators about health care, and his (lack of) speed at reforming “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” I think they are examples of astute political leadership.

First of all, even though Obama may make these suggestions, it does not mean Progressives should listen to dear leader and stop saying stuff. If anything, Obama is implying organize better. By simply not impeding progress, he is actually enabling forward movement – but the work will revolve around groups organizing popular support.

What ideological progressives forget is that good politics is not a matter of diktat. Political calculus requires constantly negotiating between different competing interests. For this reason, Obama’s comments to progressives should be seen as shoring up as many favors and political capital as he possibly can among conservative Democrats. And it seems to be working. He has an impressive number of victories. Obama is carrying out his agenda with steady, if slow, progress, laying down a solid foundation for future political victories. He understands that politics is not done by shouting ideological platitudes at people. It’s done by building relationships. By showing loyalty to conservative democrats, he builds good will with them – capital he can spend later. It is a smart maneuver on his part.

It does not mean we should obey him.

If Obama presses too hard on DADT at this time, he may force conflict in a fashion that will undermine his tenuous relationship with the military establishment. If he were to push DADT now, he risks both losing that battle and making it impossible in the future to manage other important political issues, such as curtailing defense spending. He has stated his position about DADT clearly already: it will end. But he will do it when he has his ducks lined in a row so that other important policies don’t get sacrificed.

This does not mean we should stop complaining. Not at all. I believe that Obama expects and desires that we organize. In fact, by being temperamentally conservative, he helps progressives avoid political complacency – which is exactly what happened under Clinton. They should not be frustrated that the organizer in chief is as conservative as he seems.

His implicit message: continue organizing. It is enough that we have a president that will listen.