Evangelicals and the Election, Part 2 of 3
We have listed the reasons why I think that Christians should vote for John McCain. Now, it’s time to list the same for Barack Obama.
1. The War in Iraq.
Simply stated, the United States should have never gone to war with Iraq. Even under the most liberal interpretation of Christian Just War Theory, it did not meet the standards. For the first time in history, a country conducted a “preemptive war” and had the gall to call it “just,” and Christians, by and large, accepted it. It is now clear that the Bush Administration immorally drummed up the war with faulty intelligence. The U.S. Subcommittee on Intelligence issued a report stating that, “on numerous occasions,” the Bush Administration’s prewar statements “misrepresented the intelligence and the threat from Iraq.” Barack Obama was one of only a few voices that opposed the war from the beginning, warning against undetermined cost, length, and consequences, and said that we should focus instead on Bin Laden and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He has been proven right. With the realization that the war in Iraq is actually draining us of our ability to fight our real enemies, we must now implement a plan for a responsible, phased withdrawal. Obama has a plan for doing so; McCain refuses to see this as a viable option. So far, the war has cost $566,591,361,000 and counting. The war is costing American taxpayers $10 billion a month! Do we think that money grows on trees? Couldn’t this money have been spent on health care, education, infrastructure, poverty or AIDS relief? Martin Luther King prophetically said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Also, for many Christians, being “Pro-Life” means more than being against abortion (though it certainly does not mean less). To be bull-headed about winning a war that we should not be fighting puts lives in danger unnecessarily. How many more thousands of our brave soldiers are going to have to die in this war? How many more hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians will die do to this war?
2. The Economy.
Solomon's plea to God in Psalm 72 was, “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.” The Christian Right’s steadfast belief that government does not have the responsibility to care for its people is contrary to Scripture. The biblical prophets spoke frequently to kings and rulers, as well as to the powerful who have economic advantage in a society. Those in charge were the ones called to greatest accountability. A nation that does not care for “the least of these” is guilty of not fostering justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tsedeq). In a just society, those who are able to work must have genuine access to resources so that they can contribute to society as dignified members of the community. In a just society, those unable to care for themselves are cared for by the society. There is nothing unchristian about society having programs that help the poor and needy. I agree with Ron Sider, who wrote, “The biblical story holds together the inestimable worth of each individual person and the communal nature of human beings. Both the radical individualism of contemporary Western democracies and the totalitarian communalism of twentieth-century fascist and communist societies are one-sided perversions of a profound biblical balance. Therefore justice from a biblical perspective must pay equal attention to the rights of individuals and the common good of all.” John McCain seems to be living in the age of the cold war, where American individual freedom and unfettered capitalism were held up as the Christian virtues against those godless communists. Capitalism is the world’s best economic system, no doubt. However, the Republican faith in the “invisible hand” of the free market, in which individuals pursuing their personal self-interest will make for a good society, is seriously flawed. In fact, for the Christian, having this kind of faith in free market capitalism is idolatry, plain and simple. The economics of unfettered capitalism has proved to be destructive to society. If anybody doubted that before the Wall Street collapse, they must not doubt it now. While there is plenty of blame to go around for the recent financial collapse, a major cause for it is a pervasive desire for little regulation of business. McCain has stated unequivocally that he is "fundamentally a deregulator,” that his "fundamental difference" with Barack Obama was that Obama favored "more regulation" while he favored less. McCain’s chief errors during the Keating Five scandal that nearly ended his political career were underestimating the importance of regulation and relying too heavily on the slanted advice from corporate CEOs who benefit from deregulation. He has not learned his lesson. We need to promote “controlled capitalism” in order to ensure that everyone in America has the chance to flourish.
Also, John McCain wants to make the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy permanent, and has proposed even more on his own. Equitable taxation is not “socialism” as Sean Hannity has labeled it. The very wealthy should carry their fair load of the tax burden. Under John McCain's tax plan, the rich would pay much less than they do now, the poor and middle-class would pay a bit less, and the result would be that the federal deficit would grow, a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found. The rich would pay more under Barack Obama's tax plan, and the poor and middle-class would pay less. Contrary to the McCain campaign’s claim, Obama is not seeking to raise taxes. According to Business Week, Obama seeks to “hold most income tax rates steady, making permanent the Bush tax cuts for the vast majority of individual taxpayers. With those cuts scheduled to expire in 2011, he would allow rates for households making more than $250,000 (or individuals making more than roughly $200,000) to return to earlier levels. Earners who now pay today's maximum 35% rate would see their top marginal rate go back to the 36.9% in effect in the Clinton years.” This seems very reasonable in our financial times. It seems fair to me to let the taxes for the very rich expire as they were originally planned, reverting back to the 1.9% higher rate. The Congressional Budget Office projects that if Bush’s tax cuts are made permanent, the budget deficit will be $443 billion by the end of the next president’s first term. Let that sink in: Four Hundred Forty Three Billion Dollars in the hole! On top of that, McCain has promised to cut corporate taxes by a hundred billion a year ($4 billion of this for American oil companies, more than a billion for Exxon-Mobile alone). Not enough? Add in McCain’s promise to get rid of the Alternative Minimum Tax, designed to ensure that the very rich pay at least a minimum percent of their income in tax. Non-partisan tax experts put the ten year cost of this at $1 trillion. The McCain plan provides tax cuts to the very rich and to big corporations. The Tax Policy Center estimates that 25 percent of McCain’s cuts would go to people earning over $2.8 million a year (the top one-tenth of one percent). Each would get an average tax cut of $269,000, over and above what George Bush gave them. As Time Magazine wrote, “When Barack Obama says a John McCain Administration would amount to a third term of George W. Bush, he's not just blowing smoke, especially when it comes to economic policy.” It is time for a change. This cannot go on any longer. Barack Obama's economic agenda—health-care reform, infrastructure investments, and alternative energy—are not radical ideas but very rational solutions to the growing problems of our times.
Lastly, we must realize that abortion is an economic issue. Obama certainly is properly labeled “Pro-Choice,” but he recognizes abortion for what it is: a tragic moral choice often confronted by a woman in adverse economic and social circumstances (struggling as a single mother, without a steady income, without good employment prospects, without health-care guarantees, and a stigmatic and cumbersome adoption procedure). Obama proposes to reduce the incidence of abortion by helping pregnant women overcome the ill effects of poverty that block a choice of life.
3. Foreign Relations
In the wake of the Bush White House, the nation’s reputation in the world is at an all-time low. What we need now is diplomacy that will act less unilaterally and rebuild our alliances. The first step to our “loving our enemies” is to actually listen to them, to seek to understand them and why they are hostile toward us. Obama has been ridiculed for saying that he “will pursue tough, direct diplomacy without preconditions to end the threat from Iran.” Obama’s website further explains his stand: “Barack Obama will present the Iranian regime with a clear choice. If Iran abandons its nuclear program and support for terrorism, they would offer incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization. If Iran continues its troubling behavior, Obama and Biden will step up our economic pressure and political isolation.” On the other hand, John McCain’s combative tendencies are troubling. I agree with Fareed Zakaria when he wrote that McCain “wants to keep the battle going in Iraq, speaks casually of bombing Iran, and is skeptical of the Bush administration's diplomacy with North Korea. He wants to kick Russia out of the G8 and humiliate China by excluding it from that body as well. He sees a "league of democracies" locked in conflict with an alliance of autocracies. This is cold-war nostalgia, not a strategy for the 21st century.” The United States, as the super power, needs to be seen as a benevolent and good neighbor, not a tyrant that does what it wants whenever it wants. Barack Obama offers a new way that is desperately needed.
4. The Campaigns.
In spite of what the McCain-Palin campaign has been implying, Barack Obama is not a covert Muslim (McCain has allowed speakers to call Obama by his middle name) with ties to terrorists (McCain has succumbed to the Hannity-esque fear mongering over the non-issue of Bill Ayers) who has a radical agenda for taking over the country from real Americans (Palin has actually called supporters of Obama “un-American”). The McCain campaign has been disgraceful in its win-at-all-costs tactics. We need to rid our nation of the politics of fear, division, character assassination and the outright propaganda of Karl Rove and his underlings. This kind of politics obviously works – it is what got Bush the Republican nomination over McCain in 2000 (Bush and Rove shamelessly exploited the fact that McCain had adopted a daughter from Bangladesh to stir up racism against McCain in South Carolina, telling people in “push polls” that McCain had an illegitimate black child). After having been the victim of the tactics of the Republican political hacks, you’d think that McCain would have done the honorable thing and scorned them. Instead, he has let them run his campaign and he has let them tarnish a reputation that he had created that was honorable. This says a lot about the character of John McCain. Slander is not a strong enough word for what the McCain-Palin campaign has done. Christians should stand up and say, “Enough with hate-filled politics!” To his credit, Barack Obama has withstood a grueling campaign of attacks. Certainly he has stretched the truth himself (as all politicians sadly do), but nothing from the Obama campaign compares with calling his opponent un-American or a pal to terrorists. He has remained cool, even-keeled, and has provided thoughtful and reasoned responses and ideas throughout both the primary campaign and the campaign versus McCain. After two years of campaigning, Barack Obama has been fully vetted, and he has shown that he is ready to be President.
I think that if you are going to vote for Obama for any of these legitimate reasons, then it is a good, wise decision. However, there are some illegitimate reasons to vote for Barack Obama.
1. We have to move as far away from the Religious Right as possible.
A new generation of Christians does not want to be associated with the ugliness of the Religious Right. They are repulsed by the history of the “Moral Majority” and the “Christian Coalition;” they are scornful of Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. However, the answer to the disaster of the Religious Right is not to swing the pendulum and create a new Religious Left. I fear that this is what Brian McLaren has done, along with many of the young evangelicals with whom I associate through my ministry to college students. It should be said that Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo have always been thoughtful voices from the evangelical left, voices that we need to hear. But evangelicals need to be outside of partisan politics if we are to have any sway with either party. As long as one political party thinks they have our vote sown up, they will no longer listen to us. As Paul Sartarelli said yesterday at The Chapel’s Current Critical Issues Forum, “we need to strike a balance between the two Jims” (that is, Dobson and Wallis).
2. John McCain is old and may die in office.
As you drive into Cleveland, there is a huge billboard on the interstate that simply states, “McCain is old.” Okay; I knew that. He’s 72. So is my dad, but he’s a pretty bright man. Sure, my dad can act crotchety now and then, but I’ve been acting that way for several years myself! As The Politico's Roger Simon wrote, John Kennedy “was sick from age 13 through the rest of his life, was on chronic-pain medication throughout his presidency and had Addison's disease, an endocrine disorder that until 1940 was a terminal illness. Kennedy survived it through cortisone injections, which at the time only rich people could afford. Dr. Jeffrey Kelman, who examined Kennedy's medical records in 2002, said, ‘He was never healthy. I mean, the image you get of vigor and progressive health wasn't true.’ The point being: Electing a young person to the presidency is no guarantee that he or she will be healthy or stay healthy.”
3. McCain = Bush on everything.
Certainly, it is true that as McCain closed in on seeking to become the next president, he began voting more and more in line with his fellow Republican, George Bush. The “Maverick” voted 100% with Bush in 2008, but that number drops the further back you go: 95% in 2007, 77% in 2005 and 67% in 2001. One gets the feeling that in order to get the Republican nomination and to shore up the base of the Republicans, McCain was less reluctant to be “mavericky.” But voting records do not tell the whole story. It is clear that McCain’s policies on Climate Change, Health Care, and Torture are different from George Bush. And these are not small issues.
4. Obama is a transcendent figure that will change the world.
Bob Hyatt has had a running series on his blog that he calls “Messiah Watch,” where he shows YouTube videos and artwork from people who are placing a bit too much hope in a mere human being (see here and here and here). Nancy Pelosi introduced Obama at a fundraiser by calling him "a leader that God has blessed us with at this time." Oh, come on. We need to get a grip. Obama is not the second coming. Not even close.
Read all three part of this series:
Part 1: Reasons Why Evangelicals Should Vote for MCCAIN
Part 2: Reasons Why Evangelicals Should Vote for OBAMA
Part 3: McCain or Obama ? - A Plea for Unity