Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Extinct Political Labels

Do you remember the old stereotypes of the two major political parties? I remember growing up, the Republicans would call the Democrats "big spenders" and they would say things to their opponents like, "All you do is tax and spend." The Democrats were supposedly for bigger government and the Grand Old Party wanted less government. I remember members of the GOP saying things like, "We want government out of your lives" or "The government that governs least, governs best," things like that.

Boy, those old stereotypes are dead, aren't they? I was just reading an article by renound Princeton historian, Sean Wilentz and he pointed out that the administration of George W. Bush has borrowed more money than all the prevous presidencies combined. You read that correctly, "according to the Treasury Department, the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions." On the other hand, just "between 2001 and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion." You can check out the history at the Bureau of the Public Debt.

Now, when I read that I immediately thought of somethings Wilentz didn't mention, like the cost of a Hummer driving across the desert in Iraq certainly cost more than your average horse back in the day, a musket under Washington certainly cost less than a riffle under Bush 43. Yet, those figures are staggering! Just staggering.

Bush actually inherited the largest federal surplus in American History. Now we have the largest deficit ever. I mean who would have guessed that John Kerry was the fiscal conservative in the last election? It's not just 9/11 and the subsequent wars either. Has this president vetoed any spending bills at all? What are we doing with all this money? If a lot of this money was going to the Global HIV/AID Initiative, I'd be way cool with that, but I read that the 2007 Budget that Bush sent to Congress actually had a net cut of money pledged to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. I read on Bono's DATA site that the cost to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria worldwide is under 20 Billion per year. His ONE campaign seeks a mere 1% of the US budget go toward fighting AIDS. One percent of our outlandish budget is about $25 billion dollars. I bring this up because, if all this debt we're racking up would go to something like ending AIDS, heck even preventing AIDS in Africa, or helping starving children, then it would be worth it, but that's not where it is going.

What about the concept of the government that governs least, governs best? Republicans tout that concept. But, we've gotten a much much bigger government under Bush 43. If you think about how the powers of government have been expanded under this president then you certainly must acknowledge that fact. We're talking discarding the Geneva Conventions, domestic surveillance, and the torture of detainees. Is the de facto suspension of habeas corpus something you would expect from the party that claims to distrust big government? Just curious.
How about "We want government out of your lives?" What does that even mean anymore? Maybe the Republicans want government out of your wallet, but not out of your lives. When I think about just a few issues like Terri Schiavo, homosexuals, unions, and abortion rights, it's obvious that "the government that governs least, governs best" and "we want government out of your lives" are just empty pieces of rhetoric; in practice, they're dead as the dodo bird.

I recently read an article in the Op/Ed page of the LA Times by a detainee in Guantanamo that broke my heart. Let me back up though, on September 1, 2006, in the same newspaper, Donald Rumsfeld, arguing that Guantanamo was not like a gulag, wrote: "The facility at Guantanamo Bay, by contrast, includes a volleyball court, basketball court, soccer field and library (the book most requested is "Harry Potter"). The food, served in accordance with Islamic diets, costs more per detainee than the average U.S. military ration." If you want to read his piece, New Enemies Demand New Thinking you can click on that link.
Now back to the detainee mentioned at the beginning of the previous paragraph. On October 1, 2006, the LA Times published No Holiday in Gitmo: I never saw Rumsfeld's volleyball courts during my two years in America's gulag by Moazzam Begg. Begg was taken from his home in Pakistan right in front of his wife and children. He spent one year in two prisons in Afghanistan and two years in an 8x6 cell at Guantanamo Bay: three years total without seeing or talking to his wife and children (including a son he had never seen). Begg wrote: "The principle 'innocent until proven guilty' is turned on its head. Everyone is guilty without charges, convicted without a trial." Does this seem to go with your idea of a less intrusive government?

Now before you size me up and try to pigeonhole my political leanings, let me just continue. This morning, on the way to work, I was listening to the song "I Am A Patriot" as sung by Jackson Browne, but written by Little Steven. Despite the fact that I've heard this song for over a decade, it actually brought tears to my soul. The lyrics, in part, say:

I ain't no communist
I ain't no capitalist
I ain't no socialist
I ain't no imperialist
I ain't no democrat
I ain't no republican
I only know one party
and it's name is freedom

I used to be a Democrat in the 1980s. The first guy I ever voted for was Jessie Jackson in a primary election. In the 1990s, I switched to a registered Republican. More recently, I changed that to Libertarian. But, for some time now, I have been unaffilated with a political party and registered simply as "decline to state." Part of the reason for that is articulated perfectly in the above lyrics. Another is that I see very little difference between the Democrats and Republicans nowadays. After all, the politically mixed legislative branch has largely supported the executive branch in many of the matters heretofore mentioned in this post. For example, the Republicans in Congress did not balk at the out of controll spending and the Democrats, for the most part, supported the war in Iraq.
I really don't consider myself liberal or conservative. It's funny, my liberal friends think I am pretty conservative and my conservative friends think I am pretty liberal. I will tell you that the most inspirational and eloquent political speech I have heard in the last 10 years came from Barack Obama in 2004. Here is part of what he said:
Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America — there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it.
I thought that was well put. Like I said, it inspired me. Maybe that's just because I'm weird. I mean, in the most recent election last week I voted for three different political parties. If anything I would have to say that I am fiscally pretty darn conservative and socially a bit liberal. Even though it's a cliche, I really do try to look at the individual candidate. I don't have a litmus test either.
Now, before you think, "Ah, ha, Doah quoted a Democrat, he must be a liberal," please consider these other words that Barak Obama spoke in his "Call to Renewal" speech on June 28, 2006, right after Alan Keyes stated publiclly, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama." As a retort, here's part of what Obama said:
Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and cloth the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope . . . . And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles.
You see what really makes me bothered is another outmoded stereotype: God has a preference for one policial party. For God, doesn't always come down to the heart? I mean, anyone who knows the Bible knows that King David is routinely referred to as "a man after God's own heart." However, David had Uriah the Hittite killed so that he could cover up an affair with Uriah's wife. By the way, if you want some reading that will top an episode of Desperate Housewives, check out 2 Samuel 11 and 12 (actually, I've never seen an episode so forgive me if I misstated that, but the passage is juicy). Nevertheless, Christians frequently act as if somebody who belongs to a party that supports abortion rights, cannot have a heart for God. Why is that? That's what Alan Keyes did to Obama. And, that's another reason I love that first Obama quote above because he says, "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States." How dare Alan Keyes claim to know how Jesus would vote. The funny thing is, I voted for Alan Keyes in the 2000 primary. But, what about Jesus's words in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Would that apply to what Alan Keyes said about Obama?
I imagine that if, six months ago, Ted Haggard was running for public office as a Republican against Barak Obama, a Democrat, Alan Keyes and many Christians would indeed have claimed that Jesus would vote for Haggard. I wonder if that would still be the case now that Haggard confessed to a sexual sin with a male prostitute? I wonder, would Jesus indeed pick somebody with unconfessed sin in their heart, leading a double life, just because they were not in favor of abortion rights? Notice I am not using "pro-choice" or "pro-life" here because it is the very contention of this post that these labels avail at nothing. I don't know. I just wonder.
I certainly do not think that the Democrats are godless or the Republicans are evil or that the Democrats are stupid or the Republicans are heartless or any of those pathetic statements that miss the grayness of life. That said, labels like "tax and spend Democrats" or "compassionate conservative" or "Party of Big Government" or "God's party" just don't matter anymore. Maybe they never did. We've had a Republican controlled Congress with a Republican executive branch since 2001 and this government seems plenty big to me. The old political stereotypes are dead. I mean really, go back to the "No Holiday in Gitmo" Op/Ed piece that I mentioned earlier. Bush ran on a platform of "compassionate conservatism" (now there's a label), but does the treatment of Moazzam Begg seem very compassionate to you?
Now, I told you I didn't want you to pigeonhole my political leanings, but I do welcome a good political debate and I would love to hear your comments. And, just to give you a little bit more to get worked up over, I'll say this in closing: If I was arrested as a suspected terrorist, I would rather be in the hands of Jerry Brown than Donald Rumsfeld. If my son had AIDS, I would rather Bono be in charge of his medicine and the finances to buy his medicine than George W. Bush. If somebody in my family was gay, I'd rather invite Barack Obama over for Thanksgiving dinner than Alan Keyes. Of course, I'd rather grab an In-n-Out burger with Sean Hannity than Al Franken though.

Labels: , , , ,


Blogger Mike Pena said...

Our government is comprised of people from America. America is comprised of people with unwise sending habits. Hence, our government is comprised of people with unwise sending habits. Therefore, our government spends money unwisely. Think of a family that takes a large loan so they can take a trip to Europe. This is unwise spending, but not because of the loan but because it is being used unwisely. The same family taking a loan to help pay for their children's education may be acting wisely. Spending isn't always bad. However, it is if the spending is unnecessarily wasteful and spent on trivialities. The only difference between Bush's terms and Reagan's terms is that Bush wasn't able to blame a Democratic congress for the deceit.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Mike Pena said...

And it should noted that Republican's seem to define a "smaller" government as one that lifts environmental sactions and less taxes on the upper-class and corporations. As for personal freedom...They would like a 'small' government that easedrops on personal calls and monitors what books you check out at a library. I know, I know, these are 'phantoms' of lost liberity. Also, the rebulicans refuse to lose the 60's based image of the left as radicals and anit-american prosters. The 60s are over and they need to deal with it. The real problem (or part of the real problem) is that both Repbulican AND Demorcratics have began feeding from the same Coroporate sources. Both sides are milking the system. My soultion is simple: Sharpen up the guillotine (Metaphorically, of course. But if persent trends continue...who knows...)

4:59 PM  
Blogger Mike Pena said...

And I should note that I am registered Republican and I voted Republican. Just for those that would label me a "flag burning, tax loving, abortion wanting liberal." To quote Edward R. Murrow "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty." Far too many Republican's DO confuse dissent for disloyalty. I remember a friend of mine recounting a conversation he had with a staunch Republican. My friend had stated his disappointment with our poorly our eduction system was rated in a world-wide survey. His friends reply? "Why do you hate America?" Huh? So if you want your country to be better, correct problems, to work harder means "you hate America?" Again, huh? Are there really Republican's that have been so brainwashed by bi-partisan BS that they think that way? I guess there are. I think it was Al Franken said in his book "Lies: And the Lying Liars who tell them: A fair and balanced look at the right" that Republicans love American they way a child loves his Mommy. Maybe he was right. At least for some of Republicans any criticism of policy, or of the president is so heinous you must ignore the content and attack the critic. Not only is this poor logic (ad hominem attacks are cheap and lazy) but it fosters a climate that stifles free speech. People don't want to state their opinions or criticize a leader if they will be attacked for doing so. What happened to focusing on the CONTENT of the argument in debate? Seriously, read the political books that are released (the right and the left) and what you find is attack after attack after attack. Most of the statements only appear to say something but a really nothing more than angry assertion, usually not based in fact (and certainly not on reason or logic). DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL! We might not have blow ourselves away with nuclear weapons but are eroding away from within.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Julie Haslinger said...

Loved your comments! Hey, I'm going to an World AIDS conference at Saddleback and Barack Obama is speaking. I'm really interested in hearing his thoughts.
I agree...the older I get the more I realize the "gray" parts of life rather than in black and white only.
Take care-

9:36 PM  
Blogger Rob Yackley said...

Well said my friend. The political labels we continue to cling to—despite the fact they've lost any real sense of relevance in today’s word—seem to keep us from learning and morphing and growing in our understanding of what is really happening all around us. And what is happening is far more nuanced than any label or sound bite can capture.

1:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home