Monday, March 10, 2008

Feeling blue in a red state

I came across this post on dailykos. It is the vote-confession of a Mormon conservative living in Salt Lake City who has decided to vote for Barack Obama.

"I may have grown up thinking conservativism was grand and Democrats were evil, but now I know better, and that is mainly due to Barack. That is why he is so important."

Of all the red states in the US, Utah has got to be the reddest. Despite the emergence of the neoconservative movement, Utah has consistently voted Republican in recent decades, tending it seems to give the pro-war wing of the Republican party justification even in light of such monumental failures as the Iraqi war and, perhaps more troubling, the housing-economic meltdown manifesting exponentially.

Has political affiliation become the equivalent of religious identity? Is it written in stone or otherwise canonized that we should respect one political party? Why are political ideas synonymous with theological beliefs, and why do red states remain red, and blue states blue? It makes you question, reading the above account - that someone could reconcile belief with something his community has suggested is against their belief...but is it really? Is having a country insured with proper health care against anyones belief system?

A couple of years ago I took a class on the history of Christianity. I learned a few lessons, small tokens of gold that now allow me to spend my way through this argument. Christians were for the first 200-300 years practicing communists. They shared everything, and if you wanted to join their esoteric movement, their community, you would have to give everything to the community, including you financial net worth (or most of it). That is why Marcion became such a pivotal figure in early Christian history, because he was able to buy a voice for his important ideas by giving his inherited fortune of 200,000 sesterces (to the credit of Marcion, though he was not allowed to stay within the community, many of his ideas were incorporated into later Christian theology.  His insistence on a limited canon encouraged the church to set limits on what could, and perhaps more importantly, what could not be included within the official canon, what has today become known as the New Testament). Certainly the church changed after that, after Constantine. They became less a share-based movement and more an individual-based movement.

Christianity has had a long and politically bizarre history, especially seeing its effects on the politics in Utah circa 2008. It was at various times an agent of the state, the king, the emperor, the pope, the revolutionary, the conservative. Take your pick, Christianity has been politically used to justify an enormous swath of belief, and is being presently used to justify a war of aggression on another nation, in spite of its ill effects on the aggressor and aggressed. Tree, meet fruit.

Obama and Clinton represent a more egalitarian approach to society - democrats in general today carry the torch for the poor, the needy, the sick and hungry. The democrats are fighting for universal health care, and tax cuts for the poor, not the rich. This approach seems to more represent the early days of christianity - where all people were taken care of, and treated equal - than to the neoconservative approach that suggests capitalism is the answer to everything, that the free hand of the market will keep all above the rising waters of political and economic disparity. An early Christian would say when my friend and neighbor is hungry, I share my food. Wouldn't Christ himself, the benefactor of Christianity, tell his followers to give before you get, to make certain that all are treated with a modicum of decency.

Most western democracies have embraced some form of universal health care as a societal necessity. Here in America, the place of the discovery of general anesthesia - perhaps the greatest discovery in the history of science and medicine - we still are in the dark ages of social progress. A rising tide raises all ships. Responsible social democracies, like Norway and Sweden, should be our example in how to proceed. Yes, they are taxed more than us, but in exchange the decency of every individual is preserved. Isn't that more important than personal success?

So back to the story of the Mormon in SLC who is voting for Obama. I have to ask, why aren't more Mormons voting for a better life for everyone, instead of better life for only a few. The Limbaugh's and Hannity's of the world are trying to make you think that conservatism-republicanism is the skin on a bleached skeleton, that theres meat where there is only bone. They sell war as conservative, spending as saving. It is Orwell's nightmare revived, and animated. Doublespeaking people toward their own financial and political ruin. Let me ask a few questions:

Does spending 10+ Billion in Iraq per month equate financial conservatism.?

Does nation building seem politically conservative?

Does enacting the biggest spying operation ever know in the US appear conservative?

Does lying US toward war follow a conservative philosophy?

Does torture now equate Christian conservatism?

Christians in America are being robbed by a two-bit thief. I really wonder what the title conservative has come to mean. I think I know what Christian means, and it is not the evangelical preachers who have enlightened me, it is the words of their great savior. I've read the New Testament; I don't remember any wars of aggression. I don't remember a footnote accompanying the old testament commandment thou shalt not kill (even though, paradoxically, there was plenty of killing to be had in the OT). I think, according to the very beginnings of Christianity, that early Christianity represented community and responsibility, a philosophy that emphasized the needs of everyone other than yourself.

But we are a needy culture, and an individualistic country. It is one of our memes, our social proclivities. America, the land of the free. But as we are learning, nobody is free unless we all are free. You can't have a country that flat out denies health care to its poorest while with the other cheek claims to be free. You can't justify agricultural slaves and claim to be a nation of free people. You can't justify paying CEO's 20 Million dollars a year and continually reject raising the minimum wage beyond 5.5 dollars (as the republicans have done). It is not healthy, nor is it Christian, it is not free.

So I understand this one Mormon's journey toward the Democratic party. It is simple. It is an understanding that community is as important as individual, politics and religion aside. Simple. It is a Christian/rational idea, it is humanitarian, it is reasonable and well-meaning. My question to all Utah Mormons is this. What theology allows you to continually justify your subservience to the Republican party? Is it healthy? Have you looked at the long term consequences of supporting war and aggression? Difficult questions, all of which the diarist considered in making his choice. My hope is we will all make this choice for our own self-interest, which, interestingly I think, is nothing more than the needs of the community at large, be they rich or poor. Again, a rising tide raises all boats. Investment in society is our one way out of the dark room Bush has lured us in to. It is the humanitarian approach, I hope everyone sees that.

There is nothing wrong with states rights, or personal property rights (juices in the spinal fluid of modern conservatism), as long as they contribute to the betterment of everyone. Perhaps that is the lesson. A kind of do unto others for the 21st century. Heres hoping we do just that - reject war and useless military spending in exchange for better social programs. Isn't it time we surpass political differences and finally elect a candidate who will take care of the poor- the health needs of all in the US? I think that is the fundamental question.


Afterthought by Emerson:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.  


Mark said...

Well written post Reese. Many thoughts come to mind, none of which rebut what your saying at all, but just are observations. I think the philosophers quote about "an unexamined life" comes into play here. Most people, regardless of their religious ideals don't examine their lives, or other lives and the cause and effects. Its sad the waste we have in society. I was so very much drawn to communist ideals in college (at BYU of all places). And yet the dilemma is that the redistribution of wealth has as many corruptive possibilities as capitalism, not only this its a very delicate balance to distribute without destroying personal incentive. Capitalism serves the personal incentive, but creates disparity. Additionally industrialization has produced surplus which adds an an interesting twist on evolution of modern society and economies.

None of this though makes me feel happy about the war in Iraq at all or Bush. As for my political bent, I made myself undeclared a decade ago, I'll vote for the best candidate, be it man or woman. Sadly in a time when there was so much sentiment of Any Body But Bush, it seems even the Democrats can't agree on a way to capitalize on that with one candidate and I worry about where the Hillary Obama race is heading.

Mental Produce said...

Thanks for the thoughts Mark...

Have to agree that the democratic nomination fight is heading down a dark road - but I would blame Clinton for that, not Obama. He has been keeping the race clean, but has been backed into a corner by the ferociousness of her campaign and has had to fight back to if nothing else set the record straight. She concerns me. I have a feeling that if she begins to see that she cannot win the nomination she will sabotage it for Obama and take her chances a few years down the road. Hard to say what will happen.

By the way, great post on your morning run a couple of weeks back. That was gutsy bro, pure gutsy.


Mental Produce said...

Read your comment again Mark - and I can see your reservations with wealth redistribution; that's not something I would endorse, necessarily. My bent is toward the basic needs of every member of society, like providing the same health care coverage to everyone - not only the insured, or those that can afford it.

I've been studying 19th century medicine this semester, and following the threads of physicians and hospitals into the 20th. I know enough about modern history to see where most western democracies took their individual medical systems, and the US is unique on this matter. So, when I speak of a more egalitarian society, what I am talking about are the basics - the bare bones of most western democracies. I think this is the only ethical and moral position to take on the issue - any other position is, frankly, unChristian.

It's absurd really, an atheist arguing for Christian humanitarianism.