Saturday, February 9, 2008

Practical Politics and Consistent Morality: Why The Far Right Hates John McCain

I want to make it clear that I am not endorsing John McCain as a candidate for president. I merely believe that if we have to have a Republican president (as Hilary Clinton's resurgence is making it appear) that McCain is the best possible choice. I don't agree with McCain politically on every issue, and certainly I differ with him on social issues like abortion and gay rights. However, I respect that Senator McCain understands (as I do) that abortion and gay rights are very complex moral issues rather than the simple 'with-us-or-against-us' litmus tests that the Conservative and Liberal establishments in this country have made them.

It's that degree of understanding and independence that brings out reactionary anger at John McCain. It's important to understand that the leadership of the current conservative movement in this country consists of three separate camps: religious reactionaries whose personal doubts and insecurities in their own faith demand that the government legitimize it for them by legislation and judicial fiat, economic right wingers whose vision of corporate fascism is radically different from anything Adam Smith described or envisioned, and foreign policy hawks who want to see a new era of American imperialism. Senator McCain is not truly a member of any of these three camps.

He possesses a conventional Christian morality whose basic message is conservative in a social sense, but he is opposed to making evangelical Christian dogma the law of the land because he believes in the Constitutional freedom of religion. This is why Dr. James Dobson is against Senator McCain's candidacy even though McCain's pro-life voting record is perfect. He once spoke what reasonable people can only call the plain truth, calling the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and the Rev. Pat Robertson 'agents of intolerance.' The religious reactionaries have not and will never forgive him for that, but it was a much kinder way of speaking the truth about such men than the words 'bigoted and hypocritical State Church fascists opposed to everything Jesus Christ ever preached about love and the brotherhood of man.' Even the liberal leadership isn't willing to be that harsh in their judgment of the religious right. The point is that Senator McCain understands that, however positive a good faith may be on a personal and social level, not even all Christians agree on the same doctrines and that other religions have a right to practice and participate as well.

Senator McCain is certainly no liberal on economic policy, but he doesn't believe that corporations have the right to spend billions of dollars to buy candidacies and political parties. Health care corporations don't have the right to be immune from lawsuit when they put the fiscal bottom line over proper medical care for the sick and injured. Political bribery is a danger to the very fabric of our political system and bribery is not free speech. There are moral and social obligations in the medical field that trump profit margins and citizens must be allowed to seek redress for wrongs suffered when those responsible for providing health care fail to live up to those moral and social obligations. Senator McCain understands both those facts and, in addition, he actually believes corporations don't have a right to thoughtlessly destroy the environment to make money in the short-term either. These are the three issues upon which he 'betrayed' the Republican Party (though it's important to note that on the issues of political bribery and health care, his co-sponsors of the bills the Republicans call so very evil were betraying the Democratic party as well) by taking a committed, consistent moral stance. That's why the talk-radio mouthpieces for corporate fascism so aggressively condemn McCain.

The one issue in which McCain is in lockstep with the right wing establishment in the United States is foreign policy. He believes in a strong military, a certain degree of unilateralism in foreign policy decisions, and a certain degree of American political and economic imperialism. Since this has become, thanks to the out-going administration, one of the most central issues of U.S. politics one might think that the right wing would see Senator McCain as its logical champion. The problem is that he is a pragmatist on this issue rather than a dogmatist. He fell out of favor early in the 'Global War On Terror' because he spoke truth to power in telling President Bush the military realities of invading Afghanistan and Iraq. He advocated significantly larger troop assignments and time has proven him right. Afghanistan has degenerated back to anarchy and only the 'Surge' has allowed the U.S. military to maintain some semblance of order in Iraq, though it is important to note that things have not become as sunny and secure as the right wing establishment would like you to believe. If you don't believe me, watch the news.

If you study all of this, read for content, and then collate all the data then the reason that the leaders of conservative orthodoxy in the United States denigrate McCain becomes clear. John McCain speaks his mind when he disagrees with them and acts on his principles when he believes it necessary. American Conservatism of this modern era has one guiding principle: toe the party line and suck up your personal beliefs for the good of the movement. Don't dissent publicly. The Republican Party is a big tent, sure, but what that means in practice is that moderates and libertarians are welcome as long as they act like conservatives.

Like any reactionary movement, dissent is the cardinal sin in Modern American Conservatism. ' Individual rights over group rights' is a political phrase, when an individual is a member of their group then the group rights come first.

That's why MAC can't stand Mac.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Church and State, God and Country II: A Letter to a Newspaper

"We are facing the most crucial time that has ever existed in our nation's history. Politicians are fighting among themselves to attain power. What is desperately needed is to lead our nation back to Christianity. We were founded by our forefathers as a Christian nation. We have strayed so far from Christian principles that we are facing destruction.

Mike Huckabee should be a landslide choice. He is a devoted Christian and would lead us in the right direction. I believe he is God's choice. He was the 44th governor of Arkansas and he should be the 44th president of the United States.

Let's pick a leader who has character. Read Huckabee's book, 'Character is the issue.' It is very inspiring. It gives us insight as to what could be expected of him as our next president. Let's make this come true."

- J.W. "Bill" Smith in a letter to the Bristol Herald Courier, published January 31, 2008

While former Governor Huckabee appears to have little or no chance to win the Republican primary at this point, the above letter grabbed my attention immediately as soon as I read it. It shows the failure of an American citizen to understand the United States Constitution or the mind of its framers. It displays very dangerous misconceptions about the nature of our nation and its laws and it displays an intolerance that is all the more vicious for coming from well-meaning ignorance.

The United States was not founded as a Christian nation. Many of the founding fathers were Christians, most of those were of Protestant denominations, but not all. Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin, and others were deists. Washington may not even have been that, during his lifetime his enemies accused him of outright atheism. Very nearly all were firmly opposed to the establishment of a state church or to allow any church or denomination to make its own doctrine the law of the land. New England had been a hotbed of religious persecution, despite being founded by men and women fleeing it. The Puritans of Massachusetts persecuted those who did not follow their religious codes of morality. The exiles Anne Hutchinson led from Massachusetts Bay to Rhode Island, fleeing that persecution, would then persecute those who did not toe their own doctrinal line. This, and the memory of the persecution of Catholics by Anglicans and the warring between High Church Anglicans and Puritans in England, made the founding fathers determined to keep the churches out of the business of writing the laws of the land.

What is true, and what many liberals unfortunately forget, is that the United States was initially founded as a nation of Christians. It is true, as conservatives claim, that many Christian principles went into the development of our nation's laws. What conservatives do not understand is that those principles are not solely Christian. They come from philosophers and political scientists like John Locke and David Hume (from whose ideas our modern American system ultimately evolved), like Rene Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (both of whom strongly influenced Thomas Paine, as well as Jefferson and Madison and the future French Revolution), as far back as Plato and Parmenides, who gave us the idea of 'self-evident truths.' Most of these principles are shared by all the major religions of the world. More than that, they are shared by the majority of agnostics, atheists, deists, New Agers, modern pagans, and secular humanists.

What Mr. Smith and others like him wish to see legislated into the law of the United States are not 'Christian principles.' They are specific ideas of Christian doctrine as believed by the church to which they belong. They are the very things that the founding fathers specifically wished kept out of the United States Constitution and the laws of the states. The inability to separate between the concepts of a nation founded by Christians (in part, in great part, this cannot be denied) and of a Christian nation is one of the great challenges our country faces right now. It is a challenge our society will, ultimately, have to meet and overcome as it overcame slavery and as it still struggles to overcome bigotry, chauvinism, and prejudice.

Fortunately, this is a far cry from 'the most crucial time in our nation's history.' Nor is it the greatest challenge our nation has faced. The American Revolution, the War of 1812, slavery and the Civil War, and the World Wars were all crises far beyond anything we face now. The big challenges, the challenges of bigotry, chauvinism, prejudice, and religious intolerance are not 'national' challenges, despite of the manner in which they intrude so viciously upon politics. They are personal challenges that we must overcome in ourselves and help others to overcome. They are only national challenges in that it is our social responsibility to continue to combat such social ills as a nation.

I still have faith in us.