Thursday, October 30, 2008

Why Not Obama?

In talking with good friends who plan to vote for McCain, I am still confused as to what people think is so dangerous about Obama. It's a sincere question, rooted in the fact that many of the concerns raised by Obama's opponents seem either to be factually misleading, or their outcomes would actually be closer to what conservatives want (fewer abortions, stronger families, a healthy economy, less dead soldiers) than the rhetoric allows.

So can someone please explain to me why anyone who wants to see poor people taken care of,

a health care system that isn't based on hospital owners and insurance companies getting rich off the back of other people's suffering,

a foreign policy implemented that learns the lesson of every other successful conflict resolution process in history and decides to pursue diplomacy rather than revenge or belligerence because a) it often works and b) it's the morally right thing to do (and will mean, beyond a shadow of doubt, that fewer people will have been killed at the end of his Presidency than if his opponent is elected),

a sexual education and health promotion strategy that reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions rather than the absurd abstinence programmes heralded by the Bush adminstration which all evidence suggests actually lead to higher instances of STIs,

a tax regime that favours the less well off rather than those who could live in luxurious indulgence for the rest of their lives even if 90% of their income was used by the government to build houses for homeless people,

a morally just policy adopted regarding the consensual partnerships in which people choose to live - allowing same sex couples to more easily own property together, to visit each other when they're dying, and to walk the streets safely in public (without negatively affecting 'the American family' - UK civil partnership legislation for same sex couples has had no discernible effect on the straight divorce rate; indeed, the state formalising same sex relationships may actually contribute to the stable family unit),

a redemption of the office of President, which for the past eight years has been occupied by a man utterly unqualified in temperament, intelligence, judgement or moral discernment to lead, and for the previous eight by a more intelligent man who couldn't keep his erotic urges under control and lied to the country about it (as well as employing the high altitude bomb on at least one occasion that cannot be justified under any circumstances),

and a restoration of the moral and cultural and philosophical and frankly spiritual standing of the US in the eyes of the rest of the world through having a guy in the White House that not only by the obvious contrast shown by the colour of his skin, but the content of his character has revealed himself to be capable of both uniting the country and inspiring the respect of the world,

can anyone explain to me why voting for Obama is not one of the most vital, life-affirming, prophetic, and simply good things you could ever do?

PS: And I know he's not perfect. But he knows it too. And that's probably part of the point of why he represents something amazing.

PPS: And I also know that this could look like a jibe at sincerely skeptical people - I don't mean it that way at all - but I do mean the questions with sincerity.


Lewis Cash said...

I think its things like this that make people scared:

Sadly, the scare tactics are working on some people.

Aaron J said...

For those like myself who are undecided, this describes it well:

Granted #3 becomes less important as election day comes closer, but the gist of it is still there.

I want to like Obama - he's a great speaker, diplomatic, and would certainly do a lot to restore America's image, but there is more to it than that.

One of the biggest issues to me is the idea of bipartisanship. We can't do another 8 years of having America so divided. The problem is, Obama has one of the most left-leaning voting records for the 2 years he was in the Senate. McCain however, actually has a proven history of working & voting across political lines. Their respective histories paints a different picture than what their images are being made out to be.

I'm still not sure what I'll do. Obama isn't the messiah and McCain isn't the devil everyone is claiming they are. And by the same token, Obama isn't a crazy terrorist and McCain isn't going to instantly find Osama bin Laden.

Frankly, I've been very disheartened by watching Christian brothers & sisters tearing each other up over this election, and I can't wait until its over. The demonizing has to stop.

chris said...

Gareth...We tend to lean heavily toward the candidate which affirms the beliefs we already hold. While natural, this keeps us from reading very much from another perspective. What you probably have missed are the reports which detail a plethora of holes and doubts in Obama's biography, in his political causes, and in his personal relationships. He says things you want to hear, but those things often contrast starkly with what he has either said before, or what he has actually done.

I've still not decided if I'll vote for either candidate. I am very aware, however, that both candidates have put forward versions of themselves that probably aren't but 50% true. One question I ask myself: If I subtract 50% of what this candidate has declared himself to be, am I comfortable with that?

Maybe that's not a tough question for you, but it's quite difficult for me. I'm thinking long and hard about both candidates. I'd just like for you to realize that there's a real possibility that Obama isn't half the man he claims to be.

Steve said...

G - you toss out 'policies that would result in fewer abortions' as if its a foregone conclusion. the bottom line is he thinks abortions are viable. he is for killing babies. hard to soften that blow. in addition (and i think this is mentioned far less often in christian circles) his policies stem from an ideology that the state should play the role of savior. it's not hyperbole to say that if we expect the state to provide for us we are elevating it to the role of idol. using our voice to limit the power of government is a wise and biblical choice. i think obama is intelligent and will try to lead this country well, and will probably do a good job of that after he's elected. but i didn't vote for him - and i don't think i missed out on one of the most good and prophetic things i could ever do.

Paul said...

We are on our way. Thou will be done. We are finally taking responsibility for ourSelves and earth.
It is an exciting time.
Love and Light,
Paul Fisher
p.s. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Lewis Cash said...

Steve, I think that you comment that "he is for killing babies" is totally misguided. Obama is for limiting the amount of abortions by working within the current laws as they stand (trying to over turn Roe v. Wade is pointless, as it would just send the choice on abortion laws back to the sates, where many would still allow abortion).

And we've had a "pro-life" president in office for 8 years and what has changed in regards to abortion? Virtually nothing. Meanwhile this same "pro-life" president has sent our men and women to a war based on lies, not only costing many American lives, but also costing countless civilian lives in Iraq and elsewhere. How can this be considered a pro-LIFE stance? McCain will continue the failed policies of Bush in Iraq leading to more and more death. That is simply not a pro-life stance.

Gareth Higgins said...

Thanks to those of you who have commented so far; I appreciate the sincere engagement with these important questions. I don't usually respond directly to comments on the blog as I already have the privilege of writing the posts, so that's why I'm not commenting explicitly on what anyone has said here. Best wishes to all.

Steve Hobbs said...

Regarding "foreign policy implemented that learns the lesson of every other successful conflict resolution process in history and decides to pursue diplomacy rahter than revenge or belligerence..."

Although I wish it weren't true, consider that violence (both in the micro and the macro) is sometimes more successful at conflict resolution than diplomacy.

Examples in the macro abound, including:

WW2 in Europe. The British thought that Chamberlain's diplomacy had saved them from the Nazi terror. It did not. In the end, it was not diplomacy or peace protests/activists that liberated Europe and stopped the horrors of Auschwitz - it was the violent work of armed Allied soldiers.

Examples in the micro abound, including:

More recently in 2001, as most everybody surely remembers, United flight 93 crashed into a Pennsylvania field as a result of passengers trying to overtake terrorist highjackers. While all on the plane died, they likely saved many more lives as a direct result of this violent act by not allowing that plane to be crashed into another urban site (such had already occured in NYC and Washington, DC).

I do not believe that violence is always the answer to conflict resolution. However, I don't understand how some believe that non-violent diplomacy is always the answer. These two examples alone dismiss that theory, in my view.

It seems that we must understand that conflict resolution sometimes requires non-violent means and other times requires violent means.

I wish that all conflict could be resolved non-violently. Who would not want there to always be non-violent means to just ends? Anyone who desires violent conflict resolution as the first and/or only response denies the value of people created in God's image. However, those who refuse to admit that violence as a means of conflict resolution is sometimes necessary in a fallen world before the full coming of the Kingdom of God also devalue the value of human as a creation of the divine.

Steve Hobbs said...

Regarding "a tax regime that favours the less well off rather than those who could live in luxurious indulgence for the rest of their lives even if 90% of their income was used by the government to build houses for homeless people."

First, President-elect Obama's stated plan is to place higher taxes on those who make $250K or more. If 90% of their income was taken (as you suggest), they would be left with $25K. Are we supposed to think that people "could live in luxurious indulgence for the rest of their lives" on $25K?

More generally however, I would argue that a government-run wealth redistribution does not favor the wealthy or the poor.

To make my point, I'd like to post my comments from an email converstaion I had with a cousin just last week. It is lengthy, I admit. But, if it helps answer the question, then I think it is worth your reading.

In short, the argument can be put in the words of renowned economist Arthur Laffer, “If you tax people who work and pay people who don’t work, don’t be surprised if you get more people not working. If you tax rich people and give money to poor people, you’re going to get a lot of poor people and very few rich people. The dream of America has always been to make poor people rich, not rich people poor.”

My extended thoughts below.


The redistribution of wealth through “taxes on the ‘rich’” is based on this philosophy of equality of outcome. “Those who are rich had an unfair advantage, or they must have cheated to get where they are. They don’t deserve all that they have, especially when so many people have so little.” Usually when a person tries to take something they want from others by force, we call it thievery. However, when the government does it, we call it taxes, even when those who don’t pay the taxes get the right to force other to pay. If a private group of people threatened to incarcerate another person unless he paid them money, they would and should be arrested. However, when those same people use the government as a middle-man, it becomes legal thievery.

Never mind that the overwhelming majority of the “rich” have worked diligently, taken risks, become skilled and educated, and have sacrificed more than most others. Never mind that tax levels have the top 1% of wage earners paying nearly a third of the total taxes paid, that the top 10% pay nearly two-thirds, and that nearly 40% of all wage earners pay almost no taxes at all. When taxes are taken from the “rich” and redistributed in welfare programs, a majority of the initial funds taken are “lost” in the bureaucracy, some estimate up to 70%. What’s more, taxing those who earn more money puts a disincentive on working hard – why would you go the extra mile to earn more if you knew much of it would be coerced away from you? The “rich” are also those who account for a high number of jobs in this country. If their taxes get raised, they have to offset that by raising prices on their goods or services and/or laying people off. Then, the employee who is laid off collects unemployment and other social services from the government that they would have been able to do themselves were they not laid off due to their employer’s high tax rate. We also can’t forget that a high percentage of the taxes are lost in the system, so that the efficiency of the dollar coming from the government is substantially lower than that coming from the employer.

Some say that “tax cuts for the rich” are unfair, because it only benefits the wealthy. Isn’t it obvious that they are the ones paying the taxes in the first place? Is it unfair if the bank gives person “A” $1000 from their closed checking account and person “B” only $100 from their closed checking account? Not if person “A” actually put in $1000 and person “B” put in $100. It’s only fair that you get back what you put in. What if person “C” opened a checking account and put nothing in? When they close it, should they be entitled to $1000? $100? $1? No. They have contributed nothing, so they should receive nothing. The same with tax refunds.

This is directly related to Senator Obama’s false statement about tax credits for 95% of people. Right now 40% of people pay no federal income taxes. Yet, he says they can all receive a tax cut. How is that possible? It is not. In reality, it is wealth redistribution, pure and simple. The wealthy deserve to be punished because they are wealthy. (That this is the true liberal attitude can be shown by remembering that lowering tax rates most often leads to an increase in tax revenue. This happens because the economy thrives, thus making up for the lower rates since a larger economy will bring in more revenue. Yet many liberals, including Senator Obama, are for raising the tax rate, even if that means less tax revenue.) Instead of encouraging the “poor” to work hard and attain more wealth, the wealthy need to be brought down. The “poor” should be written a check by the “rich.” Unfortunately, since the rich have chosen not to do so because they are busy running businesses, working hard to expand their business and hire more people, give to non profit organizations, and investing for the future (essentially being self-sufficient and not relying on the government), the government has to force them to do it, even if it loses a high percentage of the funds in the process.

Let’s also consider the “poor” we are talking about. It’s people like you and I who live in nice homes, drive nice cars, dine at restaurants, shop at the malls, go to movies, and have computers, cable TV, cell phones, and ipods. Many have less than we do, that’s true. But even most of the poor students who are on free lunches at public schools have parents who drive them in cars and provide them with a home, cable TV, fashionable clothing, cell phones, and multiple ipods. These people may not be as wealthy as we are, but they are certainly not poor in comparison with the poor of the past or the third world.

High taxes to support the welfare state not only provide a disincentive for people to work hard, but also provides an incentive for people not to work hard, thus encouraging them to stay poor. Given the choice between working hard, taking chances, and possibly moving one’s self up socio-economically and waiting at home for a welfare check, some will choose the latter. This deprives them of the sense of purpose gained from working hard and also promotes a sense of hopelessness and victimhood. If drastic “tax cuts for the rich” were enacted and that welfare check were not coming, a large percentage of those who choose the latter would be forced to go out and work hard, thus providing themselves with the self-worth found in providing for a family and contributing to society. The jobs would be available as the money is put back in the hands of employers, and the small percentage of those who cannot work can be taken care of either by private industry or non-profit organizations who would receive increased contributions as a result of more disposable income in the private sector.

Freedom means the freedom to prosper and fail. There is an inherent risk in it for sure, but there is risk in every free choice we make. When we drive, we risk getting in an accident. When we eat solid food we risk choking. When we exercise, we risk injuring ourselves. Still, we consider the risk worth it. The risk of ensuring people’s freedom economically is to be much preferred to government-induced wealth redistribution that attempts to provide absolute security. Children have the need and desire for security, but as a person matures we have the need to move out on our own and build our lives on our own initiative. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed, but we learn and grow from our mistakes and are much the better for it in the end. The more people rely on the government, the more we will promote immature behavior of “let the government take care of you” instead of the mature attitude “I will take care of myself and those I love.” Self-reliance leads not only to a well earned positive self image, but also to positive thinking and success. A person who earns $100 on their own is proud of their work, and feels enabled to go out and do it again. A person who receives a $100 check from the government having done nothing to deserve it takes no pride in this act, and is likely resigned to want to do it again. I believe the former is much more desirable than the latter.

Even if a person doesn’t agree with this reasoning, the IRS is open for business and accepting any donations any rich or poor person in favor of income redistribution is desirous to make. With half of the people in this country as Democrats who are just as wealthy as their conservative counterparts, such donations would certainly be able to fund many social programs. There is no need to coerce those who don’t want to pay to do so against their will – they should simply write the check themselves.

Given the deteriorative effects that high taxes have on the economy and society, I would not welcome this “tax break” for 95% of Americans, even if it means that my personal taxes would go down. In the long run, it promotes reliance on inefficient government, not on self. It will also become increasingly costly as more and more people rely on welfare. Above all, though, it is against the concept of “liberty” which allows people to choose for themselves how they live, work, and spend their money.

Gareth Higgins said...

Dear Steve

Thanks for being in touch and for inviting this dialogue. Happy to contribute.

First of all - the comment about not being willing to die or kill for a belief. I was attempting to quote John Caputo who said to me in conversation that the great thing about postmodernism is that it invites us to be persuaders for our own understanding of truth, rather than imposers or 'imperialists' with truth. So if there is always an understanding that we could be wrong - one of the key assumptions of postmodernism, deriving from the failures of modernity to save the world - then we hold every belief in tension with our human frailty. So you may believe that I deserve to die because I wear red socks; but because you know you might be wrong, you wouldn't actually kill me for it. On the other hand, I may believe that wearing red socks is worth dying for, but because I know I might be wrong, I'm not going to die for it. The point is restricted to the notion of beliefs, however. It is not a comment about whether or not it is appropriate to die in order to defend or save a vulnerable person from harm, for instance. (My apologies to Jack C if I am misquoting him.)

I’ll comment on the violence issue next (perhaps we can get to the taxes question later?):

1: War and Peace

The Second World War is of course a key example used in the discussion of non- and less-violent means of addressing conflict. I would never want to demean or trivialize the sacrifices made to prevent the evil intent of Hitler from achieving its ends; indeed, as is the case for so many of this generation, my grandparents directly participated in that sacrifice. But the question arises as to whether or not the cause of ending Hitler’s war justified the means used to end it; and whether there were other potential means that could have been used.

The answer is, of course, complex. I will mention only a few of the relevant factors.

1. The war occurred for many reasons; chief among them was the rise of Hitler. This itself occurred for many reasons, chief among them being the humiliation of the German people, and the bankrupting of the German economy by the reparations imposed under the auspices of the League of Nations in the period following the First World War. Another reason for the rise of Hitler was that there was not a substantial enough internal resistance movement within Germany to prevent this.

2. I mention this in the service of one conclusion: that if we wait until the day after Hitler invades Poland to ask ourselves what we are going to do about his aggression, we prove a simple fact, that is sadly very often true: that human beings prefer to think in terms of reaction rather than prevention; and in terms of quick fix ‘easy’ solutions rather than long term ‘difficult’ ones. I don’t know what I would have done had I been in Neville Chamberlain’s shoes, or in those of the Chancellor of Germany deposed by Hitler in 1933. I can’t speak for them. But I am part of a historic church; and I consider that to mean that there are moral demands of church membership that, had I been a German Christian, would have been very difficult to meet. For instance, I think the German Catholic Church could have moved to excommunicate any church member who joined the Nazi party. At a time when church membership was considered with much greater seriousness than it usually is today, this might just have had the effect of helping inhibit the rise of Hitler, and therefore helped avoid the war. Such things have happened before and since, when cultural and social organizations have made participation in aggression or prejudice to be anathema, or at the very least, a social embarrassment. In Northern Ireland, many mothers inhibited their sons from joining paramilitary organizations because of the shame they instilled in their children; Christian youth work provided a profoundly important outlet for young people which in its absence might have led to their participation in violence.

Now of course, just excommunicating a lot of German Catholics (or threatening to do so) would not have been enough on its own to prevent the rise of Hitler. But it would have been a start, and would also have allowed the German Catholic Church to have a clean conscience.

3. Flash forward to 2003, when President Bush refused the request of US Methodist Bishops to meet with them on the eve of the Iraq war. Perhaps they should have excommunicated him. Not to punish. But to exercise the discipline of a church whose canons and by-laws presumably President Bush had signed up to; to tell him how far he was straying from the church’s understanding of the will of God; to attempt to compel him to consider his conscience. Again, this probably would not have been enough to change his mind. But the US Methodist church would have been behaving prophetically; and would have a clean conscience about doing everything it could to avert war.

4. Once we have asked ourselves whether or not non-violent means could have prevented the war, we need to ask when the Second World War ended. Did it end with Nazi surrender in military defeat and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or did it end when Germany formed the European Community along with other neighbouring nations; and when Japanese efforts at reconciliation eventually included former US POWs embracing the people who had abused them, and when US Presidents shook the hands of Japanese emperors? If that’s when it ended, then the case that violence conflict only ever ends through non-violent means has been bolstered.

5. These, of course, are simple, and potentially simplistic headlines. They do not tell the whole story. So let me say a few more things:

I do not advocate allowing tanks to roll over the vulnerable without the rest of us doing something about it.

I merely believe that war is never simple; it never just begins when it begins, nor does it end when it ends. There are thousands of examples of violent conflicts that could have been avoided by non-violent means.

The Kosovo war in the late 1990s which might not have occurred had non-violent reconciliation movements been properly resourced in the 1980s.

The Northern Ireland Troubles, which might not have occurred if the Protestant church leaders had taken seriously their call to serve the poor, and defended Catholics against discrimination, by joining the civil rights movement and helping ensure it engaged in strategic and comprehensive non-violent action.

And there are thousands of examples of how fewer people suffered because the means employed to bring about change were non-violent. As far as I remember, around 7000 Indians died in Gandhi’s independence civil disobedience struggle. A huge, and horrifying number. These people died in the service of non-violence. But just imagine the number that would have been killed had Gandhi chosen the ‘quick fix’ violence option. I have heard it estimated that the death toll would be close to a million Indians. So let me be clear: I do not think that non-violence is easy, nor is it safe. Of course people suffer when they use non-violent means. There is a cost to every courageous act. But I believe the total suffering in the world is reduced when we use non-violence rather than violence. And I am not an ideological pacifist. We live in a broken and fallen world, and often are faced with a series of flawed options. I just think that the recourse to violence is far too often reached without serious thought, or the exhaustion of other, non- or less-violent means.

6. The Iraq war could have been avoided, and Saddam could have been removed from power without a war. But it appears that the will did not exist to do such things as ending the sanctions and therefore allowing the Iraqi people to become strong enough to overthrow their leader in the kind of non-violent revolution that occurred in both what is now the Czech Republic and Ukraine; nor asking the UN to establish a tribunal to try Saddam for crimes against humanity and having him arrested (and let’s face it, if Milosevic can be basically kidnapped and brought to the Hague, why could a team of Navy SEALS not have been sent into one of his palaces with the same ends in mind? Not that I advocate kidnapping, but as I said, we are faced with flawed options, and kidnapping one man is a far better option than killing tens of thousands of innocent people); and affirming what was then called the Roadmap to Peace in the Middle East, with rhetoric and resources, to show that the US was bona fide in its desire to see that long-standing conflict transformed into a non-violent one.

These are some scattered thoughts for now. Let me say this: I believe that we spend far too much time talking about violence, and not enough about reducing it. We invest far too much in what we call the defence industry, and not the peace industry. We do not understand that prevention is better than cure. And so while I understand the appeal of violence, I do not believe it fixes anything. At best, it can arrest a process that would lead to harming the vulnerable – but it cannot transform it into peace. The overwhelmingly pressing need in our generation is to give as much time and attention to thinking about non- and less-violent means of addressing conflict as we do to making killing look sexy.

But that is not the final word – let’s keep talking.

Peace be with you,