In the 2000 presidential election I voted for Ralph Nader, a decision that brought ridicule from all sides. I was too young to know about Unsafe at Any Speed, but I had grown weary of the inability to think outside the box. The same issues we hear about today— abortion, Supreme Court justices, immigration— were the issues making headlines back then. It was Nader’s opposition to corporate power that caught my attention. Sure, the Republicans say they are about jobs, hard work, and the American dream, but they fill their coffers with money from large corporations concerned with profit margins and investor’s portfolios. The rhetoric of the Democrats, on the other hand, seems to support the poor and working class, but they’re also in the pocket of special interests that dictate which issues receive attention and which ones are largely forgotten.
I never voted for President George W. Bush and as some of my conservative friends will tell you, I wasn’t a big fan of his presidency. And yet, there are decisions he made for which I have deep gratitude and respect. No other president has done more to address the issue of AIDS on the African Continent than President Bush. He and U2 front man Bono became unlikely partners by providing badly needed medicine and resources for communities in Africa. Similarly, President Bush pushed for loan forgiveness for many nations buried under crippling debt from terrible loans made through the IMF. For years these issues – not the most attractive issues for the Christian community— remained under the radar until Bush used his political power to make something happen.
My critique of the Bush presidency focused on the expansion of the war on terror into Iraq, along with the use of drones to kill enemy targets and innocent civilians. You can imagine my dismay to find out that President Obama has outdone the Bush administration in this area with more drone attacks and causalities than President Bush. While some Christians are upset with the Obama administration about government mandates for birth control and issues of religious freedom, my problem is that Obamacare isn’t really a health care bill at all— it’s an insurance bill. Making sure that everyone has health insurance is not the same thing as tackling the increasing costs of medical care and prescription drugs. Instead of seeking true justice for the American people with a health care solution that affirms medical care as a basic human right, both Republicans and Democrats play politics under the influence of special interests. A medical doctor explained it to a group of college students this way: Republicans are under the influence of the insurance companies, while the Democrats are looking out for the trial lawyers. Insurance companies and resistance to tort reform are why nothing of any real substance is getting done on the issue of health care.
I can hear the critique, “Wait a minute, so far you sound more like a liberal than an independent.” What gives shape to my political views are issues of justice: caring for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. Politics should work to create a public space in which individuals and families are able to make a life together as members of a community working toward a common good. Along with the true conservatives, I believe access to meaningful work and a livable wage are crucial, and that self-serving bureaucracy both in corporations and in government often gets in the way. With the liberals I believe the government must help those who are unable to provide for themselves. Both conservatives and liberals, however, are guilty of worshiping at the altar of Mammon— allowing money and celebrity to influence policy. Ultimately, politics should be much more than falling in line with the rhetoric or ideology of a particular party. From a Christian perspective our participation in civic life must mean more than the labels of the status quo. Instead, we seek the welfare of the city by tirelessly invoking the justice and mercy of the kingdom of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
So, who will I vote for in the 2016 election? Not sure. There are candidates from both parities and beyond that have thoughtful insights into the issues facing our country. The problem with our political system is that thoughtful wisdom doesn’t seem to win elections. Like my support for Nader in the 2000 election, I’ll more than likely end up “wasting my vote”, but that’s okay— I’d rather waste my vote than sell my soul.
Return to iAt throughout this week to read more on Christians’ engagement in politics. If you live near Sioux Center, Iowa, also consider attending the Iowa Conference on Presidential Politics on October 29-31, 2015.
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Thank you! The last two sentences in the second to last paragraph says it all! “Wasting your vote”however, might be contributing to the status quo?
Thanks for the comment, Marion. I use the word “waste” intentionally. There’s subversion in waste, especially within a capitalist paradigm that privileges efficiency and effectiveness. “Failure” and “waste” are not passive…they are very active, and according to the New Testament, also transformative. The Kingdom of God is not about fitting Jesus into the structures of power as they exist; the Kingdom of God is “not of this world” as Jesus said, which is to say the Kingdom Jesus brings is not like Pilate’s kingdom. Seeking justice, compassion, grace, and peace, in a spirit of love is deeply political. It is, after all advocating for a new way of being in the world that is grounded in the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ. In a time when Christians on both sides have sold out to the powers in the name of efficiency and “getting things done” we need to be reminded by Paul about the foolishness and weakness of the kingdom of God. I’m not worried about being effective because God’s kingdom doesn’t depend upon my success, it ask only for my faithfulness. Who will stand up for the poor in Sioux Center? Who will challenge the slum lords who refuse to fix up the houses that poor people live in? (I can show you 3 just in my neighborhood.) The owners go to our churches. When will those who support Christian education (I’m one of them) begin to insist that Christian education must be public education? Why are we ok with some forms of government welfare (farm subsidies) and not others? I could go on… my point is that in “wasting” my vote I am directly challenging the status quo. There are no easy answers, which is why committing ourselves to a particular political ideology doesn’t work.
Even Christians seem to think of Nader as some kind of exotic and kooky radical, and that is very interesting because his unusual, counter-cultural qualities are deeply American, foundationally religious, and even conservative. In many ways he is a very traditional, conservative, small-town, middle-class populist and conservationist. This is most clear in his 2012 book, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood where talks about the value of the traditions he learned growing up in a small, family-oriented town. The traditions and virtues he covers are listening, charity, civics, work, patriotism, and simple enjoyment. Nader has never been a man of the left who opposes capitalism except in its corrupt form as a rigged casino game favoring a few mega-corporations. Those corporations have become plutonomists because of their control over major national governments.
I think of Nader as a Christian somewhat in the mold of Ivan Illich, since both men were deeply formed by their religious traditions (Catholic and Greek Orthodox), and both chose to remain single so they could serve others full time. Both earned a significant amount of money but chose to give it away and live very simply.