A Fundamental Choice

Are you as unexcited by this election campaign as I? In years past, I would have watched each party’s conventions. I didn’t watch the RNC last week. I may watch the DNC just to hear Clinton and Obama. But basically, my mind is made up. If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you can probably guess who I’d vote for tomorrow and that same person would get my vote on election day, too.

My preference has nothing to do with likeability.  It’s not that I find Romney an empty suit because he has articulated nothing of substance beyond great sound bites (creating 12 million jobs – doesn’t say how or when) or sounding tough (increase the defense budget – doesn’t say in what way or for any particular strategic reason – as though we really need to increase our defense spending, anyway) or sounding realistic (close tax loopholes – just don’t tell us which ones).  It’s not that Obama has completely knocked me over either because he did not close Guantanamo Bay or that he has markedly increased using drone technology to wage war or that he has done a poor job of selling this nation on a good start towards affordable health care for all people.

My preference doesn’t hinge on a set of issues either.  I’m not in favor of the Republicans’ absolutist plank on abortion or its awful position on immigration or gay marriage.  I don’t see the Democrats dealing with the long term impact of entitlement spending or demonstrating new thinking and approaches to the structural changes in the economy.  (I did some quick research earlier today.  That the Dow Jones Industrial Average is at its highest in history and we have such a high rate of poverty and too many people living a tenuous existence tells me that there is a fundamental problem with our economy and traditional remedies aren’t going to work)  Furthermore neither candidate is really talking about people who live in poverty.  (Check out these photos – they’ll break your heart.)

We face a fundamental choice over the type of nation we choose to be.  Romney takes the nation in a strongly libertarian direction.  Obama seeks to maintain the communitarian dimension of our nation.  At the heart of this choice is the role of government.  Romney, even in his vacuous statements, makes clear that government interferes and stifles self-fulfillment.  Obama believes that government has a role to ensure a modicum of dignity for all people.

We need to be honest with ourselves, however, that we’ve always had tension between individual liberty and community.  Paul Tillich wrote, “But the self is self only because it has a world, a structured universe, to which it belongs and from which it is separated at the same time.  Self and world are correlated, and so are individualization and participation.  For this is just what participation means:  being part of something from which one is, at the same time, separated.”[1]  He later wrote, “A cynic today is not the same person the Greeks meant by the term… Modern cynics are not ready to follow anybody.  They have no belief in reason, no criterion of truth, no set of values, no answer to the question of meaning.  They try to undermine every norm put before them.  Their courage is expressed not creatively but in their form of life.  They courageously reject any solution which would deprive them of their freedom of rejecting whatever they want to reject.”[2]

Clearly, Romney-Ryan and the GOP want to minimize the impact of government in people’s lives.  Their proposal for Medicare, providing vouchers to subsidize purchasing private health insurance, does nothing to change the already poor health care system we have (keep in mind we can have the best doctors and the best hospitals, but if sick people can’t access them, they’re not getting that care).  Their desire to privatize social security (they don’t talk a lot about this, but it’s there) and to lift regulations on industry, especially finance and banking, will unleash the terrible Darwinian underside of capitalism. There would be no institution large enough to stand between predatory capitalists and you and me.

When Obama made his comments in July, “You didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen,”[3] he was making a point (however clumsily) that no one accomplishes anything on his or her own.  In a way, I found the RNC quote, “We Built That,” mildly ironic.  They were trying to emphasize that people build businesses on their own, but wouldn’t it have been more accurate for them to say, “I Built That?”

We are inextricably bound together as a nation.  Scripture reminds us in so many ways that we are to care for each other.  When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the Lord your God: ‘I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me’” (Deu. 26:12-13)  Or the ethos of the early Christian communities: “All who believed were together and had all things in common;they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

In 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.  Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country.”

The political commentators are right when they say this election presents this nation with a clear choice.  I wish they were more emphatic about the diametrically opposing choices each candidate represents – we couldn’t have a greater contrast.  Our choice goes way beyond the economy.  We’re making a fundamental choice on the type of nation we choose to become.

We might be wise to remember the psalmist:

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

(Psalm 72:1-7, 12-13)

[1] Tillich, Paul.  The Courage to Be.  Originally published 1952 by Yale University Press.  Vail-Ballou Press: Binghamton, NY. 1980.  Page 87-88

[2] Ibid.  Page 150-151


About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
This entry was posted in Current Events and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Fundamental Choice

  1. Echoes:
    Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition & Men in Dark Times
    Michael Sandel, Democracy’s Discontent
    Anita Allen, etc, Debating Democracy’s Discontent (Taylor, Petit and Etzioni’s contributions)
    Robert Bellah, etc Habits of the Heart

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