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God and Country

God and Country

The Christian right these days is fond of proclaiming that here in America there is a War on Christianity. Isn’t it bizarre how the media likes to portray everything as a war – a War on Drugs, a War on Women, a War on Christmas…can we please just have a War on Media Wars? Anyway that aside, the Christian right is fighting back against what they perceive are assaults on their liberty to worship as they choose by left-leaning progressives and the Obama Administration.

Some of these have taken the form of laws meant to allow merchants or businessmen with certain religious principles (which are meant to be Christian – God help a Muslim who wants to run his business by Sharia law) to not be forced to do things against those principles by law. That’s all well and good, at least on paper, but the practice of it is more insidious.

The brouhaha in Indiana over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the surface sounds like overreaction; after all, 16 states have laws like it (including my own home state of Florida) and there is a national policy in place as well, signed into law by former President Clinton. However, the way that the RFRA was worded seemed to permit discrimination against LGBT citizens of the Hoosier state. Suddenly there was a ruckus as businesses in Indiana, concerned that they would have trouble attracting LGBT employees, began to complain and threaten to scale back their operations in Indiana as well as outright remove them.

The outcry was so loud and so deafening that governor Mike Pence hurriedly signed into law a revision of the legislation that would prohibit discrimination against LGBT citizens on April 2nd. However, there are similar bills similarly worded being discussed in state legislatures around the country, as well as an onerous bill in California (which to be fair is not going to receive any serious legislative attention) that would require all LGBT citizens to be put to death.

The right has been more successful in pushing through legislation that makes it harder for clinics that offer abortion to be viable. Texas has now fewer than five clinics serving an entire state of millions of women and there are states that are essentially putting restrictions on clinics that make it impossible for them to operate. The religious right is trying – and succeeding – in legislating abortion out of existence. This isn’t because there’s a glaring medical or legal need to do so; it’s because it’s against their religious principles. That brings up the question that our founding fathers wrestled with when framing our constitution; when do the rights of religious practice become more important than the rights of others whose values differ?

The answer that our founding fathers came up with was “never” and for 200 plus years our government has operated on that principle. However, the religious right now feels it necessary to force their values onto the nation as a whole. My values are that a woman’s body is her own and that decisions regarding whether she should carry a child to term is also her own, that workers have a right to organize and negotiate with the management of businesses on their own behalf and that LGBT citizens are entitled to the same rights and protections as straight people. So why are the values of Mike Pence, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Rick Scott more important than mine?

Well, because people continue to elect them and to elect state legislatures that believe as they do. But do the people get to trample the rights of others just because they believe it is okay to do so, or because their religion tells them that they should? Our constitution says no. Our founding fathers, many of whom were deists and not evangelical Christians, also said no.

The problem I have with the RFRA and the religious right dictating anti-abortion laws is that it emboldens wackos like the guy in Michigan whose auto repair business now gives discounts to open carriers and refuses service to the LGBT community. I don’t live in the area but I would choose not to take my car into his place of business in any case because not only do I not agree with his views, I’m pretty sure that people who do what he has done cannot be trusted to be competent at their jobs. I have a right to believe that way, after all.

But the guy certainly has a right to believe however he chooses. I would never threaten him with anything other than taking my business elsewhere; he claims he is getting death threats (which I find somewhat unlikely; the LGBT activist community has been notably non-violent) which is extreme. Nobody should die because they believe differently than you; that’s ISIS-like.

However, I do call on him to be consistent. If you’re going to deny service to those who the Bible says you should shun, then you need to deny service to those with tattoos; it’s forbidden in the Bible (Leviticus 19:28). Also, he should deny service to divorcees; forbidden (Malachi 2:16, Matthew 19:6). Those convicted of stealing (Exodus 20:15), or adultery (Exodus 20:14); also forbidden. And I’d check your customers breath for ham; that’s forbidden too (Leviticus 11:7-8). Usury is forbidden (Deuteronomy 23:19-20), so that would exclude most in the financial industry. And actually, those who carry guns should probably not get the discount either; after all, the commandment is “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and what other use is there for a gun other than killing? And if you say “It isn’t for killing, it’s a deterrent” than you should be able to carry a replica of a gun that doesn’t actually fire. After all, it’s a deterrent, right? Not something you’re actually going to use to murder somebody?

The point is that it is unlikely that most people who are Christian believe that a pork-eating tattooed divorced bank manager is someone that should be discriminated against. So if that’s the case, if we don’t accept that everything in the Bible is (no pun intended) gospel, then maybe the LGBT and abortion things shouldn’t be either?

Grand Old Hypocrisy

The elections are over and there is no doubt the American electorate has made its voice heard. The truth of it is that the voice of the American electorate has become a whining squeal of self-interest, whipped into a frenzy by Republican and Tea Party claims that a vote for the Democrats is a vote for higher taxes, increased debt and lost jobs. “A vote for the Democrats is a vote for Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. It is a vote for socialism and Sharia law.”

This past mid-term election was notable for its vitriol and its surfeit of advertising. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that $858 million was raised by Republican candidates for House and Senate campaign ads, while the Democrats raised $759 million. This doesn’t include State gubernatorial elections or money spent on ballot propositions which were often just as contentious. That means that over $1.6 billion was spent on getting people elected to Congress, and when the whole bill is tallied, that number moves well north of $3 billion.  Now that’s just an estimate and the number could well be higher or lower, but either way that could fund a whole lot of jobs, people.

Politically speaking, I’m a reformed Republican. I supported Reagan back in the day and Bush senior. I felt very strongly that the Republicans reflected middle class values and were the party that looked out for the middle class. The Democrats, on the other hand, I believed were the party of special interests and of sinecures and pork barrels. I got these attitudes basically from my Dad, who was a staunch conservative – he had been an anarchist in his youth and believed that the definition of a good government was a government that stayed out of the people’s lives as much as possible. In many ways, I believe he’s right.

I no longer believe those things. While I don’t have great love for the Democrats, I think the Republicans have changed a great deal. I believe that their entire interest now is not only in keeping the wealth in the hands of the wealthy, but finding ways to increase that wealth, even at the expense of what’s best for the nation. I look at the presidency of George W. Bush and I’m appalled at what he did; the trampling of the Constitution in the name of Homeland Security. Allowing the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Gharib. And, lest we forget, the economic meltdown that occurred on his watch – one that came about because of the economic advisors he’d appointed putting their own selfish financial gains at the expense of the country.

What appalls me even more is that Republican advertising has laid the economic meltdown at the feet of President Obama, even though it occurred before he took office. The fiscal bailouts he made, we are told, yielded no results (which is a patent lie – not only did General Motors get back on its feet, it repaid its bailout loan years ahead of schedule), but the Republican blowhards conveniently don’t mention the billions that President Bush authorized for buying distressed mortgage-related assets; approximately $700 billion dollars worth (although nearly half of it wound up going to buying preferred stock in banks instead). This money didn’t create any jobs nor did it stabilize the economy beyond those of the banks who had made reckless loans to begin with. The Obama stimulus plan, so demonized by conservatives, was $825 billion dollars with provisions to create and save jobs, provide social assistance to those impacted by the recession (including providing money for homeowners to renegotiate their mortgage, allowing them to keep their homes) and tax rebates to the general public, which were seen not in a lump sum but over time in weekly paychecks.

For whatever reason, Democrats seemed unwilling to fight back against Republican smear ads who promised that Democratic candidates were “more of the same,” big spending Washington insiders. However, what are the Republicans but more of the same Bush-era sorts who would leave big business to regulate itself – and we all saw how well that worked.

I realize that this is somewhat of a sour grapes kind of blog this time out, but it is really depressing how many people seem more motivated by self-interest rather than in working together to make things better. Now, I know a lot of my friends and readers are conservatives and Republicans and I’m not saying that every conservative Republican is the spawn of Satan – although I suspect that if you looked carefully you might find some cloven feet on Dick Cheney – and I also realize that many Tea Party activists and conservatives are sincere when they say that they feel the best thing for the country is to repeal the Health care bill, lower taxes and eliminate deficit spending.

I don’t have a crystal ball, and I will certainly be the first to say that I may be completely wrong and Sarah Palin is a genius who gets what America needs better than I do. However, I vehemently disagree with her ideas and policies, and I believe that the American greatness lies in its ability to re-invent itself and rise stronger from adversity. However, I also believe that the American greatness lies in its compassion for those who need help, and when I hear candidates trash the Obama health care plan, I can only shake my head in disbelief.

First of all, the health care system needs reform badly. We are allowing medical decisions to be made based on the basis of cost rather than what is best for a patient as determined by their doctor. We have many cases of insurance companies denying treatments to patients that put their lives at risk; by the time the patient is successful in bringing suit against the insurance companies, they often have already died from their disease. There is evidence that doctors employed by insurance companies (as well as non-medical employees) were given financial incentives to deny care. There are far more of those types of stories than there are of Canadians flocking across the border to get care in the U.S. In fact, the Canadian health care system is consistently ranked higher than our own.

However, those that rail about the expense of “Obamacare” rarely have any alternatives to health care reform other than to have things remain as they are. Certainly the insurance companies would like to see that happen. We hear about small businesses being forced to carry health care insurance; the reality is that business that employ less than 50 people will not be affected; only those who employ 50 people or more and quite frankly, when you’re starting to get into that many people working for you, you should be offering health insurance.

There is also the same tired old refrain that the health care plan will bankrupt the country; the truth is that according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which is as close to being impartial as any agency can be, says that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the formal name for Obamacare) will actually reduce the deficit by $143 billion over the first decade, then an additional $1.2 trillion over the second. Even if this weren’t the case, wouldn’t you think that helping people in need – sick people in particular – is only the Christian thing to do?

There just seems to be so much hypocrisy in the political debate these days, certainly not all of it on the Republican side but it seems to me that there is more of it on the right than there is on the left. As I said, I bear no love towards the Democrats who have failed in my estimation to deliver on their campaign promises of 2008, who continue to be just as in the pockets of special interests as Republican candidates are in the pockets of big business.

The sad fact of our national disgrace is that our elections are run by big money and only the very rich can afford to run for office, meaning that the ordinary citizen literally has no voice in national government. Both parties are just as much to blame for this state of affairs. We need to take money out of the equation of the election promise and impose term and spending limits as well as limit the ability for businesses, PACs and lobby groups to contribute to campaigns, as well as restrict access to politicians once the campaign is over. If the Tea Party would boldly come out for campaign spending reform, for transparency in the process so that we can see where the money for outside spending in campaigns is coming from, I would be more willing to give them some slack, but these seemingly simple, sensible things are something that conservative Republicans are fighting against. Recently, George Will spoke out against campaign spending reform on ABC News, espousing the donation campaign funds as a form of free speech, wondering “The question is, do you have to notify the government before you can speak on politics?”

Well, yes you do if you have an agenda. Money itself doesn’t speak but the source of the money does. If oil companies are donating millions of dollars for a senate campaign in Louisiana, don’t voters deserve to know that? That’s what I mean by hypocrisy; the unwillingness to conduct your affairs in the light of day, then portray yourself as the white knight charging in to save America. Personally, I’d like to know who’s paying for the armor before that knight rides into battle.