Thoughts on election 08

donkeyelephant1

If you know me, you know where I stand.

I am a firm believer (much to the chagrin of others) in the separation of Church and State.  I am an independent thinker and a registered independent, although I am moderately conservativev, I do not believe that because I am a Christian I should vote Republican or Democrat but rather who I think would do best. It pains me when others have no idea how to respect others regardless of disagreement.  I bring this up because I know too many people who might as well be condemned to hell because they’re voting for McCain or that they have no soul because the are voting for Barak Obama.

Recently I found this blog article by Donald Miller on my friend Mike’s blog.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but a person should have the right to be heard without being guilted or condemned.

I hope everyone out there votes tomorrow.  Why…because you should.  I also hope that you will think for yourselves and do your own research rather than just take someones opinion on the candidates.  Believe it or not if you are a democrat it’s ok to vote for someone else and if you are republican…same goes for you.  of course if you are a part of the Green Party…well, you’re kind of screwed…at least until we get a third major party – which I hope we do.  Alright I’m done. Read the Donald Miller blog if you like, I found it interesting…and don’t forget to vote!

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Blog entry from Donald Miller author of Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What. Remember it’s ok to read things you may disagree with.

My Journey from being a Reagan Republican to an Obama Democrat

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church along the Gulf Coast in Texas. It was a suburban church nowhere near a bus line, protected as it were from most demographics that didn’t have our common interests. Those interests were embodied in the Republican Party, then led by President Ronald Reagan. Reagan captured our attention with an anti-communist, anti-atheist message, that was easy to understand, emboldening the American people against a clear threat, that of nuclear war and a godless communist regime. Reagan rode that same horse his entire career, even as an actor while President of the Screen Actors Guild, taking stands against blacklisted actors and directors thought to be sympathizers with communist ideology. The Democrats, on the other hand, were squishy, hard to understand, and believed life was complicated. They sounded intellectual and suspicious. We were told that if Democrats were given power we would certainly be destroyed by nuclear weaponry, indefensible by our weak military. We were told that, if a Democrat lived in the white house, we would become a socialist nation and you would not be able to chose your own profession, drive a car that you wanted or attend a school of your preference. The government would make those decisions for you, we were told. We were taught all sorts of terrible things about the Democrats. We were told if a Democrat ever came to power the government would launch legislation that would mandate ten-percent of all public-school teachers be homosexuals. But when a Democrat came to power, none of that happened. Instead, the average family’s base-earning went up by $7,500 per year and we operated under a balanced budget. And we didn’t go to war against an enemy we couldn’t exactly find and certainly didn’t understand.

Our theology insinuated that shortly after original sin, once Adam and Eve at the apple, they registered as Democrats and went on with their lives, trying to create large governments that would enable lazy people through expensive social programs. We believed we were right and they were wrong, our ideas were Biblical and their ideas were pagan. And we did not know, exactly, who “they” were. Our church wasn’t on a bus line, and so “they” didn’t come to our church. We were all of the same race, the same theological disposition. Our conservative, moral ethos transcended politics. We looked down on Methodists and Catholics because they drank and danced. In fact, when one of the elders at our church visited a western bar with his wife and another couple, presumably to participate in a line-dancing event, our pastor had him paged at the dance hall and told him to meet him in his office, immediately at the church. He was forced to resign as an elder, scolded by the pastor and later committed suicide, leaving behind a wife and three children, along with a grieving, confused church.

My mother was active, politically. She would occasionally volunteer when her Christian beliefs were threatened by government legislation. I remember her coming home late one night, having worked on a campaign opposing equal rights for same-sex partnerships. She told a thrilling story about a fellow volunteer who had a bullet-hole through his license plate, presumably put there by a lone, homosexual gunmen. And when a law was proposed banning spanking in public schools, my mother put my sister and I into the car and drove to the capital, in Austin, where we visited our state legislator. We sat on a leather couch across from his desk and my mother wagged her finger at him and, in no uncertain terms, told the man exactly what the Bible said about sparing the wand. I sat breathless and quiet. I had seen that wagging finger before and I knew what came after. I breathed again only when we were leaving the man’s office and I was assured my mother would not be taking the legislator over her knee.

Like I said, I grew up in the Reagan years. My mother, single and struggling as a secretary at an oil company, afforded a house because of a special loan available, in part, due to legislation proposed by the Reagan administration. We loved that man. I remember being in algebra class, my junior year in high school, when the principle came over the speaker system to announce there had been an accident, that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida. All the astronauts were lost. Those astronauts were our men, you see. They were from Houston, and lived only twenty miles from my house. There was a gasp at first, then a long minute of silence, led by the principle himself. School was dismissed, after that. We all went home and watched the footage on television. We watched all afternoon as flowers were placed along the gates at NASA, and on the sidewalks of the Astronauts homes. That night Ronald Reagan was to address the nation in the State of the Union speech. Those plans were changed, of course, and he came to us live from the Oval Office, perfectly delivering comforting lines I now know to have been written by Peggy Noonan, who borrowed her lines from the poet John Magee:

“We will never forget them,” Reagan said, “nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

i don’t know of a political figure who could have more nobly delivered those lines. I have since longed for a statesman who understood and could employ words to unite our country during a difficult time.

This year’s Democratic National Convention was not the first political convention I attended.Sixteen years ago, then just a kid, I attended the Republican National Convention in Houston. I was not invited, but my mother found out that many of the local hotels hosted delegates, and if you went to the concierge and told them you’d like to go, many of the hotels had passes. Security was a bit different, then. And so my friend and I put on ties and carried clip boards and tried to look as professional as possible, and we made our way through security with false credentials, walked confidently through the press boxes and even sat behind the Bush family during the speeches. George W. was there, working on his fathers campaign. And Barbara in an elegant dress, and the girls, then just children. George H.W. Bush was running for reelection that year, against a governor from Arkansas who ran on the platform of change. Bush had promised the American people he would not raise taxes, but in the end had to break that promise, and that broken promise, along with an ailing economy, would cost him the election.

We didn’t like Bill Clinton. We listened to Rush Limbaugh, who told us not to think, that he would think for us, and so we bitterly groused against large government and our supposedly growing welfare state. He was a pro-choice candidate with a feminist wife who belittled women who only wanted to “stay home and make cookies.” Those were our women, we thought. And they made very good cookies.

I even attended a special camp in Colorado Springs in which we, as students (I thought we’d be campers, but we were in fact students) sat through eight to ten hours of lectures every day, covering why the Republicans were right, and why the democrats were wrong. We were taught George Guilder’s economic theory and that America’s drug problem was actually a communist infiltration. We learned there was no such thing as global warming, and the only way to build an economy was to deregulate the financial industry. (Total depravity, as a theological reality, did not apply to people in suits.) We were told a broader availability of healthcare was socialism, and we were shown images of poor communists (Rather than filthy rich and healthy Europeans) we were taught government programs would enable the lazy. We were taught to be angry, and to rise up against the secular humanist enemy that was trying to take away our way of life. And we were made to be afraid. They were out to get us. One night I had a long conversation with a young man in which I tried to convince him that bombing an abortion clinic would not be the best way to solve the problem. I went back to the camp, three-years running. The truth is I learned to think at the camp, to consider ideas to and defend positions. But my learning to think would ultimately be my demise. I wouldn’t just read conservative columnist and authors; I’d read the liberal ones too. And I’d read the British thinkers, too, in the Economist. And even more to my demise, I actually met the enemy, the students of Reed College, one of the more progressive campuses in the country. And I’d befriend Democrats, like my neighbor who is the former Governor of Oregon. I learned, then, that complicated problems could not be solved through simple solutions and emotional, even patriotic rhetoric. I also learned liberal, wishful thinking was fruitless. I learned to trust the value of numbers, hard data, and to realize nearly everybody has a motive, and power corrupts. I was shocked to find out abortion had decreased by 18% under President Clinton, and another 8% under George W. Bush (a significant slowing) and the pro-life lobby had largely ignored the economic factors that contribute to unwanted pregnancy. Bill Clinton won me over, in part for the unbelievably harsh things my Christian friends would say about him after the Monica Lewinsky scandal (and in part because the original investigation that unearthed the Lewinsky case found the President innocent of all white-water charges), but mostly because he spent the last year of his Presidency traveling to the most poor regions of America apologizing for his failure as President to help those he referred to as “the least of these.”

I didn’t realize the term “the least of these” was about to apply to my family. After more than 25 years working in the oil industry, my mother lost her entire retirement when Enron collapsed. Since then I’ve always thought we should have more regulation over companies that control enormous portions of America’s overall economy. My mother went back to school, having retired, and earned her Bachelors and Masters degrees and started teaching at the college level. She’s not teaching any longer, but still works today, though she should have retired years ago. She likes her job and her job likes her, and I’ve never heard her complain. Still, I wish Jeff Skilling would fork over the money he stole from her.

Having met the enemy, I discovered the enemy wasn’t who I thought they were. They were flawed, even as we were flawed, but they were no less patriotic, and no less good. And what’s more, they weren’t out to get us like my conservative friends had told me. I began to see, honestly, the far conservative right, the radical right (not the balanced, objective right) as being paranoid. The advertisements on conservative radio talk shows were about guns and alarm systems.

I wondered how I could be made to feel so prejudiced against Democrats. And then I took a hard look at the culture I was raised in. I realized every church I’d ever attended had been an insular community. Every church had been far off in the suburbs, off a bus line, protected from the poor and marginalized and, quite honestly, racial minorities. It’s not that these churches did this intentionally. I don’t believe that. The decisions to reside in the suburbs had to do with property value and opportunity. But the end result was an insulated existence.

I heard a lecture once at a Christian conference by a man who had moved he and his family into the hardest neighborhood in Fresno, California. He told us that he had never really cared about the problem of police apathy until one night when a bullet went through his daughter’s window and he called the police and they never came. His point was that, until we understand firsthand the urgency of a problem, we simply don’t believe it is important. Solidarity matters. And what’s more, when we live insular lives, when everybody around us believes the same things we do, has our same color skin, shares our political interests, we are easily made to believe absurdities about everybody else.

A few days ago I did an interview with a writer for The Today Show, and after the interview she asked how it was evangelicals could come to believe the many lies being spread about Barack Obama. In answer I came back to the insular nature of the suburban church. “When we’ve never met people,” I said, “we are easily manipulated into demonizing them. We are easily made to fear.” And I’ll add there has been a great deal of fear in this campaign. I just received a letter, yesterday, from a prominent church leader in Georgia that accused Michelle Obama, who I have met and found to be a lovely and humble woman, to be a racist. This was not a small-town backwards preacher, this was a best-selling Christian author, who, honestly, should be ashamed of himself.

Last year I vowed I wouldn’t make decisions out of fear. And because of that I’ve had one of the greatest years of my life. I went to Uganda and got to meet with the man who helped write their constitution. I wrapped up an evangelism project I believe will introduce more than a million people to the gospel. I rode my bike across America. All of this stuff took some degree of risk. But when calculating those risks, I realized the only reason not to try was fear. What if I was wrong, what if I couldn’t make it, what if the project didn’t work? But none of my heroes are controlled by fear. The commandment most often repeated in scripture, in fact, is “do not fear.” Fear is often something unrighteous trying to keep you from doing something good.

They will never write stories about people controlled by fear. Stories are written (and for that matter lived) by people willing to take stands against bullies and think for themselves. A month after returning home from Washington D.C., where the bike tour ended, I got a call and was asked to deliver a closing prayer at the DNC. Many of my friends told me not to go, that it would hurt my career. I was afraid, for a second, but then knew when you were asked to go somewhere and pray, you should. Fear is always a sign that a great story is about to be written (or not, depending on how you respond.) People live the most boring lives because they stand down when they encounter fear. And so I said yes.

While in Denver I met people from the Obama Campaign. I met Joshua Dubois and Paul Monteiro, Obama’s faith-policy advisors. Paul, like me, had been a Republican until recently. He is a staunch pro-life conservative who got tired of Republicans not making enough strides on the issue and was won over by the dramatic effect economic policy has on unwanted pregnancy and the bottom-up effects of economic stimulation as opposed to the conservative, supply-side policy. And Joshua spoke to me about Senator Obama’s personal faith, his commitment to close his events in prayer, his daily morning devotions and his twenty-year history of talking openly about Jesus. I didn’t need to be won over. I’d started a mentoring foundation in Portland two years before and was attracted to Obama’s message on responsible fatherhood (along with his backing of The Responsible Fatherhood Act.)

I told Joshua and Paul I had been supporting the Senator since well before he decided to run, and told them I’d help in any way during the closing months of the campaign. Since then, I’ve received more than my share of e-mails containing the most absurd lies. Barack Obama is a Marxist, a terrorist who trained with Al-Qaida, that he has a pet dragon he flies on nights when there is a full moon and that if we vote for him all the computers will stop working at midnight on new years eve. I wondered how simple a person would have to be to believe such lies.

I voted for Barack Obama (we vote early in Oregon) because I think he is right on healthcare (his plan will allow 27 million more Americans, including young, pregnant mothers to be cared for) and he is right on responsible fatherhood. I voted for Barack Obama because he will keep George W. Bush’ Faith-based Partnerships Program in play, only increasing it’s funding. I voted for Barack Obama because he has the respect of world leaders, which will be necessary to deliberate an American agenda around the world, and I voted for Barack Obama because he had the judgment to oppose the war in Iraq. I’ve taken some blows from the conservative right on my stance, but, even in public debate against McCain representatives, have not been deterred. I will not be guilted, shamed or controlled. I am not going to vote for one candidate because I have been made to fear the other. I support Barack Obama because he has beat back the dark hour of cynicism and irrational fear, and provided hope to a country closing in on itself. I believe there are great days ahead.

I will be glad tomorrow, when all this campaigning is done. Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, please vote. And thank you for considering these thoughts.

Sincerely,

Donald Miller

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One thought on “Thoughts on election 08

  1. Interesting article by Donald Miller. He reminds me of someone going off to college who is exposed to new ideas for the first time. I’m not sure how he managed to live in a Republican bubble. He must never have attended a public school, watched network news or read a newspaper in his life, that’s quite an accomplishment. For all of his new found enlightenment, his arguments about voting for Obama are naive at best and extremely uninformed. Vote for whoever you want, just don’t embarrass yourself in the process.

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