The following post-election musings
do not quite constitute a coherent essay -- and in them I may stand rightly
accused of judging others -- but this the best I can offer in this particular
moment. . .
The Great Divide: Seeking to Understand Republican
Values (November 2004)
Moral Values get in the way of doing the right thing."
-- Nathaniel Sheppard, 15 (my step-son)
Many of us who worked (or
even just hoped) for a Democratic victory in the presidential election
were left wondering how 51% of the electorate could demonstrate such
a lack of "common sense." Considering how well our concerns had been publicized
prior to the election -- in movies, books, articles and interviews -- it
seemed only too obvious that the Bush administration was working against
the interests of the majority of Americans. Between his policies favoring
the rich, destroying the environment, wasting U.S. as well as Iraqi lives,
alienating the international community, charging up a record deficit on our
children's credit card, cutting social programs for the neediest and sending
their jobs abroad, or his denial of scientific and sociologic facts, one
might well have reasoned that only the wealthiest 1% would find cause to
re-elect the President.
Whatever we may have felt about John
Kerry, his record of achievement far outstripped that of a C-student
who obtained all his political and business connections through his
family -- whose resume, in the real world, may not have gotten him hired
outside of the Service Sector. Surely by Election Day more people would
start realizing that a bull-headed U.S. foreign policy was decreasing
our security at home? Or that the Administration is bent on replacing our
democracy with monarchy? Or that basing crucial decisions on naive gut
feelings without being bothered to read even one-page staff-prepared
memos is no way to run the most powerful nation on earth? How could the
Democrats fail to have it in the bag?
As we have since
discovered, arguments that speak to the head
could not match the Republican campaign's ability to circumvent the intellect. The success of effective marketing
and packaging is measured by how many consumers buy the product without reading
the its "Nutritional Facts" label.
pondering if those who vote Republican hold such different 'values'
from my own, or if they just prioritize them differently. Republican
voters I know are doers. When your car slides into a snow drift,
one of them stops by and hauls you out with his pick-up. They organize
soup kitchens, they build community playgrounds, they teach you how
to fix something and even loan you the tools. They want to help, they
want to serve. They don't want to get bogged down debating pros and cons;
they want to get things done -- simply and in short sentences. While we all may value loyalty -- to family line
and attitudes, to ball teams, to church and country -- many Republican
voters also seem to have taken a "my country (or my President), right or
Many of us feel strongly the need to belong
to something -- perhaps an instinct dating from periods when one's survival
depended on membership to a clan or tribe. We long in our hearts for others accept and protect
us like family, often seeking the sense of family in institutions
or organizations. From time to time, we are all tested as to
whether we will abandon what seems right for the sake of belonging to
a particular group or institution. As children, we witnessed and were subject to disrespectful
behavior that we did not challenge because we wanted someone to like
us, to include us in his/her circle. Our obedience may have been rewarded
with camaraderie along with promise of protection. "When you're a Jet.
. . you got brothers around you're a family man." As we matured, and developed
more self-esteem, we could choose better friends. This test continues through adult life every time we are
expected to rally around a mutual hatred or fear of something or someone.
The clan mentality
is found in the corporate world and in seminaries alike: Either you're
with us or against us. Bush plays this card skillfully.
When, in the debates, Kerry had just finished thoughtfully answering
the question about reconciling his Catholic faith with his pro-choice
position, Bush retorted dismissively, "I don't get what
he just said, do you?" In other words: If you're cool enough
to be in my fraternity, you won't pay any attention to someone who thinks
too much and can't answer with a yes or a no. Certain Administration staff
have confirmed that Bush routinely addresses his aids by belittling nicknames
he has chosen for each. This style of one exerting power over another
is so pervasive that -- until we develop a certain degree of self-respect
-- most of us are drawn indiscriminately into this familiar dynamic.
that religious faith played a large role in the election -- those
who attend church regularly being far more likely to vote Republican.
As a Music Minister -- who naturally attends church every Sunday --
I feel understandably misrepresented by this finding. Apparently I get
something very different from the Bible and my participation in worship
than do the Evangelicals, Fundamentalists or even many fellow Catholics.
As a child I needed a simplified version of what
I now know to be psychologically and spiritually intricate. My understandings
of "good" and "evil" resulted mostly from what I saw on TV or at the movies -- the U.S. always being portrayed as
"good." It was not until well into adulthood -- after significant gains in my ongoing emotional and spiritual
development -- that I began to consider myself
a follower of Christ and could properly be dubbed a Christian. My childhood notions of "sin"
or "evil" have been updated through deeper understanding of human and divine
nature. This development of my faith depended on my taking the Bible less
literally rather than more. (While
it is clear to me that God created Heaven and Earth, it also appears that
He likely needed
to create Evolution to accomplish His ends).
In his swing-state
concert tour, Bruce Springsteen defined the following "American Values":
The human principles of economic justice,
healing the sick, health care, feeding the hungry, housing the homeless,
a living wage so folks don't have to break their backs and then come home
and not be able to make ends meet, an open American government that's
unburdened by unnecessary secrecy, protection of our environment, a sane
and responsible foreign policy where we take our place amongst a community
of nations, civil rights and the safeguarding of our precious Democracy
here at home.
Working for these values requires a certain amount
of altruism. I believe that it is the inherent nature of all human
beings, once their spiritual and emotional needs are met, to be altruistic.
The problem lies in the fact that the majority of Americans, regardless of
income level, are struggling through life to get these needs met. We are
hindered by addictions (substantive and behavioral), a materialistic and
isolating culture, and all the other forms our unhealed hurts take -- such
as obsession with what goes on in other people's bedrooms.
have noted, the only emotional need greater than that of receiving (unconditional)
love is the opportunity to give (unconditional) love. When hurts
remain unhealed, however, Love takes a backseat to Fear. The New Testament
tells us that Love and Fear cannot coexist. When people are fearful, they
are much more likely to be persuaded by appeals to their gut rather than
to their reason. When you're a Republican strategist it is in your best interests
for people to remain fearful, as they will more likely be compelled
by what you say rather than scrutinize what you actually do.
You therefore talk primarily about below-the-belt issues like sexuality,
taxes, and terrorism. Once you've grabbed the fearful voter in this manner,
concerns for the environment or honest government -- or other issues mentioned
above -- become secondary. Many of those who
take positive action on a local level, such as mentioned earlier, may be
too overwhelmed to put themselves in the place of someone in another culture,
or to empathize with the painful choices facing certain women with an unintended
Though I speak with the tongues
of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass,
or a tinkling cymbal.
-- 1 Corinthians 13:1
How the Republicans get away with
being Defenders of The Family, when their actual policies accelerate
its decline, is a triumph of public relations. The Religious Right has kept its constituents' attention
on a narrow set of issues to obscure the more essential ones. It must be cheaper to clamor for prayer in the schools than
to maintain an adequate teaching force. Much
of their talk of Moral Values has been to simply get votes. How is it
that the man who presided over a record number of state executions in Texas
is given the "pro-life" mantle to wear?
Most of us, particularly parents, are indeed upset
by the "moral decline" in our society (the reason Mother Theresa refused
to send her orphans to the U.S.). I don't see many politicians challenging
the entertainment monopolies that promote violence, inappropriate sexuality and instant
gratification; there's too much money at stake. The lack of a living wage
and spiraling costs for most Americans means parents are working longer
hours and having to leave their children at the mercy of these monopolies
for hours a day. Extended families and neighborhoods that used to provide
mutual support in raising children have been lost to a hollow striving for
the individualistic American Dream. It is no wonder that many turn to the
most organized option that appears to counter this trend: institutions
of religious faith. And who offers the most dynamic, influential and
widely available youth programs? Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, if I'm
These denominations also offer easy answers to
Divine mysteries, a black-and-white picture that comforts the overwhelmed,
over-stimulated soul. But just as for "patriots" of the right, there is a
parallel oath: "My church, right or wrong." I must ask myself if those who seek to have their literal
interpretation of Scripture rendered as civil law are abandoning Christ's
mission for one based in their own fear. I, for
example, have come to the conclusion that in order to be fully present in
every waking moment, as Jesus instructs, I
cannot drink alcohol or consume anything addictive. However much I believe that anyone who lives this "value"
will in the long run be better off than someone who does not, I wouldn't expect others to reach the same conclusion without
undergoing the steps that brought me to it. Would there be any point in
me legislating that you never have another drink?
"He used to take acid and now he's
found God; but he's still got that look in his eye!"
-- Utah Phillips
Addictions peel away one at a time.
When alcoholics attain sobriety, they may remain addicted to nicotine
or caffeine for some time to come. Likewise, I wonder if many "born-again"
using their church and its doctrine as a more benign substitute for a
The next Administration
will be even more united than the first, which should cause a fright
both at home and abroad. Though most of us will not be directly affected
-- on the short term, at least -- by the election's outcome, many of those
in other nations, who of course did not get a vote, will be significantly
so. Any CIA official who is not a willing co-writer of the Cheney screenplay
is now getting replaced. And because gut-level tactics are as effective on Arabs
as they are on Americans, our war-making is a losing tactic from most
vantage points. On the international chessboard, Osama has lured Bush's
queen into Iraq -- our soldiers and the Iraqi people the pawns.
Does the answer lie in reshaping the Democratic
message so that it speaks more to the gut of the 51%? I, personally,
have no need for my President to talk about Faith. The President I would
choose for my country needs to be rational, compassionate and diplomatic.
I certainly don't mind if he reads the Bible for two hours every morning
-- as Bush is purported to -- but I need him to base important decisions
on all the expert advice he can gather. I need to know that he is seeing
reality. One reality the Democratic campaign did not acknowledge,
however, is that many people do need to hear about Faith from their
President. Their faith and their institutions of faith have brought many
of them new hope. Apparently John Kerry could
not deliver a message of hope that enough people could believe in; but it's
more than one man can do. How are we offering hope to those around
us? . . hope that someone could overcome an eating disorder, actualize themselves
artistically, leave an abusive marriage or recommit to a floundering one,
quit a job or find a job? Can we offer our assistance, one American at a
I recall the story told by a black teen who was
being cornered by taunting whites when one of the whites said quietly
to another, "You know, I don't think this is such a good idea." The whites
withdrew and the teen was saved from physical harm. In the process, the boy
who spoke up was saving himself and even perhaps his friends. It did not
require great physical effort. Such opportunities present themselves to
all of us at various times. It's going to take time and courage to change