Monday, November 03, 2008

One More Day!

I can't wait for this election to be over.

Elections in Louisiana are especially savage. The ads are unbelievable - with both sides calling the other side immoral, criminal, and without any sense of right and wrong. If it were only mud they were slinging!

I'm tired of all of it, and am glad we only go through this ritual once in a while. If only elections were held every 25 years! I was speaking to a fellow Lutheran pastor the other day, and he was emphatic that he can't wait for it to be over as well, as his Bible class simply devolves into a discussion of partisan politics.

This year, more than ever, we have had threats of bloodshed and riots if one side loses. We've also seen widely reported hate-crime accusation (later proven to be a hoax) trying to link one side to an act of politically-motivated violence. We've heard charges and countercharges. I have never seen so much disinformation in my e-mail inbox. People are eager to believe any scrap of ill-repute, any bit of dirt, no matter how ridiculous or obviously untrue - if it can be used to destroy and trash the reputation of the person on the other side. They're usually laden with misspelled words, capital letters, and different colors - followed by ten or twelve exclamation points:

"DID YOU NO THAT [candidate x] IS A [whatever]?!!!!!!!!! Please forward this to everone in your address book!!!!!!!!"

This year in particular, flame has been stoked by a double dose of gasoline based on race and sex in addition to the usual sense of urgency that "our" guy/gal win - or else.

The Christian responses to the current slate have been illuminating.

I have heard some say that abstaining from voting is a sin. I have heard others say that voting for one political party is a sin, while other Christians claim that voting for the opposite party is a sin. The specter of legalized abortion looms large, as some argue that this issue makes the role of the voter easy: you don't need to "worry your pretty little head" about anything complicated like economics, national security, the Constitution, the relationship between the state and federal governments, fiscal policy, taxation, or foreign policy (as well as issues important to Louisiana, such as the critical life-and-death issues as coastland restoration, hurricane preparedness, and levee rebuilding projects). Instead, you just look for the Republican label and/or a promise to be against abortion - then cast your vote accordingly. Bada-bing, bada-boom.

Of course, there is much more to being pro-life than simply being anti-abortion. There are ethical questions about genetic experimentation, stem cell research, euthanasia, the care of the elderly, questions about captial punishment and its implementation, matters of war and when it is just, the teaching and distribution of birth control in public schools, etc.

And there are indeed nine other commandments besides the fifth. Furthermore, there are "pro-lifers" who are okay with abortion (infanticide) if the mother was raped, or if the poor child is the product of incest. There are some "pro-lifers" who are okay with using dead babies for parts to experiment on under the guise of "stem-cell research." There are some pro-abortion folks who are against "partial birth abortion" and some who believe the parents of minor girls seeking abortion should be notified. Some would restrict abortion to the first trimester. And there are people on both sides who rightly understand that this is not a federal issue at all, and the entire issue ought to be returned to the states individually, as the Constitution makes no provision to empower Congress authority over abortion or the Supreme Court the power to legislate from the bench.

So, I do believe Christians indeed need to "worry their pretty little heads" about much more than the promise of a candidate to be against abortion - even when pro-life issues are at the top of one's list - as they should be. The question is a lot more nuanced than just the label "pro-life." And we ought to have a healthy skepticism of even those who claim the label in the heat of an election. Do their past statements and voting records match the rhetoric?

There is also the consideration that Roe v. Wade can indeed be abolished by Congress without the Supreme Court's (and therefore the Executive Branch's) help. Bills to carry this out have been languishing in committee since 2005, even when the Republican Party controlled both houses and the presidency (with only five sponsors). Of course, infanticide and other forms of legal murder will continue as long as we live in a culture of death. Politics has its place in the culture and in the drafting of pro-life laws, but I fear that too many Christians see government as a be all and end all in the promotion of God's Kingdom and a culture of life. We are warned about putting our trust in princes.

There is also the problem that many of my northern friends don't understand why every Christian just doesn't vote a straight Republican ticket. They seem utterly incredulous when I explain that in Dixie, we sometimes have the choice between a pro-life (and/or conservative) Democrat and a pro-abortion (and/or liberal) Republican. Other times, there is no Republican (or pro-life Democrat) to vote for. By way of example, our most beloved arch-conservative law-and-order Jefferson Parish Sheriff, the late Harry Lee, was a lifelong Democrat. You would be hard pressed to find any Republicans to vote against him, let alone run against him. If I remember right, he had a picture of himself with President Reagan hanging in his office. You would be hard pressed to find such things in other regions of the country.

In my congressional district, in tomorrow's election, we can choose between the moderately pro-life Democrat Bill Jefferson, and his challenger, fellow Democrat Helena Moreno. The Right to Life organization reports that Moreno did not return the questionnaire on abortion. Her website is silent on the issue. When I called her campaign office to ask her position on abortion, one of her workers said that she wasn't sure, but offered that Moreno's opponent (Bill Jefferson) was "pro-life." Helena Moreno seems to be ducking the issue, though she simultaneously seems to be courting conservative votes.

So, even though both candidates are Democrat, the easy choice seems to be to vote for Jefferson. That is, until you consider that he is under federal indictment for having $90,000 in bribe cash in his freezer when the FBI raided his home (not to mention a recent money laundering case that involved Jefferson as well as a now-jailed former state senator, who, by the way was also pro-life). Several members of Jefferson's family are now in prison as a result of this same case. "Dollar" Bill has also been stripped of all of his seniority and committee leadership in Congress, and is, to say the least, damaged goods.

The "single issue" issue isn't so single after all.

So, some would tell me to vote for "Dollar Bill" (in spite of the mountain of corruption) as the "lesser of two evils" because he is pro-life. Some would call it a sin to vote for any Democrat - even one who is considered by many to be a fiscal conservative like Moreno (although the only two candidates on the ballot in the general election in our district are both Democrats). Some would say it is a sin not to vote for either one (especially because the polls are very close, and not voting for either one would be "wasting my vote"). So, no matter what I do, I'm sinning in someone's book. In some people's minds, just being over 18 and alive in Louisiana's Congressional District 2 is a sin - no matter if you vote for one, the other, or if you abstain.

It's not so easy.

Then there's the U.S. Senate catfight between Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu (pro-abortion Democrat) and Republican challenger State Treasurer John Kennedy (pro-life Republican). This one looks like a slam dunk, right? But both candidates have some really shady issues dogging them, and, to complicate matters, several prominent Republicans are crossing party lines and endorsing Landrieu.

A few years ago, a lot of conservative and Christian Louisianians voted for Democrat Edwin Edwards for governor (knowing he was crooked - as today he has another few years to serve of his ten-year sentence for corruption) over conservative pro-life Republican David Duke - who perhaps would have been a slam-dunk for conservative Christians were it not for that matter of less importance than abortion that he was a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan - which became a bit of a monkey wrench for "single issue voters" who want to bury their heads in the sand on every issue other than abortion.

These kinds of strange political situations (such as conservative Democrats, liberal Republicans, two Democrats on the ballot, Republicans endorsing Democrats, Democrats endorsing Republicans, and Democrats and Republicans trading the pinstripe suits for striped pajamas) are rare in the North, but are rather common in the South - especially in Louisiana (and are to some extent part of the long-term fallout of the political corruption our state had to endure during Reconstruction - thanks a lot, Yankee Republicans!) . If you want a "plug and chug, no thinking" approach to voting, move to someplace cold. If you look out your window and see palm trees and/or a grown man in a pirate outfit or last year's Mardi Gras beads dangling from a tree, or you can hear a band playing accordions and washboards and singing in unintelligible French - you will not have such simple choices.

And in some respects, that's a good thing.

Lousianians learn in a hurry not to put their trust in princes, to be healthily skeptical of politicians (regardless of their party label), to think about all the issues, and to know when it is appropriate not to vote for any of them, to hit the drive-thru daiquiri shop instead of the voting booth. You learn to appreciate the Times-Picayune's equal opportunity bashing of the candidates, and to have less patience with the mainstream media - be it the commie C** or the fascist F** News Networks - all shills, the lot of them. We have local talk radio that will heap scorn on both Republicans and Democrats rather than serve as propagandistic mouthpieces of either the Evil Party or the Stupid Party (and I'll let you, the reader, decide which is which).

Being from Lousiana, and having had my fill of the year of campaigns and nonsense, I also have a genuine desire to declare the first Wednesday in November to be a holiday. I want a parade, and we can all dress up like Guy Fawkes and wave "Don't Tread On Me" banners in between catching stuffed animals (and no elephants and donkeys either!) from the guy dressed up like a pirate. That fellow makes more sense to me than most of the dopes, shills, and criminals we have in Baton Rouge and in Washington.

This too shall pass - though as usual, like a kidney stone.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

In some ways, while being pro-life is an incredibly important issue. . . I find it isn't in and of itself that vital to me (other than just a general measure of character that can easily be overshadowed by other demonstrations of character or lack thereof) simply because. . . in reality, little happens on Abortion. It's such a hotbed issue that things don't get pushed much either way.

There is such... sluggishness on the issue of abortion that I don't see much happening whether there is a Pro-life surge or a pro-abortion surge.

Of course, I belong to a political party that conscientiously has no plank on abortion - and no shot at winning anything nationally either. Thus is life.

Anonymous said...

Dear brother,

I'm for the bada boom, bada bing approach. I wish it were as complicated as you paint. I wish there wasn't an issue as clear cut as legalized abortion in our political discourse. But, there is. And so, for me, whether it's a Republican or Democrat, I vote for for the candidate who shows the most promise of defending these babies. And, I certainly never, ever, vote for someone who has a record of defending abortion. All other sophisticated justifications for voting for someone else will seem, I think, to be a feeble defense when we are confronted on the Last Day.

I know, I know, I'm naive and simplistic. This is politics and politics is supposed to be complicated and "nuanced." Compromise is the art of the game. But, not on this issue. I can imagine Christian gentlemen disagreeing on immigration, just wars, taxation, drugs, etc. I even suppose that Christians can honestly disagree on end of life issues. Our best doctors and theologians have not been able to pinpoint the precise point of death. There are gray areas. Good, honest, caring men can disagree about which policies will best serve mankind. But, whether or not it should be legal to murder babies - that is not relative. That is not gray. It is black and white. Life begins at conception, and the government is given the sacred duty to protect life. On this issue, Christian people must finally put their foot down... as though there were no other issue.

For as highly as I regard your opinion, dear brother, with regard to this issue, I respectfully take exception.


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jared:

I know where you're coming from, and I agree with the high priority you place on life. I'm there with you, believe me. I just disagree with the "conventional wisdom" of the political landscape. I think there is a dissonance between what they promise and what they do.

There are exactly five pro-life congressmen. Only five. These men co-sponsored a bill that has been languishing for three years in committee that would 1) declare personhood to begin at conception, and 2) remove the Federal Courts' (including the Supreme Court's) jurisdiction over the issue.

In other words, we don't have to 1) get a pro-life president elected, 2) hope he keeps his word), 3) hope that a liberal judge dies or retires, 4) hope that the president appoints a pro-life judge, 5) hope that this judge is confirmed by the Senate, and 6) hope this new judge wasn't lying or doesn't change his mind.

That's a lot of machinations, especially when it can be achieved by Congress (which the GOP controlled, along with the presidency, from 2000-2006). Congress has the Constitutional and statutory power to end the judicial tyranny of Roe v. Wade - without depending on all of the above tumblers to turn into the right place at just the right time.

In spite of what Sen. McCain says, if he were truly pro-life, he would have introduced and sponsored an equivalent Sanctity of Life bill in the Senate, and worked with the House GOP leadership to achieve it.

Obviously, it's a low priority for him, and for the party leadership - not to mention most Republican congressmen. It's a better strategy to keep the carrot dangling in front of the Christians, but always just out of reach.

So yes, I would absolutely support a truly pro-life candidate. And I am, in fact. In Louisiana, I can cast a vote for one of those five co-sponsors of the Sanctity of Life Act (not to mention a man who has written extensively on the abortion issue, and speaks from experience having delivered more than 4,000 babies). I'm sad to say the nominee of the GOP isn't one of those five pro-lifers in Congress.

Establishment career politicians have a vested interest in keeping the abortion issue just the way it is, as it keeps the "religious right" automatically voting GOP. In fact, the GOP has already appointed seven of the current nine justices.

So, I'm not going to waste my vote on a man for whom pro-life issues are obviously not a priority. I'm not going to compromise by voting for a less pro-life candidate for the sake of pragmatism.

My candidate has also been married to the same woman for more than 50 years, unlike the GOP nominee who dumped his crippled wife and the mother of his children in favor of a multimillionaire trophy. I think this speaks louder than Sen. McCain's recent Johnny-come-lately campaign promises regarding the value he places on life and family.

So, I hope that clears things up.

Maybe I'm overly cynical, but I can't tell you how many elected officials - including good conservative pro-lifers - we have in Louisiana who are serving jail time (and these are just the ones who got caught). I'm sorry to say honest politicians - the kind who truly value human lives, even the most helpless: those in utero - are rare.

I don't want to hear promises, I want their names on that bill. I'm tired of being "played" year after year while millions upon millions perish in our silent holocaust while the "pro-lifers" in the federal government do nothing to change the status quo.

That's where I'm coming from, Jared. And of course, I have the utmost respect for you as well!

Anonymous said...


You're right. Republicans have done basically nothing. On the whole, they have been either badly inept or deliberately misleading. Frankly, without the abortion carrot, they would have long since dis-integrated and been replaced by a more competent party.

But, for now, one essentially has two choices in any given election (there are exceptions, I know), one against legalized abortion and one for it. I don't think any amount of logistical rationalization should induce a Christian to put his name next to the pro-choice candidate. If that means unwittingly voting for a hypocrite, so be it. God will require it of him, not me.

Further, I just couldn't vote for a candidate who "has no plank on abortion." How is it possible to vote "present" on such an issue? If a guy can't be trusted to fight for the life of the unborn, he can't be trusted. Period. I would love to vote Libertarian, but their neutrality on abortion (!!) keeps me from taking the leap.

Larry, I'm a little nervous about this idea of turning the abortion question back to the states. I remember back in Indiana sitting in a conference with the US Representative and he was asked about this possibility. He was well aware of the proposition, but he was opposed to it on both theoretical and pragmatic grounds. Theoretically, an issue so important as murder of the unborn should not be considered a "state's decision." If ever the federal government should trump state's rights, it is here. Pragmatically, at best only a handful of states would actually outlaw abortion, like Utah. So now the war would be waged on 50 fronts instead of one, and until it is won on all 50, a woman could simply cross over state lines to get her abortion. In his view, if the bill you support passed, it would effectively permanently and hopelessly legalize abortion.

Have you heard this rebuttal before?


Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jared:

The problem is that the Constitution limits the federal government's oversight to only a few specific enumerated things. Everything else *is* a state issue by definition (see the 9th and 10th amendments). That's what the document, the law of the land, says. If we don't want to follow it, we need to amend it, not ignore it. A government unleashed from the rule of law is dangerous (which is exactly why we have this holocaust of abortion in the first place!).

For example, murder is a state, not a federal, crime. You might say "murder is too important to be left to the states." But that's where the founders placed it. And the laws concerning murder are different in different states. The definitions vary. What is defined as murder in some states is a legal self-defense in others. Some states also have capital punishment and some don't.

Either we are going to follow the Constitution or we aren't. If we simply allow the federal government oversight over anything we believe to be important, well, you can see how the federal government got the size it has gotten. If that's really the case, let's stop saying we don't want activist judges legislating from the bench. That's not really true. The reality is that we *want* activist judges legislating from the bench - just as long as they follow our agenda, not theirs.

Meanwhile, the Constitution (which protects us from government tyranny) lies in tatters, subject to the whims and interpretations of whoever is in power. That's scary.

As it stands now, *many* states would outlaw abortion in a heartbeat (especially in the South and in the West). But, since we have turned abortion into a federal matter, the many state laws against abortion have been overturned.

It is criminal that my state is compelled to allow abortion just because it has now been unconstitutionally deemed a federal matter by an out of control Court enabled by both liberals and conservatives!

The only way to *federalize* abortion law (that is without making a mockery of the Constitution and replacing one set of "living document* jurists with another) is to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution (which I'm all for). But that would take a national will that just isn't there now.

But meanwhile, think of the lives that could be saved if the states that want to, *could* outlaw abortion. Just because not *all* of them would do it is no reason to allow *none* of them to do so decade after decade until we can get it abolished in *all* the states.

This *all or nothing* strategy has cost millions of children their lives, and it only places us in the *living document* camp - which has been nothing but bad for life issues.

The argument that people can skip borders is always going to be an issue, unless we can find a way for the Supreme Court to legislate abortion law in Mexico and Canada.

Finally, I'm not a member of the Libertarian Party, but in fairness, there are both pro-life and pro-abortion Libertarians (just as there are both pro-life and pro-abortion Republicans). The individual candidates are not bound by their party's planks. I'd rather vote for a pro-life Libertarian than a pro-abortion Republican (based only on party platforms). In short, the party platform doesn't mean a whole lot when the candidates are free to violate those planks. (And BTW, my candidate is not the Libertarian Party guy either).

In England, you vote for the Party. In the States, we vote for the person - who may or may not differ with his Party on abortion or anything else. This is why I'm opposed to blindly supporting any party. That's dangerous.

Sorry about the rambling answer!

Past Elder said...

A couple of related thoughts, early this election AM.

Roe was written with no judgement on the morality of abortion at all. The majority opinion is defined in terms of privacy, not abortion per se. IOW, the legal basis for it is not abortion precedent, but privacy.

Therefore, if you really want change on abortion, work for change in privacy laws, not abortion laws, because that is the basis on which abortion is allowed.

FH is exactly right about the hopes that all the tumblers will align just right. The Justice who wrote the opinion was at one time a legal counsel for the company where my dad worked. I remember his send-off dinner. He was a Republican appointed by a Republican president, but from a what is now called Blue State, and his critics lamented he would be nothing but another Republican side-with-the-rich defend the status quo guy. FH's arguments re legislating from the bench and the all or nothing approach are borne out even in the very Justice who wrote Roe.

Parallels to slavery are increasingly noticed. That too was defended as both a personal matter and/or a matter to be left to the states. Who to-day would argue that slavery should be "legal, safe -- and rare" or that while one is personally opposed to it would not force another slaveholder to make the same decision about his property, yet many who fought for the Confederacy either never had slaves to begin with or had freed them. And the humanity of the slave was considered to override other concerns, so that no state in this union may allow a human being to be defined as commercial property. So now we vote about pro-life and pro-choice Justices like we once went about slave and free statehood admission. Didn't work then, ain't gonna work now.

Finally, speaking of the Constitution, when is anyone in any party going to say that political parties have no place in the Constitution at all, that the document was written with no reference to political parties at all, that our first president was as opposed to them as to the idea that he should be made king, and that political parties early on destroyed the way the election of presidents and the electoral college were intended to work, a system which the writers of the Constitution considered essential in their clear eyed vision that tyranny can result as much from mob rule as despots.

That's gone the way of electing Senators by the state legislatures, actually long before it. Who to-day will go to the polls thinking he's voting for a slate of electors for president, and while we'll see the Electoral College tallies, we'll shortly hear as Decemeber approaches the usual why-do-we-still-have-this as if it were something thought of because they didn't have communications as we do now, lately fuelled by the Gore/Bush thing.

Political parties now assume a function originally assigned to the Electoral College, where each Elector casts two ballots, and the candidate winning the vote is president and runner-up vice president. The leading challenger, IOW, will be vice-president. With the emergence of political parties this became unworkable early on (1804) so political parties themselves from the proverbial get-go have forced a retreat from the original Constitution starting with an amendment to same. So the parties all appeal to and hold themselves as defending a document to which they are irrelevant and to which they brought about substantial change over 200 years ago. Some defenders.

It doesn't matter who wins. Everybody's for legislating from the bench and big government, as FH points out, when it suits their agenda. There is no pro-life candidate, and the issue really is nothing more than a carrot to keep a bloc in the party. There will be no change. Not in pro-life or in anything else. The cultural revolution has been fought. We lost.

Father Hollywood said...

Thanks, PE, a lot to think about there!

I am optimistic about abortion - not because I think the issue can ultimately be fixed by laws and politicians, but rather because technology has made it possible to see what children look like in utero. I'm optimistic, but only in the long term.

The law inscribed on men's hearts that murder is wrong is hard to apply to a person who cannot be seen. But today, children are "viable" at earlier and earlier stages of development. People can now see 4D video of babies, (not blobs of cells) in the womb. We also have the discovery of DNA (which is still changing the way biology is taught) that we are continuing to learn about. This is changing (even if slowly) the perception of what is in the womb. It makes abortion harder to "sell".

What has to change is peoples' hearts. I believe that will happen. Slavery was at one time universally accepted. In 1776, slavery was legal in every state (in fact, there were ten times as many slaves in New York than there were in Georgia in 1790).

By the early 1800s, more anti-slavery societies existed in the South than in the North. Manumitting slaves became a "status symbol" among many aristocrats in the South (that, and it was becoming economically non-viable).

However, the abolitionists sought an immediate political solution to what was dying of its own peacefully and naturally. When they entered the picture, however, it polarized the country and saw slave-holders dig in their heels. Riots broke out in Boston, abolitionists advocated secession and burned copies of the Constitution. People were lynched over the issue. Acts of terrorism broke out (e.g. John Brown's bloody raids in Kansas and Nat Turner's mass-murderous killing spree that even included babies in the crib).

The unintended consequence was a stoking of the flame to drive the states to further divisions and the people to violence. The radical abolitionists made things worse, and ultimately spilled far more blood than was needed. They may have even extended slavery for longer than it would have existed had passions not been stirred.

I am all for using legal remedies to overturn Roe. It is simply bad law. It is unconstitutional. It is immoral. Roe is a license to impose legalized infanticide even in states where abortion was never legal. There is no such "constitutional right." Whether Roe v. Wade is by "all the tumblers" falling into place, or whether by the Sanctity of Life Act, it should be overturned. It will be a great day when it is.

But overturning Roe means restoring abortion laws to what they were before: in the hands of the states.

To go further than repealing Roe would mean relying on Big Government and an illegal act of the Federal government to do it - an act that would be terribly unpopular. Can the Supreme Court find a definition of life beginning at conception in the Constitution? Even in the 18th century, life was generally considered to have begun at "quickening" - not at conception. A non-legislative definition of life beginning at conception will be tough to find in the U.S. Constitution (in fact, the 14th amendment defines personhood specifically from birth - which doesn't help us).

Whether by hook or by crook, if abortion became a federal crime, I guarantee the backlash will not only eventually re-legalize abortion, but will result in a lot worse for Christians and conservatives. We will not only have abortion re-legalized and perhaps even protected from judicial review, we would pay severely with other things.

The only way to properly outlaw abortion at the federal level is by amendment (which shows the wisdom of the founders). There needs to be broad national consensus to make that happen - and again, I am optimistic that it will. But it will not happen overnight.

I believe the best way for things to play out is for Roe to be overturned as soon as possible, and let the states once more outlaw abortion. If there is true consensus among the people of every state that abortion is murder, it will be made illegal everywhere - whether by amendment or by state prohibition.

But to try to legislate such a controversial topic from the bench, to try to make the Supreme Court side with the Christians against the majority - with the people having no say - would be a political disaster - and possibly even result in a constitutional crisis or civil war down the road. In the end, the prohibition won't stand. We'll be back to square one, but more likely square zero.

Even if the Supreme Court redefines abortion as murder, you would have the specter of the next Democrat to be elected issuing pardons to everyone convicted under this law (as this would be a *federal* law, and which would grant the president the ability to issue pardons) and the anti-abortion law would be unenforceable. You would also likely see jury nullifications when abortion doctors and women who have illegal abortions are put on trial.

The desire to kill unwanted children can't be "fixed" by the Supreme Court or anyone else. But the fact that many states that have the political will to outlaw abortion can be made into reality if and when this terrible decision is overturned and the matter falls to the states where the Constitution says the matter is to be settled.

Meanwhile, we must pray without ceasing. Elections come only once every two years, but we have the opportunity to pray around the clock. I fear that many Christians put more faith in the ballot box than the prie-dieu.

FB, SSP said...

Fr. Beane,
I generally agree with you when it comes to the path we should take to reduce, and ultimately, outlaw abortion.
What is your opinion as to what the penalty should be for performing or receiving (?) an abortion, should it become outlawed again? This is a question often asked by pro-abortion people that I usually don't see us pro-lifers address. I think at least manslaughter charges would be appropriate.

+ In Christ,
Floyd Bass, SSP

wmc said...

Well written! They're all basically Republicrats or Democratans. Until we break up the 2 party monopoly, we will ever be forced to choose between tweedle dee and tweedle dum.