Monday, November 5, 2012

Advice for November 6: Choose your battle wisely

Vice-President Aaron Burr spoils his political career by
killing former treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton.
Yesterday during the Prayers of the People at St Barnabas, someone in the congregation spontaneously thanked God that the American election season is almost over. Everyone laughed.

One reason this election has brought out the worst in us is that we are fighting two battles at once. I fear that, no matter who wins the presidency, we will continue to fight these battles. We will probably still be fighting them in 2016.

We are fighting an economic battle between those who believe that the federal government should spend tax dollars on the military and little else, and those who believe that the federal government should also play a major role in assuring health care for all, supporting the indigent and elderly, rebuilding our infrastructure, and aiding disaster-stricken areas.

At the same time, we are fighting a moral battle between those who believe the federal government should allow individuals the freedom to decide whom to marry and whether to carry a child to term, and those who believe the federal government should outlaw abortion and recognize only heterosexual marriages.

The two major parties have divided up our concerns in unexpected ways. The Democratic ticket is communitarian in economics and libertarian in morals; the Republican ticket is just the reverse. This creates a problem for people who are consistently communitarian or libertarian.

A lot of students at Miami University of Ohio, as Bill Keller points out today in "The Republican Id," are consistently libertarian: they are enthusiastic about Republican economics but reject Republican morals. For them, economics trumps morals: the majority support Romney.

Most Catholic bishops, on the other hand, are consistently communitarian: they support Democratic economics but reject Democratic morals. For many bishops, morals trump economics (see David Gibson, "Catholic bishops make last-minute push for Romney"): they too support Romney.

The students are far smarter than the bishops.

If Romney and Ryan are elected, there's a good chance that federal programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will be gutted (click here for five good reasons to be worried, even if you're over 55), along with smaller programs such as highway construction, education, and food stamps. There's not much chance, however, that abortion or gay marriage will go away. Overturning Roe v. Wade would not outlaw abortion; it would return the question to the states. As long as a woman had enough money, she could simply travel to wherever abortion was available.

If you're a student at a highly rated university like Miami, you probably figure you'll be one of the elites that would be helped by Romney/Ryan economics. As one of those elites, you could find your way around Republican moral strictures. So yes, as long as you're not concerned about people who haven't done as well as you, it makes sense for you to vote for survival of the fittest. (In a decade or two you may discover you're less fit than you thought you were, but you can vote differently then.)

The Catholic bishops, on the other hand, are showing themselves to be as wise as doves and as harmless as serpents. Even if they get their way - in the name of religious liberty! - Americans will continue to use contraception. They will continue to marry or live with whomever they please. They will continue to get far too many abortions (though if abortion goes underground, a lot more women will die).

Catholic bishops have little effect on American morals (even among their own parishioners: click here to see statistics on abortion rates and here to see statistics on contraceptive use among Catholics), but if they tip the election to Romney/Ryan, they may have a major effect on American economics - an effect that goes against more than a century of Catholic social teaching. In the name of freedom and small government, more families will struggle to put food on the table, to send their children to college, to find adequate housing, to care for their aging parents. Americans will continue to die younger than people in countries with universal health care. Our highways and bridges will deteriorate, and environmental pollution will increase. We may tumble back into recession or even depression.

Here's my point. Our next president's policies will probably have a major effect on America's economic health and, very likely, the economic health of the world. His policies will probably have a minor effect, if any effect at all, on America's morals.

If you like Romney/Ryan's Darwinian proposals, if you think the financiers who are paying for their campaign will help the middle class, if you believe that trickle-down economics help the poor (or if you think the poor shouldn't be helped), if you think business can thrive in the absence of a strong infrastructure, if you think climate change is a hoax, and if you trust for-profit health insurance companies with your life, then by all means vote for Romney-Ryan.

Just don't think they're going to bring about moral renewal in America.


dr. darrell a. harris said...

mplaLAFVery insightful analysis on how the two parties have sliced and diced the libertarian/communitarian agendas, LaVonne. Thanks!

dwstiles said...

if anything you are overly optimistic I fear. I only hope that the choices between Ayn-Randian survival of the richest darwinian economics and kumbyah liberal fiscal chaos; and the polarized moral and social agendas brought into the spotlight in this election will wake up the majority of thinking people and force them to hold the prostituted election process to account

Anonymous said...

Amen to the "prostituted election process" cited above. The fiscal cliff that must be faced on Nov. 7 means that we have to cut everything, drastically. It isn't an either/or between military or social service spending. If the parties can't work together to solve this crisis (which neither candidate was willing to talk about during the election) than we're in for a much worse recession--or a depression--than we've yet known. A GOP victory would make no attempt to alter the Citizens United mindset of the current Supreme Court majority. That ruling allows elections to be bought by corporations that fuel money into both sides, with an agenda that protects wall street and banks from regulation. A second-term Democratic president may offer the best hope of serving a democracy (as opposed to an oligarchy of the 1%). But the Democrats need reform as well as the Republicans, and Obama did not address this grave situation in his first term. Biden has skills for working across the aisle that he lacks; he needs to use them & not undercut them. A GOP president would likely add to the inequalities and fiscal philosophy that brought this about. I think there's much more at stake that the campaign ever touched upon.