thoughts on politics from afar


I’ve avoided talking politics on this blog up until this point for a few reasons. For one, I’m already getting too emotionally invested in the election and from personal history, that’s a very bad thing. Second, this isn’t a political blog and I didn’t want the purpose of the blog to get hijacked by too much on-and-on political analysis on my part. (Can you tell I’m experiencing election fatigue and anxiety?)

This blog is, however, supposed to be about my life and I can’t act like the election isn’t happening so here, six days before the election, are my thoughts.

First, I should say a little bit about my political leanings. In my adult life, I’ve become quite liberal but I spent the first eighteen years of my life as a member of the religious right. I grew up in a quite conservative part of the country and had a religiously conservative evangelical upbringing. I was one of a very few minority children in a 2500+ person white Southern Baptist church. Interracial dating was seen by some as sinful, gay rights weren’t even an option and I’m not sure where or if people drew a line between being anti-homosexuality on religious grounds and gay bashing. I grew up with the kind of protestantism where Catholicism sent you to hell, abstinence until marriage was the only option but it didn’t really matter because you would be married by 20 or 22 so you weren’t really waiting that long, wives submitted openly to husbands who treated them horribly, and sidehugs were the only means of accepted physical contact between boys and girls. What was even more strange about my upbringing was that I ran in circles that included some of the most central figures of the religious right today. To make all this even worse, my mother was significantly more conservative on most things than my church so my upbringing was even more isolated than most of my religious peers. (Luckily for me, my mother was an immigrant to the United States who believed knowledge about the world was vital so this isolation did not entail ignorance about world events and politics. On the contrary, politics and the like were about the only subjects that were deemed suitable for me; certainly not Pride and Prejudice or any other bit of classic literature where anybody falls in love.)

All of this is to say that I am a liberal who knows exactly what it means to be a member of the religious right and who understands the mindset intimately because parts of it were my mindset. I’m a liberal who understands and respects the comfort religion gives people and who doesn’t discount it as a crucial way that people make sense of their world.

Let me get this out of the way: I’m voting for Barack Obama because, by and large, he and the Democratic Party are the closest to the majority of things that I value. I’m pro-choice because, even though abortions trouble me greatly, the larger implications for women’s health and the health of our minorities really bother me. I’ve long believed that banning abortions wouldn’t in fact stop them but would push them into backalleys and dingy storefronts and in homes. I’m also extremely wary of (mostly) white men determining what women can do with their bodies. But I wholeheartedly agree with plans and platforms to reduce the numbers of abortions by pushing a wide array of options (adoptions come to mind) and by greatly expanding discussions of safe sex for all. I support stricter gun control. I’m not anti-gun per se, but do they really have to be available at any Wal-Mart in America? I believe we should get out of Iraq as soon as possible but I’m not sure that can happen safely in sixteen months. I believe the idea that there are millions of people without health insurance is criminal. I’m not a big environmentalist by nature but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that energy independence is crucial, particularly since it would mean we didn’t have to rely on Middle East oil. I generally support taxes because I like roads without potholes, bridges and tunnels that work, and soldiers with adequate supplies, and I need some basic measure of health insurance should I not have the means to get private coverage.

I do have some disagreements with some of the particulars of the liberal mindset that our politicians espouse. As the daughter of a Vietnam vet who grew up in an area where more people were in the military than not (or so it seemed), I wholeheartedly support our military. Scaling down the military drastically will severely affect my hometown and countless communities like it. More importantly, I believe there is still great honor in serving one’s country. But our military has to be put on a proper course by a president who won’t abuse its trust and loyalty. I also wish the Dems would stop pussyfooting around the whole gay rights issue and take a stand for gay marriage. I see no legal reason why gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t have the choice to marry. The government’s job isn’t to adjudicate moral belief but maintain equality for all. To me, there has to be a way to make gay marriage legal and available without forcing churches and religious institutions to perform them. That’s what City Hall is for.

I think my biggest disagreement with Republicans, particularly the religious right, is the role of moral values in government policy. For me, social values that are not shared by the vast majority of a society should be restricted to homes, communities, and religious institutions. I think moral and social values are important and, having spent six months in a country where so many teenagers seem to have few moral underpinnings, I see the benefit of strong family values. But administering one group’s ideas of how everybody should live flies in the face of everything the United States is supposed to stand for.

All of the things I’ve listed so far are part of legitimate political debate and they should be discussed and considered carefully by voters. The conservative platform of McCain isn’t what disturbs me about this election, even though I disagree strongly with many of his ideas.

What disturbs me most is just how divisive this election has become. It’s no longer Democrats v. Republicans. It’s elites vs the real America. It’s liberals/leftists/socialists vs the real America. It’s any concern with the larger world vs the real America. It’s any intellectual nuance or facility with words vs the real America. This has just got to stop. For one, it’s dangerous, as we’ve seen from the near-lynch-mob-like quality of some of these Republican rallies. But two, it diminishes the importance of these political offices and these choices. The President of the United States has immense power and it requires a certain amount of “intellectual vigor,” as Colin Powell put it. Simplistic answers to problems have gotten us into a really bad situation and a more complex approach to problems is vital. If the US is the most important country in the world, then its leader (and potential replacement) needs to be someone who is familiar with the world itself and constantly interested in learning more, not someone who can’t even name the Mat-su Valley Frontiersman, Wasilla’s local newspaper, when asked what newspapers she reads. The President is not and should not be like us, particularly if “us” (the real Americans) is a group of people who are going to be so horribly suspicious of any intelligent thought. I don’t know how our politics are going to get out of this bad place but they need to. We’re already a joke to other countries but there’s still a chance for us to recuperate our standing. This is not the way.

If you’ve gotten through all this, kudos. I’ve gone on way too long but it’s several months of thinking shoved into one blog post. Maybe blogging about this over a few posts would have been more prudent. Your thoughts?


4 Responses to “thoughts on politics from afar”

  1. 1 whitheramp

    i don’t know why this occurred to me while reading this specific post, but i really miss you! i can’t wait to grab coffee and chat about random crap next month. did you catch the obama infomercial, btw. i loved it. but i’m a sap.

  2. 2 thefrogprincess

    awww, i miss you too! are you around in november?

    haven’t seen the obama infomercial…there is a limit on what all i can see here. haha.

  3. Wow. In many ways, I could have written this. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one with such a background (although no military in my family).(Referred through History Enthusiast.)

  4. 4 thefrogprincess

    I think this is the background of a lot of Democrats, maybe not the particular strain of evangelicalism that I grew up in, but certainly I suspect a lot of Democrats, even in political positions, grew up in Protestant churches and still take religion seriously. This is particularly true when you think about African-American Democrats for whom Christianity is quite important. But I think liberals in the academy spend so much time distancing themselves from religion that they start getting into a really unproductive conversation that vilifies any religious belief as ignorant, and lumps all practitioners of religion as stupid, which certainly doesn’t advance the important conversations we need to be having about the role of religious belief in politics.

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