Saturday, April 24, 2010

Towards a politics of personal reconstruction

Like many I am becoming very frustrated with the opposition to President Obama because many people are simply going off the rails. Anger is not capable of producing reasoned arguments, let alone principled opposition. I see way too many people urging us all to set aside our Christian convictions because the situation is so dire. Don't get me wrong, opposition is essential to any healthy democracy, or, as is the case here in the U.S., representative democracy. For example, I am glad that the Republicans have steadfastly refused to get on-board with the health care reform that was passed, with the non-stimulating stimulus, and other expensive programs that expand the government and cost way too much, but I really have a low tolerance for personal attacks on the president.

While I disagree with many of his policy initiatives, nowhere more so than in foreign policy, which happens to be an area I know something about, I think he is a good man, a well-intentioned man. I am heart broken and dismayed, for instance, at his kicking Israel whenever the opportunity presents itself and, conversely, molly-coddling Iran and other despotic regimes in the Middle East. Taking all of this into consideration, I see how seriously he takes his responsibilities as a husband and father. This is all the more impressive given that he grew up without a father. I know how challenging this can be because my Dad largely grew up without a father. So, forget everything else, this alone speaks volumes about his character and integrity. I think it is important not to forget that he is a Christian, which makes him my brother.

Lest we forget, those on the left side of the political divide, which sadly widens by the day, attacked Pres. Bush in many of these same ways, calling him a Nazi, et. al. I feel the same way about him as I do about Pres. Obama; he is a good man, a devoted husband and father, who had a genuine conversion when he was about 40 years-old. All we wanted to discuss were his low points, who cares about the fact that Christ took pity on him and rescued him, changing him forever? Like Pres. Obama, he is a Christian, a brother. There are plenty of issues that I vehemently disagreed with Pres. Bush on as well. If anyone cares to look back in the archives of my blog, you will see this. I am a centrist. I am the kind of Democrat who no longer exists for the most part. I come by this legacy honestly because it was how I was raised in a working class household. I appreciate very much Pres. Clinton's remarks this week about our degraded public discourse, something about which he also expressed concern during George Bush's presidency. It was Bill Clinton who first called out those who practice the politics of personal destruction.

I take exception to people who demonize the government. I am a career civil servant. My friends, the government consists of your friends and neighbors, people in your parish, or congregation. I know many smart, well-educated, highly motivated and conscientious women and men who have dedicated their lives to the common good by working in civil service. Not a few of these could actually do better for themselves in the private sector, but stay because they like to serve. I am glad that Pres. Clinton pointed to the Murrah Federal building bombing in Oklahoma City as the logical result of mistaking rage for reasoned discourse, or seeing the situation as being beyond the corrections of a functioning democratic system of government.

In my house it was a given that the Republicans, by and large, looked out for the rich (this explains my reaction yesterday to Sen. Grassley's and Rep. Issa's shenanigans on behalf of Goldman Sachs) and that northeastern and California liberals were hellbent on undermining the foundations of society. People forget that as late as the 1970s Utah was a largely Democratic state, but these Democrats were strong on national defense, socially conservative, but looking out for the common man, types like Scoop Jackson, Frank Church, Harry S. Truman. Calvin Rampton was governor, succeeded by Scott Matheson, and Gunn McKay was the representative of our first congressional district, Ted Moss was one of our U.S. senators, and both houses of the legislature had Democratic majorities. In Ogden City proper back then, it was pretty rare for a Republican to be elected anything. Beyond that I grew up thinking highly of JFK and RFK, the latter of whom was certainly no liberal, at least as we employ the term today, and the former was quite clear-headed about what justice really meant and who was more than capable of making crucial distinctions, an ability which surviving members of the Kennedy clan seem to have lost, which I believe can be attributed to their practically wholesale abandonment of church teaching.

I am now a registered independent, which means I am excluded from Republican primaries, but, should I choose, I can vote in what are usually open Democratic primaries, though I normally do not. I am proud to say that I have never voted a straight party ticket. The father of a friend of mine growing up, who served in our state legislature and was a Democrat, called the box at the top of each party's ticket on the ballot, the one you check to vote straight party, "the idiot box."

My dear friend Tami incisively asked yesterday on Facebook in response to my joining the group Petition to remove facebook group praying for President Obama's death, What is wrong with peoples' hearts? Well, a lot, mine being no exception. Let's be mindful that as Christians we are obligated to pray for those in authority and, at least in my parish, we do so every Sunday: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:1-2). As I have a Lord and Savior, I don't look to politicians to save me, to save the country, or even the world. Living in the light of this truth is what gives me enough detachment to be charitable, as St. Paul writes, without love- agape- "I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). Especially in my right ear these days, there seems to be a lot of banging and clashing.

Being president of the United States is one leg of Barak Obama's path to destiny. It is a tough one, like that of the Holy Father. As brothers and sisters we love each another by loving the destiny of the other. To love another's destiny means, at least in part, to challenge those we love, just as the Lord challenges and provokes us. As long as we keep our challenges honest and loving we do something good, not only for the one we are challenging, but in the realm of political and civic discourse, we contribute to the common good. As the still very relevant book, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, might advise, it is not always, perhaps not even usually, what I say, but how I say it that matters. As a Christian, how I say something is at least as important as what I say (re: banging gong, clashing cymbal). I think here of Archbishop Niederauer's frequent exhortation to disagree without being disagreeable. Admittedly, this is not always as easy as it sounds, kinda like loving God and loving my neighbor as I love myself.

For those who regularly read my blog, it should be clear that this is not a plea to politically disengage, to stand on the sidelines quietly, to not bring our faith onto the public square, quite the contrary. It is an exhortation to engage more constructively, more charitably, and to stop acting like politics is eschatology. As the Israelites learned through two exiles, God still reigns. As the early church learned, along with the churches of Russia, eastern, and central Europe, through persecution and brutal repression, that no matter what happens politically, Christ is still risen and at God's right hand, as well as present to us by means of their Holy Spirit. He is our hope first, last, and always. To live in any other way is to practice idolatry. The fact that church survives the rise and fall of great nations and empires, including the loss of the Papal States in the nineteenth century, which was a blessing, is a great testament to the truthfulness of living this way.

This brings me write about the things with which I agree with the president: immigration reform, which is basically the same bill Pres. Bush tried to pass during his second term; eliminating private lenders from the student loan program, given the track record of financial institutions, a reform that, I believe will save the government money and make the program better; and comprehensive reform of laws, regulations, and enforcement of the banking and finance industry. I liked the confrontational speech Pres. Obama gave in New York the other day, it was not lofty rhetoric, but tough and challenging words urging these large institutions, many of which are still engaging in practices that undermine, rather work toward, the common good, to get on-board, to play a constructive role in reform.

In addition to being dismayed by the on-going revelations about the bad national and international citizenship of Goldman Sachs, which I have hammered on relentlessly, a USA Today article this week (I know, USA Today doing solid reporting?- this is good news) pointed out that banks that received TARP money (Hammerin' Hank the Goldman Sachs enabler, one of the financial geniuses who publicly still claim not to know what happened, along with his Democratic counterpart Robert Rubin- my vehemence here shows that I have work to do in this regard) reduced lending and increased salaries, Banks receiving government aid cut loans.

Christos Anesti

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