Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election night 2008

As I write this Obama is seen as the probable winner of the election. He has held a lead in the polls for the past several weeks. Also, as I write Two states are being counted with 50% of the votes counted, Vermont and Kentucky. Obama is being projected as the winner in Vermont and McCain is being projected the winner in Kentucky. No surprises there.

I did not vote. This is the second presidential election in which I have not voted. It is not an easy or comfortable position for me to take. The 2000 election I voted for the Green Party where I could and Democrat otherwise. I was disturbed that Democrats and other leftists and liberals and supposed radicals here in Chicago blamed me and those of us on the "left" who voted for the Green Party for Bush's win in 2000. I lost all respect for any Democrat or leftist who held such a position since clearly this meant they were simply committed to the two party system, something hardly required by the Constitution. I remember being at various events after that election some art openings and other things and being told without hesitation that I threw my vote away voting green. Hmm, voting my conscience and voting for the person and party I felt was the best choice was throwing my vote away. That in itself did not lead me to decide to no longer vote but the pressure I felt before from Democrats and liberals to not vote Green and the disdain for my willingness to vote for a "third" party candidate after the election certainly caused me to question the political environment of our so called democracy. What the 2000 election lead me to do was to re-visit critiques of the growth of the Office of the presidency at the expense of the powers of congress that several of my professors of history at Long Beach State traced and argued was a betrayal of the separation of powers, and an abdication by congress of its responsibility as a legislative body.

Then came 9/11 and I think the response of the entire US government and that so few Democrats were willing to resist a heavily Statist response to the terrorist attacks caused me to further question the viability of our system. I was also in the final stages of preparing for being a pastor. How was I to speak truth as I understood it from the Gospel into a ever more politically polarized environment and one in which Christians were pitted against Christians, the growing voice of the Religious Left vs. the very strong voice of the Religious Right? It seemed to me that what this situation required in the face of hopes pined or lost based on who is president and the reality that the Presidency was growing in the extent of its power not shrinking was something beyond engagement with that polarized system. Also, given that it wasn't the power of the presidency per se that seemed to bother most people I encounter and continue to encounter and talk politics with but how that power is used: I felt a critique of a strong president to whom we look to as our protector in someway someone we can look to and feel good about ourselves, someone who will solve whatever problems we believe are uppermost, was needed. As I have questioned and saught to critique these things I have begun to question the dominance of the Federal Government as a good thing. Not to say that there isn't any good that has come from said dominance just that more and more I see Christians hoping in the power and action of the State.

I decided that if I would be perceived as siding with one of the two current parties or even of having a stake in our electoral process that my criticism of our system would be caught up in the vicissitudes of the system and tied too closely to the success of what ever party or politician happened to be closest to my values and interpretation of the Gospel. So, I decided that withdrawal as protest and discipline was the best way for me to acknowledge my allegiance to Christ and the Gospel and that I put no hope in politicians, Governments or the powers of this world. I do not mean that this should be all Christians response to our situation. In part because my position also is due to a rejection of any sense that there is a singular correct Christian politics in our attempts to live out the Gospel in the world. However, I do feel that Christians in the US seem to put a great deal of their hope into the American political system and the its State, hope that I find to be nearly idolatrous at times, both on the right and the left. If I had to choose a candidate I have to admit that on issues that are uppermost in my consciousness Obama is the closest to my values. However, it is also clear that Obama is not interested in lessening the powers of the Presidency simply readjusting how those powers will be used. In terms of Iraq and the "war on Terror" as I see it he is simply wishing to reinstate Teddy Roosevelt's idea of foreign policy and the continuation of the US and the Police of the World, of "Talk softly and carry a big stick". I am not saying that there isn't a valid realist pragmatism to this position, we are still currently (though for how long we will see) the Power in the world, I just don't see voting for either version of having our military might spread through out the world. I do not vote because I think that there in every time and place there should be Christians willing to step outside the systems of the world and firmly proclaim their citizenship in the Kingdom of God, and thus point out that when it comes down to it, there will always be tension between the ideals of the Gospel and the realities of any political system we create. To put too great a stake in any human system to hope in it or any politician no matter how close that politician may come to those ideals. And in this particular election of the president, McCain seems very far from most of the ideals of the gospel that I think should be brought to bear on our situation, and while Obama's platform is at points very congenial to my sensibilities and beliefs, I find the tone of hope and change problematic. I also find that it difficult to accept that people are willing to place so much hope in this one man. It indicates to me that we on some level as Americans want a great leader to lead us into a promised land. And that as a pastor and Christian just sounds too messianic for my tastes. And let me be clear the Christians who support McCain and Palin are equally guilty in this. Our system of Government and our society would benefit from some radical withdrawal by a select group of Christians who will say that we simply wont put any stake in what will at best be approximations of of the truth and of what is our true hope.

As I finish up here CNN is projecting that Obama has 177 Electoral votes to Mc Cain having 49. The only surprise in these projections for me is that Pennsylvania is being projected as being won by Obama, though only 5 precincts are currently reporting. Though that is the case for most of the states. It will be interesting how the numbers play out in the end.