A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Monday, October 04, 2004

On Being Liberal and Religious--Part 3 and Last

You can visit the previous posts on this topic here and here.

So what, then, of being "liberal"?

The "values" issue in our politics has to be disentangled from the "purpose of government" issue in order for any examination of where American Liberalism stands today to make much sense. For the whole "purpose of government" issue has been stood on its head by the practical politics of the Bush Administration and the "values" issue has been pivoted to horizontal by the social changes in this country over the past forty years.

The disentanglement of these two is a difficult task for one simple reason: the overwhelming majority of liberal and progressive voters are also strongly on the side of a secular, rather than a religious, attitude toward "values" in the public and political arena. Unlike the conservative camp, there is little in the way of a Religious Liberalism that would be the complete mirror image of the Secular Libertarianism found among a significant plurality of Conservatives.

Even when Liberals are religious personally, they tend to embrace a secular attitude which compartmentalizes politics and religion into completely different realms of discourse--a kind of "disestablishment" of religion in the mind with equal or greater force than it actually has in our own Constitution.

Consequently, when one meets Liberals of very strong religious views, (yes, they do exist, I run into them fairly frequently in my circle) they tend to be extremely hazy about the details of political philosophy, supporting cotton candy like Dennis Kusinich's proposal for a cabinet-level "Department of Peace", and not having a lot to offer in the way of practical political solutions.

Conversely, the secular Liberal seldom has thought hard enough about the problem of what, besides sheer egocentricity, is a clear, coherent, and defensible basis for secular ethics. They have seldom thought fundamentally about what "values" they do cherish and support, and tend to act is if the answer to this question is far more obvious than it actually is.

One of the people who has probed this more tellingly than many is John Zogby. Unlike most who discuss "values" in politics, he is not a partisan stalking horse. He is genuinely interested in the facts of what the word "values" actually means to the various segments of the political spectrum, and questions them shrewdly to find those facts out.

Zogby's analysis:

"Where is the Middle Ground?

"According to the Zogby International/Williams Identity poll, more than half (54%) of likely voters want a president who shares their personal values. On this much they can agree; it's the values they can't agree on. For Americans this election represents an either-or choice between the candidates leaving little room for compromise.....

"The roots of this trend may be found in what voters do on Sunday morning. When asked what was more important to them, their religion or their ethnicity, Bush voters overwhelming selected religion, by a 56% to 3% margin, with 41% choosing neither option.

"Three-quarters (73%) of Kerry voters, meanwhile, were not keen on either choice, breaking more heavily for ethnicity (17%) than religion (10%). The undecideds seemed to take a somewhat less intense version of the Bush voterÂ’s worldview, with 36% choosing religion, 8% choosing ethnicity, and 57% opting out of both....

"Undecided voters are perceived to fall somewhere between the more conservative Bush-Cheney voters and the more liberal Kerry-Edwards voters. But on [specific] social issues, [such as gay marriage or abortion] in question after question they actually trend more closely to the position of Bush voters....

"If social issues play a large role in how undecided voters cast their ballots in November, the Bush camp has reason to feel buoyed by these results....

"While more than half (58% of all respondents) agree that religion is largely a private matter, the results are once again deeply divided. Three-fourths (76%) of Bush-Cheney supporters say a president should put an emphasis on his religious values, while nearly all (96%) of Kerry-Edwards supporters agree with John Kerry that religion is a private matter." [Emphasis mine]

There, in a nutshell, are the three politically motivated groups I outlined in the first of these posts:
Religious Conservatives--76% of Bush supporters, Secular Libertarians--24% of Bush supporters, and Secular Liberals, who remain secular in politics whatever their private beliefs,--96% of Kerry supporters.

So what about someone like me? A part of the forlorn 4% who are left on the Kerry-Edwards side? What do we think? What do I think as a committed Buddhist and a political Liberal?

I ended the last post with the following question:

"What is the true moral nature of the world, and why should we conform to it?

And it does seem to me that the question inevitably is as political as it is religious. Whatever answers we give to it must be the same answers for our religion, or lack of one, as for our politics."

As a Buddhist, I view the true moral nature of the world as that of "karma, cause, and effect" playing out over multiple lives, with "unskillful action" in the present leading to personal suffering in the future, and "skillful action" in the present leading to personal happiness in the future. The terms in quotation marks are translations of quite explicitly defined Buddhist ideas which have no exact terminological equivalent in English. Skillful action is not exactly "virtue", unskillful action is not precisely "sin".

The broad point, however, is that Buddhist ethics is result oriented and pragmatic.

As an American liberal, I find this ethical view to be perfectly conformable with a philosophy of government which is widely proactive in securing "the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity" rather than merely being reactive to the most gross and obvious of external threats.

The men who founded this country, those largely deist gentlemen--with their clay pipes, their Roman and stoic attitude, and their exceptionally clear minds--left us with the precisely justifying concepts for such proactive, results oriented, government: "ensuring domestic tranquility", "providing for the common defense", and "promoting the general welfare". They also left us two rock-solid standards for securing the proper relation of government to the individual: "due process of law" and "the equal protection of the law".

From these, as a liberal, I infer that there really does exist a broad "public interest", a commonweal that often requires setting legal limits to the private interests of specific individuals, parties, or factions. I also infer that these primary concepts justify limits to the license of any actions of private interest which interfere with the maintenance of a "level playing field" where the private interests of ALL of us compete in relative liberty. And I finally infer that proactive government is necessary to establish such a level playing field where it does not exist.

This, then, is the credo: Proactive legal regulation, in the public interest, with end of fundamental fairness and justice, but restrained by the standards of due process of law and the equal protection of the law.

Where such limits lie and what specific proactive government action is required, must always be decided on a case-by-case basis and an evaluation of pragmatic results: judge the tree by its fruits and do not meddle overly with the roots.

And there is nothing incompatible with my religious views, at least, in any of that.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

TO: Joseph Marshall
RE: That's Nice

"According to the Zogby International/Williams Identity poll, more than half (54%) of likely voters want a president who shares their personal values." -- Joseph Marshall citing Zogby.

Unfortunately, as I've found since my days as a young officer of infantry, it's that 10% of the population that eats up most of your time. You know them. They're the 'hooligans' and 'brown-shirts'.

You may be able to recognize them by their behavior. Shooting up and/or ransacking the offices of people who don't agree with them.

In the last 12 hours, we've had reports of two such incidents. Oddly enough, it seems that Republican facilities have been the targets of such activities.

I've been waiting for someone in the Democratic hierarchy to decry this sort of behavior. However, not even Edwards, with his golden opportunity this evening, to put a stop to this, said anything about such conduct.

It's sort of like watching all those 'moderate Muslims' cry out against beheadings and kidnappings and killing/wounding 300 school children in the span of a few minutes.

Just an observation....

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. If you want to talk about these particulars in more detail, feel free to see me at...

Desparate Measures

10:55 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Well, Chuck, you don't have any problem with the police tracking down the perpetrators, arresting them, and bringing them to trial, do you? I certainly don't have any problem with it. And I presume that Zogby, John Kerry, John Edwards, George W.Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom Dachle, Nancy Pelosi, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, ect., ect., ect., have no problem with it either.

So what's the problem? And what does the problem have to do about being Liberal and Religious?

11:54 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Well, Chuck, you don't have any problem with the police tracking down the perpetrators, arresting them, and bringing them to trial, do you? I certainly don't have any problem with it. And I presume that Zogby, John Kerry, John Edwards, George W.Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom Dachle, Nancy Pelosi, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, ect., ect., ect., have no problem with it either.

So what's the problem? And what does the problem have to do about being Liberal and Religious?

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TO: Joseph Marshall
RE: The Problem?

Nothing with arrest and punishment of the perps. [Note: By the by, another event has been reported in Milwaukee.]

However, isn't prevention better than cure? What's the Buddhist take on building up a big stock of bad karma? Is it better to just get it all in and go to 'hell'? Or is it better to prevent it from accumulating and go to a better place?

But, I still don't see the so-called 'liberals' taking an open stand against this sort of thing.

Personally, I think it would be better to stop it early on. Otherwise, someone MIGHT get hurt. And that would be 'bad karma', neh?

Don't you think?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. You really should do something about that nervous tick in your (mouse) trigger finger.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. We've seen what has been called a 'culture war' brewing for the last 20 years. And it could well boil over to a real war unless certain people start saying doing what has happened in the last 36 hours in Knoxville, Orlando and Milwaukee is wrong and they won't stand for it. That's people like Kerry, Edwards, Pelosi, etc., etc., etc.

You asked, "Where's the middle ground?" Well, if people don't do something, the middle ground could also become known as "no-man's land".

You're a liberal. Do something with those people who claim the same appellation.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well here goes nothing... It won't take very long at all for me to make it painfully obvious that I am a newcomer to the wonderful world of blogging, but I have some thing to say on the topic of being liberal and religious; more specifically, on the lack of a clear message of morality being articulated by the "left" in American politics. I have long been baffled and angered by the level of discomfort that American democrats have in using the language of faith, morality and values. It seems to me that in displaying the all too common facial winces of discontent when asked if they attend church, or to what religious persuasion they belong, Democrats in this country have allowed morality to be highjacked by the Religious Right who blasphamize and simplify moral values into a dichotomy of whether one is for or against abortion, gay marriage or stem cell research. What of the moral implications of millions of American children who do not have health insurance? What of the morality of the wealthiest nation in the history of all nations still being a home to poverty, and humiliation? What of the morality of sending thousands of our children into battle without the tacticle or financial support back home that they desperately need and deserve? What of the morality in denying civil liberties to citizens based on their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation? It seems to me that a major flaw in what you are calling "secular liberalism" is the inability or lack of underdatanding that the left has in seeing that many of the political strategies and priorities this they espouse are perhaps deeper than their personal opinions, but are instead rooted in age old questions of what it means to be human?, what is justice?, and what is right? LBJ once said of his "Great Society" that it was morally unconciencable for poverty to exist in the most prosperous nation in the world. Democrats if ever they are going to succeed in delivering their message to the populace at large are going to need to get comfortable talking about religion, and morality because it is at the heart of every question that governments endeavor to dispense solutions for.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Valerie said...

Well here goes nothing... It won't take very long at all for me to make it painfully obvious that I am a newcomer to the wonderful world of blogging, but I have some thing to say on the topic of being liberal and religious; more specifically, on the lack of a clear message of morality being articulated by the "left" in American politics. I have long been baffled and angered by the level of discomfort that American democrats have in using the language of faith, morality and values. It seems to me that in displaying the all too common facial winces of discontent when asked if they attend church, or to what religious persuasion they belong, Democrats in this country have allowed morality to be highjacked by the Religious Right who blasphamize and simplify moral values into a dichotomy of whether one is for or against abortion, gay marriage or stem cell research. What of the moral implications of millions of American children who do not have health insurance? What of the morality of the wealthiest nation in the history of all nations still being a home to poverty, and humiliation? What of the morality of sending thousands of our children into battle without the tacticle or financial support back home that they desperately need and deserve? What of the morality in denying civil liberties to citizens based on their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation? It seems to me that a major flaw in what you are calling "secular liberalism" is the inability or lack of underdatanding that the left has in seeing that many of the political strategies and priorities this they espouse are perhaps deeper than their personal opinions, but are instead rooted in age old questions of what it means to be human?, what is justice?, and what is right? LBJ once said of his "Great Society" that it was morally unconciencable for poverty to exist in the most prosperous nation in the world. Democrats if ever they are going to succeed in delivering their message to the populace at large are going to need to get comfortable talking about religion, and morality because it is at the heart of every question that governments endeavor to dispense solutions for.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well here goes nothing... It won't take very long at all for me to make it painfully obvious that I am a newcomer to the wonderful world of blogging, but I have some thing to say on the topic of being liberal and religious; more specifically, on the lack of a clear message of morality being articulated by the "left" in American politics. I have long been baffled and angered by the level of discomfort that American democrats have in using the language of faith, morality and values. It seems to me that in displaying the all too common facial winces of discontent when asked if they attend church, or to what religious persuasion they belong, Democrats in this country have allowed morality to be highjacked by the Religious Right who blasphamize and simplify moral values into a dichotomy of whether one is for or against abortion, gay marriage or stem cell research. What of the moral implications of millions of American children who do not have health insurance? What of the morality of the wealthiest nation in the history of all nations still being a home to poverty, and humiliation? What of the morality of sending thousands of our children into battle without the tacticle or financial support back home that they desperately need and deserve? What of the morality in denying civil liberties to citizens based on their skin color, gender, or sexual orientation? It seems to me that a major flaw in what you are calling "secular liberalism" is the inability or lack of underdatanding that the left has in seeing that many of the political strategies and priorities this they espouse are perhaps deeper than their personal opinions, but are instead rooted in age old questions of what it means to be human?, what is justice?, and what is right? LBJ once said of his "Great Society" that it was morally unconciencable for poverty to exist in the most prosperous nation in the world. Democrats if ever they are going to succeed in delivering their message to the populace at large are going to need to get comfortable talking about religion, and morality because it is at the heart of every question that governments endeavor to dispense solutions for.

12:27 PM  
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