Politics, religion, and The Great Pumpkin

We were relatively lucky in our confrontation with Sandy: Two days without power and a vent cap torn from the roof. My wife and I work from home, so gasoline is not an issue for now. Far too many people fared far worse. The photos from our beloved Long Beach Island are heartbreaking.

That everyone has rallied together to help one another is truly inspiring, but not surprising. This is what I know is in us at all times.

Halloween was postponed until Monday. I’m surprised there’s still any candy in our house to give out. We still watched “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” on the day. I am always dismayed by the editing that is done to make more room for commercials.

In the coming weeks, I will change the name of this blog to reflect broader interests. Parenting is still job #1, but there is so much more to write about.

Below is something I posted to Facebook concerning the upcoming election. Don’t worry, I have no intention of turning this blog into some wonky political screed. In fact, after this I will most likely avoid political topics here. I can’t make the same promise when it comes to religion.

Wherever you are, whatever your politics, please vote. And if you can, please send a little hurricane relief to your friends here in the northeast.

My dear friends —

I have tried — and reasonably succeeded — to keep politics and religion out of my Facebook postings. So now, with the election just around the corner, I’m going to throw in my two or three cents and be done with it.

I’m voting for President Obama. Not because he’s perfect. Not because he’s some kind of political messiah. Because I believe he has worked in good faith to do the right thing by the people, and will continue to do so (which is more than I can say of the Republicans in Congress). I’m not happy with everything about the last four years, but I believe he was presented with an enormous mountain of crap from the previous administration, and there are just so many shovels.

I am also voting for him because the Democratic party, while certainly not perfect, better represents my views than the Republicans. In my opinion, the GOP has been taken over by a political and religious lunatic fringe.

I was actually sympathetic to many of the concerns initially voiced by the Tea Party. But like so many grass roots movements before them, they were quickly infected by opportunistic parasites. I cannot help but oppose a group that so willingly harbors bigots, displays such utter contempt for science and reason, and embraces the likes of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann as serious political thinkers.

Then there is Ayn Rand, who is something of an avatar to conservatives, especially the Tea Party. Paul Ryan is a Rand devotee. He has his staff read her books. I don’t know if the same can be said of Governor Romney. I’m not sure he has any unshakable principles beyond saying and doing whatever is necessary to close deals that favor himself. By that measure, he may well be a Randian Objectivist and not even know it.

When politicians simultaneously embrace Jesus and Rand, I’m surprised their heads don’t explode. According to Rand, Jesus was a chump and altruism is an unforgivable sin. I am not a Christian, but like Thomas Jefferson, I believe that the sayings attributed to Jesus of Nazareth amount to one of the most sublime philosophies of life ever offered to humankind. Buddhism has taught me that self reliance and acts of compassion are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they are both absolutely essential in a world where everything is interconnected.

Rand’s entire career was one big pity party. Her family’s business was confiscated by the Bolsheviks. So instead of coming here and just starting over, she also had to promulgate a capitalist fantasy that, to me, is essentially Marxism turned on its head, enshrining selfishness as a virtue and money as a basis for morality. But her philosophy fails for precisely the same reason Marxism fails: it’s predicated on the notion that people will voluntarily deal fairly with one another at all times. Unfortunately, this has never been the case, which is why we have laws and regulations.

Conservatives have told me that caring for the least among us is the duty of individuals, not the government, that there is nothing in the Bible about the state caring for the poor. Ah yes, but the American form of government did not exist when the Bible was written. Properly regarded, our government is an instrument of the will of the people. If it is the will of the people to do good, to care for the least among us, then it is entirely appropriate to use the government to those ends. If that is not our will, then we should stop the pretense of being a “Christian nation.”

The cries of “class warfare” ring hollow to me. The assault has been going on since the 80s, and only now gets called warfare by the right because the lower classes are starting to fight back.

The Republicans claim they want to restore the “American Dream.” It’s a cynical ploy that amounts to “Yes, we’re wealthy, and you can be, too, if you will just get these burdensome taxes and regulations off our backs.”

By all means, let’s work to achieve our dreams. But the truth is that most of us will never be that wealthy, and chasing that particular carrot on a stick only leads to voting against our own true interests.

It should be in the best interests of the producers in this country to facilitate upward mobility and an expanding middle class so as to grow their consumer base. This is what happened in the 1950s, when the wealthy were taxed at between 70% and 90%: A booming middle class, massive investment in infrastructure, and the rich still partied on. This is what has worked, not the trickle down BS of the last 30 years.

But money is also power, and for the last 30 years, the wealthy — through their bought-and-paid-for proxies in government — have pushed policies that hold the lower classes down while expanding the wealth of the top 1%, thus solidifying their hold on power. And in a global economy, the jobs will go where labor is cheap, and goods will go wherever buyers can be found; it makes no difference to the monied interests. Where is the patriotism in that? It seems they don’t love God or country so much as money and power.

I am suspicious of patriots who feel the need to advertise themselves as such, just as I am suspicious of a “news” channel that needs to trumpet that they are “fair and balanced.” They are either trying very hard to convince themselves they are worthy of the label, or attempting to pull the wool over our eyes. Probably both.

Listen: I know the names of my ancestors who fought in almost every American war since the Revolution. I know which of my ancestors owned slaves. I have a pretty good grasp of my country’s history — the good, the bad, and the ugly. We haven’t always been the nicest kid on the world playground. Sometimes we’ve been the bully, and many times we’ve been the one to slap the bully down. To admit as much isn’t unpatriotic nor an apology; it’s an honest assessment, and a pledge to do better. Blind patriotism fixes nothing.

Many on the right are quick to point out that our unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as written in the Declaration of Independence are not a guarantee of outcomes, only of opportunity. I agree. But I also hold dear the closing statement of that document: “…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

That doesn’t sound like “every man for himself.” It sounds like “we’re all in this together.”

And that doesn’t sound like today’s Republican Party.

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