Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Political System We Deserve

I find myself, in recent months and years, becoming less and less convinced that politicians deserve our scorn and disillusionment. Don't get me wrong - I think the current state of the Democratic Party is shameful in many respects. The idea that this nation's liberals have to make do with these washed-up moderates in lieu of genuine representation is almost unconscionable. I'm not convinced, however, that the politicians are to blame for this. They face opposition from both their left and their right, and the middle position they're attempting to navigate satisfies no one - but it's what they need to get elected. Allow me to explain.

It's become an article of faith (no pun intended) that religion has become the decisive factor in this election - one blogger I read said that (my paraphrase) the divide between religious and non-religious, or practicing and non-practicing, has become a more useful categorization than any set of individual demographics. The Republican religious base is so conservative, in fact, that a newly Baptist (try not to snicker) John McCain was inadequate to satisfy them: he needed a bonafide small-town Bible-thumper named Sarah Palin to finish gathering his flock. Sounds fine for the Democrats, right? They don't need the religious vote.

Wrong. The religious vote has become the decisive minority in this election, to the point where the Democratic nominee had to beat the Republican in faith-based politicking in order to become a viable candidate. Fundamentalist Christianity makes up only one-fourth of the American population, but another one-fourth identifies as Catholic, and they're a tough vote to put in a party: the so-called "Catholic vote" has gone to every winning Presidential candidate since 1976, with the exception of George W. Bush (the first time. Not the second. I wish).

So the religious vote has become more than just a Republican issue - it's a nationwide issue, demanding acknowledgement from both major political parties. And what, you might ask, is the biggest issue for religious people? Why, Abortion, of course.

Evidence exists to suggest that Abortion has become a bigger issue for Catholics in this election than in either of the two previous - the Catholic Church has become more aggressive in their indictment of abortion, more insistent that Roe v. Wade constitutes endorsement of genocide, less willing to accept a compromise position. Five years ago, a devout Catholic could reasonably have been under the misapprehension that there was a plurality of Catholic opinions on abortion: now, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi have come under strong fire for similar views ( The reason for this is simple: there is no plurality of opinions. The Catholic Church explicitly forbids abortion - and states that no devout Catholic can support legislation that permits it. Worst of all, most Catholics know it. So long, Mario Cuomo.

The non-religious in America might still insist that religious faith is a private matter, with no bearing on politics; the religious, however, are increasingly unwilling to stomach that position. They - and by they, I mean a majority of the population - insist that the law of the land reflect their morality directly. In light of this, the Democratic Party's Platform on Abortion starts to look like quite a risky move:

"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right."

Wow. Strong stuff. Stronger, in fact, than any recent Democratic platform on abortion. The Party cannot have been ignorant of the immense risk it was taking: they have totally and irrevocably alienated the pro-life population, with no hope of reconciliation. What do you suppose they would have to do to make up that kind of ground in America's heartland?

"If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and Musharraf won't act, we will."

Quid pro quo, America. Obama supports a woman's right to choose, but he will act decisively against hostile terrorist elements around the globe - while no less a luminary than Sarah Palin hems and haws to Charlie Gibson about the same issue.

Now, to me, this quote came as quite good news - not because I necessarily agreed with the sentiments being expressed, although I'm pretty sure I did (and a hush fell over the liberal crowd). No, it came as good news because a Democrat had distanced himself from the image of the weak-kneed liberal - unwilling to hurt anybody's feelings, unable to do what must be done. Democrats, Obama told us, can be tough on terror. Democrats can get it done.

Then I talked to a liberal friend of mine, who professed himself to be scared by this sentiment - uncertain that Obama should be so willing to invade another country without authorization. I think that's a very valid debate, and one that we as liberals should certainly have - just as soon as we win this election to the Presidency of a country that hates us.

That's right: this country hates liberals. It has exactly the Democratic Party it wants, unless of course it could have none at all.

It is an inability to recognize this that frustrates me about modern liberals. They seem unwilling to acknowledge that we live in a representative Democracy - that the government we have is the one we asked for. It's not that this country isn't producing liberals - it's that this country isn't electing them. You want to get elected in Chicago? Be a Democrat. You want to get elected in America? Be a moderate. This is a simple fact of the current political landscape - the Democrats are drifting to the right because that's what we'll elect.

Am I happy that a pro-choice stance is a political liability that Obama has to make up for? No - but I don't blame him, I blame the people of America. Am I happy that peace has become a bad word, synonymous with weakness? No - but I don't blame the left, I blame the people of America. Am I happy that the Republicans are very successfully spreading the same view of liberals as they did in Reagan's America - high-tax moral midgets without the stomach for tough choices? No - but I don't blame the left, I blame the people of America.

Or I would - if liberals would realize how badly we are losing this war, and how wrong a time to be choosy this is.

We have lost the fight on taxes - the country won't stand for them. We have lost the fight on drugs - the country won't legalize them. Obama hasn't abandoned the staunch liberals because he doesn't like us - he's abandoned us because America hates us, and it will take more than one election to fix that.

So if Obama wants to look tough on terror, let him - if it's that or lose the fight on abortion, I think he's made the right choice. I'm not happy that we have to pick our battles, nor am I happy that we get so few - but it's the truth, and if we can't face up to it we'll be just what they said we were.

If the Democrats are moderate, it's because America is moderate. Obama is as liberal a candidate as America will permit - and for that, I blame America, not him.

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