Friday, April 30, 2010

National Hospitality and International Hypocrisy

The recent furor over the Arizona's decision to enforce federal standards for immigration reveals deep confusion and devastating subversion concerning our national identity. In the name of compassion and social justice, and amidst fears of a police state, Arizona is being boycotted, demonized and harassed for standing up for her citizens. What is often not visible is the hypocrisy of the Right who revel in the undocumented labor and exploit the needs of millions crossing the border from Mexico.

Let's stop the categorizing and the name-calling. The same federal leaders who call Arizona's law "fascist" want to control home schooling, register all medical records and launch a civilian militia force, not to mention control the economy and "de-develop" the USA.

The present system is broken, Three simple steps will repair our current chaos. The question is, do we have the courage to resist the interest groups on all sides and do what is best for the long-term health of our nation?

Step One: Enforce immigration laws among employers and make sure that all workers are here legally.

Step Two: Secure the borders and deport all illegal/undocumented prisoners.

Step Three: Create a redemptive pathway for current residents that allows them to be on the road to citizenship or have a temporary work permit.

We do not need to harass anyone - we need to make living in the USA a legal and safe experience for all. Mexicans do not have the right to come here illegally. Mexican politicians - part of a corrupt elite who trade on old accusations of colonialism - do not have a right to demand anything. Employers - from agribusiness to hospitality to factories - do not have the right to break the laws of the USA with impunity.

Scores of my friends have come to the USA legally, often waiting months or years for documents and paying thousands for the privilege of living and working here. The rest of the democracies around the world enforce their laws. Will we? The future of our republic depends on it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Compassion with Conviction

One of the challenges in today's public square is our captivity to "McThinking" -fascination with memorable phrases and sweeping declarations, regardless of their empty content. Pundits on the right love to extol the "magic of the market." and the importance of "family values." Bloggers on the left speak passionately about compassion, tolerance and equity. Meanwhile, millions need work, help with housing and wisdom for living in the real world.

Critical thinking is a lost art in this world of factoids and fantasies. The either/or fallacy dominates the airwaves and Internet. For some reason politicians and public communicators think we have to choose between military preparedness and social programs. This fallacy appears in moral debates as the left thinks marital traditionalists are homophobes. The assumption is that if you are not for gay marriage you are against the civil rights of millions. Either/or rears its head in the debate over federal control of industries and services. Those in favor of more federal involvement have co-opted compassion and castigated their opponents as heartless. Advocates of less federal intrusion accuse their opponents of confusing compassion with forcible redistribution of wealth. And on it goes, with the real issues obscured by false thinking.

Compassion and conviction can be united in private and public life. It is possible to adhere to strong moral and/or religious codes and live peacefully in a pluralistic society. I am deeply concerned that many Jews and Christians, in their quest to avoid the labels, "conservative" or "fundamentalist" are compromising Scriptural principles to their own - and to the nation's - hurt. Many loyalists to free markets and limited government fail to see that without deep moral convictions, capitalism turns rapacious and a new generation of robber barons emerges, with a little largess flowing from a guilty conscience. On the left, captivity to collectivism obscures historical perspective and paves the way for more failed experiments in social control.

Here are some ways compassion and conviction can unite in private and public life:

1. Compassion for broken families must be undergirded by the conviction that marital fidelity and loving parenting are critical for our future. Jane and John need a Mom and Dad who care more about the good of their children than their own personal desires. Divorce needs to be a last resort and a new call for fidelity of body, mind and spirit needs to ring out across our nation.

2. Adults who choose to live in arrangements other than heterosexual, monogamous marriage deserve equal protections as citizens and the right to formalize their relationships. However, this is not marriage. Cohabitation is a different state of affairs. No clergy or community should be compelled to perform ceremonies outside their tradition. Likewise, cohabiting adults should be able to visit partners in hospitals, legally establish benefit and inheritance rights and enjoy private life free from fear.

3. Religious opinions, provided they do not threaten the safety of others, are not hate speech. It is interesting that GLBT activists do not target mosques in their protests. In fact, one of the great disconnects on the left is the refusal of radical feminists to criticize the treatment of women in some sectors of Islam! Conservative Christians must not make homosexual practice a stigma greater than the other issues the Bible confronts. Whether it is Jesus or St. Paul, Christian moral teaching excoriates greed in the same breath it condemns non-marital sexual intimacy. Hypocrisy and pride are as wicked as any private behavior. In other words, Christian teaching rightly understood humbles everyone and helps everyone make positive steps out of the slavery of self.

4. Fiscally, we cannot have all the bullets and butter we want. For a half-century we have funded out-of-control spending in all categories. Compassion for the poor and provision for defense can be united, however. If we focus our aims, sharpen our pencils and empower local and state agencies, we can make sure no one is hungry and no soldier is under supplied. Of course, this means less fat in defense contracts and more scrutiny on welfare spending. Bases may be closed and jobs lost. We can deliver benefits more cost-effectively if we allow business principles and systems to transform outdated and over bloated agencies.

5. Infrastructure repair and transformation is not an either/or proposition. We need excellent public policies united with competitive private efficiency to rebuild our bridges, roads and sewers. Even the most conservative understand the role of government here. Some of these issues are best handled at the local and state level. The federal government is needed to ensure standards, but not to administrate projects.

6. We need to privatize most pension funds. Working for the government should not be a guarantee of a retirement vastly superior to the private sector. At the same time, we need government oversight of private firms managing the trillions of American workers' hard-earned dollars. Why do Congressional representatives get a pass on deficit spending and a lifetime pension?

7. We need to heed the words of Jesus and the example of great leaders and love our enemies. Martin Luther King succeeded in transforming not only legislation, but the hearts of millions of ordinary people. He hated racism and condemned the attitudes and actions of those who oppressed African-Americans. But he also called on his followers to be people of active forgiveness, love and non-violence. We must eschew intolerance and violence. We must expose covert prejudices and overt injustices. But we must do all of this with tears as well as truth, with humility and hope, with a firm conviction of truth joined with compassion for many bound by fear and hatred.

We can have compassion and conviction - but such hardheaded and warmhearted dispositions require courage. Will we choose courage over complacency, hope over hatred and love over apathy?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Samuel Adams or Saul Alinsky?

Samuel Adams was the firebrand of colonial opposition to British taxation and one of the key mobilizers for the American Revolution. Between 1765 and 1776 he was the most passionate, radical and uncompromising spokesman for liberty. The British leaders hated him, considering him a lower-class agitator. Fellow-revolutionaries (even family member John Adams) were often put off by his tactics, preferring more civil forms of redress. Once independence was secured, Adams continued to speak out for personal liberties and local government. He was an early opponent of the new Constitution, until the Bill of Rights was added. Even after its ratification, Adams was concerned about the power of the federal government.

Saul Alinsky was a Marxist community organizer in post-WWII Chicago, coming into prominence in the 1960s. He advocated extreme methods of gaining attention and mobilizing the masses for change. He was convinced, like Sam Adams, that a small vanguard of effective agitators could bring change quickly, in spite of majority voting patterns. Alinsky's Rules for Radicals became the handbook for leftist organizing in several urban centers. Alinsky's work was part of Hillary Rodham Clinton's education and essential reading for Barack Obama's vocational aims. Alinsky also had ties to extremist groups and leaders, including William Ayers, the proud domestic terrorist.

Adams and Alinsky were masters of mobilization and propaganda. They were brilliant at caricaturing and marginalizing their opponents. Both employed media well and could galvanize folks quickly. At first glance, they seem very similar, even with two centuries of separation. Some pundits see the Obama administration as a throwback to populist politics, with a deep concern for the little guy. Adams' activism is extolled as iconic, just like the 1960s protests against Vietnam.

Appearances and superficial comparisons are deceiving. Samuel Adams and Saul Alinsky lived in completely different universes. They are as far apart as the Obamaites and Tea Party activists. There are "differences that make a difference" (Os Guinness) and comparing the worldviews and political agendas of these two radicals will reveal the polarization in our nation and world and perhaps help us find better ways forward.

Here are some contrasts between Adams and Alinsky:

Adams was operating within a broad Judeo-Christian framework of justice, morality and religious respect. Alinsky was secular, with disdain for traditional religion.

Adams stood for maximum individual liberty and as little government as possible. Alinsly believed that an academic-bureaucratic elite needed to control resources and rights.

Adams appealed to traditional and transcendent principles of law. Alinsky's aim was the displacement of tradition with a Marxist state.

Adams believed that protecting individual liberties and opportunities were the paramount tasks of government. Alinsky believed that the collective welfare determined by the elite superseded old-fashioned notions of freedom.

Adams stayed faithful to his original principles for decades, even when it made him unpopular. Alinsky never deviated from his aims, but he continually used deceptive tactics to mobilize good-hearted folks.

Adams envisioned a future with personal freedom, opportunity, active participation in local and state government and a minimal federal system. Alinsky saw his local action as part of a larger network of elitist leaders who knew what was best for the common person.

Adams was no friend of aristocracy, but he did not advocate forcible redistribution of wealth. The role of government was to ensure opportunity and establish ethical boundaries. Alinsky was a Marxist, with confidence in systems that have proven to be an utter failure economically.

Why do these men matter in 2010?

Today's Tea Party activists - with a few exceptions - believe in the principles espoused by Sam Adams. Many in the Obama Administration, while paying lip service to democracy, really believe in the rule of an academic-bureaucratic-intellectual elite that knows what is best for the hoi polloi.

Will we have more freedom, less government, fiscal restraint and a call to responsibility and virtue? Or will we continue our devolution to a nanny state, with more and more folks living off the productivity of others with social values arbitrated by whoever is in power?

Tea Party activists are, by and large, NOT homophobic, racist or rapacious capitalists. They are not all reactionaries, trying to relive the good old days. They are conscientious, hard-working Americans watching their nation plunge into the abyss of government control, moral relativism and bully politics.

Many on the Left or Progressive side do not want a completely Marxist state without liberty. They have genuine disagreements with Tea Party folks on the role of the federal government. This is a legitimate debate that is part of our two centuries of experimenting with real freedom.

The problems come from the Alinskyites who populate key administrative posts and know how to propel their stealth agendas. It is one thing to denounce homophobia. It is another to force people to agree with lifestyle choices contrary to conscience. It is one thing to urge health care reform. It is another to lie about the real consequences of federal control of medical care. It is one thing to pass emergency legislation to prop up banks and mortgages. It is another to buy off bankers to win an election and clear the way for more government control.

What is the way forward? We need to go "back to the future" and discover the power of our founders' visions. Reading Sam Adams, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and even Alexander Hamilton is good for the sociopolitical soul! These men heartily disagreed on many issues. But their tacit beliefs in individual rights built on natural law and transcendent truth allowed them to forge the greatest government in history.

Let's relegate Alinsky to our history classes under "marginal thinkers" and rediscover the brilliance of our 18th century leaders. Let's argue passionately about the role of government and foster spirited debates on policies. Let's stop using assumptive, condescending and name-calling language and actually find solutions to our problems. The only way out of our current polarization is to find principles we agree on that provide the foundations for new policies. Our founders argued their way to cohesion. We can do it again.

Let's rediscover Sam Adams. The person and thinker, not just the beverage.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

From Anger to Action

Governing is more difficult than agitating. Our current leaders, like all their predecessors, are finding the realities of domestic demands and global conflagrations more challenging than the academic and policy papers they serenely composed before their ascent to power.

Tea Party Leaders and other aspiring conservatives who "want their country back" need to think deeply about what person-centered, principled, and positive solutions they offer in contrast to current policies. It is easy to oppose and react - and much more difficult to dig out of a half-century hole both parties have dug for the country.

Everyone is angry. Obama supporters accuse their opponents of premature judgment. After all, Obama inherited the Republican mess. Some leftists think that anyone who opposes Obama's policies is a closet racist. On the right, people are angry at the unaccountable use of TARP dollars, unemployment and housing realities and government takeover of institutions.

We must turn anger in to action, not merely agitation. Rallies are fine and emotions are not evil, but they are not enough. Let's stop all the nonsensical overstatements about "civility." We DO need more civility and less name-calling - this is a theme I have written about for seven years. But it is disingenuous of the left to excoriate the right about their "intemperate and violent" language while they are barely two years away from calling for Bush's assassination and honoring former terrorists as important social activists. It is not helpful to the conservative cause to label opponents without evaluating their ideas and policies - and offering real alternatives.

Here are my challenges to activists on both sides of the political debate:

1. We must find a center of moral values and personal responsibility that is an irreducible minimum for social coherence. We can argue on economics and health care; however, we must hold each other and our children accountable for attitudes and actions. We must honor compassion and virtue and marginalize narcissism and immoral behavior. Self-control, marital fidelity, generosity, partnership and liberty need to return to the center of our thinking.

2. Conservatives must offer solutions that rebuild infrastructure, hospitably receive immigrants, unleash wealth creation and provide basic necessities for the aspiring and the needy. The federal government still matters, but local and state ingenuity can be reinvigorated.

3. Liberals must demonstrate fiscal responsibility, including the reality that private enterprise (yes, properly overseen) is vital to the future. Overtaxing the productive will only reduce opportunity. Liberals must also understand (as Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy did) that military strength still matters and militant Islam is our greatest threat.

4. Deficit spending must end today. There is enough money to meet basic needs without more red ink. Ending the federal credit card will recharge the economy and prevent us from being a complete vassal to China and other global interests who do not share our values.

5. Conservatives must eschew and renounce all forms of ideology that marginalize any race or religion. Liberals must do the same, apologizing for their mistreatment of Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews. Conservatives and liberals must unite against all forms of totalitarianism and invite people of all faiths or none to join in creating a world free from fear.

6. Americans overwhelmingly support the traditional definition of family AND want everyone to have equal civil liberties. We can create categories of adult relationships that enable non-traditional folks to have all the access to care and the legal protections they need, without forcing Americans to agree with their private choices. This will require both sides cooling their rhetoric. As a traditionalist on marriage, I am not homophobic. As a minister, I do not want my exposition of Scripture labeled "hate speech." Conversely, I do not want my LGBT neighbors to live in fear or have less freedom. We can find a way forward if we have the courage.

7. We must stop the holocaust of abortion and stem the coming genocide of the elderly. Access to non-lethal birth control, adoption and community embrace of moms and families along with serious ethical reflection on the end of life must be part of our future. We must stand against all active euthanasia while recognizing the challenges and costs of end-of-life care. It is never someone's "duty to die" (contra the former Governor of Colorado, Richard Lamm). We must not criminalize those who choose abortion, while creating the environment that makes that choice undesirable.

8. We do not need to be the world's policeman, but we must be ready to defend liberty (including helping our allies) and confront terrorism. A mobile, well-equipped and judiciously deployed military is a cornerstone of freedom. Conservatives need to sharpen their pencils on defense spending waste as well as welfare fraud.

"Anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires." St. James was right. We can do better if we will take a few deep breaths, reach out our hands and get to work.