14 January 2016

A Glimmer Of Decency From The GOP

In a year where Republican Presidential nomination race front runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have made racism, xenophobia and broad brushed attacks on Islam as a religion hallmarks of their campaigns, it was refreshing to see South Carolina's Republican Governor Nikki Haley's response to President Obama's State of the Union address echo the President's central theme of inclusiveness across the boundaries of race, national origin and religion as a defining element of what America is about.

That Haley's reiteration of what should have been mere platitudes recited by the President in his address have been widely interpreted as attacks on Trump and Cruz, is an indication of just how far the Republican party has gone astray.

Her voice has come across as a voice in the wilderness, at a time when the notion of a "moderate" Republican has increasingly become an oxymoron.

The Republican party is fundamentally less interested in policy and more interested in ideology than the Democratic party, and unfortunately, at the level of the Republican base, a lot of that ideology displays the darker side of human nature.

Furthermore, on a bipartisan basis, an important source of the shift from pragmatic results oriented politics to highly partisan "principle" guided politics, can be traced to misguided campaign finance reforms developed from the progressive era good government effort to reduce the power of political party machines that favored contributions to candidates or independent special interest PACs over contributions to political parties which are arguably the cleanest money in politics today.

It would be incredibly reassuring to see the emergence of a wider consensus vision for America within which politicians argue over ways and means of achieving that vision, that Haley's response offered a rare glimpse of.  But, it seems unrealistic, given the revealed inclinations of Republican voters so far in the current election cycle's primary season, to believe that this will be attainable anytime in the near future.

Here's what the State of the Union address had to say about the state of American politics:
That’s why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that "to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place." When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country.

"We the People."

Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together. That brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing I want to say tonight.

The future we want—opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids—all that is within our reach. But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.

It will only happen if we fix our politics.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.
It is very hard these days not to believe that "the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic."

To some extent, my worry is the opposite of President Obama's here.  I worry far more than we have taken tolerance too far.

I worry that we have not adequately condemned acts like those of the armed militia occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon as not just illegal, but unpatriotic and treasonous, which is defined in the United States Constitution as taking up arms against your own country.

I worry that we have been far too tolerant of Donald Trump's outrageous blanket condemnations of Islam as a religion that betrays our bedrock national principle of freedom of religion, and slanderous characterization of Latin American immigrants as rife with dangerous criminals when all empirical evidence points to the opposite conclusion.

The First Amendment bans the use of government's coercive powers to restrict free speech, but it places no bounds on the bully pulpit or public condemnation of people who espouse abhorrent beliefs.  I worry that the political establishment, especially on the right and among Christians whose teachings have been misrepresented by politicians, has been lax in disowning these extremists, like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and Judge Moore and the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood killer and the Oregon militia.  Too often, instead, political and religious leaders have embraced and lauded these figures.

If our nation can rally around condemnations of these kinds of figures, the center cannot hold and our nation's political future is bleak.

There are people who argue that Republicans espousing views like those of Nikki Haley in her response to the State of the Union address this week, and Evangelical Christians who adhere to the social gospel are a silent majority.  I hope their right, but I doubt that it is true baed on survey evidence and the like.

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