I am not what you’d call extremely informed when it comes to politics. We do not have television in our home (yes, we have a TV but it functions solely as a monitor for DVDs), I do not read the newspaper, and I don’t listen to talk radio. I do regularly read scripture, and have recently started studying various church documents regarding catholic social teaching. Many might see this lack of media as a disadvantage, but I see it as a way to form views and opinions without propaganda from any side, based fully and completely on my faith.
My earliest memory of anything political is the 1980 presidential election. I was 5 years old. I clearly remember going to the polls with my mother. The sense of it being a significant event, something important, was evident even to a kindergartener. I’m sure my mom won’t mind me disclosing that she had voted for Carter, so of course that’s who I was rooting for as well. Relatives came over later that night… gloating over Reagan’s victory. Boy that pissed me off. Funny the memories that stick out. I remember my mom being excited over Geraldine Ferraro as well, four years later, but I had learned my lesson and wasn’t getting on that sinking ship again. The 1992 election was one year shy of my 18th birthday, and not being able to vote was the only issue I cared about that year.
As a young adult, having learned not to trust my mother in these matters, I emulated the beliefs of my big brother. He was a successful naval officer and seemed to have it all together, so I adopted his unmistakably republican views blindly. Now mind you, I really had no idea what I was subscribing to and my lifestyle back then certainly didn’t reflect anything “conservative”. Mostly I enjoyed listening to Rush Limbaugh and sharing this commonality with my brother. Due to a myriad of circumstances in my life at the time, I did not participate in the 1996 election. I had moved to a new state, and my daughter was born that same week, so I honestly don’t remember having any opinion about the outcome. Nobody believes me when I tell them I wasn’t even aware of the controversy surrounding the 2000 election. Still not thinking for myself, I dutifully voted for Bush. By 2004 my husband had started questioning the administration and the Iraq war, but I held firm. As a Catholic, I still believed that abortion was the only pro-life issue, and the only issue that mattered at all, period.
The next couple of years after that were pivotal in the formation of my current political conscience. I began studying and practicing my faith more earnestly, and some personal hardships forced me to take an honest look at my life and beliefs. Leaving my twenties behind, I was able to let go of some of my ego and be open to other opinions. Well, all that and I discovered Michael Moore. For years my husband begged me to watch Fahrenheit 911 and I flat-out refused to even allow it in my house. Yep, quite the ego I had. We started with Bowling for Columbine and aside from it being hugely entertaining I was surprised at how much sense he made. After watching the once dreaded 911 I knew it was time to revamp my partisan attitudes. That wasn’t all. In nursing school I had started to become aware of two disturbing statistics; infant mortality and life expectancy. Why wasn’t the greatest, most powerful country in the world on the top of both of these lists? In 2006, I suffered a tremendous loss; my sister passed away from colon cancer, she had virtually no risk factors. Further research into various environmental pollutants and the quality of our food had my head spinning. Microwaves, tap water, air conditioning, processed food… where did it end? Becoming aware of the injustice of companies working only to satisfy greedy stockholders and completely disregarding our health, the environment, and workers rights left me saddened and baffled. The last shred of innocence fell with a thud. I was truly incredulous that the common good meant nothing. Where did this leave me politically?
As the primaries for the 2008 election approached, I was determined to educate myself. I poured over the position statements and voting records of all the candidates. Shortly after starting my quest, I began to see the hypocrisy on both sides. Especially when it came to social issues. Even more confused, I took quizzes designed to tell you where you stand on the political spectrum. Apparently, the was no place for me to stand. Definitely not republican and definitely not democrat either. Libertarian, green, reform, natural law… who knew all these ‘third’ parties even existed? Decidedly noncommittal, I reconciled on calling myself an independent. If nothing else, this bought me some time. Determined not to settle or become a cliché, I knew that the old route of choosing the ‘lesser of two evils’ was not for me.
What would Jesus do? A cliché in itself, but perhaps one worth exploring. The seamless garment or consistent life ethic was something I was not aware of until this time. When you hear pro-life you automatically think abortion, but this is short-sighted. War, capital punishment, poverty, even the environment… all life issues. It was a glimmer of hope that peeled back a layer of my new-found cynicism. Throughout the gospels, Christ teaches us over and over again that all life is sacred. He calls us, commands us, to love our neighbor as ourselves. On September 11th, 2008 I attended a Mass in which the priest gave a homily about forgiveness. He spoke of the scripture passages where Jesus tells us to love our enemies. He challenged us to not just forgive the 9/11 terrorists, but to love them. Wow. Powerful. He referenced the non-fiction book Amish Grace, which explains the basis for Amish theology; The Sermon on the Mount. Matthew: 5-7, if I’ve read ’em once I’ve read ’em… well, you get the picture. It starts with the beatitudes (you know… blessed are the peacemakers), teaches us the Lord’s Prayer (AKA the Our Father), instructs us not to judge others, not to store up treasures on earth, and ends with a parable demonstrating that belief is not enough; we must do the will of our father in heaven. Perusing the internet, seeking out references to the consistent life ethic, I stumbled upon the catholic worker website. Could this be what I was searching for? This wasn’t a mere political philosophy, it was the embodiment of Christ’s call as laid out in those three chapters. (Click on aims and means page above right for more info)
Armed with the aims and means of the catholic worker, but still licking my wounds (having previously allowed myself to be deceived by the rhetoric of the ‘religious right’), I pressed on with my search for a satisfactory political candidate. The reality, of course, was that there was no ideal candidate. Concluding that this country desperately needs more options, I decided that I would vote for an independent candidate. Impressed with his record of consumer advocacy, hands-off approach to abortion, and other humanitarian causes; it came down to Ralph Nader. Friends on both sides of this election criticized me for supposedly throwing away my vote. But what if everyone who was just a little disenchanted with their party decided to take a stand and step out of the box? People would be surprised at how much they have in common with those who on the surface seem to have opposing views. When you start to scratch below the surface you’ll see that the two main parties are more alike than different. Let’s not insult our intelligence by being single issue voters. I am in no way suggesting that the consistent life ethic should be used as an excuse to vote for pro-choice candidates. I am saying exactly the opposite! Don’t be afraid to DEMAND a new party, a new set of candidates that refuse to compromise for the sake of a particular party. If we are content to compromise with our vote, the candidates will be content to compromise with their vote as well, and all that is good will be lost.
Independent no more!
Pro-Life Progressive. These three words could spell out a new future or at least a new political party for those truly committed to living out the Gospel message. A symposium was held in the spring of 2005 at the University of St. Thomas School of Law to discuss whether this is a viable fourth option in the public arena. There are several compelling papers arguing for and against, and definitely worth checking out (see links). As for me, I am at peace with having found a political identity; albeit one that doesn’t really exist, but it’s enough (for now) to know that there are actually other like-minded people out there. Maybe there’s one reading this blog right now.