The first debate of the presidential campaign is Wednesday night, and we are just a few days shy of being one month away from the election. Now seems as good a time as any to lay all of my cards on the table and explain why I stand where I do in this particular race.
There are two ways to vote for a president – negatively and positively. Which is to say you can vote against a candidate or for one. I am doing both. So I’ll break this “endorsement,” so to speak, into two parts: why I oppose Mitt Romney and why I support Barack Obama. My goal with this post is not to demonize or caricature Mitt Romney but to describe and characterize his policy proposals and particularly explain why I, as a Christian, find them unacceptable.
First, a quote:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it – that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
These are, of course, Romney’s own words, and they’ve become quite famous in recent weeks, as they were secretly recorded at a fundraiser as Romney spoke to donors who paid $50,000 per plate to be there. Setting aside whether Romney truly believes the substance of his comments – I tend to think he does not – and setting aside their obvious factual inaccuracy (the three groups of roughly 45 to 50 percent of the population each – Obama supporters, those who receive government aid and those who do not pay federal income tax – are distinct and overlap over a much smaller percentage of people) it is a fact that the policies he proposes are a natural outgrowth of the attitude behind them.
I have already discussed at length the corrosive theology behind the budget proposals of Romney and his running mate, House budget chair Paul Ryan. The budget on its face is arithmetically impossible, promising to reduce tax rates for the wealthy while keeping the tax code revenue neutral without raising taxes on the middle class. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has already determined this cannot be done, and neither Romney nor Ryan have made any effort to show how. Other analysts have claimed to do so, but their studies suffer from significant flaws.
With the details from their plan missing, analysts have filled in the blanks. If Romney-Ryan refuse to increase the tax burden on the wealthy, and they insist on increasing defense spending, and they intend to cut the level of government spending and cap it, while making sure they balance the budget – this is what Romney calls “cut, cap and balance” – the people who would sacrifice are the poor.
As I’ve quoted before, here is Ezra Klein’s analysis of the budget Paul Ryan convinced the House of Representatives to pass this year:
Ryan says his budget cuts more than $5 trillion in the next decade. Less than a trillion of that is coming from Medicare. Romney says his budget cuts about $7 trillion from the budget over the next decade and not a dollar of that comes from Medicare. And neither Romney nor Ryan want to cut Social Security and both increase spending on defense.
If you’re not cutting Medicare or Social Security or defense you’ve already taken more than half of the federal budget off the table. And you know what’s mainly left, the big pot of money you can still cut?
Programs for poor people. …
It’s important to remember that Romney’s budget is much, much more aggressive than Ryan’s. It’s less specific, so it gets less attention. But it’s much more aggressive.
I don’t know how else to say it: This is unacceptable for a pair of men claiming to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
It would be one thing if such cuts were needed, but they are not. They only become necessary if one’s priorities are to reduce the tax burden on the wealthy and increase spending on the military. Regarding the latter, a strong defense is a necessary evil in a violent world – but as we have ended or are ending two wars, shouldn’t spending in that sector go down? Regarding the wealthy, it’s worth noting that as upper-bracket tax rates have fallen over the past 30 years, economic growth has stagnated and inequality – once universally considered something to be avoided – has increased.
In other words, using the tools of our government to demand sacrifice from the poor while providing benefits to the rich is not just economically unwise, it is morally unjust and offensive to God. I remind you of another post from way back in the early days of this blog, quoting Nicholas Wolterstorff:
God is not on the side of Dutch-speaking people versus those who do not speak Dutch; on that he is even-handed. God is not on the side of football players versus those who do not play football; on that, too, he is even-handed. But the poor are different. It is against his will that there be a society in which some are poor; in his perfected Kingdom, there will be none at all. It is even more against his will that there be a society in which some are poor while others are rich. When that happens, then he is on the side of the poor, for it is they, he says, who are being wronged. He is not on the side of the rich, and he is not even-handed.
If God is on the side of the poor, and certainly even a cursory reading of the prophetic literature and the gospels confirms this to be true, then shouldn’t we as Christians be making every effort to ensure the society in which we live is, too? For these two candidates, both of whom claim to follow Jesus, to so blatantly reject a core tenet of his message would be alarming if it were not so common among politically active members of Christ’s church, who have largely subverted Christian faith to Republican orthodoxy.
I will reiterate here that I understand no Christian can fully live out the ideals expressed by Jesus in our modern political system. Jesus calls for a radical generosity that cannot be replicated on a social level without the economy falling apart. But there is surely an equilibrium in which our government – which is to say all of us as a society – can be generous and helpful to the poor while encouraging the innovation and growth that is also ultimately helpful to the poor. Unfortunately, Romney and Ryan are far away from that equilibrium – so far that the best comparison for their regressive policy proposals is the laissez faire anti-government platform of the 19th-century Democrats.
This election is not being fought over foreign policy, and as a result, there is less to be said here. Yet I’ve found little difference between Romney and the toxic policies of George W. Bush:
- He has hinted that he is comfortable waging a preemptive war with Iran.
- He has promised to restore torture – and, make no mistake, waterboarding has universally been considered torture throughout the modern history of military operations until the Bush administration began engaging in it – as an American policy for detainees suspected of terrorism.
- He supported the ill-advised, catastrophic war with Iraq and has opposed ending both that war and our increasingly futile war in Afghanistan.
In other words, on the three most pressing foreign-policy issues of our day, Romney supports the option involving the most violence, the least compassion and the most collateral suffering to innocent men, women and children. That may be acceptable to our militaristic society that treats the flag and the systems of human destruction as things to be worshiped almost without question, but it should not be acceptable to the followers of the Savior who laid down his life and advised his followers to turn the other cheek.
I am not a pacifist, nor do I believe nations are or should be constrained by the same rules of personal ethics advocated by Jesus – but I do believe the thought of war with all the violence and innocent suffering it entails should make us recoil in horror, and that we should be the people most resistant to the use of force against other people, not those rushing headlong into it. Too often we have been the latter – certainly we were during the administration of the outspoken Christian George W. Bush – and Romney shows no indication of turning that tide.
On domestic and foreign policy, therefore, Romney promises policies that oppress the poor in favor of the rich and sacrifice the innocent to the terrors of torture and preemptive war. As a Christian, I cannot support them. The very inhumanity of these policies disqualifies Romney from receiving my vote.