Being A Pro-Life Christian

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition

English: Pope Benedict XVI during general audition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Saturday, thousands marched in Washington in favor of making abortion illegal in America. It was inspired by the 40th Anniversary of Roe vs Wade. On his new Twitter account, Pope Benedict XVI supported the march with the following tweet: “I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.” It was only the fourth time in history the Pope had ever sent out a message via Twitter.

On Sunday, thousands marched in Washington in favor of gun control in America. It was inspired by the tragedy in Newtown, CT. On his Twitter account, Pope Benedict XVI was silent. The director of the Vatican press office, Father Federico Lombardi released a statement in favor of gun control in the aftermath of Newtown, but the Pope himself has made no such pronouncements. The Pope is signalling to the world that, in his view, outlawing abortion protects life in a more important way than controlling the proliferation of firearms in society.

I do not believe that government should impose on society its opinion about the question of when human life begins. The morality of abortion hinges on this question. It is both a question of science and of faith. Neither science nor faith give a clear answer. That is why I believe it should be left up to the individual to decide.

For me, it is not simply a question of biology, because that is not what distinguishes humanity from other life on earth. If we make no such distinction between living organism, then we must decry something as common as killing bacteria. The important distinction between human and other life is not biological, it is in the human spirit and soul.

Christians disagree, but I believe the Bible is pretty clear about when the human spirit is implanted in the human body. In the creation story, the human spirit is breathed into Adam after he is fully formed. In the dry bones dream in Ezekiel, God says, “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.” I interpret these and other passages from Scripture to suggest that we become fully human only at birth when we take our first breath of life.

The Catholic Church has for several centuries taught that human life begins at conception. The evangelical Protestants used to disagree, but ever since Jerry Falwell, they have embraced this notion. I believe elevating the status of fetuses is motivated more by a concern over dwindling numbers of members than by Biblical teachings.

I fear that these Christian leaders who decry a woman’s right to choose are primarily concerned about maintaining their power in society through the numbers of their adherents. Teaching their members that abortion (and any form of birth control) is wrong, increases the birthrate among their members, and this in turn helps to ensure that their “kind” maintain or grow it’s percentage within a society.

Jesus said go and make disciples, but I don’t think he meant by forcing women to have babies against their will. I believe being a pro-life Christian means valuing human life, and I believe this mission is undermined by equating a human fetus to a human child.

Hidden Surprise in Immigration Law

[This is the fourth of a series of blog reposts from my campaign website. This post first appeared on June 26, 2012]

The Supreme Court struck down many provisions of the Arizona immigration law, but one provision that they did not consider and therefore remains the law in Arizona will likely surprise most people. Did you know it is now possible to sue an Arizona police officer for NOT enforcing the “papers please” aspect of the immigration law? If a policeman fails to demand proof of citizenship from anyone they encounter, then they can be sued by any disgruntled citizen. Such provisions please the angry Tea Party mob who see the government as the enemy and embrace all sorts of conspiracy theories. If those government agents (otherwise known as police officers) won’t chase all of those people who look like immigrants out of their towns, then angry citizens can sue them.

Can you imagine what this precedent is likely to mean for those who choose to serve their community as a police officer? Would you be eager to serve, if you knew that it meant you could be a target of a lawsuit by any citizen who isn’t happy with the way you are performing your duties?

This sort of bad lawmaking is the direct result of elected officials pandering to a political interest group rather than representing the interests of society. And, yes, unfortunately South Carolina passed a similar bill last year, and, yes, both Reps. Sandifer and Whitmire voted for it. Sen. Alexander went so far as to sponsor South Carolina’s version. Thankfully South Carolina’s law is currently blocked by order of U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel.

Day of Contrasts

Saturday was a day of contrasts. The reds came out and spent the day at the Guns Across America Rally. The blues came out and spent the day participating in the National Day of Service. Five people were injured by firearm accidents at several gun shows on Saturday. There is no report yet about how many people were injured participating in the National Day of Service.

Serve others or fight to arm more citizens. WWJD?

Putting Politics Before People

[This is the third of a series of blog reposts from my campaign website. This post first appeared on June 25, 2012]

Last week Governor Nikki Haley vetoed a bill designed to make it easier for middle school girls to receive a vaccine against the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer. It’s hard to imagine why any thinking and caring person would object to this goal.  In her justification for the veto (Read the text of her veto here), Governor Haley complains that this Cervical Cancer Prevention Act (CCPA) may lead to a future bill that spends money to get girls protected from cervical cancer. She describes this possibility as a “tax-payer-funded healthcare mandate.”

This week the Supreme Court will decide whether the healthcare mandate in Obama‘s Affordable Care Act (ACA) is constitutional. That mandate has no resemblance to anything in this bill that Governor Haley just vetoed, for the CCPA carries no mandate whatsoever. Governor Haley is trying to ride the coattails of the unpopularity of the healthcare mandate in the ACA to drum up support for her veto. She is hoping that by waving the “healthcare mandate” slogan in front of your eyes you won’t notice that she is leaving your daughters unprotected against cancer. Her ploy exposes how she is more interested in protecting herself politically than she is in protecting you and your family.

Hopefully we will see the General Assembly override Haley’s veto this week.

Update:

The State House dashed all hopes for a veto by sustaining Haley’s veto on Monday, June 26th. The override in the House failed, and my opponent, Rep. Bill Whitmire was one of those who voted to allow Governor Haley to kill this bill. This is why elections matter. We need to vote for representatives who will put the interests of South Carolina citizens first. I will do that. I would have voted to override the governor’s veto of this important bill.

The Cost Of Winning

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 Tour de Gruene Individual Time Trial, 1 November 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back in the “good ole days” (you know, the days of my childhood), several well-worn phrases were associated with athletics: “Winners never cheat, and cheaters never win.” and “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Today, we are hearing that yet another star athlete, Lance Armstrong has admitted that he was cheating in order to win his particular game of cycling.

I have never been much of an athlete. Although I did participate in organized sports as a kid, it was never a passion of mine. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the culture of competitive sports. I’m not a sports fan, and I don’t watch games on television much. It was later as an adult, when I returned to work at my High School, that I got more involved. As an adult, I helped out the school athletics program by volunteering as a timekeeper at basketball games and as a scorekeeper at baseball games.

My experience with High School athletics from the late 90’s until the mid 2000’s left me with a disturbing impression of modern sportsmanship of youth athletics. I was horrified by the unsportsmanlike behavior of the parents at baseball games. Parents would yell angrily at the umpires whenever they made a close call that went against their team. When one of the players on their own team made a particularly bad play, they would protest loudly, and sometimes they would even ridicule the kid.

At basketball games, the behavior was even worse. It might have seemed that way because every scowl from the crowd was amplified by the walls of the gymnasium; it might have been because as a timekeeper, I was technically part of the team of referees. Beyond the bad behavior of the spectators, I began to notice that the basketball teams were specifically coached to break the rules in certain situations. For example, when a team is losing the game, and there are only two minutes left, they are often coached to intentionally foul the other team in order force a change in possession of the ball. This is so common that few people consider whether it is problematic. Few would agree with me that this amounts to training kids that it’s okay to break the rules in order to improve their chances of winning. Somehow the word “foul” no longer means behavior outside of the boundaries of fair play.

What is the difference between breaking the rules of the game in order to gain a competitive advantage and cheating? I think they are the same. When I discussed this with my friend who was the athletic director, he thought I was crazy. The fouling strategy is part of the game. When I raised my old fashioned platitude about winning not being the most important thing in school athletics, he also thought I was crazy. This man had spent his entire life in school athletics. He scoffed at the notion that any coach worth his salt would tell her or his team that there was anything more important than winning. The only way to win was to make that the only acceptable outcome.

I realized that this ethic was behind all of the behavior that bothered me so much. Parents hadn’t put their kids into the athletic program in order to teach them sportsmanship at all. They had put them into those programs in order to teach them to be winners; coming out on top was all that mattered in this environment.

We still like to put a noble face on athletics, so we still give lip-service to the notion that we value sportsmanship. This is why we pretend to be scandalized by Lance Armstrong’s doping. This is why there is so much self-righteous indignation about the Baseball Hall of Fame right now. No one was voted in this year because even though many players put up numbers to earn them a spot, those players had been recently outed as steroid users.

I believe there are many lovers of sports who still believe in the integrity of the game. The problem isn’t that they stopped believing; the problem is that they have also embraced a conflicting ethic that cannot co-exist with the integrity ethic. You cannot both believe that a player or team should win by any means necessary and also believe they must play by the rules. You send mixed messages when you teach your kids to respect the rules, but to also break them when it gives you a strategic advantage.

We are now experiencing the natural consequences of such actions. Our sports heroes are turning out to be cheaters, and even though they tell us that it is a systemic problem–because players can’t win today without doping–we don’t want to acknowledge our complicity in the breakdown of the ethics of the “game.”

I don’t think it is a coincidence that traders on stock exchange floors behave like a bunch of High School jocks in a locker room. Our win-at-all-costs ethic has been an ideal training ground for Wall Street. We still aren’t ready to admit our own part in promoting this ethic, and so nothing changes. We just keep demonizing the few who get caught, and in the meantime, we slowly watch our cherished values of ethics drain away.

We Would Rather Be Entertained Than Informed

NHK TV crew

NHK TV crew (Photo credit: Lunar Camel Co.)

A nagging problem with which I seem to constantly wrestle is the phenomenon that people seem to embrace fiction rather than fact as their reality. Many people very earnestly argue for a policy for our nation based on erroneous assumptions. This might be just a problem of being uneducated, but these same people resist education in order to preserve their world view.

This issue came to mind when recently I was discussing a reality TV show with someone who talked about it as if it were real rather than staged. Even after I explained that these shows have people who craft a story and then make it look like it is real, this person remained unfazed not just in his enthusiasm for the show but in the way he continued to talk about these characters and their adventures as if they were totally real.

It occurred to me that what I was observing should really have been obvious to me long ago: people would rather be entertained than informed. This is why news programs have turned into “infotainment“: they get a larger audience and make more money. It is why Rush Limbaugh is so popular: he is an entertainer rather than a reporter. Because we would rather be entertained, we embrace engaging narratives and monologues as reality so that we don’t have any obligation to watch real news which is so boring.

If you spend enough years in the fantasy world of “infotainment,” you lose your perspective on reality. You also lose your appreciation for the scientific method of determining what is true. We lose, in effect, the heart of the benefits of the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment. We move from an enlightened society to a primitive, unenlightened one.

Most people appreciate the benefits and advancements that humanity has enjoyed during the past few centuries, but I’m not sure they understand that these benefits were the result of the Enlightenment. I figure some assume that humanity progresses inevitably over time. Humanity, however, spent many centuries before the Enlightenment when the rate of advancement was very slow. There have been periods when civilization devolved into more anarchy and primitiveness.

So where are we headed? Will we allow our lazy appetite for scintillating stories and images to convince us to reject facts determined by the scientific method of empirical, measurable, and repeatable evidence? I don’t think we will. I believe the power of science is strong enough to weather this storm, but I believe we are already seeing setbacks within our society, and these setbacks may altar our global standing in the future.

Follow The Money

[This is the second of a series of blog reposts from my campaign website. This post first appeared on June 20, 2012]

In All The President’s Men, the insider source named “Deep Throat” tells reporter Bob Woodward to “follow the money” in order to get to the bottom of the Watergate corruption scandal. That good advice applies to most situations involving corruption.

This year may mark the first time that a challenger raises more money than an incumbent during a presidential campaign. It is the direct result of our Supreme Court eliminating the barrier to unlimited campaign contributions by corporations and wealthy people.

Four years ago, Obama raised a record amount of money for his campaign by targeting huge numbers of individual small donors. That strategy seems woefully inadequate when there are billionaires who are willing to spend unlimited amounts of money to defeat Obama this time around, and under our current laws, they can.

Whether or not so much money from so few people proves crucial to the outcome of the 2012 presidential race, it will surely have enormous impact in the future.  We may see a time in the not so distant future when a billionaire may in effect choose the candidate for a party’s ticket through the overwhelming influence they have wielded through the use of expensive television ads and ubiquitous exposure to the voters.

As more politicians are elected with the help of an abundance of cash, it seems likely that our government will be controlled by the privileged few and big corporations.  We, as individuals with the power to vote, must ensure that our votes are not for sale. When our votes are not for sale, then our elections will not be hijacked by the interests of the few. In today’s world of pervasive media, we must resist the temptation to accept the opinions expressed in commercials and by pundits who have their own agenda.

The Problem With Special Interest Group Endorsements

[As promised, this is the first of a series of blog reposts from my campaign website. This post first appeared on June 10, 2012]

This week I received a postcard from Rep. Bill Whitmire, the Republican nominee running against me in November. It trumpeted the following:

  • Endorsed by South Carolina Citizens For Life
  • National Rifle Association 100% Grade Each Year
  • 2011 and 2012 S.C. Chamber of Commerce Pro Business Advocate Award
  • S.C. America Legion Legislator of the Year 2010
  • 100% score on governor Haley’s 2011 Legislative Initiatives

The fact that Rep. Whitmire gave these endorsements such prominent placement in his campaign material suggests that he believes these groups’ endorsements are important to his winning re-election to the SC House.

Now suppose that Rep. Whitmire faces a bill that pits the interests of one or more of these organizations against the interests of his constituents. Do you suppose that he will vote in favor of these groups or vote in favor of you, the citizens of the first district? After bragging about these endorsements, can he politically afford to cross these groups for your sake? If he agrees with these groups that they have the power to help him win his election, will he really stand up against them to do what is right by you?

After filing to run for the SC House, I received a flurry of mail from several special interest groups. The following groups sent me surveys so that they could analyze my answers and inform their members what they think about my candidacy:

  • The National Pro-Life Alliance
  • The National Association for Gun Rights
  • The South Carolina Education Association
  • The South Carolina Campaign for Liberty
  • National Right To Work Committee
  • South Carolina Association of Taxpayers

Although I might have fared better with some groups rather than others, I decided not to respond to any of their surveys. I do not want to put myself in the position where I might for a moment think that my election was dependent on pleasing any special interest group. The only interests I want to represent in the SC General Assembly are the citizens of District One, and I believe the only way an elected official can do that is by not relying on any endorsements or making any pledges to special interest groups.

Why Congress Will Take Us Over The Cliff (And Other Depressing Predictions)

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993

079 Capitol Hill United States Congress 1993 (Photo credit: David Holt London)

Before the year ends, I decided to go on record about how I think Congress will deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff”. I do this in hopes that they might prove me wrong. I would love to be pleasantly surprised.

Congress will send us over the cliff.

I do not believe that Congress will be able to pass any legislation that could be described as a tax increase. The Republicans will not allow themselves to vote for such. Memories are long about how the elder George H. W. Bush raised taxes despite having pledged not to (in his famous “read my lips” declaration), and he never recovered among conservatives. Every Republican must court the conservatives because their party has alienated every other group; they have no one left.

On January 1, the Bush tax cuts expire, so this means that tomorrow there will be an income tax increase for everyone who pays income taxes. The negotiations will suddenly switch from increasing taxes to lowering taxes. Republicans love to be able to claim credit for lowering taxes, so their attitude about passing legislation to solve the fiscal cliff will change dramatically at that point.

Similarly, but to a lesser degree, Democrats will more comfortably vote for legislation after the New Year. Just as taxes go up tomorrow, spending cuts take effect as well. A vote today for a Democrat means cutting a program, but tomorrow it will mean restoring a program.

So for both parties, a deal today looks bad politically because in a few years their opponent will be able to use the deal to attack them among their base. This is one reason, I believe, that John Boehner and the House yielded their constitutional duty to originate laws concerning the budget over to the Senate. If an ugly deal was going to happen, they wanted to make sure that it was the Democratic Senate that could be blamed.

Despite the fact that conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have the upper hand, I fear they will give up more than the Republicans in the compromise. First of all, I believe Obama and the Democrats are less willing to hurt people in order to achieve their political aims. If I’m right, Democrats will feel the pain of regular Americans more than Republicans. They will be more desperate to find a solution, and we have already seen the Republicans take advantage of this dynamic.

Second, I think Republicans are more afraid of their Tea Party base than Democrats are of their progressive base. Republicans will be more stubborn about pleasing their base than the Democrats. Third, Obama and the Democrats are already making more noises about compromises that they would be willing to make. So I fear that we are already seeing the conversation shift in the Republican’s favor.

By the middle of January, I believe that we will see a deal that gives more to the Tea Party than to the progressives. Naturally both sides will declare victory, but I believe that people will be crying about how Obama got outsmarted again. I believe that Obama’s favorability ratings will decline: his supporters will be unhappy with his negotiations, and those in the middle will see him as weak. The deal will avoid disaster, but it will not help the economy. It may not derail the recovery, but it will slow it down.

If I’m right, then it probably means that we will have another fight very soon about raising the debt limit, and unless Obama wins this fiscal cliff negotiation, then it will likely be another repeat of the mess we’ve already seen.

As I said, I’d love to be proven wrong. My version of the future is too depressing.

The GOP’s Response to Defeat Exposes Their Short Game

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney (Photo credit: Dave Delay)

Both George Will and Glenn Beck told us that Romney was going to win the election with 321 electoral votes. Karl Rove told us that Romney would win with at least 279 electoral votes. Dick Morris said Romney’s total would be 325. Ann Coulter‘s number for Romney was 273. Newt Gingrich promised that Romney would get at least 300. Gingrich, Rove, Morris, and Pat Buchanan promised their followers that the Republicans would win back the Senate.

Despite what these Republicans predicted, Obama won 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, and the Democrats made gains in both the House and Senate. Any way you cut it, election night was not good news for Republicans. On the morning after, there was much hand-wringing over what the GOP must do to be able to start winning again.

At the very least, I expected to see the Republicans begin to acknowledge that their mandate from 2010 was over. I expected to see them soften some of there opposition and begin moving back to the center. After all they no longer are in a position of strength politically. Demographics have turned, and the GOP cannot survive as the party of old white men for very much longer, right?

What I’ve seen instead has been a rush to double down on the policies that made them losers in 2012. In states where the Republicans have majorities, they have been hurriedly passing laws against unions, immigrants, gay marriage, and abortion. At first I didn’t understand this. Were these people not paying attention? It is easy to imagine that one’s political opponents are idiots, but that is never the case.

My best guess at this point is that precisely because Republicans see that history is not on their side and demographics will make it more and more difficult for them to maintain their power, they are rushing to enshrine as much of their reactionary policies into law as they can before they lose that power. The more laws and state constitutional amendments they can pass banning everything they don’t like, the longer it will take for progressives to unwind their policies. The more they injure labor unions and restrict voting, the more they can privilege their own political strength and delay their eventual defeat. Rather than trying to “evolve” into an opposition party with compelling ideas for the 21st century, they are playing the short game of trying to use their current power to circumvent the will of the American people for as long as possible. The GOP seems to have lost the concept that once elected, politicians are supposed to represent all of their constituents while they are in office.

Few Republicans have much use for John Maynard Keynes, but I think they are embracing one of his famous quotes: “In the long run we are all dead.” Republicans don’t seem to have any interest in playing the long game here, after all most of their current base will be long gone by the time the Democrats can turn back their policies.