Alabama Governor George Wallace once famously said, “There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats.” If you look at the polling numbers between President Obama and his challenger Gov. Mitt Romney, it’s hard to escape that conclusion. How can that be, you ask, if the 2012 election sounds so contentious?
I think political satirist Lee Camp put it best in one of his “Moment of Clarity” videos: he says he knows for sure who will win this election. It’ll be the guy who supports endless war. The guy who supports countless drone attacks. The guy who will never close a foreign military base. The guy who thinks about climate change but refuses to lead any action against it. The guy who would never think of limiting our arms sales to other countries. The guy who thinks guns on the streets are OK, but protest signs must have permits. The guy who punishes whistleblowers but not Wall Street criminals. The guy who supports corporations over unions.
In other words, if you didn’t catch Lee Camp’s not-so-subtle satire, either candidate could win the election. But I think the differences between President Obama and Gov. Romney are not so much political or economic as religious. Yes, religious. Now hear me out: it seems every issue in this election is, at least from the conservative point of view, a religious issue. And I’m talking about religion as it’s popularly portrayed but rarely realized: as a wellspring of that much-debated noun, “values” – usually taken to mean principles or standards but connoting principles or standards informed by religion.
And here is where I found myself fascinated when, in the first half-hour of the first debate between Gov. Romney and President Obama I heard this about the deficit:
“I think [the deficit is] not just an economic issue. I think it’s a moral issue. I think it’s, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation. And they’re going to be paying the interest and the principle all their lives. And the amount of debt we’re adding, at a trillion a year, is simply not moral.”
Never mind that, after tripling from 2008-2009, the deficit actually declined over the last three years. Was this dog-whistle politics, a shout out to his right wing religious base? What was Gov. Romney saying?
I found an example of even greater starkness in the Vice Presidential debate last Thursday. Congressman Paul Ryan said, “You want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course. But it’s also because of reason and science. … Now I believe that life begins at conception. That’s why – those are the reasons why I’m pro-life.”
Never mind that there is absolutely no objection to this perfectly legal procedure that doesn’t come down to a religious feeling – a “value.” Was this another shout out to a right wing religious base? What was Mr. Ryan saying?
It’s not just the economy and abortion that are values-defined religious issues. How about foreign policy? Conservatives believe we must project American Values. What are those, exactly? Nobody will say anything specific – just “freedom” – but clearly American Values are a subset of Judeo-Christian values. And, just as clearly, we would be projecting American Values with American guns aimed by our Christian Soldiers.
How about taxes? Conservatives believe God wants you to be rich, and in their Prosperity Gospel you can be rich if only government cuts your taxes and frees you from any environmental or societal responsibility. And never mind the tax burden being an insignificant factor in determining how much a business grows: if your customers don’t have the money to buy what you’re selling, because that money is already in the pockets of the top 1%, you’re not growing anywhere.
The answer to income inequality? Conservatives believe if you're rich, you are blessed by God; if you’re poor, you lack the proper values. That’s why they lose no sleep over cutting off access to education and other ladders of social mobility. It’s all about values, not opportunities and level playing fields.
How about the war on terrorism? Conservatives believe it’s a holy crusade to wipe out the infidels before they wipe out us. It would never occur to the “Values Voters” to project less Jesus and more Jefferson in the American face we show to our enemies abroad.
How about the war on drugs? It’s clearly a moral issue with remedies based on values instead of science. Never mind that, scientifically, the best approach is a medical one, with harm reduction as its goal and decriminalization if not legalization as its end. Why are recreational drugs still illegal? One reason is that they aren’t profitably manufactured by large corporations like alcohol and tobacco companies. But the deeper reason is a moral one: you can’t praise Mary on marijuana, you can’t have your Jesus with a joint; it’s either grass or God!
Education? It’s a constant battle keeping America’s children focused on facts, like biology and anthropology, rather than religious fictions like creationism and “intelligent design.” It’s a constant battle keeping free public education from deforming into voucherized private education, controlled either by corporations for profit or by religious institutions and their prophets.
Religion should absolutely not be injected into this election: it is divisive and absolutely irreconcilable with a democratic republic. So, Gov. Wallace to the contrary, there is a difference in this election. If you want values, vote at Walmart. If you believe in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim God, then take the advice of Jesus and pray in private. Because if you want a United States of America, don’t take your religion into the voting booth – it’ll still be there when you come out. Vote for freedom and liberty for all.
To hear an audio version of this Reflection, click on this link: A Vote For God.