Shut Up, They Explained
A collection of “faith leaders” who agree on very little except politics have joined together to make one another feel good by opposing one of the great evils of our day: free speech. To be specific, they have signed a letter to no one in particular making clear that they see spending money to support political candidates is bad, bad, bad:
As faith leaders, we stand for honoring the voices of each person created in God’s image and for protecting the integrity of those voices in our democratic process. Together, we sound the alarm over a flood of special interest money into our political system from a privileged few and call upon our leaders to pursue bold solutions to this crisis of democracy.
In fact, millions of Americans–virtually all of whom had some “special interest” or another in seeing particular candidates elected–gave money to support those candidates. They did so in order for those candidates to get out messages of various sorts. They did so by way of exercising their constitutional rights, rights with which these “faith leaders” have a real problem.
Candidates are spending so much time courting donors that they have less and less time to speak with voters or craft solutions to our biggest problems. Voters, especially younger Americans, tune out because they view our elections as un-democratic and potentially corrupt.
In fact, voter turnout rises and falls from one cycle to the next, and does so regionally as well as nationally, depending on a variety of factors. Voter turnout in Washington state last month was almost 80% because of controversial referenda, while in Connecticut it was 74% due to a high interest Senate election. Ohio’s was 68%, down 2% from 2008 despite the state’s absolute centrality to the result of the presidential election. The point is that what the “faith leaders” say in this letter is pure assertion meant to bolster their pre-conceived conclusions about the role of money in elections.
The rich and the poor grow further and further apart, a trend reinforced by a path to electoral victory studded with high-dollar fundraisers and special interest backroom deals. Attack ads blanket the airwaves, dividing us when we need to come together to solve our country’s enormous challenges.
More assertion. It is certainly true that Americans have become more ideologically polarized in the last two decades. Campaign ads don’t create that polarization, however, but reflect it. (How do you know that’s true? Because the level of polarization doesn’t drop between campaigns.) Look at it this way: I don’t buy into the policy prescriptions of Jim Wallis and his mainline buddies, not because campaign ads brainwash me, but because I don’t think they are correct. While it is true that lots of Americans are low-information voters, that would suggest that we would be wise to increase the information available, not decrease it. The problem for the “faith leaders” is that they 1) don’t like what a lot of those ads say, because they don’t agree with them, and 2) don’t like the fact that it takes money to get the message out.
Most recently, the watershed “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision that awarded corporations the same legal rights as people has had the practical result of granting special interests and individuals almost unlimited power to influence elections through massive spending.
You knew this was coming, right? So let’s say it all together: “Corporations, like Soylent Green, are people!” Corporations are collections of people acting on a particular interest. In that regard, they are like unions, whose hundreds of millions of dollars of political spending are not mentioned anywhere in this letter. Oh, and keep in mind who the plaintiffs were in the Citizens United case: a handful of people who made a movie with a message that liberals didn’t like, and funding sources of which they did not approve. They weren’t Exxon or Halliburton or Koch Industries or any of the other businesses liberals love to hate, but a small group who happened because of their organizational status to get caught up in campaign finance laws. It is people like these that the “faith leaders” apparently want to silence.
We are also disturbed by a decision that gives the unique status accorded to human beings, made in God’s image, to corporations. People, not corporations, were made in the image of God.
Last time I checked, Supreme Court decisions were not theological statements. The status of corporations as “persons” is purely a legal one. The “faith leaders” may now officially unbunch their panties.
“We the People,” who ordained and established the U.S. Constitution in order to form a more perfect union, who together as a people are responsible and accountable for wisely stewarding God’s creation, who are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, are called to bear God’s image faithfully and to reject that which challenges these basic principles.
I believe that on YouTube, this paragraph is referred to as a “mashup.” We’ve got the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, various documents of the National Council of Churches, and a touch of Chuck Norris there at the end. To say it is incoherent is being generous.
Just as the prophets and saints from our faith traditions railed against economic wealth and power that resulted in injustice for the people, we follow in their footsteps and cry out against a system that tears at the fabric of our democracy.
Here’s what actually “tears at the fabric of our democracy”: the election of politicians who make decision on public policy questions based not on what is best for the country, or on the opinions of their constituents, but on what is best for their political careers. We’re seeing that played out right in front of us at this very moment, as the White House, the Democratic leadership in the Senate, and the Republican leadership in the House all stare at the so-called “fiscal cliff” and ask themselves, “how can I put the blame for whatever bad stuff that happens on the other guys?” If the people whom we send to Washington and our state houses had any integrity, the amount of money spent on campaigns wouldn’t matter. And changing the way campaigns are financed won’t make any difference either, until the character of those elected radically changes. (Oh, and I can’t help but mention this: who was the first presidential candidate to opt out of the public campaign finance system that was supposed to clean up American politics? That’s right: the guy who almost certainly got the votes of virtually every signatory to this letter in both 2008 and 2012.)
We call upon our elected leaders, citizens around the country, and all people of faith and moral commitment to join us in supporting measures to safeguard our democratic principles and the promise of government for, of, and by the people.
We’re left to imagine what those measures might be, but it isn’t hard to guess. A ban on giving by corporations or any form of political action committee, stringent limits on individuals (perhaps even banning contributions by those making more than a certain income level), and unlimited spending (in the name of “advocacy” and “public educational efforts,” doncha know) by unions. That’s “democracy,” as defined by such luminaries as Jim Wallis, seminary professors Walter Brueggeman and John Cobb, for NCC president Peg Chemberlin, Episcopal bishop Mark Hollingsworth of Ohio, Rev. Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, Otis Moss of Trinity UCC in Chicago (Jeremiah Wright’s old haunt), former PCUSA Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow, Jim Salt of Faux Catholics United, and an assortment of rabbis, seminary types, imams, mainline Prots, Unitarians, and other “faith leaders” of whom you’ve never heard.
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