Sunday, December 9, 2007

Still Kennedy's Party?

Religion in America, and the role it plays in how our country is governed is a hot topic these days. The religious right has worked for years to convince us that we are a "Christian" nation and that our laws should be designed and administered in accordance with the tenets of the Christian church. Even worse, they contend that this was the original intent of the founders of this country. Obviously they haven't spent much time really reading Washington, Paine, Jefferson, or even better Madison.

I started thinking about writing this post as I was reading an incredibly powerful Kos diary entry. The author addresses, among other things, the current comparisons between Romney and JFK (which to me is a bit like comparing James Madison with Jerry Falwell, but that's another post) by focusing on the entirety of Kennedy's speech to a collection of Protestant leaders when he was running for president. Contrary to the current spin that would have us believe that he made the speech in order to defend his own Catholicism, Kennedy spoke directly to his unshakable belief in the separation of church and state.

In his speech Kennedy insists that he believes in an American in which "no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference." At no point does Kennedy coddle his audience by suggesting that he will allow a crack in the wall. Instead, he challenges them to put up or shut up.

I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so--and neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test--even by indirection--for it. If they disagree with that safeguard they should be out openly working to repeal it.

He goes on to say:

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all."

"Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood".

When Kennedy made his speech, he also made it clear that he would much prefer to discuss issues much more critical to the strength and welfare of this country:

"While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida--the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power--the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills, the families forced to give up their farms--an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space."

Amazing how we have so many of the same pressing issues as almost fifty years ago.

It's on this topic that I think the Kos article really gets to the core of alot of things.

"Any and all of those issues might have been the centerpiece of a Democratic speech today, because those issues remain unsolved. And oddly enough, many of these issues were also on the mind of the man who two thousand years ago stood up in his family church and announced that "I come bringing good news for the poor.""

There is a link in the article that takes you to an audio clip of Republican voters being interviewed in Iowa ahead of the upcoming primaries. At one point, one of them says,

"I make a great deal of money through my own hard work. I don't want to pay for someone else's child to eat breakfast at school anymore."

Here is how the author responds to that, because I cannot say it any better:

Get that? She makes not just enough money, but a "great deal of money." How dare anyone take it away for something so frivolous as feeding a poor child? And yet Republicans, through their actions in blurring the lines between church and state, have become the "party of faith." Because they say so. Because they are bold in their actions and snarling in their defense.

Note that we should not pretend that "a program will take your money." Or "the government will take your money." This is a democracy, and we are the government. I will take your money. I will. Some of that money you worked hard for and want to keep. I will give it to a kid who is hungry. If your concern is that poverty should be addressed by individuals, then there's a simple solution: feed him. If there are no poor children needing food, I won't have to take anything for them. If your position is that people would be more generous if only the government would stay out of it, then sorry. I'm not willing to put this child at risk to as part of your experiment. Besides, if that were true, then why were their more hungry kids before we started these programs to give them a little breakfast? If your position is that your being able to keep all your money is more important than a child being fed, then I simply think you're wrong. And sick. You want to keep that money? You better beat me at the polls.

The strategy of vultures gives us both a party and a nation that would embarrass John Kennedy. The erosion of that barrier between the interest of the state and that of the church gives us a church that Jesus would not recognize. As an American and a Christian, I find both results terrifying.

I've been reading about a growing backlash among evangelical groups against their far-right leadership because they have come to recognize that the racist, classist, hate-filled diatribe that those leaders are spewing and pursuing do not, in reality, truly represent the faith that they pretend so hard to appear to represent. I can only hope that the backlash continues to grow.

I can also only hope that the Democratic leadership will cease cowering behind the selfish need to win races and really stand up for what the party is supposed to be about. Just as it has been apparent for many years that the Republican party is no longer Lincoln's party, we are fast approaching a time when it will be said that the Democratic party is not Kennedy's party. That is a sad day that I hope won't come.

1 comment:

Trouble said...

Kennedy is a good speaker and he brings up issues that need attention. It would be nice if other democratic members of congress would spend more time on important issues instead of trying to make deals with the republicans. And that was a sad and selfish comment about not wanting to pay for someone else's child to eat breakfast at school. I cant think of a more suitable way to spend money that to feed a hungry child.