Thursday, July 28, 2016

Paul Ryan, Please Take Note

Mr. Speaker,

Like George Will, I no longer recognize the Republican Party as my political home. Please do not take my departure personally; I have a great deal of respect for you, not only because you can comment on Aquinas commenting on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, but also for your calls for decency and bipartisanship, your willingness to admit you were wrong, and your words in defense of the poor.

The problems with both major party candidates are significant, as I am confident you understand. As a result, many people are planning to abstain from voting. I have been tempted to join them, but I fear abstention sends the wrong message. I do not want men and women running for office to conclude that fear-mongering and vitriol are the best tools for drumming up votes.

I plan to vote for Mike Maturen and Juan Muñoz on the American Solidarity Party ticket in November. I hope that, in some small measure, you and men and women like you will take note of my vote. When you run for president in 2020 - as I hope you will - I would like you to look back on 2016 and see in my vote a reminder that decency, compassion, and compromise have a constituency.

Mr. Speaker, America wants - and needs - you to be the kind of leader I believe you are, and not the kind of leader that this year's Republican nomination process has produced.

That's the message I would like my vote to send.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Remembering the Role of Religion in the Public Square

Today we mark two anniversaries. Though divided by an ocean and more than a century, these two events remind us of the importance of religion in public life.

On 20 July 1775, the Continental Congress called upon our young nation to undertake a day of prayer and fasting, seeking the mercy and aid of the Almighty God. To further make the point, Congress attended Anglican services that morning and Presbyterian services in the afternoon. These men understood the danger of losing the rightful autonomy of religion and politics; they had studied history and knew of the horrors caused by the wars of religion in Europe. And thus they promoted religious pluralism, refusing to endorse one denomination or another. But they also knew that religion is not only permissible, but necessary in our public life. They understood that, most especially in moments of great need, mankind must submit itself to the wisdom and mercy of God.

On 20 July 1944, members of the German Army attempted to kill Adolf Hitler, evict the Nazis from power, and enter into a negotiated peace with the Western Allies. It was a close run thing, but the attempt failed and everyone connected with the plot was arrested. Among them was a Catholic priest, Alfred Delp (pictured left). He had not been involved with the plot itself, but had spoken with some members of the Kreisau Circle, a loose organization whose primary crime was to imagine what a post-Nazi Germany might look like. Delp had provided some perspectives based on the social teaching of the Catholic Church. Because some members of the Kreisau Circle were involved in the plot, virtually all were arrested and most executed. While in jail awaiting his fate, Delp wrote:
Spiritually we seem to be in an enormous vacuum. Humanly speaking there is the same burning question - what is the point of it all?... Scarcely anyone can see, or even guess at, the connection between the corpse-strewn battlefields, the heaps of rubble we live in and the collapse of the spiritual cosmos of our views and principles, the tattered residue of our moral and religious convictions as revealed by our behavior.... The social problem has been overlooked... and also the problem of youth and the problem... of spiritual questions which can all too easily masquerade as cultural or political questions.
Without the insight that religion brings, we lose sight of the deeper issues with which our nation struggles. Do we have a problem with violence? Yes. With racism? Yes. With poverty? Yes. But at the root of all of these is a problem with sin, with pride, with a rejection of God and the dignity He has given to all men.

At its recent national convention, the American Solidarity Party approved an amendment to the platform, stating, "We advocate for laws that allow people of all faiths to practice their religion without intimidation and deplore aggressive secularism that seeks to remove religion from the public sphere." The platform goes on to state, "We deplore the reduction of the 'free exercise of religion' guaranteed by the First Amendment to 'freedom of worship' that merely exists in private and within a house of worship. The right to follow what the Declaration of Independence called 'the Laws of Nature and Nature's God' must be respected."

Religion is about far more than what you do at a mosque on Friday, in a synagogue on Saturday, or in a church on Sunday. Religion is a way of life, one that America has long valued, and one that we continue to need in our public discussions as much as we ever have.

Today's image comes from the website of author Mary Frances Coady.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Why I Joined the American Solidarity Party

A year or more ago I began to sketch out the principles and policies of a hypothetical political party. It would stand for human dignity, family, local government, and responsibility. It would be a centrist party with a consistent life ethic, opposing abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. It would be pro-market, supporting trade and the right to work, without idolizing the free market. It would be internationalist but not militarist, focused on using trade, intelligence, and public diplomacy before resorting to the sword. You might say this hypothetical party would have all the good things of the Republican Party without of its ills.

I grew up staunchly Republican. I attended the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia and was on the floor when George W. Bush was nominated for president. In college I discovered traditional conservatism and realized that the GOP was not always a champion of conservative values. In graduate school I discovered that there are far more tools to foreign policy than just economic sanctions or military force. And I starting reading more social doctrine of the Catholic Church, seeking to have my faith inform my politics, instead of the other way around. Among other things, I came to realize that the Church took very seriously the Gospel's command to care for the poor and the weak. Yes, we must do that as individuals in our immediate area, but we must also do it as a society and sometimes that means government action.

With the presumptive nomination of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump - two candidates about whose shortcomings and vices much as been written - the need for some kind of alternative seemed pressing. Not that I was actually planning to found a party, but I hoped that my hypothetical platform might help spur discussion.

And then I discovered that an actual party very nearly fitting my own platform already existed: the American Solidarity Party (ASP), a small, young party, based on principles drawn from Catholic social teaching and similar ideas found in Protestant and Orthodox Christianity. It calls for respect for human life, from conception to natural death. It calls for an economy that is fair, transparent, and democratic. It defends the Bill of Rights and the freedom of all Americans to exercise those rights. It calls for decentralized universal healthcare, hospitality for migrants, and the promotion of peace.

I will be the first to admit that I do not support every plank in the ASP's platform. But I am very excited to have found it. For the first time in a long time I felt excited about a party, rather than merely tolerating it. This past weekend we held our national convention. There was civil discussion, in which I was able to participate rather extensively, and then voting on every amendment to the platform, every candidate nominated or endorsed. It may be a tiny party, but I had a real voice in it, and that was refreshing.

Over the coming weeks and months I'll be blogging about the ASP, the Christian democratic tradition from which it emerged, and what I think it might all mean for America.