As friends and acquaintance read over the platform of the American Solidarity Party (ASP) and some of the various articles that have been written about it, there are some questions I hear more often than others. Today I'll try to answer four of them, based on my personal understanding of ASP's principles and platform.
Q: Is ASP a Christian party?
A: Sort of. ASP is a party in the tradition of "Christian democracy." This is a movement that began in 19th century Europe and really gained momentum after the horrors of World War II, as people undertook the work of rebuilding society in a way that would be just, secure, and peaceful. We also draw inspiration from America's Founding and the Civil Rights Movement, both of which also have Christian roots.
ASP acknowledges the role of the Judeo-Christian worldview in America history and culture, but advocates for the protection of all religions, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. The party is a broad tent. ASP members come from many faiths, as well as people of no faith at all. A wide variety of Christian denominations (and localities!) are represented: our presidential candidate, Mike Maturen, is a Catholic in Michigan; the chairman of our national committee, Matthew Bartko, is a Protestant in Pennsylvania; our media manager, Christopher Keller, is an Orthodox Christian in Minnesota. This comes as little surprise, since Christian democracy itself is ecumenical, having been influenced by Catholic thinkers such as Pope Leo XIII and Jacques Maritain, as well as Protestant thinkers such as Abraham Kuyper.
Q: Is ASP pacifist or isolationist?
A: Neither. ASP opposes war apart from the traditional criteria of just war. In other words, war must be a last resort, only used in grave circumstances, when there is a reasonable probability of resolving the conflict. In the conduct of such a just war, the use of force must be proportional to the threat and the rights of non-combatants must be respected. In line with such thinking, ASP opposes torture, attacks on civilians, and preemptive strikes. ASP calls for a less aggressive foreign policy, without unilateral military intervention in foreign countries or military bases which are not needed to protect our diplomatic missions or treaty allies.
None of this means that America should disengage from the world. On the contrary, I think ASP's platform implies a brotherly concern for all people. America's history and many material blessings have placed us in a position to do a great deal of good in the world. Through the use of traditional state-to-state diplomacy, public diplomacy (where we reach out directly to foreign populations, particularly those whose governments may not be telling them the full truth), intelligence, trade, student exchanges, and the work of so many private organizations, America can promote a more free and secure world, to the benefit of our own country and the whole world. This is the notion behind full spectrum diplomacy. From time to time the use of military force is necessary, but it is a tool rarely used, and only as a last resort.
A quick look at the federal budget gives a sense of how ASP priorities might be applied. In fiscal year 2015 the federal government spent $3.8 trillion. Of that, $598 billion was spent on the military. In contrast, the State Department received $46 billion, less than a tenth as much, for diplomatic efforts. The Peace Corps spent $380 million, or less than 1% of what the military spent and 0.01% of the total budget. I am under no illusion that doubling the Peace Corps budget would make peace break out throughout the world or end the need for the military. But given how inexpensive soft power is when compared to military hardware, it's probably worth investing in a little more soft power.
Q: What is the difference between legalization and decriminalization of recreational drugs?
A: Legalization would mean that drugs became like any other product: state and local governments would be free to tax or otherwise regulate their sale and consumption, but, generally speaking, using them is allowed. Decriminalization would mean that drug use becomes something like speeding: you could be fined for it, but it's not a criminal offense, so users wouldn't be tried in court, sent to jail, or have a criminal record.
ASP endorses the decriminalization (but not legalization) of recreational drugs. The "War on Drugs," launched in the 1970s, has proved a terrible failure. In spite of spending billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, there is no sign of drug use abating. Incarcerating drug users not only costs tax-payers money, but also separates drug users from their families and society, making it harder for them to get a job after release, for example, and putting them in contact with far more serious criminals. Let's admit that the "War on Drugs" has failed and try something different.
Q: Why does ASP support a pathway to legal residency for illegal immigrants?
A: ASP supports broad immigration reform. Squeezing one part of the immigration balloon without addressing the full problem will simply put increased pressure somewhere else.
Countries have the right to know who is entering and to control that movement of people. But we must also recall that America is a nation of immigrants. We have been richly blessed by generations of new arrivals from around the world. That people continue to want to come to the US is a tribute to our great nation. Moreover, we have a duty to care for the poorest and weakest among us, which includes refugees fleeing religious, political, and racial persecution. We need to reform the bureaucratic processes by which people can legally enter the US. At present, these processes are too convoluted and too lengthy, mired in red tape.
Reforming the immigration process may address future immigrants, but does not address the millions of people who are here illegally. In many cases, illegal immigrants were brought here as children and were in no way responsible for their status. In other cases one member of a family entered legally and, when the red tape defeated their loved ones, other family members entered illegally to re-unite the family. Moreover, children born to illegal immigrants are US citizens, even if their parents are not.
Leaving the millions of illegal immigrants currently living here - many of whom are long term residents, most of whom are hard working and, apart from their immigration status, law abiding - in legal limbo does no one any good. It discourages them from seeking things like a driver's license or reporting crimes to the police, for fear that their status will be discovered. It allows unscrupulous employers to pay pitiful wages, blackmailing their employees with the threat of reporting them to immigration authorities.
There are various proposals for a pathway to citizenship, or at least permanent legal residency, for illegal immigrants. The usual requirements for citizenship - including a rigorous exam in American civics, which, frankly, many Americans could not pass - need not be waived. Those who have committed crimes while here need not be eligible. But for those who simply want to care for their families and contribute to American society, ASP believes its time to bring them in from the cold.