Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Post-Election Thoughts of Little Theological Significance

Well, dear ones, election day is over (thank the Good Lord) and, even though I am not a Democrat, I am gloating a little today. (Here comes a kind of partisan screed, from one who is a member of no organized political party.)

The voting was good for (progressives in)Minnesota -- I think. The Governorship stayed with a real jerk -- good evangelical that he is, he has no compunction about lying, distorting, smirking, using almost exclusively negative ads, and all the other "worldly things" that we expect candidates to do. (In fact, there seems to be no distinguishing characteristic of the Christians who run for office: They're as down-and-dirty as the sleaziest among us.) But we progressives elected Minnesota's first woman senator (heself a Democrat to replace a kind of nincompoop Democrat), America's first Muslim to the US House (he may have run the most above-board campaign I'm aware of -- despite being the object of a sinister and highly racist attack by his Republican opponent who stressed that "as a Jew, I am offended" by Keith and by the Republican National Campaign Committee, which did everything but outright assert that Keith would be a Mulim Manchurian candidate in the House), re-took the State House (by a significant margin) and strengthened the majority in the Senate. And of especial interest to me personally: Minneapolis approved "instant run-off voting" (IRV).

IRV allows one to vote for the best candidate without fearing that s/he is "wasting" a vote on a candidate that is too idealistic or good to win. Under the system, one ranks the candidates according to one's preference. If no candidate prevails (and I THINK, without knowing for sure, that means that no candidate gets a majority), then the lowest-voted candidate gets dropped from the running and the votes cast for him/her are examined to see who those voters named "no. 2." Those votes are then re-cast for the second-preferred candidate. And the process continues, dropping candidates in like fashion and re-calculating the votes until one candidate wins (again: I think with a majority, not a plurality of the votes).

I'm sure progressives face the same issue all the time: There's a third-party candidate that sounds really good, but who has virtually no chance to win. I don't feel that I can vote for her strategically, because my vote becomes, in effect, a vote for the worst candidate on the ballot. So I have to "hold my nose" and vote for my second-favorite. Well, IRV will help address that to some extent. If the Green Party candidate is best, but unlikely to win, then I can rank her "1" and name the next-favored candidate "2."

I like the idea. I believe that Christians are called to live -- and vote -- in hope. We need not succumb to cynicism or immoral compromise, even in our civic life. But it's hard to live with the results of living hopefully -- voting for the least-bad of candidates, watching important issues trivialized into absurdity, and the like. And worse, it's hard knowing that while I may be able to live with my choices, others may literally not.

So I look forward to this experiment (an experiment, incidentally, not unique to Minneapolis) and hope to see it spread state-wide in the future. (Maybe those Democratic majorities will help that. But I'm not too sanguine: I don't exactly have confidence that the Democratic majorities will be able to keep together to get much done. They don't seem to like to hew to the party line the way Republicans do.)

I'm sure that this has some Christian ethics point that I could make, but I'm not going to stretch to do that today. For now, because there has been so little for progressives to crow about, I'll just enjoy a little smugness for a day or two.

As a progressive Minnesotan, I'm pretty excited by the election of Keith Ellison to the House. I was in law school with Keith, so I know him a little. And I wasn't a supporter at first. But we saw him run an issues-focussed campaign (despite the Republican attacks), free of personal attacks. He had wide-scale support among all sectors of the local public -- including Jews. And despite a serious lack of organizational skills in his personal life (he has a lot of unpaid parking tickets; he has file campaign reports late; he owes or owed back taxes), he has demonstrated himself to be a very capable, cooperative, and consensus-building legislator. So it's sort of exciting to see him tested on the national level. I wonder where else than Minnesota that a Roman-Catholic-turned-Muslim black man could be elected with a true majority of the votes, despite the lack of support of the retiring member of congress and a very attractive independent candidate claiming some of the reliably "leftist" vote? Congratulations, Keith.

I noted that, even as a progressive, I don't mean to imply that Democratic party majorities will solve -- or even begin to address -- all or most of the social ills that desperately need to be faced. (I'm frankly amazed that the Dems managed to pull off as many victories as they did: There is among Dems a latent self-destruct impulse.) As the saying goes, trying to get Democrats to work together toward a common goal is like herding cats (or chickens). There seems to be little constitutional difference in moral stature between the two parties when it comes to arrogance, willingness to abuse power, institutionalized self-interest. I hope that "Nancy Pelosi and her San-Franciso values" can make some changes there. And so I shall hold on to a little hope that yesterday was the beginning of some improvements in our civic life.

I think that as a Lutheran Christian, I have some responsibility to work for the betterment of society -- to pray for the government (not, as seems the case in some corners of Christianity, TO the government), to advocate for the poor and powerless: You know, that Sermon on the Mount stuff (which I read to set out political, and not merely personal, practices). And on that basis, I'm happier today than I was yesterday.

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