We’re now two weeks into the Barack Obama administration, and we’re beginning to see the decisions he is making as president, what kind of leader he is (and is most likely going to be for the next four years), etc. I just feel compelled to share a word of caution for my conservative* friends who seem to see doom around every corner, disaster at every turn, and death in every decision. My message is simply this: You are only going to slip further into impotence and irrelevance if you insist on taking the Rush Limbaugh “I hope Obama fails” approach to your political discourse and action.
Most of my conservative friends still seem to be aligned fairly tightly with the Republican Party. OK fine. But here are some things you’ll need to wrestle with:
- The Republican Party is in decline. Who’s going to turn things around? Sarah Palin? Bobby Jindal? Michael Steele? There doesn’t seem to be any consensus or any real direction. Good luck with that.
- The Republican Party is (like much of evangelicalism) viewed pretty negatively. The parallels here to UnChristian are actually kind of interesting.
- The Republican Party seem to have no real solutions. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post on abortion, the Republican Party seems hopelessly stuck in the same gear, singing the same monotone song, on these important issues**.
**A quick update on the abortion issue: I’ve finally joined the chorus of those who oppose FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act), because I have yet to read anything that has convinced me anything good would actually come from it. But to my conservative friends who are getting worked up over FOCA, I urge you to listen to the comments by GOP strategist Rich Galen who explains in this NPR interview that FOCA has little or no hope of ever getting passed by Congress and will, in the short run anyway, do little more than help raise money for pro-life causes. Please consider this as you consider your approach/response to that particular piece of legislation, especially since this is coming from a reliable Republican source.
We Can’t Afford to #FAIL
An excellent example of this last point is the economic stimulus bill currently under consideration in Congress. Not a single Republican in the House of Representatives was able to bring themselves to vote in favor, despite President Obama’s efforts to achieve bipartisan support and (worse) the urging of economists to not delay in the face of the current crisis.
You might like to think of that as “principled” politics, but it’s also politically expedient and pretty much just more of the same old politics that got us where we are today—an ugly rut we desperately need to get out of.
No doubt these House Republicans are now secretly wishing the stimulus bill will #FAIL so they can wash their hands of it and say, “See? We voted against it! We were right!” But what they don’t seem to understand (or care much about) is that if this stimulus bill #FAILS to revive the economy, then they’ve all #FAILed. And being right is no real substitute for participating and making a helpful contribution.
Bob Dylan said it well once, “Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand for the times they are a-changin’.”
Here’s What I Think Is Un-helpful
I find conservative commentary like Stan Guthrie’s snarky “Barack Obama, CEO” particularly unhelpful. I respect Stan a lot—we’re both passionate about global missions—but I disagree strongly with him about U.S. politics. Go figure. Just listen to the tone of Stan’s appraisal of Obama as president thus far (two weeks into his presidency):
President Obama, blessed with virtually no executive experience of his own, nevertheless apparently can divine how much compensation other executives, whose companies receive bailout money, should receive (no more than $500,000). That’s really rich—and I’m not talking about the salaries.
Then our commander in chief, facing Republicans who disagree that a pork-laden spending bill laced with goodies for Democratic Party favorites [as if Republicans aren’t getting pork out of this deal? really?] is the only possible response to the recession, is reduced to sputtering, “But I won the election!” Reminds me of the childish Trelaine character in Star Trek, who, when called inside by his parents, whines, “But I was winnin’!” …
Yes, Mr. Obama, you won the election, but now it is time to start governing. Winning an election doesn’t give you a blank check. It gives you the opportunity to lead. Do you know how to do that?
Yeah, I think Stan basically just called President Obama a boy, who he is qualified to lecture about politics. I don’t think I need to compare President Obama’s resume to Stan’s to show how ridiculous this kind of rant is. I’m sharing it simply as an example and a warning to conservatives: This kind of thinking will get you nowhere during this new administration, nor will it give the Republican Party a leg to stand on in future elections.
Obama isn’t the one whining and crying here, it’s conservatives—who lost the election and now want to take their ball and go home. I really hope that’s not the case, because we really do need a strong, intelligent, conservative voice in our political discourse. But (sorry, Stan and my conservative friends) it doesn’t sound to me like this strong conservative voice has emerged yet. And, in the meantime, this whole “I hope Obama fails” tone and tack is the worst kind of #FAIL I can imagine. It’s frankly un-Christian and unhelpful, and I’m saying all this, really, to challenge y’all to improve your game. I guess I’ll just have to leave it at that.
*I personally dislike and disavow categories such as “conservative” and “liberal” or even “progressive.” I don’t apply these terms to myself, but I still use them on occasion (as I do here) when talking about self-described conservatives and/or liberals. Most conservatives I know aren’t afraid to call themselves that and self-identify pretty readily as such, so that’s why I’m using it.
UPDATE: OK, one more addition—here are a few articles/perspectives I wish my conservative friends would read/consider (in addition to their steady diet of Fox News, Focus on the Family Action, etc.):
- Obama Lifts ‘Mexico City’ Policy, Could Affect HIV/AIDS Efforts — do my pro-life friends care as much about the 600,000 people without access to HIV&AIDS prevention education, counseling, and family planning services? or the sex workers (spreading much of the HIV!) who are denied this vital education and services? I hope so.
- God, women, and stealing — another perspective on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, President Obama’s first piece of legislation signed into law.
- Obama’s New Faith-Based Council — there’s more good here than bad, in my opinion.
UPDATE 2: This is good timing—Frank Schaeffer’s latest article at the Huffington Post picks up on the theme I’ve been developing here (with perhaps a bit too much vitriol, but Frank was pretty invested in Republicanism, much more so than I, so his emotion is understandable, if unnecessary). It’s called “Step Out of the Way Republicans!”
UPDATE 2/8/2009: Check out “Rush Limbaugh has his grip on the GOP microphone” in today’s L.A. Times. This is exactly what I’m talking about: “Limbaugh may eventually recede. … Until then, the microphone is his.”