book thoughts: "the fourth political option"

In 2004, after a fantastically disappointing presidential campaign and election, the Reverend Jim Wallis--an evangelical christian, political activist, and editor of Sojourner's magazine--wrote a book which he titled God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It.

Not only do Br. Wallis and I see eye-to-eye on several key points, he has also managed to pinpoint for me at least part of the source of my political disgruntlement. With my populist, environmentalist, part-liberal, part-conservative, part-progressive, part-anarchist, part anti-capitalist, part anti-nationalist leanings and a extreme aversion to political labels (even tho i just threw out a zillion regarding myself), parties, and idealogues, it's no wonder I've had difficulty finding anything close to resembling a niche.

I know many people like me who don't subscribe to our current political options and ideologies. Many of them are also Mormons who don't fit in with the traditional christian conservative niche. For those of you who may put yourself in this category (but not necessarily all my part-this, anti-that categories) or for anyone else, you may find this excerpt from Wallis' book compelling.

(for a smoother read, please ignore the plethora of parentheticals)

There are now three major political options in our public life. The first political option in America today is conservative on everything--from cultural, moral, and family concerns to economic, environmental, and foreign policy issues. Differences emerge between aggressive nationalists and cautious isolationists, corporate apologists and principled fiscal conservatives, but this is the political option clearly on the ascendancy in America [remember, this is 4 years ago], with most of the dominant ideas in the public square coming from the political right.

The second political option in contemporary America is liberal on everything--both family/sexual/cultural questions and economic, environmental, and foreign policy matters. There are certainly differences among the liberals (from pragmatic centrists to green leftists), but the intellectual and ideological roots come from the Left side of the cultural and political spectrum--and today most from the liberal/Left find themselves on the defensive [not anymore, for those of you who heard the story on NPR today about how the Religious Right is back on the defensive and excited about it. !]

The third option in American politics is libertarian, meaning liberal on cultural/moral issues and conservative on fiscal/economic and foreign policy issues. The "just leave me alone and don't spend my money option" is growing quickly in American life.

I believe there is a "fourth option" for American politics, which follows from the prophetic religious tradition we have described. It is traditional or conservative on issues of family values, sexual integrity and personal responsibility, while being very progressive, populist, or even radical on issues like poverty [yes!] and racial justice [yes again!]. It affirms good stewardship of the earth and its resources, supports gender equality, and is more internationally minded than nationalist--looking first to peacemaking and conflict resolution when it comes to foreign policy questions [huzzah!!!!] The people it appeals to (many religious, but others not) are very strong on issues like marriage, raising kids, and individual ethics, but without being right-wing, reactionary, or mean-spirited or scapegoating against any group of people, such as homosexuals [yes!!]. They can be pro-life, pro-family, and pro-feminist, all at the same time. They think issues of "moral character" are very important, both in a politician's personal life and in his or her policy choices. Yet they are decidedly pro-poor [definitely me. possibly the most important work i've done to this point in my life is with low-income and homeless families who have shown me just what a blight poverty and homelessness really are], for racial reconciliations, critical of purely military solutions [oh man. so so so critical. check out Taxi to the Dark Side for the darkest side of military solutions], and defenders of the environment.

At the heart of the fourth option is the integral link between personal ethics and social justice. And it appeals to people who refuse to make the choice between the two.


Sue said...

I was just thinking this morning that what I needed was a new political party. Our polarized party tradition doesn't serve me very well.

I think what I am looking for is government with a highly developed sense of stewardship on all levels of government action.

I'm interested in what the mayor of Newark, NJ is doing. It looks like it might be close to the combination of compassion and individual responsibility that I am looking for. (I think it was Newark, NJ)

Amanda, Curtis, Ellis, Hugh said...

I've heard so much about this book from you--glad to have an excerpt. This is interesting to me in light of the discussion Curt and I had last night as we read both in Isaiah and Section 42 of Doctrine and Covenants which define God's law of consecration.

A politician may adopt some of the rhetoric of caring for our fellowmen and sharing the wealth--and even be sincere and influential in that respect. I'm certainly drawn to would-be leaders who voice those ideals.

Living in a compassionate way even while living with significant differences is a challenge. It seems that it's hard for people to trust each other and believe that saying, "I choose a different way than you" doesn't secretly mean "I hate you." Parties evolve through the years--our country is fairly young and plays such a key role internationally...it fascinates me to think of the possibilities for good or bad. But I think that progress can be made on a local and individual level (and work its way up, I hope).

christina q thomas said...

i'm all about the local and individual level and firmly believe that's where change begins and where the most important differences can be and need to be made.

Nancy said...

Wow. That was really well thought, and definately more intelligible than my recent frustrations with politics. I find myself in the 'sit back and watch how bad they screw it up now' party lately.

hen said...

Hey bid, this is none other than henry grey thomas ( we are coming down for christmas) and ......................................................sweet blog (even though i didn't read it.)

Dottie said...

Hmmm... I am reading this after class when I got the most awesome leg massage and I'm about to pass out on my bed.

Much of what he said resonates with me. I am with ya on the local level thing. Supporting the local economy, being pro-active in the community, getting to know your neighbors and the like and voting for your local elected officials.

My biggest beef when it comes to politics is the idea that the government is supposed to take care of our every single need. We were talking in my nutrition class about how in the 1800 - 1900's there were tons of small family farms and people were relatively self sustainable. Today that's not the case. Most people don't know how to grow their own food. We have become dependent on so many people and corporations to provide the goods we consume on a daily basis (which is good and convenient, but at it's own cost). The same with the government. As we become more dependent on other people to take care of us and provide for us and lose that ability to be self sustainable - then we are losing our own personal power and voice. And if the government doesn't take care of our every single need then we get pissy, blame all our problems on them and vote for a different party next term.

If we can learn how to provide for ourselves more and educate ourselves more (socialized medicine wouldn't be as big of an issue if more people used preventive medicine and learned how to take care of themselves besides eating 5 fruits and veggies/day) and share our abundance with each other(trading services is such an awesome thing!) then we wouldn't need the 'patriot act' or the government tapping into our cell phones or regulations on how the government thinks we should live.

Ugh... I think I need to go to sleep now...