Friday, April 22, 2005

Focus on the Fanatics

A number of years back Coloradans voted for the Tabor Amendment. Tabor is basically a mile high and expanded version of Proposition 13, the anti-government and anti-tax initiative that Californians passed a few decades ago.

Proposition 13 severely limited the amount of property taxes that Californians can pay. Since property taxes are the primary way that public schools in California get their money, Proposition 13 slowly but surely cut off the oxygen from the schools in California.

A recent bi-partisan study demonstrated that Proposition 13 is the primary factor in the dramatic decline in the quality of public education in California. When I was a kid the state had the finest public education system in the entire country. Now it barely makes the cut above Mississippi.

The wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the world now has public schools that probably qualify for second world status. The upper middle class and the wealthy aren't too affected because they can afford to send their kids to private schools. The middle class and the poor bear the brunt of the destruction of the public education system there.

That's not what the conservatives who originally proposed Proposition 13 thought would happen. They bought into an ideological hatred of governments and the belief that open-market competition and a bias in favor of the well-off always produces the best social outcomes. In their well meaning and possibly fantastical conceptions, they believed that cutting money off from the struggling public schools would somehow improve them. The fact that educational reform is a far more complicated beast then they thought didn't cause them to hesitate for a second in their crusade.

It's not that their ideas were--or are--crazy. There's a lot to be said for introducing competitive pressures in any area of human endevour and giving a hand to the better off does sometimes end up helping everybody. The problem was--and is--the almost religious fanaticism with which so many of these folks hold these ideas. That attitude makes taking a more experimental, humble approach to policy--i.e., "Hey, these seem like ideas with some promise, let's test them out"--or compromise almost impossible. Being uncompromising and even inflexible about the basics of one's faith can be commendable, but it's out of place and destructive in matters of public policy.

Fortunately, the voters here recently showed more wisdom than Californians did a few decades ago.

Right wing religious conservatives controlled state politics here for about 10 years in spite of the fact that Colorado is pretty diverse.

For a decade they did what they do these days.

People finally got tired of the simplistic ideology and self-righteousness and voted them out of office in the elections this past fall. Moderates along with some reasonable liberal allies now control both the Colorado House of Representatives and the State Senate. I'm hoping that will become a national trend.

These more balanced and reasonable people are trying to restore funding to basic services that everyone--even the right wing ideological types--really want.

Many critical public services, and especially the university and college system here, took severe hits under the reign of the way-too-confidently-godly and under the inflexible Tabor directives.

The good news is that because of the election results--and because so many people get what California did to itself--the right wing ideologues here have been forced to compromise. So a reasonable budgetary alternative will soon come before voters which will probably restore adequate funding to the crumbling higher education system.

But Colorado has even more extreme ideologues who clearly need a lesson in democratic politics and humility.

Most of you have probably heard about the latest political efforts on the part of Focus on the Family, an evangelical/fundamentalist organization based in Colorado Springs.

Basically, the Bush administration has proposed about 250 judges for the federal courts during his presidency. The Senate has--to this point--confirmed all but 10 of them for about a 95% confirmation rate. That's pretty much the same ratio that the Senate used to confirm President Clinton's nominations.

The Senate Democrats don't want to confirm the other Bush nominees for various reasons. Mostly they believe these folks are way too conservative and they just don't want em sitting in federal courts.

Since the Dems don't have the votes in the Senate now to defeat those nominations in an up and down vote, they are willing to use the fillibuster, a time-tested tool that the minority party can use to avoid getting steamrolled by the majority.

The Republicans, understandably, aren't too happy about the prospect of a fillibuster and are exploring the option of changing the Senate laws to stop fillbusters in the case of judicial confirmations.

Unlike a lot of folks, I don't necessarily view the fillibuster as a sacrosanct thing. I support it pretty strongly because I'm normally for anything that gives a minority a chance to stop what it considers to be the most extreme abuses of power on the part of the majority. Republicans and Democrats have often used it over the years to do just that.

I think it's healthy to have a discussion about it. The people who want to eliminate the fillibuster make a reasonable case, even though I personally disagree with the argument.

I wonder why the Republicans feel the need to get 100% of their nominees in and why they're willing to change centuries old Senate rules in order to do so. Nobody gets 100% of their nominees in.

But in one way, this is all just a political discussion.

Not so for our friends in Colorado Springs and for many evangelical and fundamentalist leaders. Focus on the Family and other right wing religious groups are now campaigning to change the rules by claiming that those who oppose the changes are "enemies of the people of God" and that they're motivated by hostile anti-Christian sentiment.

Wow. Supposedly reasonable people like Bill Frist, the Republican Majority Leader in the Senate, are appearing on TV shows and on radio to implicitly--and in some cases explicitly--endorse these kinds of sentiments.

I'm not surprised that Republican politicians are doing all this to appeal to evangelicals and fundamentalists. That potentially misguided crowd helped put them in office in the last election so I guess the karmic law of tit for tat must be observed.

But the fact that evangelical and fundamentalist leaders not only think this kind of stuff but aggressively proclaim it is disturbing to me.

It's another great example of people who can't tell the difference between committment to their faith on the one hand and political and ideological fanaticism on the other.

The "enemies of the people of God" in this instance are simply Democrats and a few principled Republicans like John McCain who simply don't think changing the Senate rules to make sure President Bush gets 100% of his nominees approved is a good idea. I'm sure some of 'em are hostile to religious faith, but many others are people of faith who just happen to think differently.

If this was just fringe stuff it wouldn't be worth commenting on. But it isn't fringe stuff.

Focus on the Family isn't a bunch of clowns like Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority types in the 80's, and the right wing religious republican types aren't a fringe political group. These folks are very influential and in many respects they are helping run the country right now.

They're helping create a hostile political climate where humility and compromise are increasingly difficult, and they're modeling the most destructive things I can imagine for younger religious believers. What could be worse than teaching people to brand political opponents who disagree with you as "the enemies of the people of God?"

I don't normally make calls of my readers to take action in this blog, but let me encourage the more balanced religious people who read this to speak up in your churches and organizations and on your blogs to say no to this kind of thing. Since many evangelical leaders have been cowed into silence about things they know in their consciences are wrong, maybe lay people will have to speak up.

At some point this whole misguided effort has to be challenged by folks who are in house.


Blogger Polonius said...

I think you make some very valid points about the filibuster. It is a difficult time watch as a Christian what people are doing in the name of Christ in the political mainstream. I think people may find some of the thoughts of Sojourners Magazine interesting in this regard, whether they are Christians or something else.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Interesting alias, Polonius. "To thine own self be true." Always the best advice.

I'm a big fan of Sojo.

11:58 PM  

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