So. Let's talk politics for a minute.
That's right, politics.
Most of you know that I'm ultimately a political moderate, choosing no party affiliation (I used to say 'Libertarian' when pressed - but man, those guys have gone kooky in recent years) - I worked the Perot campaign in late high school during his first bid for the presidency, and I've been a volunteer on both sides of the political fence in our silly two party system off and on for a while, now. Though.. admittedly, not in recent days.
Up until Bush, Jr., I often voted GOP (though I did vote for Clinton in Clintion II, and I have yet to get enthused about Zack Wamp (our TN. representative from my district).
This year, in this upcoming presidental election, I'm voting for Barak Obama.
For me, political races always come down, in the end, to keystone issues - things that I view as important, and I often try to look at past the usual campaign rhetoric. Honestly, though? The biggest issue for me is Personal Freedom - the establishment of the Pursuit of Happyness - the notion that true freedom involves the core Libertarian concepts of Freedom from Interference, Freedom of Ownership, and Freedom of Choice. It's a pretty heady issue - but it's one I wish more Americans got interested in, as a whole. Most people gladly go on about saying 'how free they are' without paying any attention to what 'Free' means, and the responsibilities that come with it.
In the end, Freedom - in the notion of true, personal freedom, revolves around the simple idea that you should be free to participate in any activity or endeavor that does not harm the common good, that government should exist at the sufference of the people, not people at the sufference of the government. This is why principles like Habeas Corpus*, "Innocent until Proven Guilty", and even the second amendment are so important - something we forget, I think.
You should be free, in my mind, to read what you want. To talk about what you want. To go where you want, especially within your own country. You should have a right to expect that you are not treated as a criminal, and that you can defend yourself and your family - and even those around you - from attack, censure, or the destruction of property. You're free to earn what you can, and enjoy the fruits of your own labor, and you're free to believe what you like, to follow whatever notion of higher power (or not) floats your boat. You are free to do anything ... except impinge upon these freedoms as held by another.
That's what murder is, or theft. Fraud, even speeding - they're all encroachments on the freedom of other members of society.
But this government, and all governments, should not have the right or power to proffer legislation, ostensibly for the public good, that removes the freedom on which this country was founded. It is the risk of freedom - by being free, and assuming that others have the right to be free, you trade in a bit of your own personal security. You can't stop me from buying all the stuff I need to make a bomb, for instance - but our government, our country, is founded on the ideology that the average citizen must be trusted to pursue his existence, that you have a RIGHT to your own life. And, frankly, if that means you buy fertilizer and gasoline - well, a lot of people have good reason to do just that.
Government is not free to tell us what we must believe - and the GOP has become subject to those who earnestly feel that meddling in other people's morality is not only alright, but a Good Thing, good for society as a whole. But - organized religion is the antithesis of Freedom - it must be, by its very nature. Thomas Jefferson said it best: "The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me. . ."**. Organized faith does a great deal of good, I freely admit -
- but those who would instill faith into our government, at the cost of the freedoms of those within it, are traitors to the very ideals upon which this country is founded.
How many denominations of "Christian" are there, for instance? From Fred Phelps and his horrible Westboro Baptist Church to modern Anglicanism and every flavor in between - Unitarian and Church of God, Pentacostals and Baptists, Methodists and Catholics - no two denominations can even agree on fundamental principles of their faith, much less some sort of unified morality. Worse, each denomination believes it is firmly in the RIGHT, and everyone else is at least misguided, if not dangerously wrong.
The Islamic world is in the same boat - even Bhuddists politely disagree with each other on the finer points of principle.
But, ultimately, organized religion places strictures on personal freedom - outside limits voluntarily accepted by those that practice the faith. For a true Baptist, for instance, alcohol of any sort is supposedly sinful - but this isn't something held to be true by the Anglicans, by any stretch of the imagination.+ This is as it should be - faiths and religions are about codes of behavior and belief, and more power to you for following them, or even proselytizing your faith to others. That is freedom, after all! You have a right to believe anything you'd like, provided that (like, say, the Branch Davidians out in Waco) you're not directly assaulting the public good.
When, however, a faith steps up to have their particular subbrand of right and wrong legislated into laws that everyone else must follow? They are violating the rights, soveregnty, and liberty of everyone who does not ascribe to their belief system. Period. There's no middle ground.
Theology has very little place in government. It belongs among the people, and in their hands - but not in the books of law that govern the work and safety of society proper.
The Bush administration and the GOP have courted the religious right - the people who have arbitrarially decided, based on their belief system and their articles of faith that being homosexual is utterly wrong, that same-sex civil unions deserve no federal protection - and it is espoused by politicians that then go on to admit affairs, rendezvous in men's bathrooms...
But nevermind that.
Barak Obama is a gifted orator, an astute politican - and he stands on a platform of personal freedom, of the ability to make your own choices, and compromise. He is a break from the last eight years of theocratic, head-in-the-sand politics from a party that was once about responsibility and now seems to be about keeping the Great White Male in power, happy, and in denial.
I don't know when the Democratic Party became the party of real equality, fiscal responsibility, and personal freedom - but I'm glad for the ideological shift. And Obama? Obama I can stand behind - you do not speak with such simple fluency and inspirational candor without believing what you say.
So. I pick him. I pick a man devoted to a change in direction, devoted to freedom, devoted to the prospect that all people in this country deserve an equal opportunity for the pursuit of happiness.
That gets my vote.
* From Wikipedia: Habeas corpus (IPA: /ˈheɪbiəs ˈkɔɹpəs/) (Latin: [We command] that you have the body) is the name of a legal action, or writ, through which a person can seek relief from unlawful detention of himself or another person. The writ of habeas corpus has historically been an important instrument for the safeguarding of individual freedom against arbitrary state action.
In other words - 'you cannot detain me without producing evidence that detaining me is within the public good.'
There is no greater guardian of civil liberty than a healthy writ of Habeas Corpus. Aren't you so glad we don't have them anymore?
** From Jefferson's letter to Benjamin Rush, 1800, re: the philadelphia clergy attacking Jefferson and declaring him an 'infidel'.
+ Personal Anectode: Every Anglican priest I know knows at least one very funny joke involving either sacrimental wine or whiskey. Go ask. I promise, every one has a drunk priest story somewhere.