Monday, October 27, 2008

Who I'm voting for and why

Like a few others have done, I just want to share a few thoughts on the upcoming election. I'd especially like to put these thoughts in perspective of my personal story - and how my upbringing and values have remained with me and shaped my current outlook on the world.

I'll try to be brief - I know you all are busy, but I also think that voting is one of the most important responsibilities we have as American citizens. Equally, maybe more important, is that - before we vote - we have a responsibility to become informed and give a fair shot to both sides. I try not to vote Republican just because Kansas is historically Republican, or Democrat just because most of my friends are Democrat - but I try to listen to what both sides have to say, weigh the pressing issues of the time, and decide who best represents my values, and the direction I'd like things to go. I think most of you do the same thing.

My parents taught me this. They taught me to put myself in other people's shoes before thinking of myself, to work hard, and to stay grounded. Like I said above, my Catholic faith, and growing up in a loving family in the midwest (thanks mom and dad!) have formed the basis of my life, the core of who I am today. Since I left Kansas (10 years ago, wow!), I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel around the world, meet an amazing diversity of people, and attend some wonderful schools. The way I view my life so far, these more recent experiences have just helped clarify the values that I learned growing up.

I voted for George Bush in 2000 in my first election in college - because of his message of "compassionate conservatism", but also because my interpretation of my values hadn't solidified yet. I was torn between "being true to my roots" and an uncertain feeling I couldn't quite place. Honestly, another primary motivation was the abortion issue. Since then I have read, discussed, and learned a lot about that issue, which as a Pro-Life Catholic, I still feel to be one of the biggest social injustices in human history. Most importantly, I wanted to figure out the best, most effective way to limit the number of abortions (which, is the ultimate goal anyway, right?). After much back and forth, this was the issue that finally made me switch to registering as a Democrat for the first time. I know that might be surprising - given that Republicans have been known to take the abortion issue as their own - but since Roe vs Wade made abortion legal nationwide, abortion rates under Republican or Democratic presidents have been virtually identical. In fact, Democrats have been slightly more effective at reducing abortions. In a way this mirrors my own research on hurricane deaths - that countries with better health care systems, better preparedness and prevention programs suffer vastly fewer deaths during hurricane disasters - much better than countries that focus on evacuations AFTER the fact. In essence, the abortion issue is a development issue. Most abortions around the world occur in poor countries (like in Africa, where abortion is generally illegal), where women are driven to desperation and have few options. In the United States, Republicans attempt to limit abortions by making them illegal (even if RvsW was overturned - it wouldn't make all abortions immediately illegal, it would turn the decision back to the states. Women could still cross state lines for abortions, making them even more unsafe. Estimates are that in total it would reduce abortions only by 10%), and Democrats attempt to limit abortions by focusing on women's health - by preventing unwanted pregnancies before they ever happen (and by increasing resources available for teenagers and women in poverty, the two groups most likely to have abortions. Sen. Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat from Pennsylvania (and former Jesuit Volunteer!) has put forward a plan to reduce the number of abortions by 95% in the next 10 years). To me, that approach seems to make more sense, and the studies have backed it up. I think as Catholics, we should decide the lesser of two evils between advocating for increased focus on women's health which involves the use of birth control methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies, or a less effective strategy - trying to make abortions illegal. If we can agree that saving lives is the most important issue, the first strategy seems clearly more effective.
Here's an article that explains some of these points about abortion in more detail

As a result, in 2004, I voted for John Kerry, holding my nose. To me, he seemed too much of the "east coast liberal" type to be the charismatic leader we needed at that time. During the time since 2000, I had also learned a lot more about the world. After learning about the abortion issue, I gained a much deeper understanding of other injustices that exist in the world - from child soldiers in Africa, to poverty and the environment, all these issues started to come clear for me during my time in college at SLU. For example, I learned that more children die of malaria and other easily preventable diseases in Africa each year (4 million per year) than in abortions in the United States (1.5 million per year). I started to think of these things as an extension of my parents desire for me to put myself in other people's shoes and to do the right thing. Suddenly, it became very clear for me that "sticking up for the little guy" was the right thing. For me, Democrats, in general seemed to support that view of the world. Health care for those who don't have it, lower taxes for those who can't afford it, and a calm, measured approach to moving things forward. Policies of hope rather than policies of division. As a Catholic, I couldn't be true to my faith and still vote Republican any more.

Still, my vote for Kerry was mostly a vote against George Bush - against what I still believe to be a grossly unfair, unguided war, and against the culture of fear and division that was fostered as a result. I knew that we could do better. America is better than its recent past. In 2008, I will vote for Barack Obama. Finally, I am voting FOR someone. To me, he is a symbol of America's future. You've all heard his speeches. Like millions of other people around the country and the world, I too have been inspired by his vision of what America can be if we come together. Many people have compared him to John F. Kennedy, or Martin Luther King as a generational figure in American, maybe world history. Like these historical figures, Barack Obama embodies the same values and ideals I have learned from my upbringing and my faith. He IS America - the 21st century America - with midwestern roots and values but a true global citizen. To solve the big issues, like climate change, global poverty, the economic crisis, health care, and terrorism, we need someone grounded in strong values with practical solutions, who knows that unity is better than division, and hope is more powerful than fear. We need someone to inspire us, to help us to believe in ourselves again. Because although many people might think "Barack Obama will save the world", he won't - he can't - it will be us, average people that will save the world. We just need to believe in ourselves.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this is so freakin' beautiful. in case i haven't mentioned that. it's so respectfully worded & backed up.
thank you.