Saturday, March 9, 2019

Confessions of a Political Independent

On occasions where my writing veers into the political arena, it is easy for some to assume that I am a Republican. The truth , however, is that I have not actively identified with any political party in well over twenty years. That decision was very deliberate and I have never, ever regretted it.

At various times in my life , I have been both a "bleeding heart liberal" and a loyal "Christian right" foot soldier. But as odd as it may sound, my core beliefs really weren't that different in either phase. Even in my most liberal phase, I still knew that abortion was wrong. At my most conservative, I was still uneasy about the callous attitude many right wing politicians took towards the poor. So after a long period of inner turmoil, I finally decided that  I would look at individual issues on their own merits and do what I believed was right regardless.

While it is true that my views remain right of center on most issues,  I want to see an end to war, poverty and racism just as much as my more progressive friends do. While we may disagree on some of the means to these noble ends, we can be civil and charitable in our discussion of them. For all of the passion and animosity they provoke, "conservative" and "liberal" are actually very ambiguous terms. If you call yourself a conservative, exactly what is it you want to conserve? Historically, it has represented the desire to preserve positive things such as tradition, morality and patriotism. Unfortunately, it has also been used to defend racism, anti-intellectualism and blind allegiance to the status quo. Similarly, the word "liberalism" bears the undertone of compassion and generosity, which obviously, are wonderful things. Yet even these noble motives can go horribly astray if they are not kept in proper perspective.

Both sides have their signature issues. For Democrats, these would include education, health care and the environment. Likewise, Republicans champion causes such as taxes, fighting crime and national security. Yet these concerns themselves are not partisan. Republicans want good schools and Democrats want to be kept safe from crime and terrorism. Sadly, we often take our eyes off the ultimate goals and let ourselves be torn apart by "gotcha" politics.

As a former professor of mine once pointed out, it is possible to be opponents without being enemies. Examples would include Republican President Eisenhower and Democratic House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Another would be President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill. It is also noteworthy that, even among Jesus' original disciples, there was a fascinating diversity. There was Simon the Zealot, who belonged to a group that advocated the violent overthrow of the Roman government. Yet there was also Matthew who, as a tax collector, was an employee of that same government. I would imagine that they had some pretty lively discussions!

I certainly recognize that the differences are there, and that they are often quite significant. Civility should never be used as a front for lack of passion or conviction. There are times when a non-compromising attitude is both commendable and necessary. But compromise is not always a bad thing. In fact, it would be impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile without it. For example, if our only available options are helping some poor people or helping none, reducing some greenhouse gasses or reducing none, preventing some abortions or preventing none, aren’t the choices pretty obvious?

Friends, blind political tribalism is tearing our country apart. Be involved. Be passionate. But please also be human. God is not a Republican or a Democrat and trying to remake Him in order to fit our labels is nothing more than idolatry.

#jameshboyd #keepitreal #yourfriendjames

Compassionate Conservativism Revisited

Regardless of what one believes about the presidency of George W. Bush, he does deserve credit for introducing a new concept into the American political conscience, one which politicians today would do well to revisit. That concept is known as  "Compassionate Conservativism."   In the president's own words: "I call my philosophy and approach 'Compassionate Conservativism.' It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on responsibility and results. And with this hopeful approach, we will make a real difference in people's lives."

While the origin of the term "Compassionate Conservatism"  is debated, World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky is widely credited for popularizing its usage. In his book Compassionate Conservatism: What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America,  
Olasky gives an alphabetized list of seven characteristics of Compassionate Conservativism:

    1. Assertive- We must be proactive and innovative in addressing poverty issues, rather than passively looking to government. Citizen assertiveness is key.

2. Basic- The most foundational institutions, i.e. family, faith community and neighborhood, should be the first avenues people look to for help, followed by outside organizations. Government should only be sought as a last resort and even then, the appeal should be to local and state governments before going to the federal level. However, government should be as supportive as possible in offering protection for volunteers where needed. This might take such forms as providing added police protection for agencies in troubled neighborhoods, as well as better Good Samaritan laws to protect volunteers from frivolous lawsuits.

3. Challenging- A safety net is to be a trampoline, not a hammock. Job training and career building are a key component in Compassionate Conservativism. Poor people should not be treated as pets. The goal is to help them to become everything they were created to be.

4. Diverse- A wide choice of programs should be offered from a variety of viewpoints and with different points of emphasis. People should be offered areas of assistance reflective of their individual beliefs and values.

5. Effective- Services must be constantly monitored in terms of overall effectiveness. How many people are fed and bedded is less important than what happens to them long term.

6. Faith Based- Voluntary religious education contributes greatly to the person s sense of responsibility and self-worth, and should not be denied to those who desire it.

7. Gradual- Compassionate Conservativism is not so much a  revolution  as it is a pragmatic blueprint for gradual, sustainable change.

The word compassion means  "common passion"  or  to suffer alongside another.  While there are certainly areas in which the government can help, it is, by nature, too mechanical and too bureaucratic to offer compassion in this capacity. That requires a much more human touch, one that can only be given by individuals and groups specifically dedicated to that purpose. This is the genius of Compassionate Conservativism. It is a plan which balances compassion with individual responsibility, and provides a much-needed  middle way  between the neo-Marxism of the far left and the social Darwinism of the far right. These issues are not going away, and these practical guidelines would be a worthy addition to any candidate's platform.

Keep It Real, 

#jameshboyd #keepitreal #yourfriendjames 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Case For School Choice

NOTE: This post was originally a paper I wrote for a political science class back in 2003. Nonetheless, the issues it addresses are as relevant as ever. 

In June of 2002, the push for educational reform by means of private school vouchers scored a major victory as the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 ruling which upheld vouchers as Constitutional. In the majority opinion, Cheif Justice William Rehnquist affirmed that:

We believe the program challenged here is a program of true private choice...It is part of a general and multifaceted undertaking by the State of Ohio to provide educational opportunities to the children of a failed school district. (1)

This failure of much of the current public school system is a key, although by no means the only, premise in this very complex issue. As a society which places a high value on freedom, it is understandable that parents would desire maximum freedom in the education of their children. Such freedoms would include parents of all races, persuasions and income levels being able to choose quality schools which are reflective of their moral and religious values and where their children’s risk of drugs and violence is kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, in many cases the capability of public schools to provide these things is simply not there.

First of all, the means of funding public education are grossly inadequate. The businesses whose tax revenue is used for this purpose is often concentrated in wealthy neighborhoods, leaving poor and minority families out in the cold. On the other hand, if a person invests the work, money and resources necessary to start a business, I can certainly understand why they would want their taxes to fund the schools where their children attend. This leaves us with an unfortunate stalemate, forcing us to choose between two unacceptable alternatives. Of the current proposals, I believe that private school voucher are the best way to help remedy this.

Some would object that public funds should not be used for schools with religious orientations. However, I would argue that religion is taught even more strongly in public schools than in many private ones. For example: a biology teacher who uses evolutionary theory to dogmatically claim that there is no God is teaching religion (yes, secular humanism is classified as a religion). This approach is not only hypocritical, it undercuts the very notion of "public" education and replaces it with a dictatorial method of indoctrination.

The spiritual elements of science are a vital, yet often overlooked aspect of education today. In fact, some of the greatest scientists in history, such as Gallileo, Copernicus, Keplar and many others acknowledged the existence of a Creator. Observing the wonders and majesty of the natural world in many cases sparks contemplation of something higher than ourselves. Are we so short sighted as to deny students this privilege? Yet the structure of public education often renders it meaningless.

There are other sides to this debate other than public schools vs. vouchers. A third proposal, advocated by many Libertarians, involves totally abolishing the concept of government run schools, and subsequently privatizing all education. Arguing that the Constitution provides no Federal role in education, advocates of this viewpoint claim that it offers maximum freedom for parents. Parents who want their children to be taught traditional or religious values can simply send them to a school where they are emphasized. Those who desire a more secular or liberal education for their children can also choose accordingly. The Alliance for the Separation of School and State provides an in-depth look at this issue. For more information, see .

Although I do not necessarily agree with this view, it does bring important issues to the table. Schools would have to compete against one another just like department stores and restaurants. This would provide strong initiative to fight problems such as drugs and gangs that are now so prevalent in our public schools. The competition would also serve to keep tuition low. Furthermore, no longer funding public schools would allow for a large tax cut which would also help to undercut tuition costs.

However, a potential weakness in the plan would involve the very poorest of citizens. In some cases, even the cost-saving measures mentioned above would still leave some families "out in the cold." This is why vouchers, while certainly not a cure-all, still offer what I feel is the most common sense approach by offering parents the most options to effectively educate their children.

(1) Frieden, Terry. "Supreme Court affirms school voucher program." 27 June, 2002. CNN. . 19 September, 2003.

#jameshboyd #keepitreal #yourfriendjames 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

More From James

Evaluating the Legacy of Jerry Falwell

The sudden passing of the Rev. Jerry Falwell in May of 2007 left little room for equivocation regarding the Moral Majority founder‘s place in history. To his supporters, Falwell was a fearless visionary who helped a wayward nation chart its moral course. To his critics, he was a loose cannon who often used sensationalist and mercenary tactics to score political favor. Ultimately, there is a degree of truth in both characterizations.

Those who knew Falwell personally, both friends and enemies, describe him as a thoughtful, generous man with a disarming sense of humor. Even  pornographer Larry Flynt, who crossed swords with Falwell many times, said that “My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, (he) and I became good friends.”

Falwell’s rise to power is a fascinating study in the shifting paradigms of twentieth century politics. The year was 1980, and the administration of incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter was coming apart at the seams. A horrendous economy, soaring gas prices and American hostages in Iran left Americans loudly crying out for change. In addition, many conservative Christian voters who actively supported Carter (a devout Southern Baptist) felt very betrayed when the President’s liberal leanings began to show. Enter Jerry Falwell.

On the Republican side, Ronald Reagan was preaching a revival of Barry Goldwater inspired conservativism. Although Goldwater’s far-right crusade had failed miserably sixteen years earlier, Reagan mixed it with a warm optimism and a Christian-based social conscience on issues such as abortion and school prayer. With Falwell’s help, Reagan rallied the disenfranchised faithful, crushed Carter and became one of the most influential presidents of modern times. For better or worse, the new alliance between Evangelical Christians and the Republican Party was set.

Obviously, we cannot view these sort of events uncritically. Did the Republican Party suddenly undergo a religious revival in 1980? We may hope so, but remember, we are talking about politicians here. It is also noteworthy that Barry Goldwater himself was never comfortable with this new partnership, famously stating that “Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the a**”.

Consequentially, some have questioned the validity of Falwell’s activism on legal grounds. Did the Reverend promote an illegitimate union between Church and State? I would answer a qualified no. Contrary to what some may claim, being a member of the clergy does not take away a person’s free speech rights. The law only prohibits ministers from endorsing candidates from the pulpit or from using church funds to support political campaigns. On their “own time,” they are perfectly free to speak at rallies, knock on doors and support their candidates of choice in whatever way the see fit.

At the same time, while Falwell’s right-wing crusades may have been legal, the question remains, were they wise? Although people of faith certainly have vital roles to play in the public arena, was all of the “Wrap the Flag Around the Cross” bravado really the best way to get the point across? The fruits of these efforts, at best, were mixed. Conservative pundit Cal Thomas, a former associate of Falwell’s, rightly points out that:

“The flaw in the movement was the perception that the church had become an appendage to the Republican Party and one more special interest group to be pampered. If one examines the results of the Moral Majority's agenda, little was accomplished in the political arena and much was lost in the spiritual realm, as many came to believe that to be a Christian meant you also must be ‘converted’ to the Republican Party and adopt the GOP agenda and its tactics.”

Over a decade after his death, Falwell remains a controversial figure. His legacy lives on through his family, through the  church and university he founded and through the on going debate on the issues he helped bring to the forefront. Whether we agree with all of his methods or not, his influence will be felt for decades to come.

Keep It Real,

#jameshboyd #keepitreal #yourfriendjames

Non-Traditionals May Hold Pro Life Future

A problem with our modern political discourse is the tendency to rely on bumper-sticker logic as a substitute for substantive reason. Nowhere is this more evident than in the eternal war over the ethics of abortion. The clichés are all too common: “Don’t force your morality on me,” “Keep your rosaries off of my ovaries” or more recently, “Keep your religion out of my uterus, and I’ll keep my foot out of your ...”

In order to make any real progress on this debate, we must do away with a few of the popular stereotypes, most specifically that the pro life cause is inherently a religious and/or a conservative political issue. Although many pro life advocates, myself included, do fall into these two categories, many of us also feel the debate has become far too myopic and politicized. The anti-abortion movement itself is much larger and more diverse than that. Consider this short list of “non-traditional” pro lifers: Theodore Roosevelt (our first “Progressive” president), Susan B. Anthony (and most other feminist founders), the Dalai Lama, liberal actor Martin Sheen and revered poet Maya Angelou.

There are anti-abortion wings within all major U.S. political parties, including the Republican National Coalition for Life, Democrats for Life of America and Libertarians for Life. The grounds for their beliefs may be, among other things, scientific (the fact that prenatal medical technology has made it virtually impossible to assert that an unborn child is not alive) or legal (the fact that Roe v. Wade is based on very spurious Constitutional scholarship, a fact that is even acknowledged by some pro choice advocates). At any rate, their convictions are certainly not always based on religion.

In fact, in looking at the history of American abortion policy, author and activist Vasu Murti observes: “The U.S. statutes against abortion have a nonsectarian history. They were put on the books when Catholics were a politically insignificant minority. Even the Protestant clergy were not a major factor in these laws. Rather, the laws were the achievement of the American Medical Association. ... One could argue, therefore, apart from religion, that recognizing the rights of the unborn, like the rights of blacks, women, lesbians and gays, children, animals and the environment, is a sign of secular social progress.”

This is reflected in the philosophies of many modern pro-life organizations. For example, the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League is based on the premise that “... life is all there is and all that matters, and abortion destroys the life of an innocent human being.” Similarly, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians states that “Human rights start when human life begins.” The popular but now defunct site LeftOut: A Haven for Progressive Pro-Lifers further explores how “... progressive pro-lifers tend to feel ‘left out’ of both liberal and pro-life groups.”

Recent political trends seem to indicate that these “Left Out” voters may be a more formidable voice than many have realized. An example would be the 2006 race for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania. The incumbent Republican, Rick Santorum, was a hero to religious Conservatives since he was first elected in the “Republican Revolution” of 1994. He was also reelected by a comfortable margin in 2000. However, in 2006, the Democrats coyly nominated pro-life State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. With the contentious abortion issue off of the table, these voters finally had a viable option, sweeping Casey to a double-digit victory.

Democratic icon Hubert Humphrey summed it up well: “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those that are in the dawn of life — the children, those who are in the twilight of life — the elderly, and those who are in the shadows of life — the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” It is this sort of compassionate approach that motivates the majority of pro-lifers, many of whom would be quite willing to consider the Democratic Party if they were offered more viable options.

Keep It Real,

#jameshboyd #keepitreal #yourfriendjames