Just Policy, not Waterloo
Last week the Democratic National Committee (DNC) pilloried Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina for putting politics above policy when he said, "if we're able to stop Obama on [healthcare reform], it will be his Waterloo."(http://www.examiner.com/x-13572-RNC-Examiner~y2009m7d23-Sen-DeMint-responds-to-DNC-attack-ad). The Republican senator is one of the most outspoken critics of President Obama's healthcare reform ideas. He is unapologetic about both his statement and his policy criticisms. Of course, he shouldn't apologize for his principled criticisms of Obama's policy position, but Senator DeMint's lack of contrition for his statement is imprudent and serves to reinforce cynicism. Those on the other side of the aisle are also guilty of making politics about the political game or war (choose your metaphor) rather than about the achievement of just policy. The recent retaliatory actions of the DNC, for instance, make this clear.
As Christian disciples in a roughly democratic polis, we must avoid letting this cancerous cynicism undercut our public responsibility. Our God is a God who loves justice (Ps. 11:5,7; 99:4) and calls us to work for public justice. This kind of work can be despairing when we, in our public justice work, peer into the political ream seeking out good ideas and allies working with the grain of justice. At first we may merely be startled by behavior or statements consistent with Senator DeMint's. Iterated over time, however, we can easily grow cynical as we watch the "sausage being made" in Washington, Des Moines, or Fresno. A good friend of mine who works as a staffer on Capitol Hill has told me on several occasions how much he hates the political games there. It would be quite easy for him to become a cynic and join the efforts of those who mainly seek political victory rather than justice for ordinary people. But, being a serious Christian, he is a person of hope—hopeful that justice will be done despite this phenomenon. And he is encouraged to remain hopeful partly because he bumps into and works with others like himself who seek justice more than a win for their party.
Those of us outside the proverbial beltway, too, can become the antibodies to the cancer that is trying to kill just healthcare reform. But we have to roll up our sleeves, get a good handle on the politics and policy options (you can start by going to the New York Times Healthcare Reform page), (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/health/diseasesconditionsandhealthtopics/health_insurance_and_managed_care/health_care_reform/index.html) prayerfully discern and discuss them as we determine our own faith-based position, and then join the many others who are trying to weigh in during this historic legislative debate. At the very least, we can call our members of Congress to remind them that we frown upon "politics as usual" and demand transparency so that we can monitor how our representatives are representing us. Perhaps, too, we can tell them two or three specific things we expect healthcare reform to achieve and ask how their ideas for healthcare reform will achieve these.
As the heat is turned up during these next months of debate, let's not take the path of least resistance by playing the political game. Instead, let's be witnesses to God, the lover of justice.
Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA.