The Spiritual Roots of the Democratic Party, continued|
beginning of article
Protecting the environment is a religious issue, on a number of levels. First of all, on a doctrinal level, creation of the world is one of the great works that essentially defines God. Elohim created the world in stages, and pronounced each stage good -- oceans, land, plants, animals, man. Every living creation was autonomous and was encouraged to have joy in its, his or her own sphere of existence, its habitat, ecosystem. (Gen. 1.) If we destroy God's creations -- forests, natural habitats, species -- we are destroying the works of God, and thus are becoming, in a way, anti-creation, anti-God.
Nibley, in his classic essay, "Subduing the Earth," pointed out that God did not create man and woman to exploit and use up all other levels of creation; instead, Adam and Eve are merely part of creation. In his classes, Nibley often would emphasize that God did not make the world only for man, but also for other species, all of which have part of God's sacrality and blessing. "Multiple use," he used to repeat. Non-Mormon scholars have developed the idea of stewardship in developing a theology relating to the environment – the earth is not our personal possession to exploit and destroy; instead, God has allowed us to be stewards of its infinite complexity and beauty. We can be greedy, short-sighted stewards, destroying species and habitats at a breathtaking pace for short-term financial profit, harming ourselves in our destructive stupidity; or we can look at the earth and its plants and animals with love, as God did in creation.
Of course, scientists have given practical support for respecting all of God's creation. We have discovered that all organisms live in ecosystems, in which species are dependent upon each other. The very air we breathe is dependent upon forests. One recent example of the interconnectedness of the environment is the recent floods in India, which according to one analysis were the result of Mango tree deforestation. Even without theology, aggressive environmentalism should obviously be a priority for all responsible citizens. It is a matter of survival.
But those who follow the Judaeo-Christian traditions should be passionate environmentalists for religious reasons. And if Mormons are members of the true church, Mormons should be leaders in environmental issues. One Mormon, Stewart Udall, has been a national leader for environmental protection, serving as Secretary for the Interior under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He was appointed when the environment had not become a major issue, and helped pioneer the movement.
On another religious level, basic ethics will argue that we should not destroy the environment for short term selfish benefit when it hurts others. And among those others it hurts are our children and grandchildren, so this is a family values issue. For instance, if we destroy the air in our generation, it will be our children who will suffer from asthma, cancer, and other diseases. So even on the level of loving our families, our children, a basic Mormon emphasis, we should be aggressive environmentalists.
Now, how do Democrats and Republicans stack up on this issue? Once again, things do not look good for the typical, doctrinaire Republicans. One of the basic tenets of Republican philosophy is that central federal government should not regulate industry – the less restrictions on corporate America the better. Therefore, typical Republicans tend to want to remove environmental restrictions from businesses, and allow pollution of the environment go unchecked. Bush has aggressively moved forward with scaling back environmental programs left by a Democratic president. One of the defining moments in his administration has been when, reportedly responding to an intense campaign from energy lobbyists who contributed to his election campaign, he broke a campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide. And on the international level, Bush has been crucially defined by turning his back on the Kyoto treaty, which advocated principles of the Rio Treaty of 1992 signed by his own father. This policy, and the Me First way in which the policy has been carried out, has made America look entirely like the Ugly American in world politics. Then, on the day the Kyoto Protocol was accepted by 178 nations, instead of being in the leadership, America was not even involved. I was ashamed of America's stance on that day.
But even extreme Republicans are sometimes forced to admit that there is a problem with pollution. One solution they have advocated is "voluntary compliance" with environmental standards. This is like putting the fox in the henhouse, telling it we hope it pursues a voluntary regime of suddenly becoming vegetarian, and then turning our back on the henhouse and plugging our ears to avoid hearing the anguished squawks of chickens as they are devoured. Bush, after consulting with business interests who contributed heavily to his campaign chest (rather than with those who had expertise in environmental issues), tried voluntary pollution standards for 760 grandfathered polluting plants in Texas to help clean up the air (Texas leads the nation in polluted air and water); of these 760, 700 did not "volunteer" to clear up their polluting emissions. Now Bush, after a similar consultation with major polluters, wants to implement the "voluntary compliance" policy on a national level. The reason we have gotten in the environmental plight we have is that corporate America has never been willing to pursue voluntary self-regulation. Admittedly, changing your program so as not to pollute can require resources, creativity and ingenuity. But the alternative – rampant destruction of the ecosystem of our earth, with untold consequences to ourselves, our children, grandchildren, and future generations, not to mention the present destruction of the beauty and sacrality of God's creations -- is unacceptable.
So, what Americans desperately need is protection against the polluters in corporate America; instead, typical Republicans are oriented toward protecting CEOs and management who are the polluters. My Republican sister-in-law has freely admitted that Democrats have a much better record on the environment than do the Republicans. The group REP America, Republicans for Environmental Protection, give Bush, and their own party generally, terrible marks. REP is especially scathing on a "greenscamming" organization, Coalition of Republican Environmental Advocates" (CREA), that includes among its membership the present Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, and such "anti-enviros" as Tom DeLay, Don Young and Helen Chenowith. "Among the contributors at [a recent CREA] fund-raiser were many lobbyists for the oil, timber, chemical and other special interests . . . that have pushed lawmakers hard to relax environmental protection and remediation standards that a huge majority of Americans, whatever their political leanings, strongly support." The REP home screen includes two quotes from Teddy Roosevelt: "Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of ensuring the safety and continuance of the nation." "I do not intend that our natural resources shall be exploited by the few against the interests of the many."
Of course, our present Republican President and Vice President are both oil executives. Their administration is filled with their friends from the energy industries. They received massive contributions from energy interests during their campaign. The L.A. Times recently published an analysis of how their appointees even to environmental jobs have typically not been environmentalists – instead, they come from energy industry positions, often members of the energy industry who had been working for years to oppose and evade environmental regulations. Reportedly, within the White House, environmentalists are referred to contemptuously as "tree huggers."
Again, there are moderate Republicans who are sincere environmentalists. But certainly, the balance of forces in the Republican party is going the other way. So once again, as in the issues of compassion for the poor and civil rights, the Democratic party is closer to the gospel on this issue.
I should mention before leaving this theme that Stewart Udall, Mormon Secretary of the Interior, was an Arizona Democrat. Ross Peterson is writing a biography of Udall that should be one of the exciting new books in Mormon history. A fine book of essays by Mormons who are environmental activists, including some General Authorities, is New Genesis: A Mormon Reader on Land and Community.
Mormons believe that the glory of God is intelligence. They have traditionally been solidly behind education. This is a family issue, as Mormon parents, in theory, should want their children to attend the best possible schools, with the best possible teachers. Former Dialogue editor Bob Rees, in describing his early life to me, emphasized what a great impact the church had on him when he was young, and how it inspired him to become fully educated. In third world countries, the church has had a very beneficial impact in encouraging literacy.
While I was discussing politics with historian Newell Bringhurst once, he mentioned that he had a brother, who, like Newell, was a teacher. Newell is liberal, religionwise, and his brother is very conservative, in fact a bishop. But strangely enough, Newell said, his brother, despite his conservatism, votes straight Democrat, because he is a teacher. Newell said his father, also a teacher, became a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat after J. Bracken Lee "gutted funding for education in Utah."
Education is probably the only issue on which George W. Bush qualifies as a moderate Republican of sorts, in that he feels the federal government should be involved with education to some extent. However, he is moderate only in comparison to the far right of his party; his "massive tax cut" ideology has outweighed his education commitment, as his budget allocated much less for education than one would have expected. Bush's lack of support for significant education financing was a crucial factor in his alienation of Jim Jeffords, who was senior Republican on the Senate's Education and Labor committee. This conflict is worth looking at briefly.
In 1975, Congress passed the Education of the Handicapped Act, which now is referred to as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act); while the chief financial burden for educating the disabled would be local, the federal government promised to pay 40% of the costs. According to Jeffords, the biggest failure of the law has been the federal government's unwillingness to pay its share; the most it has ever paid has been 15%. Curiously, Congress has continued to symbolically support IDEA with votes, without making complete payment for it a priority. Jeffords informed Bush and the Republican leadership (who were inheriting a tremendous surplus), that he could not vote for a tax cut unless IDEA payment was included. (It was a given that Democrats would support IDEA.)
This is an issue that one would think would attract a "compassionate conservative," as Bush had repeatedly styled himself to be. Disabled children are not lazy, freeloading welfare scammers -- they simply have the right to education as much as non-disabled children, in order to become productive, working citizens. Yet IDEA did not quite fit in with the $1.6 tax cut which Bush was demanding, and which the Bush administration had made their "holy grail," in Jeffords' words. And, writes Jeffords, "Disabled children are not a potent enough lobby to receive their due."
Jeffords discussed with his fellow Senators his commitment to make IDEA funding (which had already been passed into law) mandatory; and, he writes, "most of my Republican colleagues recoiled." He explained his position to the White House; but they had carved "$1.6 trillion tax cut" in stone and were not interested in IDEA. It became clear that they simply expected Trent Lott and Dick Cheney to be able to bring Jeffords around. When the White House was unable to "turn" more than one Democrat toward voting for their $1.6 trillion cut, and as time ran down, they began to make "hybrid" offers to Jeffords — none of which included workable mandatory funding of IDEA. As we know, the Senate eventually approved only a $1.25 trillion tax cut (which still, in theory, might be seen as a Republican victory). However, the Bush administration was furious with Jeffords for his stand on IDEA, and for his perceived disloyalty to party orthodoxy. They reportedly had a two year plan prepared to punish him for his support of disabled children.
How unfortunate that a President who had campaigned on the position that he was a new kind of Republican, a "compassionate conservative," could not have allied himself with Jeffords in helping provide already-promised funds to disabled children. Instead of alliance, long-term punishment for the Vermont senator was the result.
Jeffords writes that he was profoundly disillusioned with the lack of funding for education in Bush's budget: "It seemed to me that if close to $1.4 trillion could be found for tax cuts, some substantial amount could have been found for education." However, when he tried to communicate these concerns to fellow Republicans, it seemed to Jeffords that he was "speaking a foreign language." The Republican leadership's lack of concern for educating disabled children while these leaders were crusading with religious fervor to increase tax breaks for those in high income brackets highlights the typical Republican philosophy of placing less emphasis on education (and by implication, the welfare of children) than do Democrats, and it also highlights the two parties' typical responses vis-a-vis minorities and the unfortunate.
Word of Wisdom
One of the great principles of Mormonism is the Word of Wisdom. I am extremely grateful that I was able to grow up without the health dangers of smoking and drinking, and the psychic dangers of alcoholism and other addictions. In addition, there are the purely spiritual aspects of avoiding tobacco and alcohol, not to mention the constant financial drain involved in ignoring the Word of Wisdom.
The Word of Wisdom revelation, D&C section 89, tells us that "conspiring men" will encourage the use of tobacco and alcohol: "In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom . . ."
Here is one case where modern scripture explicitly tells us that specific companies and corporations should not be trusted, should be watched with suspicion. And we have seen how tobacco companies have researched addiction, with a view to increasing addictive qualities in their cigarettes; how they have targeted the youngest people possible; how they have used deceptive advertising to further nicotine addiction. Recently a Philip Morris study seriously suggested that a cigarette-induced higher death rate actually helps a nation's economy. Only after a major outcry developed in response to this report did Philip Morris executives backpedal frantically and retract their study.
Now, Republicans are typically closely connected to the tobacco industry; Democrats have taken contributions from it, but less so. Therefore, Republicans, with their typical philosophy of "protect the corporations and their management," and because the tobacco industry has been a major campaign contributor, have become its ally. So, instead of protecting us from the "evils and designs" of "conspiring men," the Republican party is protecting the tobacco industry's "conspiring men."
The Clinton and George W. Bush administrations illustrate the Democratic and Republican tendencies in this area. Under Clinton, the administration filed a lawsuit against the tobacco companies, over intense Republican opposition; Clinton also frequently encouraged adding luxury taxes to cigarette use. Under Bush, the attorney general, John Ashcroft, who wears his born again style of Christianity very publicly, quickly moved to drop the lawsuits against the tobacco industry by means of a weak settlement. Chief White House political guru, Karl Rove, whom insiders call George W. Bush's "brain," was "a political consultant for Philip Morris from 1991 to 1996."
And of course, this issue once again show how corrupting the system of campaign finance can be. Even if it was legal for the tobacco special interests to funnel generous contributions into Bush's campaign, can we really expect the Bush administration to be tough on "the conspiring men" in the tobacco industry after becoming so indebted to it? The tobacco industry donated some $120,000 to the Bush campaign, in hard and soft money; Philip Morris alone donated $100,000 to help finance the inaugural celebration. And we can see how the "conspiring men" would prefer to work with politicians holding to the Republican philosophy of little or no oversight over mega-corporations.
Once again, let me emphasize that the Democrats are not entirely pure on this issue. But just by advocating campaign finance reform, the Democrats are seeking higher ground than typical Republicans on the issue of not becoming firm allies of the "conspiring men" in the tobacco industry. In fairness, I should mention that Republican John McCain has been one of the leading sponsors of campaign reform, so there is a group of moderate Republicans who are on the side of reform in this issue.
On a more doctrinal level, we may look at the concept of grace, and apply it to typical Democratic and Republican philosophies. Grace means a gift of something that is not deserved. According to the Bible, all of our righteousness is as filthy rags (Is. 64:6); we are saved only through God's mercy and grace. According to the Book of Mormon, we are saved by grace "after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23.) In other words, we do all we can, and it is still not enough to earn salvation. Then God has to give it to us as a free gift, not as an earned gift.
In the scriptures, there is also an emphasis on good works; in fact, there seems to be a continuum between works and grace, where sometimes one is emphasized, and the other at other times. But I think any thoughtful understanding of the atonement will accept the centrality of grace in the salvation of fallen mankind. No matter how important you think works are, you must realize that it is by grace, by mercy, by a gift, that we are saved, after all is said and done.
To state the obvious, grace is not emphasized in typical Republican philosophy. Typically, the idea is, you work hard, you earn your living, you should keep it; this is true both for the lower classes, the middle classes, and the wealthy corporate executive. However, the concept of grace is that people sometimes should receive gifts they have not strictly earned. And also, we should remember that the scriptures constantly warn us that we have not really earned our possessions; they were loaned to us by God.
Jesus's life and teachings are full of gifts. We remember the feeding of the 5,000, and Jesus's admonition to the wealthy young man to distribute his wealth to the poor. In the parable of the prodigal son, when he returns to his father after wasting his entire patrimony, his father restores him to a place of comfort and authority (which doubtless includes possessions, represented by the "best robe," Lk 15:22). The son emphatically does not deserve this restoration, by the standards of justice. This parable does not embody classic Republican principles.
Once again, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan goes out of his way to help a complete stranger, giving him medical attention and financial resources (one Biblical passage showing that the well-to-do can be generous and righteous). In the parable of the lost sheep, one could argue that the wandering sheep does not deserve to be saved, though Jesus's point is just the opposite, as he argues the value of all souls, whether they deserve it or not.
Indeed, classic Republican principles often emphasize strict justice; classic Democratic principles often embody principles of grace -- being willing to give and receive outside of a strict quid pro quo arrangement.
I believe Mormons typically emphasize works, gaining salvation through personal righteousness, and this may be one of our underlying philosophical perspectives that colors Mormon preference for the Republican party. I agree that passages emphasizing the importance of good works are in the scriptures, and the idea of working out your salvation in fear and trembling before God. But works are only one side of the continuum, and the more important part of the continuum is Jesus's grace. I believe that Mormons typically need to have a deeper understanding of grace, which is the higher law. And in my view, the philosophy of the Democratic party is more in line with grace -- the idea of helping, on a collective, political level, the needy, the elderly, the sick, minorities who have never been given a level playing field.
But once again, I believe that the Republican end of the continuum -- initiative, hard work -- needs to be kept in mind. One of the most valuable things that either party can do is encourage education, work opportunities, work benefits for the minorities and needy, as occurred with FDR's New Deal, and as occurs in Affirmative Action programs, as occurs in raising the minimum wage. But doctrinaire Republicans are often opposed to such programs, even when they encourage initiative and work.