As a follow up to the previous post on mission driven political advocacy, I wanted to attempt to actually apply the set of priorities based on a mission-driven Biblical framework to the current presidential candidates.
Some caveats first. As mentioned before, I do not believe that voting is our most potent mechanism for affecting change. Advocacy can take many forms, voting is only one of them. However, since elections are upon us, let’s discuss them. Second, I certainly acknowledge that even within my suggested approach of choosing our priorities based on missions, that others may suggest a different set of priorities, and score candidates differently. Finally, this is just a look at the top two presidential candidates, there are many other positions of importance too, and even other presidential candidates. I simply hope this will serve as an example of an attempt to objectively measure a candidate’s potential for affecting change and to what degree it aligns with the type of outcomes that we should hope to see. This is not an argument for any party affiliation or endorsement, just an attempt at trying to show how to honestly assess candidates by prioritized issues. Hopefully you can apply this to other positions as well. Taking the priorities from the last post (from highest to lowest), here are my assessment of the candidates positions:
Obama has consistently prioritized the foreign aid budget, and supported efforts to fight global poverty, building upon Bush’s legacy of fighting AIDS and poverty. Obama hasn’t achieved the unprecedented and heroic efforts of Bush, nor achieved the advances that his 2008 campaign suggested, but he has upheld the general level of support and made some good improvements in broadening access.
Earlier in his campaign, Romney stated bluntly that foreign aid doesn’t make sense. His tone has softened lately though, and more recently at the Clinton Global Initiative, he said he would be supportive of aid that was tied to free enterprise agreements called “Prosperity Pacts”. Generally development experts regard tied aid as unproductive, and this proposal sounds similar to the structural adjustment aid agreements of decades past that forced privatizations and failed to bring any benefit to developing countries. The most positive statement from Romney came in the last debate, where he cited the advice of UN organized Arab scholars saying the best protection against extremism is economic development, better education, and gender equality. This would be encouraging if it aligned with previous statements and budget priorities. Paul Ryan has consistently voted against global health initiatives (here is his voting record) and other support for developing countries.
Here are the candidate’s response to ONE about their approach to fighting global poverty. I believe that Obama’s track record and campaign statements indicate stronger support for this issue.
Global Human Rights
Obama has been a strong advocate for human rights, and recently announced new significant new policies in the fight against human trafficking. Fighting human trafficking has been one of Hillary Clinton’s passionate pursuits.
It is hard to estimate how Romney will do, since this is an under-publicized aspect of policy. There is no reason to think he won’t continue the fight against trafficking and for human rights, and in the last debate Romney expressed agreement with most of Obama’s foreign policy approaches.
I can’t pick a clear winner here, Obama may have an edge because of his proven track record on fighting human trafficking, but Romney would probably do fine.
International Economic Justice
In general, trade barriers and tariffs have continued to be lowered under the Obama administration. Obama has favored reduced agricultural subsidies, which would benefit developing world agriculture.
Romney seems to be very outspoken about promising stricter trade policies that would more strongly favor America over other countries (particularly with China), likely a loss for third-world trade equality. There seems to be evidence that Bain Capital used tax havens, which would seem to make him a poor candidate for uprooting tax havens. On the other hand, Paul Ryan has joined Obama in favoring reduced agricultural subsidies, but it is unclear if that translates to Romney.
Overall, Obama seems to be stronger here.
These three first topics all relate to global issues, and how America’s policy impacts the other countries, particularly developing countries. Interestingly, polling from outside of US seems to agree with my assessment that other countries expect Obama’s policies to be preferable for them:
Obama has been very pro-immigration, has tried to push through immigration reform, and eventually issued the executive DREAM order to provide greater opportunities to immigrant children. Obama has stated that one of his biggest disappointments is that he was unable to pass immigration reform, and has stated this would be one of his top priorities if reelected.
Romney has taken the opposite view, earlier indicating that he would hope to have incentives that would lead to immigrants feeling unwelcome enough that they would “self-deport”.
Obama is a clear winner on support for immigrants.
Romney has been very outspoken about wanting to reduce environmental restrictions, and specifically open up more oil drilling. I don’t think there is any dispute that Obama has favored environmental protection more.
Obama is a clear winner on environmental protection.
This is one of the more contentious and debated subjects. However, on the revenue side, it seems clear that Obama would likely increase taxes (on the rich) and Romney would lower taxes (on the middle-class), so Obama would raise more revenue (thus decreasing the deficit). On the spending side, generally one expect the conservative candidate to reduce spending more. However, this might not be the case on the principle budget expenditures, military and health care. Obama has sought reduced military spending, whereas Romney wants to increase it. Surprisingly in the last debate, Romney seemed to actually criticize Obama for cutting too much from Medicare as well.
It is hard to pick a winner here since not enough information has been released (many have been trying to analyze the bits and pieces that Romney has indicated), but the information that is available does not seem to support more deficit reduction under Romney than Obama. Perhaps more clearly, one of the few steps that we can take to significantly reduce the deficit without the growth stifling effects of tax increases and without the human impacts of cuts to healthcare and other programs is reduced military spending, which Romney has opposed.
The Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) certainly provides broader access to healthcare. However, Romney has recently actually endorsed many parts of ACA. While the breadth of ACA is difficult to deny, the extent to which Romney will leave most of it intact means that there may be little difference in actual policy. Still the concrete and broad access provided by ACA gives Obama an edge here.
Of course everyone wants a better economy, all candidates want to take steps to improve the economy. Economics is highly complex field, dealing with thousands of variables that are well-beyond the scope of what I, or probably any of my readers can fully analyze. However, I would suggest that overall, the winner of this is highly influenced by how you measure the economy. For pure total growth, I believe that the neoliberal (conservative) economists probably have a slightly stronger case for Romney. However, as I have suggested in my post on economic justice, we should beyond just looking at total growth, and consider economic distribution. In these terms, the Keynesian economics that underlie Obama’s policies probably have a stronger case. However, to reiterate a point from the prioritization list, the president has far less control over the economy than we often think, especially during elections.
Lower Priority Issues
There are a number of issues that Romney would clearly win. We would certainly have a stronger military (and thus probably greater security) under Romney. We would be more likely to have lower tax rates. As a Christian, I would be afforded more religious favor/protection.
However, as we look at the policies favored by different politicians, and how each would provide gains in different areas, the importance of prioritization for making sense is crucial. Military strength, tax rates, and domestic religious protection can certainly be hyped up to be important until we actually compare the breadth and depth of their impact to other issues. Contrasting our feeling security, tax rate, and minor religious inconveniences to the global billions who suffer under tremendous absolute poverty, oppression, and injustice is incomparable. Putting the real impact of the issues in proper perspective is essential for making decisions that align with God’s vision for dying to our self, loving our neighbor, and defending the poor instead of for the sake of our own personal comfort.
Again, the purpose of this post is not to make the claim that Jesus would vote for Obama. I don’t know for certainty if he would, or if Jesus would even vote (he resisted the attempts to be thrust into political power). Furthermore, there are other candidates I didn’t have time to assess. But, this post attempts to follow though on taking abstract theological principles and incrementally and ultimately applying them in concrete ways to our world, our country, and the decisions that our before us. Theology must never remain only in the abstract, there is always a call to a real response.
And this whole series of posts (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) was written for a broad, but specific purpose: to encourage followers of Christ to apply the major principles and themes of the Bible, focus on the mission of glorifying God, and let that dictate and guide our priorities. This is a challenge to step back from the party and national allegiances that have influenced the American church, and let Christ be are all. This is a push to move from following what will benefit and comfort ourselves, to instead die to ourselves, loving, giving, and advocating for others, particularly those less fortunate that ourselves, because, as the Bible indicates, when we do that, it is an act to Jesus himself. I hope and pray that this was an encouragement towards that end, even if only in a small degree.