Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Real Politics of Hope

This week, in between hours of class, homework, extracurriculars, and interviews for more extracurriculars, I made time to attend two highly anticipated lectures at Georgetown University. They left me simultaneously unsettled and inspired, fundamentally questioning what direction the United States should take next in the fight for justice and peace.
On Monday night, myself, and about 100 other devout liberals packed a small auditorium on campus to see Congressman Charles Rangel give a pre-counter attack to George Bush's impending State of the Union address. As Congressman Rangel spoke, although I personally enjoyed his vehemently anti-Bush jokes and positions, I couldn't help thinking that the divisive language Rangel was using channeled Bush more than it criticized him. In sticking to an extremely partisan agenda and vilifying Bush and the Republicans, Rangel seemed to simply be widening the rift that has divided blue and red America in the past eight years.
In contrast, on Tuesday night, I joined several hundred students and community members in Gaston Hall to see Jim Wallis, editor of Soujourner's Magazine, a Christian publication that calls for social justice, and a self-proclaimed "progressive evangelical." Yes. I did a double take as well. However, as I listened to Wallis speak, I realized that he might have the right idea after all. Wallis, lecturing about his new book, The Great Awakening. Wallis claimed that, "Politics is broken," and that the only thing that can fix it is a social movement in which 'the moral center' keeps tabs on Republicans and Democrats. He said that God is not a Republican or a Democrat, boldly proclaiming that "religious right has been replaced by Jesus." He called listeners to go beyond right and left to go "deeper." In the book, he argues that a new generation of young people are applying their faith to calls for social change. The time for extremism, Wallis argues, is over. It is time for bipartisan, inter-religious, focused, cooperative work for the common good. Fundamentally, it is time to open a dialogue of hope which will give way to action and change.
So, who is right? The partisan Democrat who advocates anything but Bush, or the seemingly strange evangelical who is looking to inject real hope into politics. Although Wallis' focus on religion left me (a big fan of separation of church and state) a bit uncomfortable, I am willing to investigate his method to fixing our deeply troubled, divided nation.

1 comment:

Rich Trent said...

As Americans, our understanding of violence is rather limited; if someone is not being shot, stabbed or beaten, then it is hard for many Americans (human beings in general, really) to see how something can be violent. Nevertheless, one could argue that the divisive bi-partisanship, abounding with polemical rhetoric and mud-slinging, is a violent ideology, an ideology that has driven the American political process for decades.

I attended Mr. Rangel's speech as well. In all honesty, there was nothing very novel about his condemnation of the Bush administration and their shortcomings. In fact, the stale discourse typified the stagnant and hackneyed debate between the left and right, a discourse that has brought no change for troops over seas and poor Americans struggling to make ends meet while America teeters on the brink of recession.

I do, however, believe that Jim Wallis is on to something. Wallis, as bridgeo noted, is trying to create a social and moral revolution. Wallis sees the end of the violent, partisan discourse of American politics coming to an end as a result of a great American "Awakening."

Although I do believe that this is indeed what America and the world need, I am skeptical as to how it will be accomplished; market moralities and economic fundamentalism drive American behavior. Americans are too comfortable, placated by television and McDonald's to actually change the way that things are. In that sense, I suppose most of us are somewhat conservative.

We live in a world of violent discourse, and we're comfortable with it. Sadly, structural violence (economic depravity) may have to get worse before things can get better.