Friday, January 11, 2013

In Defense of Myself

Malcolm's Blog: LINK

As is bound to happen in the world of politics, every once in awhile you get into a bit of a disagreement here and there. As Malcolm noted in my comments section, he has left "miffed" response to my comments on Ryan Meili's plan to create a Faith and Social Justice Commission.

Now, I have left a response on Malcolm's blog as my rebuttal (his blog uses moderated comments, so it won't appear until it is approved by the moderator), but for the sake of posterity it is always good to have a record on one's own site as well. Foolishly, I submitted it before copying it, so I shall have to try to recreate the bulk of it from memory. My apologies to Malcolm if the comment and the post below do not match verbatim, and my assurances that it is not an attempt by me to try and straighten out my response that was originally left.

Firstly, allow me to take some offense to being called ignorant. I am indeed aware of the role that people of faith played in the CCF-NDP, and the social justice movement. I know that many of our leaders and people who have made positive change and strides in social justice have done so motivated from a place of faith, and I do not mean to make it sound as if people of faith have not contributed anything to our party's history.

Now I need to address the mention of abortion. Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I could have been in citing this as an example of 'issue voting'; the idea that people will decide whether or not to support a candidate or a party based on a single issue. I was not implying that all religious voters cast their ballot solely based on a party's stance on abortion, which you say I was, but rather it was a knee-jerk example that served the point.

I know religious people who do identify as pro-choice, and as such, a party's stance on abortion matters little to them. But at the same time, I've canvassed dozens of neighbourhoods and met various people who have liked things the NDP has done, who liked the party's platform on other issues, but refused to vote for us simply on the abortion issue alone. As such, I thought it was a good example of issue voting in practice. Again, I could have been clearer on this being an example, so we'll chalk that one up to my fault on being vague.

I think we both agree that religious individuals have played a role in our party's history, and indeed the history of the social justice movement, and that they continue to contribute to the discussion today. But the main argument of my post was that those religious individuals who place social justice above all else already stand with us.

Those who live the gospels and try to help their neighbours and make the world a little better stand with us already; we are not alienating potential allies.

The fact of the matter is that issue voting will shape a person's decision to support a party or not. Whether the issue is social (abortion, same-sex marriage, homelessness, etc), financial (taxes, infrastructure spending, etc), or Canadian staples (health care, etc) doesn't matter, because in the end people who judge a party by a single issue will always take offense to the NDP if our view doesn't align with theirs.

This is not to say that all religious people forgo the NDP as a potential choice; as there will be people motivated through social justice and who see that as the most important issue to vote for, but at the same time there will be people (religious or not) who will find another issue that they disagree with the party on and will make that the key factor for their lack of support.

I am not against having a discussion; but I think we've proven, as your history shows and as we both know in the NDP today, that people of faith motivated by social justice stand with us already. This discussion, regardless of how open, will not woo new voters who continue to vote on a single issue mentality. As such, you can understand (hopefully) the trepidation I have over a commission that could lead to us compromising one or two issues in order to finally sway those single-issue voters.

Ultimately, I think that we have the people who want to make social justice a reality on side; and individuals like yourself lead me to believe that is mostly correct, as you are a man of faith who cares about social justice and supports the NDP. We have people of faith in the party, we have always had people of faith in the party, and we will continue to have people of faith in the party.

I'm not hoodwinked by the far right, as I believe that some religious voters we will never reach as long as they vote by a single issue. If you want to get secular, look at business owners. Until the last election, the NDP had never really done press announcements in a small business with a small business owner calling on his community to vote for the NDP. Yet that's what happened in North Battleford, and it was due to our call to eliminate the small business tax.

We changed something about our platform, and changed a bit of the dynamic in our party. But we had to put something up to get those people there; and my concern is that to fully woo these single-issue voters, we will have to make the same compromises.

So, I'm not anti-religious voters; I'm anti-single-issue voters.

Now, looking at the post, I can see somethings in there that definitely weren't in the comment...But, I suppose we'll chalk that up to passion of the moment. As I stated in my comment, I hope that this gets us eye to eye on the issue and that we've cleared up some of the misconceptions and misinterpretations that came from my original post. If not, I'll be glad to continue to try and get us to that point.


Malcolm+ said...

Your comment is now up at Simple Massing Priest. While it may be confusing to carry on the discussion in two places, I'll also post my further comments here - noting that this was drafted in response to the version there.

Granting that short essays on the interweb are not always the most effective way of setting forth a nuanced position, you have certainly clarified a number of the points in your original piece that I found disturbing.

That said, you've drawn a very unnuanced picture of religious voters, arbitrarily divided between those who "vote from a place of social justice," who you presume are already likely New Democrats and "issue voters" who do not, will not and can never be persuaded to support New Democrat candidates. I still think you're missing the point - and more significantly, the broader context.

We live in a society where the media and the popular culture have surrendered to the religious right by parroting their narrative that to be religious (or more particularly, to be Christian) is to support right wing positions - especially but not limited to abortion and human sexuality. That narrative needs to be challenged, principally by people of faith. But political movements also have an interest in challenging that narrative. Right wing parties have become remarkably effective at targetting and persuading "low information voters," and by allowing the "religious = conservative" narrative to go unchallenged, we enable that targetting and surrender votes that are winnable.

The tone and texture of your original blogpost (and not disproven here) serves to support the right's narrative that progressives are suspicious of religious believers, if not actively hostile.

Progressive parties elsewhere (and for the purposes of this context, I include the Democratic Party in the US) have had some success countering the right wing narative based on coordinated initiatives for religious outreach. Part oif it is merely the assertion that one can be faithful and progressive. Part of it is engaging religious networks as we would other networks to advance both communications and organization. And in no small part, it is identifying ways of setting out a progressive message that can overcome the endemic messaging of the right.

As an example of the last point, the Democrats in the US have had some success in reaching out to certain segments of the anti-abortion voter universe with the evidence based argument that progressive public policies actually serve to reduce the number of abortions more effectively that efforts to restrict access to abortion. Sometimes framed as "safe, legal and rare," it makes the case that broader social supports make it easier for a woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy to choose to carry the child to term.

Malcolm+ said...

The other part of this, frankly, is the fundamental issue of solidarity. Given the increasingly reactionary depiction of religion in the popular culture and the fact that progressives have been marginalized in many religious bodies, progressive people of faith need to have secular progressives stand in solidaity with them, not dismiss them as a potential threat.

All of his leaves aside the matter of the incipient and growing anti-religious attitude that exists within the NDP. I've seen potential candidates grilled repeatedly on issues of choice and human sexuality - and their affirmations of support for party policy essentially treated as dishonest. Too many secular progressives are content to accept the claims of the religious right unchallenged - and in the process, to make progressive people of faith feel unwelcome in the New Democratic Party.

Likewise, when some secular progressives mistake the "separation of church and state' (an American constitutional construct, incidentally) with the idea that there is no place for religious perspectives in discussions of public policy, we essentially tell religious voters to go away. Personally, I'm very glad that religious voters like Tommy Douglas and Stanley Knowles chose to advance the principles that grew out of their religious faith by engaging in secular politics.

Frankly, the greatest threat to the party's principles is not a plan to reach out to religious voters. Over the last couple of decades we've seen a party that largely capitulated to a neoliberal economic model - a capitulation not led by religious voters. And we watched a party that, having slain the deficit, couldn't figure out what direction to take in its last decade of power - again, not the fault of religious voters. The threat to the party's core principles is not outreach to religious voters, but the steadfast refusal of the party to engage in any serious renewal since the late 1980s.

Malcolm+ said...

Your small business example wasn't part o what you posted over at Simple Massing Priest, so I'll add this further bit.

I actually think there's been a much more longstanding attempt in the party to appeal to small business owners. For some time, I think progressives have taken a position that small business should be treated differently than large business, both in terms of regulation and taxation. And whatever the larger merits of the particular proposal to eliminate the small business tax, I don't think there was any vital principle at stake in that. It's not like we were saying that employees of small businesses shouldn't be allowed to unionize and bargain collectively, which would have violated our principles.

Since the party's position on choice and on LGBTQ2S are rooted in principles, I don't see much room for a compromise that would be comparable to the tax plank in the last platform.