Saturday, September 26, 2015

Carly Fiorina and Pro-Life Feminism: New Ideas in the Quad Cities

When presidential candidate Carly Fiorina spoke to a crowd at St. Ambrose University September 25 as part of a Quad Cities New Ideas Forum, there were indeed new ideas presented. I will mention three that didn't get picked up by the larger media:

1) Singing "Happy Birthday" to a unstable audience member. Carly deserves credit, both personally and professionally, for handing a difficult situation creatively and compassionately. As soon as she took the podium, a vociferous veteran loudly introduced himself to her for some reason. She gave the obligatory thank-you-for-your service line and asked him to wait for the questions, at which time he walked to within 10 feet of Fiorina (making security jump) and spoke, somewhat incoherently, about low wages and destroying ISIS. When he mentioned something about the Chinese people and said "cutting his head off on national TV" Fiorina wisely interrupted him and asked him politely to sit down. As he left, with a cordial "yes, ma'am," he noted that it was his birthday, and she encouraged the crowd in the most awkward rendition of "Happy Birthday" that ever was sung.

I tried to look up his reference, having recorded a portion of his question, and found a site called "Now the End Begins: The Magazine of Record for the Last Days." This site has a story about the Chinese government warning its people about ISIS with a big screen TV showing the beheading of journalist James Foley. I of course do not know if this is precisely the site that informed him, but many, including Fiorina, were surely concerned that this would be another unbridled Trump-supporter moment, with dangerously ambiguous references to getting rid of "them." What makes this different is that the man was more obviously mentally unstable. I talked with the Super PAC staff and they said he claimed to be homeless, smelled of alcohol, and asked for money. The Trump supporter was personally stable, but just an apparent listener to mentally unstable right-wind radio. Either way, as the conservative rhetoric intensifies, so intensifies the likelihood that some Smerdyakov will actually do the dirty work that they imply. The hawkish conservatives managed to sing their way out of this one.

2) Medical marijuana and Military Service. An advocate for medical marijuana challenged Fiorina about her position. A few alternative news sources, like American Green Zine, picked up on this. The headline is telling: "Veteran Confronts Carly Fiorina Over Medical Marijuana." When the woman stated she was a nurse and veteran with high security clearance, Fiorina forgot to also give the thank-you-for-your-service line to her. This woman was not unstable, but not on Carly's side. Fiorina's honest response, "you're not going to like my answer ..." began her criticism of medical marijuana.

What is interesting to me is the headline. What does the fact that the woman is a veteran have to do with the topic? When SAU Librarian Stella Herzig asked Fiorina about long work hours and lack of maternity leave, the QCTimes did not mention she was a librarian. And yet American Green Zine obviously regards being a veteran as helping make its criticism of Fiorina stronger. As admirable as the questioner's background is, it still remains irrelevant. In philosophy, we call this an illegitimate Appeal to Authority. Among Republicans especially, the military is an authoritative figure for American values.

3) Pro-life feminism. Politicians develop a friend-or-foe sensor as powerful as our earliest ancestors who were hunted by saber-toothed tigers. When the vociferous military veteran first stood up, Fiorina at least perceived a friend. When two women lined up later, she likely saw foes. Hippie, progressive, and hipster in appearance, they probably looked like a challenge, and her heart rate went up again.

Fiorina is a pro-life conservative. Two of the questions from the audience were from women who were part of pro-life feminist groups. One of these groups, Feminists for Non-Violent Choices
challenged Fiorina about economic matters that affect women and child-bearing. I talked with the questioner afterward, and we discussed how she was anti-death penalty, anti-war, and, even personally, a vegetarian. FFNVC is no disingenuous group of conservatives wearing "feminism" like knock-off fashion. These are serious and respectful progressives who see anti-abortion as a natural part of their beliefs. This is a welcomed departure from the entrenched pro-choice people who obnoxiously confronted Fiorina Sept. 26, saying "How can you, as a woman, not support our health care?," failing to understand that what constitutes appropriate health care is a matter of dispute. This is as unhelpful as if someone were to confront Bernie Sanders by saying "How can you, as a man, not support patriarchy?"

Unfortunately, at least one local newscast merely stated how Fiorina defended her pro-life position at the event. If that were true, then indeed there would have been no new ideas presented at the Quad Cities New Ideas Forum. For example, Fiorina just towed the Republican foreign policy line that the USA should support its allies and intimidate its enemies. (This is, incidentally, a departure from Jesus' belief that we should love our enemies, and a flouting of Jesus' saying about how even the Pharisees love those who love them.)

By being presented with pro-life feminists from the Quad Cities, Fiorina now has the opportunity to be truly new and antiestablishment in her views. When I talked with her afterward, I mentioned I was a philosophy professor, and she noted her interdisciplinary undergraduate degree, at least in part, was focused on philosophy. I admire that. I hope she uses that training to step outside of ordinary political categories. If so, even I, who have only voted for one Republican in my life, would consider her candidacy.

--Tadd Ruetenik

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Feelin' the Bern at Liberty University: When You Point, Three Fingers Point Back at You.

When Bernie Sanders spoke recently at Liberty University, among the most conservative Christian schools in the nation, he received appropriate praise from those enamored with his unconventional campaign. Of course Liberty University deserves praise as well for entertaining a speaker so seemingly antithetical to its beliefs. Progressive states schools, on the other hand, have a record for being intolerant of certain beliefs.

The great thing about St. Ambrose University is that it is none of the above. It tends to be both progressive and Christian, thus avoiding the double-edged hypocrisy of both progressives and conservatives. Consider the following description of the event at Liberty. 

David Nasser, the university's senior vice president for spiritual development, asked Sanders directly to "reconcile" his view that he wants to safeguard the most vulnerable without protecting "the child in the womb." A deafening applause erupted for more than 20 seconds.
But Sanders, in his typically stern tone, didn't shy away and gave a vigorous defense for his views on abortion rights.

"I do understand and I do believe that it is improper for the United States government to tell every women in this country the very painful and difficult choice she has to make on that issue," Sanders said. "And I honestly, I don't want to be too provocative here, but very often conservatives say, 'Get the government out of my life, I don't want the government telling me what to do.'"

A small section of the crowd cheered in support of Sanders.

At UC-Berkeley or Michigan State, for example, the distribution of cheers would surely have been reversed. Yet there is a profound hypocrisy in both cheers--provided the group of cheerers were mutually exclusive sets. I think Bernie is great, but needs to be called out for his pro-choice advocacy. If anyone, a socialist like him is best able to be anti-abortion with a good conscience. In his world of economic justice (which I firmly support) the choice to abort becomes less justifiable. Instead, his answer to his hypocrisy is just to hypocritically point out the conservatives' hypocrisy. 

I've heard Bernie speak, and he stresses the family-value morality of having maternity leaves. When Democrats claim Republicans only support babies when they are in the womb Republicans can throw the poop back at them by saying that Democrats only care about babies when they are out of the womb. Christians, it seems to me, can stay out of that monkey match by being anti-abortion and socialist. There is support for both of those in both scripture and tradition.

Economic justice is a moral matter. Transnational welfare is a moral matter--and insofar a conservatives are Christian, they are hypocritical. I think single payer health care--or at least Obamacare, whose idea was originally promoted by Republicans--is also a moral matter worthy of Christian concern. So is not going to war, and not executing criminals. Bernie gets just about everything right, but he refuses to be thoroughly unconventional until he--and all other Democratic presidential candidates--forsake the stale pro-choice rhetoric. Choices are not ends-in-themselves. 

--Tadd Ruetenik

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Gay Marriage and the Christian Conscience: What is that Kentucky Clerk Doing in the First Place?

A Christian woman is refusing to give marriage licenses to gay couples. “Kentucky Clerk Is Wrong to Deny Gay Marriage Licenses, Says Same-Sex Marriage Opponent” is the headline of a recent article in The Christian Post. When many people want to respond to the case of this Christian womanwith empty statements like “get to work,” “do your job” or “do your job, bitch!,” it is encouraging to see that clear and independent thinking is being done. As with many things, behind the dumb-gut reactions on either side is a more complicated—and even philosophically interesting--situation. 

The opponent says that the woman is justified in personally exempting herself, but that she has no basis for making a policy for the whole office. I personally am skeptical of having religious exemptions for things. Pacifist though I am, for example, I would not require the state to protect me from military service if it were required. I would take my legal consequences. The early Christians were martyred; the least I could do is endure fines and jail time.

This is what the Kentucky clerk is facing right now. Unlike the marriage opponent of the article, I see no need to protect her legally. Yet I also do not see a need for ad hominem arguments. In the meme below, the answer “because Jesus” is indeed sufficient. Those who are on the side of compassion—which generally include the progressive people who support gay marriages—should not argue with the Christian idea of forgiveness. Indeed the woman has been married 4 times, and there is evidence of adultery in her past. Nonetheless, her subsequent conversion to Christianity is important, or else we do not ultimately believe in Christianity. Sure, one should judge not lest you be judged, but I also believe we should judge not those who judge--lest we be judged for that judging! Let he who is without hypocrisy throw the first stone.

And there is no hypocrisy here. Her statement to those demanding licenses is that God is giving her authority (presumably through her interpretation of the Bible) and she will face her worldly judgement just as the gay marriagers will face their otherworldly judgment. If any homosexual came to repentance, gave up homosexuality and the desire to marry, then she would (we hope) have no problem with them. Perhaps she would even be happy simply with a homosexual couple who repented only from the desire to marry.

In this case, you have to admire her. This is, in her mind, part of Christian civil disobedience, and we need to quarrel with her politics rather than her principles. What can we learn from her? As I argued before we can learn something even from Westboro Baptist Church (see January 2015 post here). In the case of the Christian clerk, we are forced to consider this question:

Why is the government involved in licensing marriages in the first place?

Marriage is a paradox. When people decide to get legally married, they are saying that they love each other so much that they must legally coerce each other into staying together. This is indeed odd, since marriage I think we are often confused about the concept of marriage to begin with. The idea of love in marriage is relatively new to human history. The essence of marriage is found in ancient ideas of possessing people.

In order to possess someone now, we think of contracts. The philosopher and lifelong bachelor Immanuel Kant talked about marriage—without any kinkiness, we presume—as the mutual ownership of each other's sexual organs. We have more romantic notions, however. For us, marriage is about two things: love, and a legal relationship. But this is a confused idea. Love shouldn't be about the sanction of the state. At most it should be an affirmation of the community, and not just the couple. But this is not a legal matter as much as a communal matter.

So here is what we should do: Instead of worrying about who should be considered married according to the state, and who should not, we need to get the state out of the concept of “marriage.” To protect people's rights when they are sharing property, we should have domestic contracts covering anything we would like regarding what we previously regarded as marriage. Gay or straight should be able to enter into such contracts. All of the other mystical union-of-bodies stuff we should just leave to the churches, and all of that sentimental love stuff we should just leave to the greeting card industry.

--Tadd Ruetenik