Late-night comedian Jay Leno described our present presidential election as extremely diverse–a contest between a rich privileged white man from Yale running against a rich privileged white man from Yale. During a recent conference I attended, Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader, described the contest as a choice between Bush and Bush Lite.
For many who are marginalized, a frustration exists that neither candidate has truly debated the issues that mostly affect those who are disenfranchised. Nevertheless, Election Day is less than one week away, and regardless as to shortcomings of both candidates, a vote must be cast.
I say “must,” because not to vote in this election is to declare allegiance with the incumbent. And while I confess I considered voting for a third party, the reality is casting such a vote is de facto a vote for the incumbent. (This explains the Republican Party’s strong effort to place Nader on as many ballots as possible).
After all is said and done, the choice I must make is between George W. Bush or John F. Kerry. For those who have read some of my previous articles it should be no surprise that I plan to cast my vote for Kerry. Nevertheless, it is important for me to know why I am doing so and hope that my reasoning might resonate with others. In this election, like in any other, I look at three criteria.
First, foreign issues. The cowboy diplomacy of Bush and his insistence on going it alone has eroded all the good will that existed immediately after the 9/11 tragedy. Rather than capitalizing on that good will, he has turned Iraq into the “Wild West” in a hunt for weapons of mass destruction which did not exist, against a country which neither attacked us nor had any connection with Al Qaeda and with inadequate forces resulting in more deaths and misery.
Kerry, on the other hand, believes we must work with the global community against the threats which exist to peace. His philosophy is based on common sense–placing greater emphasis on diplomacy to resolve global tensions.
Second, domestic issues. No other presidency in the last 50 years has created a greater redistribution of wealth benefiting the richest 1 percent of the nation. Through tax breaks and anti-labor laws passed, the income gap between the richest and poorest is at the widest levels since such data began to be collected in 1929.
While I personally don’t feel Kerry goes far enough in his domestic policies to deal with the great economic injustices which exist in this country, still, it is a step in the right direction. At least his economic plans, as moderate as they are, begin to undo many of the policies put in place over the last four years, which have created greater poverty for the most vulnerable in our society.
And, finally, moral character. During the last debate both men attempted to describe the importance of faith in their lives.
For Bush, faith is reduced to personal piety. The usage of proper Christian jargon and the insistence of personal behavior become the foundation for his moral compass. But I confess concern for a religiosity which compartmentalizes faith and deeds. As long as in his personal life he professes Jesus, he is freed up to take actions in his public life that are contrary to the Gospel message.
Kerry, on the other hand, expressed during the debates that his faith should be evident by his deeds. His views toward the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalized are impacted by his faith. I made my decision to cast my vote for him when he quoted my favorite passage: “You say you have faith, so what, do not the demons believe and tremble at His name? What good is your faith without deeds, for faith without works is dead.” Faith can never be limited to the personal. It must proactively be expressed through deeds that bring life abundantly–something that has failed to occur during the past four years.
During the 1980 election between born-again President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Reagan ended the debate by looking straight into the camera and asking the American public a simply question. Are you better off today than you were four years ago?
Are we economically better off? Are we safer? If you answer yes, then by all means, vote for the incumbent. But if the answer is no, then an alternative exists. I don’t know about you, but next week, I plan to go for the alternative.
Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.