Once again, Capitol Square of Madison will be the site of momentous political events. In 2011, there were the protests which brought over 150,000 people into the streets on cold winters’ days to challenge the policies of Governor Scott Walker. It’s likely that the President’s visit will attract a smaller crowd and part of the reason for that may be his silence during those protests. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 for many reasons—for the vision of an America united around a common vision. I voted for him as well because of his promises to end torture, to close Guantanamo, to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to bring a new era of transparency to government, especially in the area of national security. I voted for him because of his promise to reform our healthcare system.
President Obama will be a couple of blocks away. I doubt he’ll see the church. I know he won’t drop in to say hello, or for a photo op at our food pantry or at our First Monday meal. I wish he would. Here’s what I’m thinking I would say to him if he did drop by.
How would I assess his first term and the prospects of his second? Four years later, where are we? Yes, Obama has struggled with an obstructionist Congress. He has been opposed at every step by those who wanted to him fail. But he has accomplished a great deal. The economy has recovered; healthcare is law. He has ended discrimination against LGBT’s in the military and refused to defend DOMA. He is eager to pass immigration reform. But I struggle.
What I would ask President Obama would have to do with foreign policy, with military policy, with the National Security state. I have grave concerns about the expansion of drone warfare, of the use of these weapons to kill people in far-off countries outside of the legal system with no oversight from any other arm of government. What are the ethics of such actions? What is the legality? The victims of these strikes have no recourse to the legal system, no right to defend themselves. Even US citizens have been killed in such attacks.
And Guantanamo. All those promises to close it and still prisoners languish there, without recourse to the legal system. Apparently for those caught in it, the only exit is through death, most quickly, through suicide.
There is also the assault on civil liberties at home—the prosecution of whistle blowers, the refusal to bring those responsible for torture to account for their actions. There is also the pandering to Israel, the imposition of inhumane sanctions on Iran, and more. In the realm of foreign policy, Obama’s administration is little different from the worst of neo-con excess under Bush
But between Obama and Romney—is there a choice? The foreign policy debates showed no difference between the two, and on torture, only the littlest difference. Obama has ended it, waterboarding, but apparently Romney continues to see its utility.
There are those who advocate not voting in this election, given these alternatives. Among them are Conor Friedersdorf, progressives critical of Obama’s foreign policy and perceived timidity on a domestic agenda. There are pastors who worry about their vote and their congregations.
What would I ask President Obama if he dropped by Grace Church tomorrow? What about the least of these—those we will be serving at our First Monday meal tomorrow night. What about those victims overseas—in Yemen, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, killed by drones, killed by buttons pushed by American soldiers in comfortable situations thousands of miles away. What about those men languishing in Guantanamo, with no hope of exit, no hope of facing accusers, no hope at all?
To be faithful Christians, to be responsible citizens, we must ask these questions of our political leaders, of our presidents, of those who ask for our vote.
And their answers should help us make our decisions when we enter the voting booth.