Saturday, March 17, 2007

Edwards for President?

Of all the candidates for president, the one I am most strongly attracted to has been John Edwards. He is clear, articulate, and committed on the centrality of the need to attack and eliminate poverty, both in the United States and around the world. He has an articulated plan for universal health care. Although he was wrong on Iraq, he has admitted that he was wrong, something that Clinton has not done.


There is a big issue, though, and I'm not at all sure I can get past it, at least not in the primaries. One of my biggest public policy concerns has been the tendencies of the United States to move towards theocracy. It's most prominent in the Republican Party, and you see it in tons of Bush's policies, not only his giveaway programs to church groups, but also his reflexive description of the need to launch a "crusade" against our enemies.


The Democrats are afraid of this trend nationally. Unfortunately, it's not that they're afraid that the trends will continue, it's more that they don't want to get on the wrong side of the religious voters, and they fall all over themselves to avoid it. This is why Pete Stark's announcement last week was such a big deal.


That's the problem I have with Edwards. Here's what he says on belief.net:


Would it be your hope that a John Edwards Supreme Court would allow public schools to encourage more prayer in schools?


What I'm not in favor of is for a teacher to go to the front of the classroom and lead the class in prayer. Because I think that by definition means that that teacher's faith is being imposed on children who will almost certainly come from different faith beliefs. Allowing time for children to pray for themselves, to themselves, I think is not only okay, I think it's a good thing.


And there's more:


So the answer is I think is that in an Edwards presidency faith-based groups, I believe, could be used. But I think it is also tricky business. I think you have to be careful about how you implement it for all of the separation of church and state issues, because you don't want discrimination. You don't want federal money going to any organization, including a faith-based group, that's discriminating. So, you have to be very careful about that.


. . .


But, the bottom line is, if you can work through these problems, I think there is a great potential delivery system there.


It has always been true that people's religious beliefs have influenced their political positions and actions, and that's not going to change. You can't even say that it's necessarily a good or a bad thing, since religious beliefs have supported everything from Martin Luther King's activism for social justice to the bigotry and repression excmplified by Jerry Falwell or the racism of Bob Jones University.


The problem is that people want power, and they will use religion to get it, and to insulate themselves from the normal political checks on their activities. In this interview Edwards is not only demonstrating a lack of appreciation for fundamental constitutional principles, but also a level of naivete that would make me very concerned about him for president.

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