News Release August 21. 2008
Don't Lose Your Ethical Vision, Don't Move to the Political Center
In an open-letter to Senator Obama, over 150 American clergy appealed to the Democratic candidate for President to retain the ethical and spiritual vision that won him the nomination in the first place. Rejecting the "inside-the-Beltway" wisdom that a Democrat must "move to the center to win the election," the clergy disputed the very notion that this is an accurate understanding of American politics.
"Just look at Obama's downturn in the polls in the last few days, and you can immediately see how disastrous the switch in Obama strategy has been as he and his advisors capitulate to the inside-the-Beltway logic imposed by the media and the hired-gun p.r. advisors of the Democratic Party. The reason? The "experts" and the media mavens all misunderstand the psychodynamics of American politics. The central dichotomy in American politics is not Left/Right but fear/hope," says Rabbi Michael Lerner, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, editor of Tikkun Magazine, and an initiator of the letter.
"When Senator Obama positioned himself as the prophet of a new kind of politics, he energized millions of young people, and even older Republicans and people who had become so cynical about politics that they have not voted in recent years. But that depended on him being the voice of peace against war, social justice against capitulation to the rich and the large corporations, and ecological sanity.
If he now moves to what the inside-the-beltway crowd call The Center, he ends up in an election campaign in which he will be trying to prove that he is a better general for wartime than McCain, and a better mini-manager of the same old system-and that will undermine the hopefulness that was the ticket to his political success and the Republicans will become Republicans again, the youth and the cynics will return to their other concerns, and Obama's political possibilities will be worse, not better."
"Still," Lerner continued, "we approach Obama not as his political strategists but as religious, ethical and spiritual leaders to challenge him to put forward a fundamentally new ethical vision, which is actually the oldest vision-the vision of our various religious and spiritual traditions and of the wise humanistic values that pervade all religions but can be accessed without being religious. We hope that Senator Obama will allow himself to be Obama again, rather than be swallowed up by the ethical visionless-ness of business-as-usual American politics."
The Network of Spiritual Progressives will be holding a series of events in Denver at the time of the Democratic Convention and has invited all the delegates to continue this conversation. For more information: David Lapedis at 510 644 1200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Lerner can be reached at 510 644 1200 or RabbiLerner@tikkun.org.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Senator Obama,
As strong supporters of your campaign to become President of the U.S. in our own personal lives and as leaders in the religious communities in the U.S., we understand well the pressures you must be facing to tone down your message so that you can win the election and then later be more courageous in challenging major assumptions in American public discourse that have been inserted there by a powerful conservative assault for the past thirty years by conservatives and champions of the elites of wealth and power in this country.
Others have articulated elsewhere why "toning down" or "moving to appeal to the Center" is a politically disastrous strategy, not only because it causes disillusionment and passivity among the youth who momentarily thought that something new was happening in American politics and who might otherwise return to apathy when they perceive you as "playing the game" the same old way, but also because it generates despair among all sections of the population that had momentarily allowed themselves to hope that America might become under your presidency a society that unequivocally supported a politics of peace and justice. People who thought that they would vote for you as their peace candidate who seemed more unequivocal than others about ending the war in Iraq, for example, may become less enthusiastic about a candidacy that now calls for escalation of the war in Afghanistan and talks about giving Iranians ultimatums to be followed by green lights for military attacks.
We are writing you from a different angle, not as your election strategists, but as people of faith whose primary allegiance is to be prophetic witnesses to the ethical vision articulated in the holy texts of our religion and the elaboration of those religious traditions over the course of the past two thousand years.
It is our view that America needs "a New Bottom Line" so that both corporations and non-profit institutions, social practices, legislation, government activities, and even our own personal life activities should be deemed "rational, productive, or efficient" not only to the extent that they maximize money, material security, power or gratification of our sensual desires but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity ethical and ecological sensitivity, enhance our capacities to see others as embodiments of the sacred and enhance our capacity to respond to the universe with awe, wonder, and radical amazement at the grandeur of Creation.
It is from that perspective that we appeal to you to fulfill the promise and the hopes you raised in the early months of your campaign, and to sharpen the distinctions between you and past politics by articulating new principles that would govern your presidency. In particular, we call upon you to (unequivocally and persistently in your public appearances and ads) call for:
* Replacing the "Strategy of Domination or Power Over Others" (that has shaped too much of American foreign policy in the past) with a new approach that gives at least equal weight to "A Strategy of Generosity and Caring for Others" (for example as manifested by the Global Marshall Plan suggested by the Network of Spiritual Progressives www.spiritualprogressives.org). You should not allow the public discourse to push you into having to prove who will be the most effective candidate for running the next set of wars, but instead insist strongly and make this central to your campaign that that strategy for achieving Homeland Security is seriously flawed. Effective security strategy must rely on two legs, one the strong military defense of our interests, and second on the strong commitment to ending global (and domestic) poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and repairing the global environment (please see House Res. 1078 introduced by Keith Ellison and endorsed by nineteen other Members of the House for some helpful language in this regard-it endorses our version of The Global Marshall Plan). Those who are ill-equipped to articulate and implement the Strategy of Generosity are "weak on national defense."