Thursday, February 5, 2009

Agency and Democracy

I would like to get back to the issue of whether you can be a good Mormon and a Democrat. I've already written about some current political issues, such as torture, war, and spying on Americans here, which seems to indicate that the Republican party has some pretty serious issues that Mormon Republicans need to reconcile, much like Mormon Democrats need to deal with issues such as abortion and gay rights. Again, no political party is perfect and you absolutely should never completely agree with any one party or you are probably not thinking critically.

But putting specific issues aside, most complaints I hear or read about the compatibility of Mormons and Democrats focus on the issue of choice. The argument goes something like this: In the war in heaven Satan was cast out because he wanted to take away our agency. Democrats and Socialists (usually lumped together without any explanation) similarly want to take agency away by creating a welfare state and creating too much government interference in our lives. Democrats = Satanists.

This represents some of the worst logic I have ever encountered (even omitting my last little flourish there which I have honestly never seen). And this is not a straw man, this the argument I've encountered many times. This is what people think, and it is wrong, and I'd like to tell you why.

As long as you have the ability to vote for whomever you want, you have a choice. Democrats are fully open about what they would like to accomplish. We would like health care for every person, with a priority for children. We would like to assist the poor and give them the same opportunities as the wealthy. We would like workers to have as much negotiating power as management. We would like our environment preserved. We want true equality across the board. We think the government is in as good or better position to make these happen as any other source.

I guess it is true that government takes away some choice at the back end of the process by, for instance, spending your tax dollars. We do not get to choose where every dollar we pay in taxes is spent. But this is the case no matter which party is in control. Even then we can influence our representatives and leaders through emails, phone calls, and community organizing. Our most influential choice, however, comes at the front end of the process when we vote. There is no restriction of choice at the polls. Choices regarding how the government is run occur in the voting booth, and you can choose Republican or Democrat or any other person or party you want.

We are a government run by the majority which respects the right of the minority. The hallmark of democracy is that we choose the government that best reflects our values. If the majority of people in America vote for Democrats, which is the case right now, then we are a liberal country and the liberal agenda is implemented. If a majority of people in America vote for Republicans, which more or less happened the last twenty years, then we are a conservative country and the conservative agenda is implemented. It is never the case that Democrats take control of the government and suppress choice.

We, the majority, chose the Democratic politicians and ideas and we want them to lead. If they dissatisfy us then the choice still remains to choose someone different. With a nation in economic crisis and our stature in foreign policy diminished, the majority chose President Obama and the Democrats, knowing it meant an implementation of the Democratic ideals. If it fails, the majority will choose something new (unless the year is 2004).

A conservative Republican may disagree with the amount of money spend on welfare programs. She does not want her money spent in that way, but when a majority of the nation votes for Democrats she will have to abide by that law, even though she disagrees. This is the nature of a democracy. When Republicans were in charge of the nation I did not want my tax dollars and military lives spent on the Iraq war, and I did not want our government to torture. I disagreed vehemently. But I did not complain that the Republicans were taking away my agency. I became informed, argued, and voted, along with millions of others, and things have changed.

If in our democracy a majority of Americans want to take away your handguns and assault weapons, we'll do it. If a majority wants universal health care, we'll do it. If a majority wants complete government de-regulation of the financial system, we'll do it. If a majority wants to privatize the national parks and public lands, we'll do it. These are not changes that happen overnight, of course, but with sufficient momentum Americans can do anything, good or bad. But the choice is always ours, it is never taken away no matter which party is in control.

So we, as American Mormons, value our agency and our democracy. We study the issues, debate them, and vote according to our conscience. If we disagree with the majority, then we are given rights as minorities to assemble and peacefully protest and vote the bums out. Which we did on November 4, 2008, and it felt great.

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