Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Listening to Bad Advice

Gabriel Sanchez at the Bridge was thinking about the past elections and his decision not to vote. Formally, he was appalled by the choice between Justin Amash and Bob Goodrich, both deeply offensive to his Catholic values if in different ways.

Faced with such impossible choices (and I suspect others) Sanchez decided that the best answer was to sit this one out. This is certainly culturally understandable: there is something of this despair in the air, the stench of disconnection. But sadly, that was not his point, but rather there was another path to be followed, one pioneered by Alasdair McIntyre

I have chosen to keep faith with moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s provocative dictate: “When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither.”

He expands this later,

MacIntyre, we cannot forget that in our present political environment “a vote cast is not only a vote for a particular candidate, it is also a vote cast for a system that presents us only with unacceptable alternatives.” As such, “The way to vote against the system is not to vote.”

McIntyre’s branch is a poor one to try and hang much on.

McIntyre’s proposal cleaves participation in the political process with its fundamental questions of how power is to be distributed, and the act of ratification — the vote. In contemporary terms, we may see the political process in both its advocacy and actions as a kind of secular liturgy — a set of acts we collectively engage in. Voting, then is a ratification of these decisions; my vote participates in the process. Again to steal from religion, there is something sacramental about it.

Political participation without voting is either a tacit acceptance of the status quo, or an appeal to a non-electoral model of change. An end around of some kind; it’s McIntyre as an anti-democrat.

What about justice?

As an acceptance or willingness to accept the status quo, non-voting makes another statement: it denies the possibility of justice. Whether it is the hunkering down despair of the working poor, the too-busy indifference of the young adult, or the belief that they’re all the same — the action testifies to a belief that what finally counts is power, power alone. The notion that power can be rightly ordered (the actual stuff of politics) is glossed over. McIntyre ends up with Nietzsche.

While there is a temptation to withdraw, especially from educated conservatives of a certain ilk (e.g. see Rod Dreher’s “Bendict option”), it is one clouded by a lack of hope. In the name of principle, it denies the possibility of principled action.

It is the peculiar evil of this age of partisanship to devolve issues of all kinds to simply that of power and self interest without the possibility of something better, greater, a good. At the end of the day politics is an exercise in hope, in believing the best about our neighbor; that’s why there can be no walking away.

Filed under: Community, Politics, , , , , , ,

What’s Wrong with Brian Ellis

By all lights, Brian Ellis is a nice guy. Nice family. In fact he keeps reminding us of that constantly, his wife Joan, his three wonderful blonde daughters, his time on the EGR school board. And if the robocalls are any indication, his friends like him, too.

Ellis is running for Third Congressional District against Justin Amash, the enfante terrible of Congress, Dr. No, the libertarian scourge of all that isn’t pure, our own Savonarola on the Grand.

As Ellis defined himself on Facebook,

I am running for Congress because we deserve a representative who will work for solutions, reflect our values, and listen.

This word “deserve” is the give away. It promises nothing except perhaps a kind of entitlement. The laundry list that follows reveals that “deserve” is mostly about being nice and very little about working for solutions. Among the stances are the typical  ones, the sort that can be found from nearly any Republican candidate: balanced budget amendment, end Obamacare, more fracking and drilling, Second Amendment.

If this is all that “deserve” includes, then nearly any old Republican would do. And that is precisely the problem with Brian Ellis. Instead of separating himself on the basis of what he would work for (as opposed to merely oppose), he chose the safer route, that of simply being one of the many. That’s safe, but it is not likely to win at the polls today.


Filed under: Elections, Republican Folly, Uncategorized, , , ,

Mixed Messages

Trevor Thomas formally kicked off his campaign for the Third Congressional seat with a special guest: Bob Eleveld. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Eleveld is a former chair of the Kent County GOP and helped in the local McCain campaign in 2000. So what brings him out? As MLive reported

While Thomas supports the environment, woman’s rights and LGBT rights, he’s strong in his beliefs and will not waver, Eleveld said.
“He’s not going to be anybody else but what he is to get votes. He’s just going to be Trevor,” Eleveld said. “He thinks for himself.”

Eleveld, you see, is that most rare of endangered species, a liberal/centrist Republican, socially liberal but economically conservative.

His endorsement is a prize for the Thomas team,  but it also is one that adds some new challenges.

When combined with the theme of “Jerry Ford values”, the endorsement suggests a real move to the center. There’s more than a whiff of the “post-partisan”  when Thomas touts his ability to put aside partisanship.

Then again this is the same campaign that has vilified the Pestka campaign for being in the center and insufficiently progressive. Clearly a message is getting confused. Who could blame Democrats for wondering which is the real Thomas?

The presence of Eleveld on the campaign team, and even the messaging of “Jerry Ford values” create more distance between the campaign and the minority community. Those with memory know that the long time “progressive” Republicans nonetheless held to conservative economics. It’s Suburbs v. City, Forest Hills v. GRPS.

The desire to be post-partisan, to be a bridge-builder is admirable; the lessons of the past four years in Washington, offer abundant evidence that a tougher mindset may be needed.

Of course, it may also be that “progressive values” really do end up as a set of social issues and leave off economics and the question of jobs. In a word, suburban values.

But make no mistake, it’s going to take a tougher mind to fight the Austrian economics of Amash and the Tea Party.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , , , , ,

Two Dems better than one Republican

Tomorrow morning Steve Pestka joins Trevor Thomas in the race for the Third Congressional.

Pestka brings a solid record as a moderate, pro-life Democrat, a background that has attracted attacks by some, as well as spurred doubts by progressives in the community. To date, none have gone public with their misgivings.

Thomas has a local connection (Wyoming native, GVSU graduate) and comes off of a big win for the overturning of Dont Ask Don’t Tell. This work has brought him to national attention, at least in the LGBT communities. And Thomas is also young, 28.

Both are driven by a combination of the redrawn lines of the Third, and by the staunchly conservative stands taken by the incumbent, Justin Amash. Add to this that the prospect that 2012 may in fact look like 2008 (so Ruy Teixiera), the candidacy becomes hot property. In 2008, the new district basically broke even in its vote for Obama (177,195 McCain, 180,021 Obama).

If the district looks like a possible win, how are the two Dems ready for the challenge? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, National, , , , , , , , , ,

The Future of Pro Life

Marcie Wheeler raises some interesting questions about the status of anti-choice in the Democratic constellation here in Kent County. The short version: is pro-life the dominant, requisite force that it once was, one that requires women to take it and say nothing?

There is a right way and a wrong way, IMO, to run an anti-choice candidate. Telling voters–particularly the women voters being impacted by anti-choice Dems of late–they can’t talk about it bc they don’t know enough is not the way to do it.

Particularly in the context of a run for the Third by Steve Pestka, the question of the pro-life Dems again rises up. The pro-life stance (or “anti-choice”) has been seen as a prerequisite for competitive candidates since the Clinton election, in part because recruiting drew from the Catholic west side community and the Christian Reformed — both distinctly pro-life. Their victories and general growth in the number of elected officials seemed to confirm the stance. Wheeler’s challenge (and others) invites a reconsideration of this political axiom. The question of abortion may not be the deal breaker that it was 10 or 15 years ago.

One sign of change has been the growing political leadership in the City, on the school board (Tony Baker, Wendy Falb), and especially in the Second Ward with Ruth Kelley and Rosalynn Bliss.

A second sigh of change has been the diminishing of the cultural drivers for anti-choice over the past 10 years. It’s traditional electoral base has been in the Catholic and Dutch Reformed communities, the latter especially weakening demographically and broadening over this time. The interesting aspect about the redistricting of the Third has been the removal of some of these traditional bastions for the anti-choice side in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood.

A third change is generational. The Life/Choice battle is a Boomer/Gen X issues. Anecdotally and by surveys, young evangelicals are not as wrapped up in the cultural war aspects — other issues, e.g. sex slavery or development, carry greater weight. This broadening of concern allows Dems to frame other compelling moral arguments away from the Life/Choice arena. While most young evangelicals will continue to vote R, the wider, more holistic range offers opportunity to pick up votes, perhaps moving from 25 percent D to 30 percent.

And finally,  there are the efforts of the Republican Party itself. Turning Life into a voting issue certainly assisted them in the 90s; it clearly motivates their base.  However, the very scope of their victory has capped their votes; once you have the significant plurality of pro-life votes, how many more are there? The pool of voters for whom Life is a voting issue has shrunk, most are Republican already. Moreover the radicalization of the GOP on this and general women’s health issues also functions to confirm present voters but push away moderates.  Internal victory and radicalization has reduced the penalty for being Choice, in fact may render it moot.

Something like this can be seen in Justin Amash, himself. While in a nominal way pro-life, his own libertarian tendencies push him away from a (self) definition as pro-life. (Consider that in two years he has issued four news releases related to abortion).

If the Life/Choice battle is no longer the deal breaker it once was, what should Dems do? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Uphill Climb? or Children’s Crusade?

Eclectablog and DownWithTyranny are looking with excitement at the possible entry of Trevor Thomas into the race for the Third Congressional. The reasoning is two-fold, first that Justin Amash is weak relative to the Republican Party, he’s an outsider, even an extremist. All true. Second that Thomas would bring a strong progressive resume to the race. Here’s how DWT describes him:

Trevor grew up in the district; his parents worked 30 years each on factory lines, including General Motors and Delphi plants.

Trevor, who spent five years as a producer and reporter at WOOD-TV and WGVU-TV in Grand Rapids, went on to work for Governor Jennifer Granholm and later helped lead the national effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  And he’s done his legwork, meeting with local electeds in the district since November and charting a well-thought out, early grassroots plan to win.

There’s a lot in Trevor to like, but he faces something of an uphill climb. Progressives have run in MI-3 before (Lynnes, 2002; Sanchez, 2008), none gained much traction, in part because of a strong incumbent, Vern Ehlers. Because the seat seemed so safe, it was often the territory for small, under-funded campaigns. Only with the Obama victory did it look as if the right candidate might actually take it; hence the well funded but unsuccessful campaign of Pat Miles Jr.

A progressive like Trevor faces two barriers. Financially, the race for MI-3 has become more expensive with the addition of Calhoun county (Battle Creek), forcing campaigns to wage a two-media market war. Secondly, in partisan races outside Grand Rapids, the region tends to be socially conservative, D or R,a function of underlying Catholic (principally Polish) and conservative Protestant (Dutch) communities. Winning coalitions must tap both these communities to win. Organizing the ground game will take work and plenty of allies, this is not something done by the progressives alone.

When we turn to the City proper, things look brighter, notably the creation of a safe (and progressive) state house seat (MI-75), but this will not be vacant until 2016. Our City Commission races also have glimmers of progressive leadership, particularly in the Second Ward. Likewise, the School Board has a strong progressive cast to it, as well, many having enjoyed the support of Progressive Women’s Alliance(PWA) — I think that this would be the likely pool for candidates to actually emerge.

Add to all this, we may note the changing media market itself. On one hand, the shift to social media may well benefit a young campaign with lots of smarts. Sadly for challengers, that’s the field pioneered by Rep. Amash. Any challenger will need to be at least as adept as he has shown himself to be. Second, the demise of print product in the region takes away some of the easier advertising and publicity options (and so pushes for the use of broadcast media). This too, will take finesse but also lots of cash.

In short,  it will be the presence of significant financing and a clear strategy that will determine whether Thomas brings a challenge, or one more children’s crusade.


Filed under: Elections, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Furniture City, meet Cereal City

The state Republican Party released their planned congressional redistricting map. While the contortions in the northern burbs of Detroit make this another piece of court bait, the map for the local 3rd Congressional is certainly interesting, linking as it does Calhoun County and Battle Creek with the folks of the Furniture City.

Perhaps the most intriguing part is how the GOP gives up Battle Creek — a definite Democratic stronghold. The explanation no doubt lies in an attempt to save Rep. Tim Walberg (CD – 7). For those in Kent County this looks to be something of a fair trade. The new 3rd Congressional gets a Democratic stronghold, but needs to surrender (parts of?) Wyoming. By most lights that would be a fair trade. If the GOP plan does anything it formally creates a more competitive seat.

“Formally” is the operative word here. The configuration raises two important campaign challenges, particularly for any Democratic candidate. This is no longer a seat that can be run from the City; it’s no longer “local.” The inclusion of Battle Creek will ask campaigns to divide their time between the two regions — especially Democrats who will need a strong turnout in Calhoun to have any chance of winning, at all. The addition of a second media market also raises the funding bar for any serious campaign.

Likely the most interesting item — and the reason that the GOP likes this configuration (well, apart from saving Walberg) — is how it skews old. Where approximately 25 percent of Kent County is over 62, in Calhoun County the number is over 33 percent, one third. These are generally  more conservative voters, although in the Ryan era and the proposed revision of Medicare this older make-up opens a significant vulnerability to the sitting congressman in the 3rd, Rep. Justin Amash.

Filed under: Elections, , , , , , , , ,

Another Adult Enters the Room

Local TV and The Grand Rapids Press report that Grand Rapids Comptroller Stan Milanowski is thinking he has a political future.  The late Friday news has Milanowski contemplating entering the 29th State Senate or running for the Third Congressional seat now held by Vern Ehlers.

Milanowski’s moderate profile would fit both prospective runs, so the bigger questions must be those of which does he pick.  And why?

While many aspire to go to Washington, that doesn’t seem to be in his future.  With both Steve Heacock and Bill Hardiman already declared for the seat, it is difficult to see what another moderate would bring to the table, except perhaps an Amash win.  The state senate run seems more practical.  Milanowski has some obvious governmental creds, plus he brings a clear Grand Rapids connection.  The two current candidates lack one or both of these, especially Lori Wiersma beloved of  the old Dutch network (but backed by the folks in Wyoming).

The obvious weakness to a Milanowski campaign is that he lacks the core electioneering experience.  The learning curve is huge for a race like this.  Of course, at this time, things are still in the “exploratory stage” as they should be.  That he’s even talking about the campaign suggests that others have been speaking with him already.

Milanowski’s proposed campaign may also be the sign of something more: is the tide ebbing?  What else does it tell us?  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, , , , , , ,

Where will they go?

The news today was as expected: Steven Heacock announced that he, too, will stand as a candidate for the Third Congressional seat.  Heacock has the sort of political resumé that makes such a run a natural.  And for this, centrist Republicans are all breathing a sigh of relief.  More interesting  the Heacock announcement per se was the subsequent endorsement by Jerry Kooiman, leaving State Senator Bill Hardiman the only social conservative in the race.

Normally, this would be a Hardiman advantage.  The west side of Kent County and large parts of Barry are well known for their social conservative orientation.  And there is no doubt that Hardiman has carried the water for them.  So given this, it is all the more strange at the slow, even reluctant start of the Hardiman campaign.

Heacock opens with a dedicated web site; so too, does newcomer Bob Overbeek.  So what does Hardiman offer?  A splash page.  Now the real difficulty here, is less the splash page, than the lack of cross links to such sites as “billhardimanforcongress” and the like.  He owns them, but has not put up the cross links.  Whether we look at this from the marketing or the political, you need to help searchers find you, and well… he’s making it difficult.

So what are social conservatives supposed to do?  At the very least, they will need to dig deep into their pocketbook to run a campaign that gets respect.  The more likely answer is that the Culture Wars are indeed over.  It is no longer enough to be for Family or Marriage; for those  seized with political passion, they now follow other gods, not least being those of the Tea Party.

Filed under: Elections, , , , ,

Hardiman Steps In. Sort of.

The news of the day is the announced candidacy of State Senator Bill Hardiman fore the Third Congressional District.  While this hardly counts as a surprise — he had sent out a press release last week announcing the event in Grandville — nonetheless it is a surprise at how unprepared Hardiman actually is.  Although the announcement was anticipated, no web site went live to greet the new campaign; also of note, few supporters were lined up to go on line at Mlive or the TV stations to put in a good word.  The result, in short, is that of a campaign not quite in gear.

This is perhaps not surprising. Hardiman finished the year with little left in his state accounts, with less than $400 in his senate account, and less than $2,000 in his Leadership Fund.  That he should be in this position, underfunded and not quite ready speaks plenty about the state of affairs in the Kent County GOP.

First, let’s state the obvious: Hardiman was not planning a run or Congress.  Either Vern Ehlers had thought he was going ahead, or Hardiman had been thinking about retiring, but in either case finishing up 2009, there is little evidence that Hardiman was amassing the resources necessary for a run.  To fail on the web site also suggests that the personnel are not in place — who exactly is going to help manage a touch campaign against Justin Amash?  (And how will he — or she — be paid?)

The Hardiman candidacy also gives a window into the world of GOP internal politics.

If we posit Hardiman as an anti-Amash vote, then what is it about Justin that others don’t like?  Can we make out the outlines of the doubt about Amash?

To begin with, there is the split between Ada and Grandville.  Kent County divides east and west in both parties; here, it is between the center of economic power in Ada, and that found in west.  The stumbling search for a candidate to run against David LaGrand speaks to a breakdown of the GOP, and especially of its current leader, Joeanne Voorhees.  Even before the Amash candidacy there had been rumors of deep dissatisfaction with the Kent County leadership.

But the road surely runs both ways.  Where Amash fights against the perceived forced unionization of day care providers, Hardiman trumpets his standing up for marriage.  It’s Tea Party v. Church Coffee. Grandville makes sense then, not only as the source of needed money (e.g. the Land Victory Fund), but as the political home for Hardiman’s politics.

Such a move should not give centrists in the County any comfort.  If Amash’s cup of tea is not the popular taste, there is likewise little evidence that a return to social conservatism is any better (though, in fairness, Hardiman scarcely is the firebrand that others have been). That moment has passed.  That said,  Hardiman’s presence would certainly dampen a Kooiman candidacy (again, with the west side being his natural political home), although the lack of resources in the Hardiman camp will be tempting for Kooiman to jump in.

But the big story lies elsewhere.  An under-resourced Hardiman is the best news possible for former County Commissioner Steve Heacock, who is also planning to toss his hat in the ring later this week.  His presence would be that of the “adult” the economic centrist.  The question however will be whether the party wants an adult, or does it want to rock?  Or will it settle for the comforting outlnes of a mature believer?

Filed under: Elections, , , , ,


August 2020