Dear Barack Obama...
I really enjoy you. I really do. I find you articulate and engaging and intelligent--a nice change from the usual politician fare. I am also pretty happy with the way you have, so far, avoided mud-slinging. Thanks.
I do have some questions, though. I wonder if you'd mind answering.
1. This country was founded on the ideal that every person has a God-given right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Presumably this applies to people who aren't born in America as well, and even extends to those who never set foot in America. The current president has said that "no insignificant person was ever born." Unfortunately, his actions proclaim a different creed, as do popular phrases like "collateral damage." I wonder how you might apply, to domestic and foreign policy, the American ideal that every person is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? How might this ideal be lived out in our political and social systems? Please don't answer me using the words "democracy" or "security"--they are important concepts but sadly the words have lost their meaning in our current discourse. I want to know, both abstractly and concretely, what it means for American policy that Palestinians, Sudanese, illegal immigrants, Cubans, wealthy, poor, hungry, and overweight people are all equally entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that not a single one of them is insignificant.
2. You claim you want to change the face of American politics, that you want to change the way things are done in Washington. The implication is one of total regime change. I'm interested in how you envision our government system working without being tied to and/or run (albeit mostly behind-the-scenes) by wealthy and powerful lobbies. Wonder which lobbies I mean? For just a few (the ones who make the news), how about the Dairy Farmers? The Jewish Federation? The factory farmers who benefit from the farm bill's subsidies while family farmers are forced off their land? Other big business that pollutes the air and water while shipping jobs overseas? These and hundreds of other lobbies spend billions of dollars each year to ensure that legislation is favorable to them. Unfortunately that leaves the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the oppressed, the alien, the orphan, and the widow, the people living under occupation, the people whose lives are "expendable" (from a big business perspective) out in the cold. Where is their place in our public policy? I agree with you that it's time for a change, but how, in your view, might our government work differently? Practicality, please, not just pretty words.
3. Our federal budget is very out of balance. Our debt spirals out of control. Our military spending outstrips our social services spending (both domestic and foreign) by several times. Our foreign aid is a mere 1/10th of 1% of our entire multi-trillion dollar budget. How do you envision an economic policy that brings this budget in line while simultaneously doing our share to help the 2 billion people living on less than $2 a day, helping those with AIDS and no access to the $150/year drugs that could make their lives better, and saving the 120 children that have died of hunger-related preventable disease while I've typed this paragraph?
4. As a Christian minister, I should be intrigued by how you live out your faith in your public life, how your understanding of Scripture and your relationship to Jesus shape your responses to situations and your shaping of policy. However, I'm more interested in how you, as a Christian, see yourself as a public official in a secular nation. How might your faith influence your action without alienating much of the country and indeed the rest of the world? How do you make room in your faith and in your decisions for those whose belief is different? And while we're on the subject, how do you make room for differences of opinion in general? And how open are you to hearing differences of opinion and perhaps even changing your own? (Not that I am suggesting you should change your faith--I'm interested here in your capacity for change and growth, both in your faith and in other areas.) Please, no sound-bytes about "a Christian nation" or "people of faith."
4. I wonder if you might describe your vision of an ideal America--a 21st century America that is part of a global community--and how we might reach that vision? I'm interested in economics, social issues, policies, education, and maybe even a little fun.
As the country prepares to begin making choices for the coming years, these are the things I really would like to know before I make a commitment to vote one way or another.