This election year provides one of the starkest contrasts in governing philosophies in modern times. Today's GOP has shed it's moderate wing and, like in 1964 when Barry Goldwater ran against LBJ, is running a campaign that is far to the right politically. This has implications for people of faith who across theological lines share concerns about issues ranging from poverty to the environment to war and peace.
Just recently the U.S. House voted again to overturn President Obama's health care reform -- the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare and recently upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Thirty million Americans will receive coverage under this plan -- millions already have -- and while GOP opponents call Obamacare socialism, the reality is that it is a largely private -- not government run -- plan molded after Mitt Romney's Massachusetts reforms when he was that state's governor. President Obama's efforts to reform health care were backed by large numbers of religious organizations, including the National Council of Church and a number of Roman Catholic bodies.
The reform of our broken health care system has long been a goal of religious leaders in the United States and one shared by both Democrats and Republicans. Richard Nixon proposed a universal-style coverage plan. George H.W. Bush worked to reform the health care system. Mitt Romney paved the way as a governor. President Obama's plan won't cover every American, only a single payer system would come close to that goal, but it significantly closes the gap and address one of the great moral issues of our time.
On the environment, the National Council of Churches have been joined by the National Association for Evangelicals and the U.S. Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops in calling for action to reverse human caused climate change. Many in today's GOP still question the reality that human activity is a major factor behind climate change and the "global weriding" that has caused extreme weather across the planet. President Obama has pushed for important legislation in this area -- legislation that doesn't go far enough, frankly, but in our current political environment might be the best we can hope for -- but even here Mitt Romney and his allies in Congress have called for inaction and used their campaigns to questions whether or not climate change is even real.
Americans were mislead by President George W. Bush into fighting the war in Iraq and clearly wanted an end to that sad chapter in our nation's history. As promised, President Obama has brought the troops home and is reducing troops in Afghanistan. Many of us hope for a faster withdrawal there but it is important -- vital -- that the human rights of women and others be protected as we leave. President Obama, with the support of the Pentagon, has called for a reduction in military spending as these conflicts wind down. But GOP leaders, including Mitt Romney, are calling for increased spending. Congressional leaders even pledged to take money set aside to help people with their health care to pay for higher military budgets.
President Obama said earlier this year at Easter:
...so when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren't discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren't taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God's command to "love thy neighbor as thyself." I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and every set of beliefs -- from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writings of Plato.
All of these important public policy issues we face today are moral issues that people of faith have a stake in and should speak to. Good people of faith can disagree on the right ways to bring about change and who to vote for in elections. What we shouldn't disagree on are the goals. Like President Obama, my faith compels me to speak out on these issues and to seek solutions within the public square. All people of faith need to examine the positions taken by the candidates and see if they square with their deepest values and the values of our different faith traditions. As a Christian whose faith informs his politics, I am looking for leaders who will protect God's creation, our very planet, stand up for those Jesus called the "least of these," and work towards being a peacemaker in a world torn apart by war.