Conversion of a Conservative

Wednesday, June 02, 2004



I started actual blogging after the war in Iraq began, and much of my negative feelings about G.W. Bush solidified during the build up to war in Iraq.

I have a confession to make, because the issue has come up a couple times in private emails and in another blog's commenting system.

I am a registered and card carrying Republican!

When I entered seminary formation in 1989, I was theologically a moderate conservative - one who might have defined himself as "orthodox" if that term was in vogue at the time. Perhaps the only "liberal" leaning I had in 1989 was a preference for non-violent solutions to conflict over too quick a use of just war theory.

By the time I left seminary in 1995, I had shifted to a moderate liberal theologically. I was more firm in my rejection of war, and had come to embrace that women should probably be ordained, and married priests were a good idea. I was also just beginning to question the Church's teaching on contraception and homosexuality. These changes came from several "aha moments" when I was exposed to how Church doctrine developed and took shape historically.

I became more and more liberal theologically as the Vatican and/or the Bishops continue to take what appear to be more and more theologically indefensible positions for what appear to be political reasons.

When I say a position is "indefensible", I am referring to the fact that the position either has an internal contradiction, or is based on a dubious assumption that contradicts a more certain assumption. The sex scandals and what I saw forshadowing it while I was in formation also contributed to my shift leftward.

Yet, my slow shift to more and more liberal theology has run ahead of my shift left on political matters. In the year 2000, I actually voted for G.W. His message of "compassionate conservatism" resonated with a Catholic who believed in limited roles of government and fiscal responsibility. I believed in trickle down economic theory at the time.

I recognized in 2000 that Bush was not 100 percent pro-life, but he seemed more pro-life than Gore. I also recognized that Bush could lead us to a war if the decision were solely his, but I thought his cabinet and Congress would reign him in and ensure we avoided anything stupid.

What changed my views?

On one key issue - abortion, I have believed all along that Bush is not truly pro-life. Thus, when the Bishops began recently to crack down on Kerry, I was sitting here saying "Wait a minute. Bush isn't against abortion either" and I meant it. I said that Bush is not pro-life when I considered myself more Republican than I do today!

The war was the biggest thing that turned me off to Bush and Cheney. All wars of aggression are morally wrong - no "ands", "ifs" or "buts". There is absolutely no justification for pre-emptive war. There is no exception to the teaching that wars of aggression are wrong. This no excpetion means that some vague notion of "prudential judgment" cannot be used to overide the principel that all wars of aggression are wrong. There never was and there never will be a just war of aggression.

This is so obviously true to me, and so clearly the tradition of the Church, that it surprises me how many American Catholics don't see it. I was honestly surprised that conservative Catholics supported the war even against the Pope, Ratzinger, and the entire USCCB.

The build up to war got me questioning a lot of things.

On fiscal conservatism, I am left asking myself how we can manage to raise $87 billion for an unnecessary war, and run up a half trillion dollar deficit, but we couldn't have done the same thing to end poverty.

Bush and Cheney are saying deficits don't matter. If that's the Republican position now, then I say all deficit spending should have gone to curing AIDs and eliminating poverty. The only reason I didn't say this when I was more Republican was I thought deficits do matter. But Bush-Cheney say they don't matter. So, if they don't matter, let's spend that money on what is really necessary and important - saving lives instead of destroying them.

On trickle down economics, all I know is that I was personally better off four years ago than I am today. It seems to me that tax cuts and so forth have not stopped corporations from cutting jobs and freezing compensation. No matter how much the theory made sense to me, it simply doesn't seem to the pass the test of reality. My father is a scientist (and also a Republican questioning Bush). In his world, every hypothesis and theory must be tested in reality before it is declared "true". Trickle down theory seems to have failed the test of reality.

On issues such as affirmative action and the environment, I simply failed to foresee that any modern day Republican would challenge these issues the aggressive way Bush-Cheney have done - especially a team claiming to be "compassionate".

Then there is the federal death penalty. Even back in the eighties, I bought the seamless garment argument, and voted for anti-death penalty Republicans over pro-death penalty Republicans where I could. I never thought this would be an issue in a Presidential election. We got by for over 30 years without a federal death penalty until Bush came to power.

Should the federal government be killing people directly? As I reflect on this, this is more important than abortion in a way, because the government is the agent of death. I didn't have to consider this until Bush came to power.

What about the Patriot Act? How is this consistent with Republican philosophy of limited powers of the state?

I was also blind to the global power of Cheney's Halliburton Corp, and the callousness with which Cheney would increase its power and wealth. Halliburton is benefiting from war in Iraq, the deposition of Aristide in Haiti, and they do business in Iran. They seem to be everywhere the neo-cons consider "strategic". How is that? Cheney was also tied to Enron directly and World-Com indirectly. This man seems to be willing to let people starve and/or die to make a profit.

And the more and more I learn about how the Bush team operates (including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby Scooter, Fieth, Rove, Ashcroft, etc....) the more fearful I become that these guys truly are repeating what happened in Nazi Germany. They may be taking longer to do it, but they seem to be up to the same shenanigans.

I honestly am beginning to see what I posted last night below - that many people defining themselves on the right either politically or theologically are often "bullies".

This is not true of ALL Republicans, nor is it true of ALL theological conservatives. However, it is often enough true.

I am also learning that we need good B.S. detectors to see through the rationalizations that the bullies use to justify what they do. Unfortunately, the innocent conservative who is not a bully and is simply blinded by the right sometimes get caught in the cross-fire.

By the time I started blogging, my shift to the political left had begun catching up with my shift to the theological left. I had gone online and entered web discussion forums seeking someone who might see what I was overlooking as my mind was changing. I kept getting kicked off Catholic forums by people who were not very tolerant of hard questions.

This has been a conversion experience for me. Much of the argumentation I post is an argument that went on in my own mind long before I posted it to the web.

I admit my past now for two reasons: 1) so that others may see that it is possible for conservatives to change, and 2) so that those who have shifted in the opposite direction can see that it plays both ways.

It isn't that one party truly has ALL the answers. The pre-Bush Republicans (not the "neocons", but those before or apart from them) raise some excellent points about balancing the federal budget, limiting government power, and so forth. Business isn't always evil, and business growth can be good for everyone if done rightly.

Yet, Clinton may have been an economic genius, and the Democrats have their hearts in the right place from the stand-point social justice and care for the poor.

Even when I voted for Reagan years ago, I wished for a more compassionate conservatism, and I see today that the seeds of G.W. were there in Reagan with Iran Contra and support for people like Osama and Saddam.

If a moderate pro-life Democrat ran today, he or she'd have my vote in a heartbeat. Or, if a liberal anti-war, anti-death penalty Republican came along, she or he could have my vote in a heartbeat.

As it stands today, however, all I know is that if I vote for Bush again, I would be violating my conscience, and therefore committing a sin. And with each passing day he is in office, the neo-cons drive me further to the left.

Theologically, the more the Church equivalents of political neo-cons talk, the more convinced I become how seriously wrong they are on some issues.

Those who consider themselves "conservatives" may or may not be right on any given issue. But consider the fact that the bullying approach to converting the opposition through armed conflict (in the case of Bush) or appeals to blind obedience to irrational propositions (in the case of the Church) only pushes away your own!

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 3:15 PM

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