Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Teaching Children Not to Be Democrats

Last month, I wrote a letter to my state representative, a Democrat.  That letter suggested that perhaps allowing businesses that prey on the struggling and the desperate to flourish in our state was the wrong course of action.  With the growing spread of predatory title lenders in the state of Virginia, both in her district and elsewhere, it seemed like the thing to do.

Being a pastor and all, I'll freely admit that the basis for my gettin' all uppity about this issue is rooted in Torah and the Prophets.  As a progressive Christian I don't approach the Bible literally, but I do take it seriously, as the saying goes.  Given my love-ethic-centered approach to scripture, I find the parts of Torah that challenge debt-slavery get all lit up by the Golden Rule.  I find the huge and sustained thread of invective against predatory economic behavior we find in the Prophets to be similarly simpatico with the heart of Christian ethics...as did Jesus, if his teaching is any measure.

I expected a response, of course.  Constituent care is a rather vital part of being in politics, and you can't let letters...particularly ones that are "open"...go unanswered.  And so, in due course, I got the response I expected.

Meaning, it was exactly the response I would have anticipated, given that the leadership of the Democratic party in the state of Virginia has been instrumental in the spread of title lending in the state.  It was spin and obfuscation.  Or a "difference of perspective."  "This is an extremely difficult issue," I was told, although if you care about the poor, it isn't at all.

It's a question, I was told, of individuals who have "nowhere else to go for badly needed money."  "I have yet to hear of anyone using a car title lender for any other reason," she wrote.  Um.  Er.  Sure.

My delegate endeavored to frame it as a binary choice.  Do we "deny access" to "badly needed money," or do we let it happen and "monitor it closely?"  Because as we all know, there are only two answers to every problem.

Alrighty, let's not deny access.  That sounds bad.  Let's monitor it.  Yup, still taking advantage of the poor, and helping keep people trapped in the cycle of poverty.   Thanks for the campaign donations, and carry on!

There was reference to a current bill, one that seems to kick the can down the road to local jurisdictions.  But I followed up on that.  HR979, as written, would do nothing to stop predatory lending in the state.  It just prevents new predators from muscling in on the action of those who are already established.

"I wish there were no market for such enterprises but that is, sadly, not the case," she said in conclusion.  Rule of thumb for self-declared progressives: when you start sounding like Grover Norquist, it's time for a gut check.

Without comment, I showed the letter to my wife.  Her response was the verbal equivalent of an eye roll.  But I also showed the letter to my thirteen year old, who'd had an interest in the letter-exchange because he'd been given an assignment to write a letter to his state representative in his civics class.

"What do you think," I asked.

"That's so stupid," he said.  This, from a kid whose self-understanding is that he's a Democrat, the kind of eighth grader who loves getting into political discussions with his more conservative classmates.  This, from a kid who...up until this point...would have considered "Democrat" as shorthand for his own progressive political identity.  Now, well, he's seeing things as more..."difficult."

"Of course people go there because they're desperate for money," he said.  "Duh.  That's like saying 'people go to McDonalds because they want food.'"  "Taking advantage of poor people is just a bad thing.  What's so difficult about that?"  He changed his letter, which he was presenting to his class...which is filled with the children of registered voters.

My exchange with my delegate, and her response, have reinforced in my politically-aware son the idea that party allegiance is not always the servant of justice.

Which is, perhaps, a good thing.