[Today I was the lead-off speaker for the annual conference of Democrats for Life of America, which focused this year on the theme of The Consistent Life Ethic. This is the text of my remarks. -Bill Samuel]
I thank Kristen for the opportunity to open this Conference. I appreciate Democrats for Life choosing the theme of the consistent life ethic for this year’s Conference.
I am completely convinced that life issues are inherently related to each other. And I believe this includes institutional violence represented by such things as racism and exploitative economic systems as well as abortion, war and the death penalty. Respect for human life and dignity needs to be across the board, not selective. The means we use to an ostensible end are critical. One can not achieve a good end by using evil means. One can only justify violence if one assumes, whether explicitly or implicitly, that violence is redemptive. But it is not. Remember that World War I was the “war to end all wars.” The history of wars since reaffirms that violence produces more violence in an endless cycle unless societies are willing to learn from this history and change course.
You can not solve problems in a marriage by beating your spouse. You don’t really address the problems of a pregnant woman in desperate circumstances by killing her unborn baby. You can’t defeat terrorism by using terrorist-like tactics against terrorists. You can’t show that killing is wrong by killing a murderer. Violence will never address the roots of social problems.
Back in the 1960’s, H. Rap Brown got a lot of attention with his statement that “Violence is as American as apple pie.” His statement was absolutely correct. Unfortunately, he used that statement as a basis for those representing the oppressed using violence since the oppressors do. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also understood the American habit of violence. But his response recognized that this needed to change and that means needed to be consistent with the desired ends. Therefore he used transformative nonviolence to achieve positive social change. Dr. King also understood the connections among issues, and refused to accept the criticism that his mission was civil rights, and he should not sully the issue by speaking out on such other life and dignity issues as poverty and war. Dr. King’s insistence on connecting the issues may have been key in his martyrdom. We should honor his legacy by insisting on a consistent, life-affirming approach in dealing with all social issues.
The American history of addiction to violence includes many aspects. We have a two century history of wars of aggression and oppression, seeking to extend our territory through military conquest and repeatedly intervening with American troops to thwart the will of the people in other countries when we thought American economic interests were threatened. We engaged in genocide against native Americans, and treated those from Africa as mere property. We have been one of the major users of the death penalty, which the record of knowingly prosecuting innocent people indicates is at least as much ritual sacrifice as a misguided attempt at justice. We have a high abortion rate, and fewer restrictions on abortion than most other countries. Despite being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, we have an economic system which results in many being mired in the institutional violence of poverty.
Yes, there are good things about American history and society as well. But we must confess where we have gone wrong and are continuing to do so, and have the courage to move in a different direction. The United States is effectively an empire, with literally hundreds of major military bases scattered all across the globe. History demonstrates that all empires fall, and unless the U.S. changes course and voluntarily gives up the drive for world domination, it will fall too.
The bankruptcy of American politics is demonstrated by the fact that the Democratic Presidential candidates in the so-called “top tier” all favor unlimited abortions, a larger standing military force, a larger military budget, a readiness to project American military power, and the death penalty. They sound better on poverty, but they are beholden to monied interests for their campaign dollars, and their support of a bloated military budget means the funds to really address social problems will not be available. Former President Eisenhower was right when he said over a half century ago,Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
When you exclude entitlement programs, most of which have their own financing, you find that military spending is over half of the controllable portion of the United States budget. Further, the United States spends more on the military than all other nations combined. If we are to be truly pro-life, we must firmly reject the priority given to wars and preparations for wars.
The call to us remains as it was to the Israelites centuries ago,This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live
We need a transformative politics that turns America from its addiction to violence to policies that affirm human life and dignity. We need to stop killing not only the unborn, but also our alleged enemies, along with even more civilians who are “collateral damage,” and criminal offenders. And we need to address the institutional violence represented by such social conditions as racism and poverty amidst plenty.
Unfortunately, when public figures like Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich who have stood for something at least close to the consistent life ethic decide to enter a Democratic Presidential race they generally feel that they can only get the funds needed to run a campaign by pandering to the “pro-choice” groups. Therefore they do a 180º turn on abortion. But experience shows that this replacement of principle with ambition has not brought political success for these politicians. I hope Democrats for Life can have the effect of strengthening the positions of politicians who favor life across the spectrum of issues. Personally, I have long dreamed that Tony Hall, who is being honored at the dinner tonight, would run for President.Consistent Life
, which I serve as President, is a network of hundreds of organizations, including Democrats for Life, and many individuals. Our mission statement is:We are committed to the protection of life, which is threatened in today's world by war, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia. We believe that these issues are linked under a 'consistent ethic of life'. We challenge those working on all or some of these issues to maintain a cooperative spirit of peace, reconciliation, and respect in protecting the unprotected.
Literature from Consistent Life is available in the Conference packet. We also sell a number of products
with a variety of consistent life messages, like the T-shirt I am wearing.
I do want to note that Consistent Life is not a political organization, and does not endorse any political party or candidate. Our members have diverse views on the role of the political process in furthering the consistent life ethic, and my own comments about political candidates are personal ones.
Thank you for listening to me. I look forward to the rest of the Conference and the dinner.