From the Executive Director's Desk...
Engaging the candidates, shifting the debate
Rev. John L. McCullough
January 8, 2008
By Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service
Electing a President every four years provides us with an opportunity to engage in a national conversation about the vision, values, and priorities that guide our country's leaders. I'd like to encourage you to be a vocal part of that conversation to ask questions and make your views known in candidate meetings, public events, letters to the editor, and other venues. As Church World Service we are especially concerned about the candidates' views on world hunger, global poverty, and development.
“Give justice to the weak and the orphaned; maintain the right of the lowly and destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy, deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
The scriptures are filled with instructions to rulers bearing a similar message. Those who lead nations are charged with addressing the needs of those least advantaged. Unfortunately, justice and compassion often are not the centerpiece of political platforms.
Framing the discussion
As people of faith, we can remind everyone that we belong to the global human family. Most of what happens in our daily lives is part of a complex web of relationships. It is important for candidates to understand that many of the roots of “domestic” problems (like immigration or job loss) lie in our foreign policies and the social, economic, and political conditions in developing countries.
Similarly, it is important to realize that problems that seem so far away such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or rising sea levels threatening low-lying developing nations have major consequences for the United States. We can challenge candidates and the parties they represent to craft fresh policies that have both national and international benefits that see the local and global interconnections in the problems as well as the solutions.
In addition to helping establish a constructive tone that soars above the polarization that plagues much of U.S. public life today, we can use the opportunity of election time to demonstrate to candidates that there is a broad constituency that cares about and is knowledgeable of various development issues. Here are some sample questions you might want to use to probe candidates' views:
What is the candidate's position on the U.S. enacting substantial, time-bound commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions? Is the candidate willing to advance policies based on the “polluter pays” principle? (That the costs of cutting emissions and adapting to the negative impacts of climate change are borne by those most responsible for the emissions.)
Will the candidate support U.S. funding for developing countries to adapt to global warming over and above current commitments?
Middle East Peace:
What would the candidate do to ensure a politically and economically viable Palestinian state living alongside of a secure Israel? What is the candidate's position on the separation barrier, settlements, and roadblocks constructed by Israel within Palestinian territory that cut off many Palestinians from their farms, jobs and schools?
Will the candidate work to ensure Jerusalem is a unified and open city for Christians, Jews and Muslims?
Farming and Sustainable Agriculture:
What would the candidate do to end the practice of “agricultural dumping” in which U.S. agri-businesses sell U.S. farm products in developing countries below the cost of production, destroying rural livelihoods and decreasing food security in poor countries?
What is the candidate willing to do to ensure that U.S. farm subsidies go only to farmers who need them the most, and that family farmers here and abroad can get a fair price for their produce?
Is the candidate willing to replace existing U.S. trade policies, with their emphasis on enacting “free trade” agreements, with policies that do more to preserve and create rather than destroy -- good jobs in the U.S. and developing countries?
Will the candidate support trade agreements which fully respect the right of developing countries to safeguard their own domestic economies by policies and regulations, including trade barriers, which promote and protect their own small-holder farmers, vulnerable workers, and domestic manufacturers?
HIV/AIDS, Aid and Debt:
Is the candidate willing to keep the U.S.'s promises on fighting HIV and AIDS by providing at least $50 billion over five years, while also supporting new investment in developing countries to strengthen public health systems to train and retain the numbers of health workers needed to meet global health goals?
Will the candidate direct an additional 1 percent of the U.S. budget to programs that work to eliminate extreme global poverty, as well as support the cancellation of 100 percent of the international debts of the most impoverished countries?
Latin America and the Caribbean:
If elected, would the candidate instruct the U.S. Treasury and State Departments to allow all to travel freely to Cuba and lift restrictions related to humanitarian aid?
Will the candidate re-direct aid to Colombia from an emphasis on military spending to support for rural development, victims of violence, and strengthening the judicial system?
Will the candidate support major increases in foreign assistance for implanting the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act to ensure sustainable, affordable, accessible water supplies and sanitation in the countries where it is most needed?
Will the candidate make a commitment to end the practice -- whether by the U.S. or multilateral lending institutions -- of making aid to poor countries for water resources conditioned on some form of water privatization?
Too often candidates' rhetoric focuses on competition and how the U.S. can out-compete other nations in the global marketplace. Instead, our national well-being is more likely to be grounded in cooperation our ability to work collaboratively in the global community to seek win-win solutions. Presently, much U.S. foreign policy is based on fear, a sense of scarcity, and a zero-sum approach to the challenges that face us. As Christians, we can work to shift this underlying worldview that guides many of our leaders. Asking these and similar questions when the candidates visit our communities is a good place to begin.
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