Has Oregon Made Me A Liberal?

I moved to Oregon from Indiana in early 2001. In Indiana I was a die hard Reaganite right-wing conservative, avid Rush Limbaugh listener, with just a slight tinge of Ayn Rand libertarianism in my blood. As we were planning to move, my friends and family jokingly predicted that I would become a liberal in Oregon, what with the state's reputation for progressive policies regarding physician assisted suicide and medical marijuana. Oregon must be full of hippies and gays, I remember being told. Watch out!

Well I now wonder if the predictions have somewhat come true. Am I more liberal? Is Oregon to blame?

As a conservative, I used to characterize my approach to the problems of poverty with the well known phrase "tough love". I focused my thinking on one primary idea: the personal responsibility and/or culpability of the poor. Because of this, I was unconcerned about helping the poor with their physical needs, and less compassionate toward them in general, and more interested in their personal lives and decisions. Did they use drugs? Were they drunks? Did they quit school? Did they have children out of wedlock? Did they somehow choose to be poor? Of course they must have. It was their fault, and I would be a fool to let myself be taken advantage of by someone like that, by helping someone who was just going to use my money or gifts to subsidize their degenerate lifestyle. I thought that any help I might give them would be short-lived at best, and wasted at worst. I thought they needed tough love. Jesus commanded us to love the poor. There is no escaping that, even for a conservative. So "tough love" is the best love we can give the poor. Right?

But even in Indiana my heart had begun to change I began to see that Jesus was not someone who questioned the lifestyle choices of those in need. And he never commanded us to do that either. When he saw a need, he met it, with love. Rather, the people Jesus questioned were the rich and the powerful. It was their lifestyle that he examined, whose hypocrisy he decried, not that of the poor and broken. But somehow as a conservative I had gotten that backward.

But perhaps my biggest falling out with conservatives has been on the issue of abortion. And I say that because I feel duped, perhaps even lied to. You see, I was told that voting conservative would make a difference. I thought voting Republican would cause the number of abortions to be reduced, perhaps even dramatically so. I thought voting for a Democrat meant that abortion would be promoted and increased, which I definitely didn't want. That's what I had been led to believe.

But the statistics show just the opposite. During the 12 years of the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, the number of abortions stayed constant at around 1.5 million annually, even reaching their highest annual figure ever recorded at just over 1.6 million in 1990. It was not until the Clinton administration that abortion figures began to significantly decline. During Clinton's eight years, abortions dropped from 1.5 million at the beginning to barely over 1.3 million at the end, a reduction of almost 300,000 per year.

In contrast, these reductions in annual abortions almost disappeared during the latest Bush administration. Even with the aide of significant conservative majorities in the House and Senate during this time, abortions flatlined at 1.2 million with only a slight downward trend of less than 90,000.

It doesn't look like voting conservative during the last 30 years has made any difference in the number of abortions. Yet I had believed that voting conservative was the ONLY way to make progress on the abortion issue. Because of abortion, I thought that voting for a democrat was morally wrong. In fact, I felt so strongly about abortion that I could be persuaded to support Republican candidates solely on that issue alone, even if I disagreed with them on a great many others.

Now I feel used. I feel like the abortion issue was a red herring, a wedge proffered by conservative politicians to woo me to their side. I wonder if they really care that much about it? They speak as though they do, but they sure haven't accomplished much. In fact, I wonder if they have made it worse?

Republicans speak so strongly about overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal that I think progressives are afraid of giving them ANY concessions. For example, enacting federal legislation banning partial birth abortion seems to make good sense. It is a brutal practice with questionable necessity, so why are so many progressives against it? I think because they see it as a battle against Republicans in the war over Roe v. Wade. If they agree to a partial birth abortion ban, that would be a win for Republicans, and who knows what might come next? So they vote against it, and no progress is made. I think if Republicans would refocus their efforts on reducing abortions rather than overturning Roe v. Wade, then perhaps the two sides could be more trusting of each other and the country could actually make some positive progress on the issue. Thus far, Republicans have made no progress at all on abortion. The increasing political gridlock seems to be diminishing their chances for success. And I am beginning to question whether they care more about the million dead babies each year or about getting my vote in the next election.

I find it interesting that my eight years in Oregon have almost identically matched the eight years of the Bush administration. A strong Christian man proudly proclaiming the name of Jesus has left his promises of compassionate conservatism and faith based initiatives largely unfulfilled. Instead we are left with a fearful nation, afraid of war and terror, and afraid of a failing economy. The policies and actions of our country have not been more conformed to the teachings of Jesus as I had hoped. Duped again.

So the predictions have somewhat come true. But no, I don't think it is Oregon that has made me more liberal.


Matt Hartzell said...

Hey Ken, do you have a source for those abortion statistics? I'd be really interested in looking at them further.


Ken said...

I got the stats from the National Right To Life Coalition website. Here is the link:


It is interesting that apparently some organizations are claiming that abortion figures actually INCREASED under the Bush administration. But the webpage I site was put up by NRLC to refute those claims.

I'm sure all stats are fallible and up for interpretation, but I tried to use the most right-wing source I could find.

Anonymous said...

I remember having conversations with you about how bizarre you thought our recycling programs were in this state. It's second nature to us. It is a liberal program? Not really or at least it shouldn't be. Shouldn't conservatives really want to conserve?

I almost thing that very man and woman involved in a pregnancy should be required to view a 4-month ultrasound before having an abortion. The movie Juno illustrated that to a great extent. The law is likely to never change and Christian have to come to terms with that. That doesn't mean we still don't hold the moral high ground on this issue. Eventually, the same will be said about gay marriage in this country.

I'm not sure that there is a voice left in the Republican Party anymore that speaks to Christians. If anything, Obama speaks more to values that are consistent with traditional Christianity (taking care of the poor, peace, collectivism vs. individualism, etc.). That is why he won a greater majority of evangelicals compared to the last 10 years.


Ken said...

I agree with you that the law is likely to never change. That's why I think policies and initiatives to reduce abortions is the better way to go. I thought Juno was a great movie.

Ken said...

I have been doing a little more research, and there seems to have been quite a debate over the last several years about abortion statistics. And it is interesting to note that abortion statistics positively trend with unemployment statistics. If so, it will be interesting to see the data for the last couple years once it is "official". Yet another terrible result of poverty. Perhaps conservatives need to get more motivated about fighting poverty, since it apparently increases the likelihood of abortion. Check out this blog post from 2004:


Anonymous said...

I have never believed that Republican Politicians cared about morality. In my opinion, they courted Christian Evangelicals just to get their votes. Not that Democrats are any different. Talking to older generations, it seems, at least in some parts of the country, it was the Democrats that at one time held up the moral flag, probably for the same reasons.

So, I do not see morality as an attribute of any party. I do not align my vote with a party because of it's claims to morality. Who, in their right mind, would believe a politician when it comes to promoting morality?


Ken said...

John, welcome to Emerging Worshiper!

I think you are mostly right. Google Jim Wallis and Sojourners and God's Politics and you will see that progressives are reclaiming a faith oriented support base to their politics. I think the recent Bush presidency disillusioned a lot of Christians.

There are many men and women of faith in politics, many with good intentions and ideals, even though they may have differing views and differing moral compasses. But I firmly believe that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If there were a way to separate money from politics, we would be in a lot better shape.

Anonymous said...

It's your friend Renee here. Ummm, I get where you are coming from in terms of being the hands and feet of Jesus and not necessarily focusing on lifestyle choices. At the same time isn't proverbs full of encouragement to choose well in life. I'm at work and don't have my Bible with me...but many examples of if a man will not work neither will he eat...choosing wise/good friends who will lead you down the right paths and not the wrong paths...stay away from the wicked...do not mingle with the adultress. I will say, I have spent a lot of time thinking about this because you are correct we still need to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. But most therapist I know are completely burned out because we see up close and personal on a daily basis the problem with poor choices made by adults...kids growing up in poverty, endless cycles of a mom having 6 kids with 6 different men and then coming to us because of course 1.their boys are angry and 2. their girls are permiscuous, kids of these homes porportionally outnumber kids in special education because IQ wise they are usually very very low...often because of drugs and alcohol use. For crying out loud...it seems to me that we are becoming more of a nation where "personal responsibility" is a dirty word. Is it too much to teach our children to make wise decisions...to teach our young girls not to make babies with a guy when you do not have the benefit of marriage...the list goes on and on. So, I guess I agree in the fact that we can't have a "they got what they deserve" attitude...we are definitely not "off the hook" to feed the hungry and cloth the homeless because of their bad choices, but I also think this is where the church can make a difference in peoples lives. To do that though it takes people willing to get in the trenches with people are in a habit of making poor choices...I guess that could be another topic in and of itself.

Ken said...

Hey Renee! Thanks for such a great comment! I agree with you almost 100%. The problem comes when we shirk our responsibilities to the poor based on our assumptions about their personal lives. The truth is that once we are in the trenches serving them as Jesus asks us to, only then are we able to get to know each individual personally and offer advice with regard to any bad choices they may or may not be making.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree...we don't shrik our responsibilities...you know something else I was thinking about..have you ever read the book "the greatest generation"? It is fascinating because it is about people coming of age during the depression. Now talk about poverty...or are we? There is a big difference between being poor and being impovished. Over and over people growing up in the depression will tell you that didn't know they were poor. They didn't have a lot but neither did most people...BUT they were not impoverished. They were still in families that were intact, in communities where people came together to help one another, they were part of churches that came together and provided hope, counsel and helped them that they were part of something bigger than themselves. What I see today is much deeper than poverty and I guess that is where the bad choices have taken a toll...what I see today is a people who are impoverished...the breakdown of the family...people not belonging to any churches that could be a safety net...not only the breakdown of the immediate family, but the extended one as well...a tremendous breakdown of education to where we really are producing a country at large that has not more than a 5th grade reading level (remember why USA TODAY got started?) Do you realize most public highschools will graduate a majority of all students with no more than a 5th grade reading level? Yes, we do have to get in the trenches more than most of us are doing...to be quite honest as a mom trying to teach my own children to follow the ways of the Lord so they can walk in the ways of the wise takes about all the energy I have. On the other hand I live my life in the trenches...met a kid last week who moved to the state I work in 2 weeks ago because dad #3 was hitting mom, but not to worry because she met dad #4 in a bar last week and he has already moved in...I am in the trenches, but it is against the law for me to offer this family a different kind of hope in the workplace. Obviously, I don't know the answer..it's so big. Maybe the answer is simple..just serve others and when you are tired serve some more...trust His grace and strength is sufficient for all else. In terms of politics, not sure how much of this should be public policy...I think those of us who give and serve in His name will always produce the better gifts than any public policy can.

Anonymous said...

p.s. I'm pretty impressed you agreed with me almost 100%!

Ken said...

Of COURSE I agree with you. Were you expecting otherwise? You nailed it when you said the answer is that we serve them, and when we get tired, we serve some more.Better yet, let's love them. Let's love them as much or even more than we love ourselves. That's when we begin to realize that we are no better in God's eyes than they are. From a spiritual perspective, poverty is often a good thing. And choices that lead to poverty may seem foolish to us. But who is truly the foolish one? What does it profit a man if he gain the world but lose his soul?