The Common Good

Brian McLaren: My Questions for the Democratic Candidates

As Jim Wallis announced last week, we're pleased to be hosting a forum of the leading Democratic presidential candidates at our Pentecost 2007 conference (and hoping to do a Republican candidates forum later this year). We've invited several of our bloggers to discuss their questions for the candidates, but are also asking our readers to submit their questions, and will let YOU vote on the ones we should use!
+ Click here to submit your questions

I'm writing from the Republic of South Africa, where I've been speaking in conferences and other gatherings with church leaders from across many denominations. With the memories of apartheid still alive here, with a poverty rate of about 40 percent, with crime rates moving higher and higher - in part due to desperate immigrants from Zimbabwe - and with the continuing work of creating a successful multicultural democracy ongoing, several questions come to my mind for the three candidates. Here is how I would formulate them sitting in a home in downtown Johannesburg:

1. For Senator Clinton: If you are elected and serve two terms, it would mean that two families would share the presidency of the United States for 28 years. It's hard not to conclude that we are living in something more like an oligarchy or plutocracy than a democracy. Would you reflect on this problem so we can see how deeply you have thought about it, and would you propose what can be done about it?

2. For Senator Obama: I've heard critics express fear that you aren't tough enough or militaristic enough to be president in a world of terrorism and nuclear weapons. I would imagine that would prompt you to want to prove you are indeed capable of being tough and militaristic. But many of us are hoping for someone who will present another vision for the role of America in the world - something beyond the world's dominant military force, the world's police, or the world's imperial center. Not that America would be weak, but that we would be strong in new and different ways. Can you comment on your vision for the role of America in the world, and what you would do to pursue that role?

3. For John Edwards: When the subject of terrorism comes up, many Americans seem to think that terrorism can be stopped by guns and bombs. But others believe that wherever there is a large gap between rich and poor countries, terrorism (like high crime rates) will be likely, perhaps inevitable. If that is the case, creating a more equitable global economy becomes one of the most essential dimensions of reducing terrorism. Do you agree, and if so, what can America do to increase its security by helping poor nations improve their economic systems?

There are two additional questions I would want to ask all the candidates:

1. America seems to be caught in a cycle of fear. Politicians use fear to garner support and inhibit criticism. News media profit when people are afraid and watch TV news more often, raising ratings and advertising income. The arms industry profits when fears run high. Political parties compete for fear dominance over other parties. Cycles of fear are hard to break. How will your campaign and your presidency address this rise in the fear quotient?

2. The United States is not leading the world in addressing our unsustainable economy. We are the world's prime example of an unsustainable consumer society, and if our lifestyles were generalized to the whole human population, we would need many planet earths to sustain us. Should we be a leader in environmental stewardship and sustainability? How would you lead in this regard? What would your priorities be in environmental renewal and sustainable living?


Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is an author, speaker, Red Letter Christian, and serves as board chair for Sojourners/Call to Renewal. His next book, due out in October, will be called Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.

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