Talk about a maverick (no, not those mavericks). On September 29, 2008, Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA) spoke on the House floor in opposition to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, otherwise known as the Wall Street bailout. “We are not in a sudden crisis,” Stark said, noting that years of lax financial industry oversight had enabled the erection of a dangerous house of cards. “We must provide a solution that’s more focused on the families and homeowners being hurt by this recession,” Stark concluded. He voted against the legislation, calling it the same three-page Wall Street giveaway first put forth by George W. Bush. Four days later, when the economic stimulus bill was approved on a vote of 263-171, Stark was once again among the “Nays.” He likened the pressure for passage of the bill to Bush’s push on Congress in late 2002 to authorize war in Iraq.
Incidentally, the comedian Bill Maher is wrong about Pete Stark. Discussing his often hilarious and certainly over-the-top film, Religulous, Maher recently commented: “There are 535 members of Congress. How many of them would say they’re atheist or agnostic? I believe that would be zero. Pete Stark, maybe, the congressman from California, started talking about how he may not be a believer. What other minority of 16 percent has zero representation in Congress?”
In truth, we know of at least twenty-two members of Congress who have, in private conversations, either stated that they don’t believe in a god or characterized themselves as nontheistic. Representative Stark is the only one to go on record as such. The 2008 Humanist of the Year Award is therefore well deserved for this individual who is willing to speak the truth as he sees it, to deliberate from a position of reason, and to stand up for the people of the United States in myriad ways–be it his fierce support for religious freedom and manageable health care, or his equally strong opposition to irresponsible wars.
Politics is defined as the art or science of governing and the sticky difficulties that arise when people in a society interact and attempt to establish standards of behavior. In this issue of the Humanist–on the eve of a historic U.S. presidential election–Stark and fellow honoree Jamie Raskin, the Maryland state senator, eloquently convey a humanist approach to politics. They urge us to affirm the dignity of each human being, to empower the powerless and, as Raskin puts it, sacrifice a bit of pride in our certainties in favor of common sense.
Solidarity is all well and good, but there’s another meaning of the term politics, which is the maneuvering within a political group in order to gain power. On the last Sunday in September, the Alliance Defense Fund rallied thirty-one pastors across the country to endorse a presidential candidate from the pulpit. Their protest of the tax code, which forbids tax-exempt groups from electioneering, was intended to lure the IRS into giving them cause for a free-speech lawsuit. Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the ADF said: “This is not something these churches want to do in secrecy and hiding. In fact, they don’t believe they’re violating the law.” Which begs the question, if they think it’s legal, what are they protesting?
Not ones to be hoodwinked like the aforementioned nonprofiteers, we refrain from any partisan politics here. Instead let me just say how amazing it is to think that the next time I visit this space we’ll have a new president. To the outgoing Commander-in-Chief: may you swelter in Crawford indefinitely.
Jennifer Bardi is the editor of the Humanist.