Political Ponderings

This was originally going to be a multiple part series, but I’ve decided to lump a number of topics here together to get all of it out of the way. And it’s much easier for you to ignore it all at once this way Happy

On Politics in General. I hate politics. I really do. Why do I hate politics so much? I hate politics because it’s just one more way that we humans find to divide ourselves from one another. No doubt that even after reading this post, there will be some of you who may feel so strongly in disagreement with my words below that you will have no desire to read anything I write in the future.

I should also point out that some of my bias against politics may also come from having grown up in Louisiana which does not have the cleanest of reputations when it comes to politics. I definitely have a trust issue with most politicians. I guess that’s a prejudice I need to work on.

In Romans 12:18 Paul writes “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (TNIV).

Politics really makes this difficult. Take for instance my own very minor foray into politics this year. I’m president of my homeowners association. I did not want to run, but I was asked to run, and I did so with the intent of trying to help my neighbors. But then ethics (of all things) got in the way. And in trying to do the right thing in a handful of situations, I have for the first time in my adult life (or at least back as far as 7th grade) a handful of people who just hate my guts. There’s no reasoning with them. There’s no laying my gift at the altar to be reconciled with them (Matt 5:23-24). And I can forget inviting them to church or being any kind of witness for Christ to them. This small number of people--who happen to be my literal neighbors--wouldn’t give me the time of day.

Needless to say, I won’t be running again in February when we hold new elections.

Currently, there’s a group of ministers challenging the IRS’ regulations regarding pulpit endorsements (see Christianity Today: “Endorsing from the Pulpit”). I can’t say strongly enough how great a mistake this is. Christ did not call ministers to win political debates; he called them to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. The moment a minister endorses a candidate or publicly backs a political party, a certain segment of the populace--those who are of the other party or back the other candidate--will no longer listen to any appeal from that person to answer the call of the gospel. And all this over something which in the big picture is a tangental/secondary issue. In the end, the calling to ministry must trump one’s own political convictions and even national allegiances.

I’m not currently on a church staff, but at times whether I’m on one or not, you will never see a political sign in my front yard (if I had a front yard) or a candidate’s name on the bumper of my car. I know that the moment I back a candidate, I’ve lost any potential Christian witness with anyone on the other side. That’s my conviction; I’m not saying it’s prescriptive for you. I’m not going to do anything to mix those messages.

On Political Parties. And as for political parties, I hate to break this to some of you, but there is no “correct” party to belong to if you call yourself a Christian. I know lots of folks who believe that it’s impossible to be anything but a Republican if you’re a Christian. But I’ve also known equally committed Christians who didn’t know how they could be anything but Democrats. In recent years, I’ve met some Christians that felt the Libertarian party was the most appropriate choice for a believer. Hear me again: there is no correct party.

I’ll be honest though--I used to be a Republican. But I was strongly turned off to any association with political parties in the late nineties when a particular individual of one party committed a seriously heinous act. The act was bad enough by itself, but I watched in disgust as his political enemies of the other party went after him in an entirely inappropriate manner. It was their rhetoric and their hypocrisy (I assure you that I’m making correct use of that word here) that was my final straw. In the end I decided to have no affiliation with either Republicans or Democrats.

You stay with your convictions, and I won’t try to convince you otherwise, but out of my own convictions, I’m “none of the above”--I’m registered as an Independent. I occasionally run across someone who mistakenly believes that there is an “Independent Party.” That’s not the case, but if there ever is one, I will have to register as something else all over again.

And forgive me for over-spiritualizing the subject, but there were political parties in Jesus’ day and he did not choose affiliation with any of them either. That alone is worth some time spent in contemplation.

On the Current Issues. I’ve been voting in presidential elections since 1988. However, I’ve never felt that I had the choice between two outstanding candidates with phenomenal leadership capabilities. Perhaps that’s because of the scrutiny that candidates and their families go through. Perhaps that keeps the “best” candidates from ever running.

In regard to this year’s election, I’m part of that 15-20% “undecided” group you keep hearing about on television. I’ll tell you up front that in the past I’ve primarily voted fairly conservatively, often for the Republicans. And often this has been based on trying to wrap my conscience around voting for someone who does not claim to be pro-life at some level. However, at the same time, I strongly resent having the choice of my vote reduced to that one issue (and maybe one or two more). Plus, I feel a bit used by the politicians on the right who make this an issue only at election time and ignore it during the four intervening years. It makes me wonder if I should even let this become an issue since it hasn’t overtly seemed to matter one way or another after the election is over anyway.

I wish my friend Andrew was still with us, because although morally conservative, he had the political acumen to put the emotional, rhetorical and manipulative issues aside when choosing a candidate. I miss not being able to hash through some of the issues this political season with him.

I have to consider a number of other issues affecting our world today. Although the war in Afghanistan made logical sense, I never felt the same way about the war in Iraq. When the US made the decision to invade Iraq, I said at the time in the classroom (I was teaching high school then) that I felt this conflict met no criteria of classical “Just War” theory in any sense. And I still feel the same way. I voted for Bush twice, so I believe I have the right to be critical of him, but I believe he’s turned into a bit of a warmonger, and that’s not what I want in a president.

Our troops are undeniably stretched too thin with current involvements. We are not in a position to police the world, and we are spending money to the neglect of our own immediate needs and incurring a debt that will take decades to pay off.

By way of illustration, where my convictions are solidly more left-leaning has to do with health care. We have far too many people going without needed medical treatment in our country today and frankly, it’s shameful. There’s an individual in my family who, although he makes a decent living, works hard with two jobs, cannot afford health insurance. Because he’s diabetic, his insurance would cost over $800 a month and he simply can’t afford it. He often opts not to go to the doctor when any normal person would because he cannot afford it. When an illness becomes serious enough and he has no other choice, he often has to barter goods and services for his payment. This embarrasses him and it puts his doctor in an awkward position. He is one medical emergency away from a severe personal and financial crisis. I can also point to people I know in my church who have not been able to afford medicine their doctors had prescribed for serious ailments. Members in our church have been able to help some, but this isn’t a solution for the nation.

If the United States were a third world country (current economic crisis aside), I might feel differently, but I really believe that no one in our country should go without healthcare. And if we can spend $10 billion each month in Iraq, one would think we could spend significantly less to take care of those who are unable to afford decent medical treatment.

I also want a president who is going to take our environment seriously. In the end, global warming may become the ultimate “pro-life” issue, but too many people are not willing to take it seriously. By the time they do, it may be too late. It may already be too late if recent concerns are warranted.

Education policy is another hot button issue for me. I used to teach high school and my wife currently teaches in a public elementary school. I challenge you to quickly find any public school teacher who has been supportive of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy. It sounded good in presentation, but it’s been a joke and a disaster in implementation. It actually penalizes schools that often need the most help. I’m very interested to hear the plans of both candidates on this subject, but most teachers hope that the next presidency--regardless of who wins--will bring an end to the current education policy.

Understand I’m not giving either candidate the actual label evil, but for me this election may come down to choosing the lesser of two.

My Prediction for the Upcoming Election Regardless of Who I Vote For. Barring major scandal, Barak Obama wins. Let me tell you why.

In our modern media driven era, the prettiest candidate wins (and no, I’m not referring to Palin). What this means is that in our media-driven culture, the candidate with the most charisma, the one who comes across best on television always has the advantage. One of my political science teachers in college twenty years ago pointed this out and I still believe he’s right. He pointed to the first televised presidential debate in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. Kennedy came across as young, calm, and relaxed while Nixon seemed uncomfortable, a bit nervous, and was sporting a very real 5 o’clock shadow. Kennedy’s supposed advantage had nothing to do with the content of their arguments. In fact, from what I’ve read, people who listened to the debate on the radio thought that Nixon won. But people who saw the debate on television thought that Kennedy won.

And guess which medium rules our day? I’ve even heard some speculate that if Lincoln and Douglas had been holding their debates today, there’s no way Lincoln would win because he was not all that charismatic in person. But in their day, more people read the debates than saw them in person.

Think about candidate pairings in the past: Carter vs. Ford, Reagan vs. Carter, Reagan vs. Mondale, Bush vs. Dukakis, Clinton vs. Bush, Clinton vs. Dole. In any of these pairings it’s easy to pick which of the two had more charisma and which looked better on TV--and that person won. Where we’ve had very close elections, we’ve seen pairings in which neither individual necessarily trumped the other when it came to charisma or presence on television (Bush vs. Gore and Bush vs. Kerry).

I’m not sure the GOP always understands this. For Republicans, it seems that a politician can “earn his turn” to run. This happened with Bob Dole. I liked Dole and I voted for him, but I knew even then he was not going to beat Clinton. And now it’s McCain’s “turn” because he’s at an age where it’s now or never. However, if Republicans had been better in tune with the power of media, someone like Mitt Romney would have had a much better shot at beating Barak Obama than John McCain ever will.

Barak Obama is not the most charismatic candidate to come along in recent years, but he has charisma nonetheless, and he’s well spoken. McCain comes across as stiff and fidgety, and often looks like he’s wearing the wrong size sport coat. I can certainly see why he’s trying to stall on the debates because even if he were to present a platform that was more sound, the visual appearance of the event will undoubtedly give the nod to Obama.

Both candidates chose running mates that were the opposite of the negative impressions people had of them. But in the end the vice presidential candidates don’t make final impression in the minds of the people. And contrary to what some people are saying, Hillary Clinton backers are not going to support McCain simply because he has a woman as his running mate. Hillary Clinton has more in common with Barak Obama than with Sarah Palin; and so for most of them, it will also be a “lesser of two evils” decision.

Finally, polls don’t amount to much. Polls are the record of a small amount of people who were willing to answer the pollster--which is not a lot of people. If you call my parents’ house to ask them who they are going to vote for, get ready for a lecture on how voting is private and that’s none of your business. If you call me... well you can’t call me because I only have a cell phone and that number’s unlisted. And if you did reach me to take a poll, I’d probably tell you I’m too busy.

I really am undecided as to who I will vote for. I signed up for updates on both candidates websites--something I’ve never done before, and it’s been interesting to have them both vying for my attention. Both send me emails. Obama sends me text messages to my iPhone; McCain sends me stuff in the postal mail. If I were to vote for Obama, it would be the first time I’ve ever voted for a Democrat for president. But I also admit that I could still vote for McCain based on certain moral positions.

On the other hand, I could always vote for McCain for the sake of conscience, knowing full well that Barak Obama is going to win anyway.

All of the images in this post were shamelessly lifted from other websites.