Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Politics of Despair, the Despair of Politics

I grew up in Louisiana, spending the first 21 years of my life in what likely was the most politically corrupt state in the union. Deception in politics and elections was an art form.

In the fall of 1971, the television room of my fraternity would be packed on Sundays at 9 a.m. (Sundays at 9 a.m. – after Saturday night football parties!) to watch a half-hour political program by one of the candidates for governor. The man’s name was Puggy Moity (pronounced mo-TEE), running in a crowded Democratic primary. At that time, the Democratic primary was where you had to vote if you wanted to vote.

Puggy Moity
Moity, with his thick southwestern Louisiana Cajun accent, would make the most outrageous statements about the other candidates. Some of the statements out-and-out lies. Others were partially true. A few might have been wholly true. The problem – and the fun – was guessing which were which, and what would this crazy guy come up with next. But deception was the name of the game.

Two decades later, in 1992, I became involved in a congressional race in Missouri. I didn’t have an official position or set of duties; I was the guy whom the candidate’s wife would call to ask if a course of action seemed wise, especially the course of actions being advocated by the intelligent and experienced political advisors from Washington, D.C. The fact she was asking spoke volumes. The campaign manager hated me, which paled in comparison to how the consultants felt.

The candidate was up against a one-term incumbent who had likely been elected in a fluke win. The incumbent was known as something of a pit bull, and not above “going negative,” especially if something sounded like it might work (truth and accuracy were not considerations). My candidate’s consultants wanted to reply in kind. But that’s not who the candidate was. He wanted to win, yes, but he was also a decent human being. His wife essentially had me play the role of hair shirt. I rewrote TV and radio ads. I helped derail negative strategy. I rewrote speeches. Yes, the campaign manager and the consultants hated me.

The 1992 election outcome
The election happened in the context of the first Clinton election, a Republican political scandal in Missouri, and a general rout nationally for Republicans. My candidate was a Republican. He won decisively. No other Republican won a significant office in Missouri that year.

Another two decades have passed. It’s a different world than 1971 and 1992. What I find most different is the intensity of the anger people, including myself, seem to have. The day after the Iowa caucuses, my wife asked me who I would be supporting. I surprised her and myself with the anger I expressed.

I know where my anger comes from. I see deceit on the Democratic side, and I see deceit on the Republican side. One candidate’s strategy seems to be brazen out the serious legal issues that are mounting - blame everyone, or anyone except the one truly responsible. Another candidate is full of jingoistic bombast. Still others try to appeal directly to evangelical Christians. Sixteen years ago, I listened to that appeal from George W. Bush and his chief advisor Karl Rove, and I believed it. I don’t make that mistake any more.

Photograph by Alex Grichenko via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.
Last week, Alan Noble of Oklahoma Baptist University posted an article on the Christianity Today blog: “To Hope All Things About the American Voter.” Elections in the United States seem to have become all about winning, that the ends justify the means, even if it means you have to engage in deception. Noble was asking the question – should Christians embrace this or try to rise above it? Should we tolerate a system that tries to deceive voters or model and be something better than that?

The Ted Cruz campaign apparently engaged in some deception in Iowa, utilizing a tactic first developed by MoveOn for President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012 – essentially trying to embarrass voters and implying they had been graded.

Noble is right. We need to rise above the deception. We need to be thoughtful and prayerful. I think we should stop participating in political polls. And no candidate should take Christians for granted. Politicians need to be taught that our allegiance is not Republican or Democratic of Socialist or Libertarian. Our allegiance is not of this world. We don’t opt out of the system, but we do know where our priority – our first love – is.

Top photograph by Kai Stachowiak via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Maureen said...

I cannot recall a time, since becoming eligible to vote decades ago, that I have more deplored the candidates and their campaigns. The huge amounts of money being spent, singly and collectively, are incredible. The campaigns begin too early and go on way too long. The lies and counter lies - let's call them for what they are - and the spewing of hatred leave me in despair. The ignorance of those who put a claim to leadership is appalling. The sad fact is, this has been the state of politics as we know and accept it. I'm ashamed of this America.

Nonprofit Marketing Communications said...

All of these statements are valid. My faith and values tell me to trust the system and trust the American citizen. However, the state of political discourse is pure poison. And my fear is the majority of American citizens will detect the poison and avoid the source. Our republic and democracy can't succeed with a disengaged electorate.