Monday, May 16, 2011

Values Voters

It is hard to blame Newt Gingrich, the former US House speaker and current presidential candidate, for insisting that he should be judged by his current life rather than his former one. Who among us would care to be judged by our past? Yet we are mindful that judging someone based on his or her present or future is impossible without at least being mindful of their past. For good or bad our past has helped to shape our present and will inform our future, but our past also reveals certain tendencies and fundamental values. We can change, of course, and wisdom is defined by how we learn from our mistakes, but how do we prove to others that we have finally managed to get beyond our less-than-honorable past?

Politicians, especially wanna-be's, have this dilemma hanging over their heads. There are few among us who can stand up to the judgment of our past, and there are fewer still who would even want their past to be revealed - especially not publicly and certainly not nationally! When we get married and start having children, we create the ones who would ultimately be hurt by a shameful past. These are the ones who would be doggedly pursued by a hungry and relentless press because of a scandalous past they had nothing to do with. I would venture to say there are a lot of well-qualified candidates out there who, if not for their past, would run for public office AND would serve well and honorably. They are simply not willing to expose themselves so intimately to the entire world, and they are certainly not willing to subject their loved ones to such intense scrutiny. The price would simply be too high. In the end, the nation is the poorer.

Choosing a president, a senator, or a representative is a very big deal and as much as these candidates might like to insist on a "hand's off" approach as it pertains to their personal lives, it is just not to be. Because of what these candidates will potentially be entrusted with, we have to know about them. We have to know how they will conduct themselves, and we have to know they can be trusted. In my humble opinion, a candidate who insists there is a segment of his or her life that is off limits is automatically off the ballot of serious consideration for one reason and one reason alone: they are asking me to "hire" them.

In the "hiring" process no candidate should make the mistake of telling the hiring authority how the cow ate the cabbage. That alone is a good indication that there is a rather dangerous level of arrogance that will only be made worse with the authority of the office to which they would aspire. And when it comes to the necessity of cooperation, there won't be any except where it is self-serving. These candidates are being allowed to enter into a domain in which the authority they hope to attain is the authority they will be granted not because they have earned it but because we have allowed it. It is by the "consent of the governed" these are allowed to govern. So we need to know, and they must always be reminded.

Christians are mindful of the biblical reality of Jesus' rather stern warning: Judge not, lest you be judged by the same manner and with the same measure. In other words, Christians are cautioned not to judge adulterers too harshly lest we be reminded that "lustful" glances, according to this same Jesus, are equally incriminating. Ouch. How many can escape that one?? Even former president Jimmy Carter acknowledged the reality of that sin in his own life, but he also allowed that the Lord's grace helped him to get beyond it. Fair enough. The Lord is a Good Sport. Humans, on the other hand, are not so much.

What are the values we seek in a candidate? What is it we want? For the most part, I think we are persistently disappointed in our selections because we are persistently unrealistic in our demands and expectations. And because of our unrealistic expectations, we impose unrealistic demands on candidates. We forget that we are not electing spiritual leaders; we are choosing representatives regardless of whether they will serve in the state legislatures, the US House, the US Senate, or the White House. These representatives must necessarily reflect who we really are as a people rather than who we wish we were. Expecting more will guarantee failure and disappointment because we cannot impose restrictions we will refuse to be subjected to, and we cannot scrutinize in a manner we would refuse to submit to.

The key to being a successful candidate, I think, has more to do with being a genuine reflection of the population rather than a unrealistic ideal of what we think we should be because who we really are is, truthfully, good enough. We can and should aspire to greater heights, of course, and there is nothing wrong with reaching higher, but there is also nothing wrong with knowing our limits. The mistakes we make are good indicators of our limits. The same is true of those who would represent us.

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