What We Could Be Talking About

I wonder if you have noticed in this presidential election that most of what we hear about is his affairs and character, her emails and character, and what we most have to fear about the other. The truth is that all of this is unsettling and it makes me wonder what it says of us and our processes that after millions of dollars, primaries in most of our states, and lots of candidates and campaigning, this is the best we can come up with. But what has also disturbed me is that it has been very hard to get to substantive conversations about many important questions. At times one or the other candidate has tried, only to see the conversation be deflected back to emails and sex and outrageous statements.

Meanwhile our attention has been diverted from things like:

  • The genocide occurring in Aleppo–one of our third party candidates didn’t even know what Aleppo was!
  • Our burgeoning national debt, approaching $20 trillion, or over $61,000 per citizen. Mom and pop have been spending big time on the credit card and the kids will be paying the bill.
  • Our opiate epidemic that may well affect over 2 million people in this country and that contributes to much of the crime and gun violence in our cities. Various substance abuse problems also contribute to unemployment or under-employment of many who might otherwise contribute to our workforce and economy.
  • Deepening fault lines across race, ethnicity and gender. So much of our politics seems to pander only to particular groups in our country rather than serving all those who are or hope to be “citizens.” Our politics accentuate these divisions rather than uniting us in common aspirations across them.
  • The impacts of rising temperatures, cataclysmic weather events, and rising sea levels both on this country and others, particularly on the poor of the world in coastal regions and drought regions. We can debate whether humans have caused this or long term trends. But there are monumental changes occurring right now that mean this is not “business as usual.”

And these are just a few examples…

It also strikes me that there are a variety of local and regional issues that deserve greater attention. My city’s voters are being asked to approve a nearly $1 billion package of bond issues for various infrastructure and civic improvements. We’ve heard quite little about how these monies will be used, and how equitably they will be distributed through our community and how those decisions will be made. We are voting on local, appellate, and state supreme court judges. Most of us don’t appreciate the importance of their work until you sit on a jury. We vote on state and federal representatives. At a state level, these people exercise oversight over various state services, our universities and public education at every level, and state resources, among other things.

Emails and scandals are easy and ready diversions from these issues that take time and thought but profoundly shape our lives. It would seem that a responsible media would stop the feeding frenzy and focus on these questions. It seems that responsible candidates would declare a moratorium on “trash talk” and at least for the last weeks of the campaign, address matters of substance. And it seems that responsible citizenship requires that we not settle for the low level of discourse and substance we’ve seen but call for substantive discussions of the things that are really shaping our nation and world.

And maybe if we did this, we wouldn’t be saying, “is this the best we can come up with?”

Can’t We Just Get This Over With?

absentee-ballot-envelopeAll of us who are registered voters in Ohio received applications this week in the mail for absentee ballots for the November election. And with this application came the thought, “why not just get that ballot, vote and be done with this thing?” Except, this won’t end the barrage of mail, phone, and TV advertising and news coverage of the candidates. Not until November 8.

I wonder how many other Americans feel as I do that this electoral process has gone on far too long. These candidates were already prominent in the media over a year ago. Since late spring at least, it has been clear who were the party nominees. And given the media attention, it seems that you would have to be living under a rock not to have a sense of who these people are and what they stand for. I suspect most of us, if we were planning to vote, knew who we were voting for months ago.

Traditionally, presidential campaigns began after Labor Day and were waged seriously for two months. Primary campaigns in the spring of election year went on for about four months, January to May. Most began campaigning in earnest just before that, then took a break until the conventions, and then began in earnest at Labor Day. I think this probably makes sense in a country as large as ours. Now it is not unheard of for a candidate to start running nearly two years ahead.

I’ve seen estimates that at least $5 billion dollars will be spent on the presidential campaign alone. While the Citizens United ruling considers the spending and advertising of PACs constitutionally protected free speech, it just strikes me as an insane waste of money, and mostly disinformation. It is also fascinating how wealthy interests can speak much louder. And this doesn’t take into consideration all the spending on other campaigns.

I seriously don’t think we will see campaign finance reform any time soon. But a shorter electoral process might lessen the amounts of money needed to sustain campaigns over such a long period. And it would have mercy on us poor voters, especially in swing states like Ohio. I seriously wonder if it would make sense to set some legal boundaries on when campaigns can begin on a public basis. It seems to me that it would make sense to keep them to the year in which the vote will take place.

The one advantage of voting absentee is that it permits me to turn my attention elsewhere. But one reason I can see for waiting until election day is, having been thoroughly acquainted with our presidential candidates, I can use the time to focus on down ballot candidates and issues, including the state and local elections that may be just as consequential. How often, for example, do we really examine the qualifications of local judicial candidates? Yet our local court systems are foundational to our justice system.

Well, thanks for letting me ramble. At least you didn’t have to listen to me as long as you have to listen to our candidates!


The Endorsement Game


Wayne Grudem, By Wayne Grudem, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35265675

My Facebook feed has been filled with both defenses of and outrage toward the various evangelical leaders, including Wayne Grudem, who have endorsed the Republican candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Maybe the reason for this is that I have friends across the spectrum (yes there is one!) of evangelical belief who have lots of different takes on these endorsements, and on the fitness for office of the one being endorsed.

I will not engage in any of that discussion here–there is enough of this. More fundamentally, I want to ask the question “what business do these ‘evangelical leaders’ have endorsing any presidential candidate?” I ask this because these leaders enjoy a certain status of influence within a certain segment of the community they represent. Also, as ministers of the Christian gospel, they have a certain calling from God to fulfill.

I believe they betray their calling when they become publicly enmeshed in the partisan politics of any candidate. This was brought forcefully home to me several years ago when talking with a friend about a particular church, which would be considered “evangelical” in belief. This friend told us that joining that church would be out of the question because our friend was not a Republican. It hit me like a ton of bricks that for this person, the impression was that to be a Christian, one had to both believe in Jesus and the Republican Party. I think there are many out there like my friend–attracted to Jesus, but not so much to political parties of any stripe. It is partisan endorsements rather than tenets of the faith that are stumbling blocks to belief for these friends.

Part of what is so troubling with these endorsements is that given their positions, it appears, and the news media plays up, that these people are speaking for a constituency. And perhaps they are. But because of the fuzziness of the boundaries of that constituency, and in fact the spectrum of political views in that constituency (I have friends who are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, American Solidarity Party supporters and more who would all consider themselves ‘evangelical’ in conviction), no endorser can represent all of those the media or general populace think they represent.

The deal with the endorsement game is that the endorser hopes that lending their reputation and influence will be rewarded with further influence if the candidate is successful. You would think that over the last 30 years evangelicals would learn. Cal Thomas, a conservative columnist, and Ed Dobson, a former political operative wrote a sobering account, Blinded by Might, of the high expectations and dashed hopes that Religious Right operatives in the 80’s experienced in the Reagan and post-Reagan years.

I am not arguing that the figures who have endorsed candidates do not have the right to do so. Free speech, as I’ve written elsewhere, is a tremendous freedom. My question does not have to do with the right of these figures to do what they have done but rather the wisdom of these endorsements in light of their calling. Nor do I object to Christian involvement in politics, at any level, in any party. Rather it is the implicit or explicit idea that these people represent anyone other than themselves, and the use of the perception that they do that I believe is wrong.

I would also contend that the proper role of these leaders is to pray (I Timothy 2:2) for whoever is in leadership, to prophetically preach, calling on whoever is in leadership to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) and to pastor the flock that is under their care (1 Peter 5:2), including such political leaders they have influence with.

And for the rest of us? I wonder if it makes more sense to just stop paying attention to endorsements, to give appropriate attention to the candidates, vote our consciences, and get on with other equally and perhaps more important things, whether it is the educating of our children, building bridges of understanding across our differences, protecting the most vulnerable, caring for the good creation, and creating cultural goods.