Political Campaigns: The American Way

Since today in the USA is Labor Day  (a national holiday) and we’re in a presidential election year, I’ll offer a political blog today.

Some claim that the way democracy is to work ideally is that there is a spirited debate on an issue and then a vote is taken with the side with the best arguments carrying the day.   Whatever that ideal may be, it does seem to me that our modern elections do not much resemble the ideals of democracy for now all that happens is there is an exchange of accusations and name calling with little reasoned discussion.  Maybe that occurs because  voters aren’t reasonable anyway!

The older I get the less I like the way political campaigns are conducted.  Freedom of speech comes to mean negative campaign ads, robo-calls, Super Pacs, lies, distortions, name calling and the like.  Additionally, this has been carried on for more than a year which for me is totally wearisome.  Even the media turns the campaigns’ babble and rabble into “news” which they report on every hour which seems to perpetuate the process.  There were at the beginning of the process a lot of candidates to enliven the mix – on the Republican side at least.  This year the President was the obvious candidate for the Democrats so not much drama there.

Some however actually think the presidential selection process is actually working quite well.  Gil Troy writing in the Wilson Quarterly  SUMMER 2012, The Campaign Triumphant, is much more positive about the elections and campaigns and what they say about American democracy.

“A look back at the evolution of the presidential campaign since the early days of the Republic highlights the remarkable democratic achievements of the last two centuries. America’s presidential campaign process works. It sifts through candidates, facilitates a continent-wide conversation, and, most important, bestows legitimacy on the winner. Presidential campaigns are intense, long, and costly because they are popular, consequential, and continental in scope. Most aspects of the campaigns that Americans hate reflect the democracy we love.”

Troy continues:

“The evolution of the campaign has been a process of endlessly revisiting questions about the nature of American democracy that have been with us since the nation’s founding. Since George Washington coolly retreated to Mount Vernon to await his inevitable selection by a handful of elite presidential electors in 1789, America’s center of political gravity has shifted from the self-chosen few to the democratic masses. The elite maneuverings of the early Republic gave way beginning in the 1830s to nominating convention intrigues, which were replaced a half-century ago by today’s familiar primary-caucus hijinks. American politics evolved from elite based to boss based to people based, from nominating individuals who had mastered America’s politics of privilege to selecting those who could master party politics, to anointing today’s masters of media messaging.”

He concludes:

“In today’s extraordinary and extended quadrennial democratic conversations, a country of more than 300 million peacefully chooses a leader who arrives in office with unquestioned legitimacy. As Reagan said during his costly, nasty, lengthy—but successful—1984 reelection campaign, ‘It’s a good idea—and it’s the American way.’”

Reagan always managed to find a way to be upbeat about things American.

I read a couple of books with political themes early this summer while I was recuperating from surgery.  Since I use this blog to report on things I’ve read and/or thought about, I want to offer a few bits of political wisdom or trivia I picked up. These are not thematically related nor in any particular order.   First from Robert W. Merry’s book on presidential rating games,  Where They Stand:

“It’s difficult for us today, with 225 years of constitutional history at our backs, to conceive what a remarkably innovative and novel idea the presidency was. The great kings of the world are long gone now, but in the eighteenth century, at the time of our nation’s birth, they were in their heyday, and it wasn’t clear a mere president could rival the world’s royalty in dignity and gravitas. But Americans, having been handed the gift of the presidency, never doubted it. That’s because the president is a product of themselves in a way no king or potentate—or even prime minister—could ever be. That is one reason why the American presidency stirs so much interest, respect, and affection from the broad populace …”   (Kindle Loc. 245-50)

Merry offers a striking metaphor for a successful presidency:

“…. historian Henry Adams, who wrote that the American president resembles a ship commander at sea: ‘He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer, a port to seek.’”  (Where They Stand,  Kindle Loc. 2677-78)

Maybe that’s why we are adrift today.

The president has to lead the country somewhere and he has to offer a vision of what that destination is.  Andrew J. Polsky who wrote about American war presidents in Elusive Victories: The American Presidency at War says however that vision alone is not enough to achieve success.  A president has to be aware of the difficulties the nation currently faces:

“… vision without awareness of obstacles does a leader no credit.”  (Kindle Loc. 2139-40)

A last thought comes from Robert A. Caro’s The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson).   The approval ratings for Congress have dropped to all time lows, way below presidential approval ratings.  But Caro offers a quote for the evaluation of congress almost 50 years which seems strikingly contemporary.  Writing about in 1963, Walter Lippmann penned these words:

“This Congress has gone further than any other within memory to replace debate and decision by delay and stultification.”  (Kindle Loc. 11179-80)

In American politics few things are new under the sun, it’s just a new generation’s turn to experience the frustrations of the democracy and a republican form of government.

Next:  Of Democrats and Republicans

Prayer as Relationship with God (III)

This is the 38th blog in a series exploring various aspects of “prayer.”  The first blog is “Why Pray?” and the previous blog is Prayer as Relationship with God (II).

Fr. Sergius Bulgakov  offers a fine summary of what we have learned in this series about the very nature of prayer:

“Here one must underscore the importance of prayer, the direct contact between creation and divinity, the sacrament of the Name of God.  Prayer is an essentially personal relation; it is directed from person to Person…”  (THE BRIDE OF THE LAMB, p 309)

Bishop Kallistos Ware continues with a very similar theme:

“To pray is not necessarily to ask God for something; it need not even be to employ words, for often the deepest and most powerful of all prayers is simply to wait upon God in silence.  But whether we are worshiping with words, through symbolic and sacramental actions, or in silence, always our underlying attitude is the same: we are standing before God.

Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah

To stand before God: this implies that worship is an encounter, a meeting between persons.  The purpose of worship is not just to arouse emotions and to produce appropriate moral attitudes, but to enter into a direct and personal relationship with God the Holy Trinity.  ‘As a friend talking with a friend,’ writes St Symeon the New Theologian, ‘we speak with God, and with boldness we stand before the face of Him who dwells in light unapproachable.’  Here St Symeon briefly indicates the two poles of Christian worship, the two contrasting aspects of this personal relationship:  God ‘dwells in light unapproachable,’ yet we human beings are able told draw near ‘with boldness’ and to speak with Him ‘as a friend talking with his friend.’  God is beyond all being, infinitely remote, unknowable, ‘the Wholly Other,’…   But this transcendent God is at the same time a God of personal love, uniquely close, around us and within us, ‘everywhere present and filling all things…”  (THE INNER KINGDOM, pp 59-60)

Finally, John Mummert sums up the same theme we have encountered over and again in the various writers who addressed the issue of prayer:

“’In prayer we should not seek the gifts alone.  Rather, we should seek the giver.’  How often does our prayer life consist of only trying to get things from God?

Christ praying in Gethsamane

Real prayer is always concerned with relationship.  Having the right relationship with God is central.  Things are less central.  We often make a god out of good health.  Sometimes we make a god out of money.  But the Christian life consists of something much different.  When our relationship with God is right, we achieve union with God.  We know his presence in our lives.  We do not know the essence of God, true.  But we can know and experience the love of God radiating into our lives.  The Greek Fathers spoke of participation in the divine, uncreated energies.

When our relationship with God is right, all other things will be well.”  (ABIDING IN JESUS CHRIST, p 31)

Because real prayer is being in a relationship with God, prayer is experiencing salvation in our lives.

Next:  Prayer as Relationship with God (IV)