Elections: Making Sense of the Senseless

I have no profound insight to offer as a result of the election, but was thinking about the main presidential candidates and what they represent.  I read a sapiential comment from the desert fathers which made me think about candidates in the election.  As with many sagacious sayings one has appreciate them by meditating on them.

It is why art museums place benches in the galleries – to give the viewer time to take the art in, to appreciate the details and all that is captured in the art. [Interesting that a bench gives us time!]   Or, it is why one has to sit in the garden for a bit to fully appreciate all the colors, scents, movements of the flowers to truly imbibe all that is being offered to us.

Though I read this some days before the election and I thought it relevant to our election, it didn’t help me decide how to vote for I remained unconvinced that our candidates possessed all the virtues praised here.

An old man used to say, ‘Wisdom and simplicity form the perfect order of the Apostles’ and of those who examine closely their rules of life and their conduct, and to this Christ urged them, saying, Be  harmless as doves and subtle like serpents (St. Matthew 10:16). And the Apostle [Paul] also admonished the Corinthians to the same effect, saying, ‘My brethren, be not childish in your minds, but be as  babes in respect of things which are evil, and be perfect in your minds’ (1 Corinthians 14:20). Now wisdom without simplicity is wicked cunning, and it is the subtlety of the philosophers among the pagans of which it is said, He catches the wise men in their own cunning (Job 5:13; 1 Corinthians 3:19), and again, The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain (Psalm 94:2; 1 Corinthians 3:20).

And simplicity without wisdom is the foolishness which is prone to error, and concerning this also  the Apostle spoke, and he wrote unto those who possessed it,  saying, I fear lest, even as the serpent led Eve into error by his craftiness, so your minds also may be destroyed in respect of your simplicity which is towards Christ (2 Corinthians 6:3). For they accepted every word without testing it, even as it is said in the [Book of] Proverbs, The simple man believes every word “ (Proverbs 14:15).     (adapted from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3403-13)

There is a difference between wisdom and intelligence just as there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.  In the wisdom of the desert fathers there was a recognition that even wisdom had to be combined with other virtues to be of value.  A criminal can be very wise and knowledgeable about his illegal activities.  Politicians can be astutely wise but that can mean only that they are wickedly cunning if they lack integrity and humility.  There can even be a person who has a certain simple straightforwardness but who lacks wisdom – that becomes nothing more than total foolishness.  Folly is sin according to the Bible (Proverbs 24:9; Mark 7:22)

Election Loses and Regrets

This is about all I’m going to say about our current election.  I don’t endorse candidates or political parties.  As a parish priest, my job is to pray for this country, its president, the congress, supreme court, its armed forces, all civil authority and for all its people.  I do this no matter who wins the election.  My prayers are not based on election outcomes, but upon my faith in the Trinitarian God’s love for creation including all people on the planet.

It is no wonder that Americans suffer from election fatigue.  From the moment the presidential election is decided, the political parties and machines begin gearing up for the next election.  Running campaigns has become a full time process, not just once every four years but every day of every year.  The political parties and PACs raise millions of dollars to spend on electing candidates, but how much does anyone invest in actually doing governance?  How much time and energy do the political parties, the PACs, the political pundits put into helping these candidates learn to govern in a democracy in a diverse society?  Precious little, which is part of the terrible money imbalance in American politics.  Political office is treated as “for sale to the highest bidder” rather than as the means to serve the nation and to lead the free world.

As soon as the election is decided, political parties and political fundraisers begin focusing all their time and energy on the next election and getting their party’s candidates elected.   If they invested in good candidates who could actually govern and who could help build American democracy we all would be better off.  They however are really interested in investing in winning and holding on to power, even if they have no wise or virtuous candidates to put forth.   How much better for us all if they focused on how to make the American democratic process work and on how to help our leaders govern our country in the 21st Century with its diversity, all its many issues and problems and with the world as it is today (not as we wished it were).

The political machines pick candidates who can win elections, not necessarily those who are capable of governing.  The political machines spend tens of millions of dollars on getting people elected, but nothing on training them in governace – how to work in, with and for a democracy.   Forget having a candidate be a statesman, as they will have no time for that – their purpose is only to win elections.   Any wonder that the Putins of the world have an easier time being statesmen, being world leaders and getting things done?   The Putins of the world can set goals and accomplish them while American presidential candidates are forced to short-shortsightedly focus on winning elections.  Putins can conquer enemies, American presidential candidates have to conquer the electorate which turns half of the very people they are supposed to serve into enemies of sorts and the rest into the vanquished.  This is why negative elections seem to work so well, in my opinion.  Americans have forgotten that both political parties and all elected candidates are supposed to represent and serve all the people not just the ones that agree with them.

Presidents are said to have about 100 days of their first administration to accomplish anything.  We spend 1461 days to elect a person who apparently is only going to be able to accomplish anything about 100 days in four years.   The rest of the time (935 of their four years) they will spend campaigning for themselves or others in their political party.  The elected politicians have to cater to those who financed their election and to the talk show hosts and their legions who endlessly criticize the politician.  Apparently,  the politicians weren’t elected to lead, but only to cater to money and to continually appease the squealing media wheels.  The “next” election looms over everything elected do not because of the electorate but because of the big money and big voices.

The media superstars, not elected by anybody, dominate the airwaves and the Internet and so it appears also the thoughts of the many who listen to them.  They fire up their base so that the president and congress have to spend most of their time paying attention to the political machines and to the media commentators rather than to issues before them.   The media moguls do not want the politicians to see anything except through their lens.  Don’t pay attention to the issues but only to those who loudly yell about the issues.   But these commentators do not pay attention to or care about  what strengthens democracy in a diverse culture.  Rather they really advocate against democracy and in favor of a one party system, with their own way as being the only acceptable way to see the world.  The word dictator comes from a Latin word meaning  “to say often, prescribe, to speak frequently.”   All talk show hosts are dictators.  Why do we listen to them?  We should favor democracy not dictatorship.  We are addicted to them and the next thing they might say, which is what also comes to haunt and fixate the politicians.

We invest so heavily in the elections but do not invest in governance.  We need to change the system so that it works to strengthen democracy not tear it down like the media people and political chieftains do today.  Their goal is purely to get their people elected.  But that isn’t necessarily what is good for the country or the world.

votevoteThere is in our country the wonderful freedom of speech, which unfortunately the Supreme Court says includes setting no limits on how much money people can spend or raise on elections.  But we the people should learn “freedom of listening.”  We can turn off all of the political talk show people.  We can stop listening to or watching political ads whether from the airwaves or on the Internet.  We need to find something better to do with our minds, like learning more about democracy and how it works, why it is so important to our lives and what we need to be as voters to make democracy work.  We should shake off our own laziness of listening to dictators and encourage politicians to be statesmen and leaders.  If we don’t like their ideas we vote them out of office.  Those candidates in favor of democracy should also support the idea that they can be removed from office rather than spending all their time and energy making sure they stay in office.

I have never made it my position to comment on “who” to vote for in an election.  However, I do value American democracy and consider it a strength of our nation.  I do think our current election trends and the power ceded to political parties and to media talk show hosts is weakening democracy.  We need to work on changing the system, and then we would get better candidates.

Dems-GOPIn a democracy, the majority decide which direction the country will go.  Political parties can hold to an ideology, but face the reality that their beloved convictions can’t win a majority of voters.   They can change their position to try to create an alliance of voters to win the election, or they can hold on to their ideology but lose elections.  What shouldn’t be accepted is that they try to buy elections or to have their unpopular ideas win through deceit or negative campaigning.  If they can’t convince us that their ideas are good for the country, even if painful, they need to try harder, improve their message, or find a combination of ideas that convince us to vote for them.  In my opinion as it is they instead just spend all their time and energy trying to get their candidates elected with no regard for how that effects the country. For them the end justifies the means, no matter what price democracy has to pay.   Their goal is to stay in power not necessarily to strengthen the American democratic process.  We voters can changes this, but we have to change our habits to do it.

I would recommend listening to the TED Talk: Democracy on Trial for further thinking about democracy and its importance and why we need to strengthen it through the election process rather than weaken it by allowing ourselves to become part of the partisan polarity problem.  I think a total reform of the party driven primaries would be helpful.   Let all candidates from all parties be put into a common pool in the primaries, and the voters decide who are the top two candidates – no matter what party they are from.  The general election would have the top two vote winners in the primary face off.  That way all candidates in all elections would have to offer a message that appeals to all or the most voters.  This I think would help end the parties become more polarized through the primaries and then offering no middle ground for voters.  I’m sure this would create other problems, perhaps some unseen at the moment, but it would help change the tenor of the election process now at work in America.

Fearing the Times

Presidential election years seem to bring out a certain darkness in the hearts and minds of those who pay attention to politics.  People are disquieted by the uncertainty of the swirling, sometimes rushing, muddy waters of the election.

My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now

(Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now”)

In the 21st Century, or so it seems to me, every four years Americans experience a great amount of angst and anxiety about the present and the future.  Political parties do a great amount of fear-mongering as the presidential election approaches, feeding the fear, dragging people down, rather than giving them hope.  This year seems especially rife and ripe for this descent into despair.

It may be of little cheer, but certainly our country has survived darker and more turbulent times.  1860 comes to mind or 1940.

The Orthodox Church certainly has been confronted with darker times.  The rise of communism seemed to spell an endless and unmitigated period of church suffering and shrinking, and hiding in the darkness which overshadowed everything Orthodox.

The world is marked by its ever-changing quality – empires rise and fall.   The uncertainty of the world is an ever present feature in the life of millions of people.     Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh spoke uneasily about the church entering a new age in the 21st Century:

“I have a very clear or rather gloomy feeling that as we enter the third millennium we are entering some obscure and complex and, in a certain sense, unwelcome period. As for devotion to the Church, our faith must certainly retain its integrity, but we must not be afraid of thinking and expressing ourselves openly. Everything will eventually settle into order, but if we keep just endlessly reiterating what has been said long ago, more and more people will drift away from their faith (I mean not so much Russia as the world as a whole), not because everything that was stated before is erroneous, but because the approach and language being used are all wrong. Today’s people and the time they live in are different; today we think differently.

I believe one must become rooted in God and not be afraid of thinking and feeling freely. ‘Freely’ does not imply ‘free thinking’ or contempt for the past and for the tradition. However, God does not need slaves. ‘I no longer call you servants, I call you my friends…’ I think it is extremely important that we think and share our reflections with him. There is so much we could share with him in this new world we live in. It is so  good and so important to think openly without trying to conform. Intellectuals with great receptivity must come to the fore by their thinking and writing. The Church, or rather clergymen and some of the conscious churchgoers, are afraid to do something wrong. After all these years when people could not think or speak openly with each other and thereby outgrow, as it were, the nineteenth century, there is much fear, which leads people to be content with mere repetition of what has been adopted by the Church long before and what is known as Church language and Church doctrine. This has to change sooner or later.” (The Wheel 4 | Winter 2016)

The Church unfortunately contracts and becomes entrenched exactly at a moment when opportunity presents itself for moving into a new century, for being renewed by the Spirit.  Fear causes the church to hide behind closed doors as the apostles did after the crucifixion of Christ.  Jesus, however, came into their midst and commanded them to go out into that world which they so feared and from which they wanted to hide.

So while we Americans face another presidential election and the negativity it will bring, we might consider the words of the newly elected president Franklin Roosevelt at his first inauguration.  Spoken in 1933, the problems besetting the nation at that time see very familiar to us today:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

…rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.   (Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933)

There is hope.  We are still here, America survived the mid-20th Century and moved into more prosperous times.  The temptations of greed, selfishness and hatred are always there, as they always have been.  On a personal level, we can always choose better, no matter how leadership behaves.

Or, maybe we come to realize that in the world, human problems remain rather consistently – things though incredibly troubling and worrisome are not all that different from past times.  Democracy is a system which every few years calls for an election – because we are electing fellow citizens to lead us, it will always produce anxiety.  It will sometimes produce bad results, and sometimes miraculously, good emerges, nurturing and sustaining us for a life time.


Lies, Lies, Lies

nprI found pretty fascinating a show from the NPR program “On the Media“:  “Lies, Lies, Lies“.  I’m recommending it if you have about 50 minutes to ponder the truth about lies, and lying about the truth.

Inspired by this year’s presidential presidential campaign, it covers recent American history related to lies and truth, politicians and the press.  Though we hate when politicians lie to us (or maybe, more truthfully we just hate when those we oppose lie, we are more tolerant when the candidates we favor lie), the fact is politicians often say things they think that people want to hear.  As Psychologist Maria Hartwig comments:  “People want the truth if it fits with what they want to hear.”  So politicians are tempted by us and what we want to hear.  We like the truth if we agree with it, otherwise we are willing to dispense with it; so too, politicians.  Additionally, as the program points out, truth can become fashionable, or go out of fashion – I found that segment of the show to be fascinating – how the political process treats truthfulness and truthiness.   Politicians are willing to use truth when it is convenient and ignore it when it isn’t, and to twist it when that serves their purpose.  Politicians also know they can be punished for telling the truth as people don’t always appreciate the candor when they want to hear what agrees with their own preconceived ideas.

Is truth self-evident? Or, does the self not rely on the evidence when it comes to the truth?

One referenced quote in the program, I had to look up because it seemed such a classic political twisting of phrases.  The master communicator President Ronald Reagan speaking from the Oval Office:

“Let’s start with the part that is the most controversial. A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.”  (March 4, 1987)

reaganHis heart and best intentions told him it wasn’t true even though the facts and evidence told him it was true.   A classic case of “never let the facts get in the way of what you want to believe.”  or “Don’t believe everything you think.”   He so interestingly phrased it:  the facts and evidence aren’t giving him the truth, they are telling him what isn’t true.  Not a case that he couldn’t handle the truth, he handled it very well.   Douglas Adams described it well: “I don’t believe it. Prove it to me and I still won’t believe it.”

Reagan masterfully admits, “It was a mistake” which avoids any admission of intentional wrong behavior and also allows him to avoid having to admit he lied.

President Reagan was not the first president to handle truth, facts and evidence, as if it were modeling clay needing to be shaped by the artist.  This year’s presidential campaign shows he won’t be the last either.

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”  (Mark Twain)

Deadly Colorado Shootings Momentarily Silence Campaigns

Fox News among many media outlets reported that the deadly shootings in Aurora  caused President Obama and GOP Challenger Mitt Romney to suspend their usual campaign advertising and rhetoric.

“The deadly shootings at a movie theater in Colorado have briefly silenced the presidential campaign, prompting both President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney to cut short their schedules and pull advertising in the state out of respect for the victims and their families.”

Not being a fan of the negative presidential campaigns, my take on the political cease fire is that it suggests the advertising campaigns in fact have nothing worth saying.  In the face of real news and confronted by real life problems, having the campaigns go silent shows the rhetoric is pathetically (pathologically?) empty and devoid of any real content. If the campaigns can’t insult each other they are forced into remaining dumb.

I can’t even say the campaign rhetoric is drivel, for it is poisonous.  But then, it is not novel for American political campaigns.  Andrew J. Polsky  mentions in his book  Elusive Victories:The American Presidency at War that even in the midst of a civil war and the need for national unity American politics remained divisive and dirty.

“As Mark E. Neely Jr. observes, . . . Nor had American parties made a habit of cultivating moderation or political civility. ‘Carelessly pressing charges of treason and tyranny,” Neely comments, “was the way the system worked at election time and had for years.’”   (Kindle Loc. 1146-50)

Apparently political campaigning in a democracy is part of civilization that lacks all civility.  A democracy should allow and even benefit by serious policy disagreement.  But in American national politics these days any disagreement immediately gets labeled as seditious, traitorous, stupid or evil.  Such rhetoric discourages thoughtfulness or thinking and encourages bombastic name calling and abandonment of reason.

Liberty and Peace

Ironically but not unexpectedly, while Fox News reported the two presidential candidates both called for national unity in the wake of the fatal shootings and temporarily stopped their divisive campaigning,  it couldn’t resist taking the moment to stir the pot of partisan politics by the article’s then raising the speculation that the shootings would cause a renewal in contentious calls for gun control.

The media cannot stand a moment of political unity or calm,  for that is not very self serving to those who are trying to sell the news.   The media creates the news by constantly fueling the flames of polarizing and alarmist politics in order to seduce us to tune in to their reporting.  Sadly, propagandizing is now often pawned off as news.

It might be more interesting if the media outlets stopped reporting on the campaigns until the candidates actually said something new or newsworthy rather than constantly reiterating their stump speeches.

Three Political Thoughts

I have not commented on the political developments in this Presidential election year because I have not had a lot to say.  There is something about the American form of democracy that I don’t like.  The campaigns are completely media driven with sound bites far more important than substance. Negative campaign ads seem to rule the day.  Being little attuned to the media since I almost never watch TV, I find it hard to attune to campaigns that are totally designed for TV and the media.   The campaigns generate more heat than light, as they say.  Some of course contend that democracy when it works is messy, loud, based in ad hominem attacks, appealing to fears and emotions rather than to real policy (one can see these signs all the way back in the Adams vs. Jefferson election of 1800).  And obviously if everyone were simply in agreement a one party system works fine.  When, however, there are real disagreements, one should expect contentious campaigns.  I realize all of this but still am not fond of the way we do elections.  I think I heard in France that in the last several days of a campaign, no TV or radio ads are permitted at all.  That idea would suit me.  Let the candidates stand on their own words not on the hundred millions of dollars spent on media imaging and spin.

The Spring 2012 edition of THE WILSON QUARTERLY cited two studies which cast doubt on whether the whole series of Republican debates really benefited the voters in any meaningful way.  One criticism is that  “debate moderators of 2011 sometimes  seemed more interested in stoking conflict than in eliciting meaningful answers—and the candidates weren’t given enough time for meaningful answers anyway.”  Of course that makes for better television drama than having candidates calmly state their positions.  Maybe that is what the newspapers are for!    Additionally, “Debates have allowed the press to elbow their way in front of voters for commercial purposes.”  It’s as if the press to justify its own existence,  not to mention is self-importance, makes sure its presence in the debates is known.  Everything is mediated through the press who also digests it all and feels the need to interpret everything to the voters who apparently can’t think of anything to ask and wouldn’t understand the answers anyway.  “During the  20 debates between May 5, 2011, and mid-February, 2012, the NYU team counted 46 questions about social issues (abortion and gay rights), four about the Arab Spring, two about climate change, one about small business – and 113 about campaign strategy and negative advertising.”    So apparently the biggest concern for the future leader of the free world has to do with campaign strategies and the media.  The media inserts itself as the biggest issue for Americans to be concerned about.

Media Nation - "Television the drug of the nation"

The media makes sure that people pay attention to the media and wants to ensure that our only access to the candidates is through the media.    “Pay attention to us,” is their motto.  Voters would do well to turn them off completely.  As voters, we won’t take time to read speeches or position papers.  We want sound bites and bullet points, which the media and the candidates obligingly provide.  No wonder candidates give stump speeches even in answer to debate questions.  They know what the media will focus on and we the voters seem willing to accept that impoverished campaign diet.

I found more encouraging the 23 April 2012 TIME magazine article, Inside The Presidents Club­­­­ by Nancy  Gibbs and Michael Duffy.   It is a glimpse into their new book, The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity.   What I saw (maybe because it is what I wish were true) is that despite all the adversarial political rhetoric which may occur between the various presidents especially when they campaigned against each other,  the presidents do find a way to cooperate with and use the experience of their predecessors.  Some have become friends but all found ways to work with each other.   They do realize they are the president of the United States and all its people, not just the leader of their party’s ideological wing.  That is far more appealing to me then the attack ads they use to get elected.  I know many who prefer that our presidents remain ideological enemies with presidents from a different political party.  I find no particular comfort in that partisanship.  I prefer presidential statesmanship to political brinkmanship.

Finally, and with a little sense of humor I enjoyed from science, DISCOVER’s web page article, 5 Ways to Turn a Liberal Into a Conservative (At Least Until the Hangover Sets In)  by Chris Mooney. 

Mooney says research has shown that there are five things that can make a liberal vote Republican.  First, liberals become more conservative when something consumes more of their mental attention.  When liberals are distracted with things that demand their attention they think more like conservatives.  On the other hand, “Cognitive load did not appear to change the view of conservatives in the study.”

Second, “Alcohol intoxication is not unlike cognitive load, in that it cuts down the capacity for in-depth, nuanced thinking, and privileges economical, quick responses. Sure enough, in a recent study of 85 bar patrons, blood alcohol content was related to increased political conservatism for liberals and conservatives alike. … higher blood alcohol content was associated with giving more conservative answers.”

Third, “Subjects under time pressure were more likely to endorse conservative terms.

Fourth, when people were asked political questions near a hand sanitizer or were asked to use a hand wipe before responding, they became more conservative in their opinions.

Fifth, studies show that fear causes us to become more conservative.  Being afraid moves us politically to being more pro-military and with favoring the death penalty.

So, “priming people to feel either fear or disgust (or the need for cleanliness) seems to favor political conservatism, and politically conservative candidates.”  Research on the other hand, does not show any similar ways to make conservative become more liberal.

Such is the nature of politics.

This World is Passing Away – The Next President Can’t Change That

Presidential campaigns, especially tight races, tend toward ever more vitriolic claims against their opponents.  The intention seems to be to reach the undecided voters and/or the party members who tend toward the middle and might be tempted to vote for “the other guy.”  The campaigns appeal to fear if not outright dread – it will be horrible for us all if “the other guy” wins.  The intention is to try to force those drifting away back into the fold by appealing to their basest fears and to try to scare those in the middle to come in and join the party where things are safe.  

The campaigns are willing to lose sight of reason and fact and to appeal to the worst fears of the wavering or undecided voters:  the world as we know it is about to end.   Which as it turns out is a biblical truth, but not exactly what the campaign gurus have in mind, because they actually don’t believe the world is going to end but rather believe it is going to continue on which is why they are trying to win the election and prevent their opponents from winning.

That the world is going to end and that we need to consider what this means for our life in this world is a biblical truth.  St. Paul for example writing about marriage, not politics, offers thoughts that could easily apply to our current election worries:

From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. (1 Corinthians 7:29-32)

St. Paul does not advocate anxiety as a way to deal with this world; he advocates adjusting our thinking about this world by realizing the world is not eternal, it is passing away; there exists the reality of God’s Kingdom which lasts forever.  So don’t be terrified by what is happening in this world, fear God who is the ultimate judge of all things.

Regarding who might win this year’s presidential election, and who we FEAR might win, I offer contrasting thoughts from St. John’s First Epistle:

At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.  (2:8)

For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions-is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.  (2:16-18)

Whether the next president ushers in the true light or turns out to be an agent for the antichrist, the reality is this world is passing away.   Political victories are of a transitory nature and don’t resolve the world’s problems once and for all.  Shall we be so afraid of our next president?    As our Lord Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”   (Luke 12:4-5)

Some are especially afraid of what an Obama presidency might mean.  However if history is an indication, it might not mean what people fear.  Jon Meacham writes in his October 27, 2008 Newsweek article, It’s Not Easy Being Blue ,

 In introducing his classic 1948 book “The American Political Tradition,” Richard Hofstadter quoted John Dos Passos: “In times of change and danger, when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present.” … Hofstadter encapsulated the center-right point about the country better than most, writing: “The sanctity of private property, the right of the individual to dispose of and invest it, the value of opportunity, and the natural evolution of self-interest and self-assertion, within broad legal limits, into a beneficent social order have been staple tenets of the central faith in American political ideologies; these conceptions have been shared in large part by men as diverse as Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Cleveland, Bryan, Wilson, and Hoover.”

Meacham certainly believes McCain and Obama are safely within the mainstream of American values.  As Meacham reminds us: 

The first two years of the Clinton administration gave way to the Gingrich-led Republican landslide of 1994 (one of the GOP victories that night: George W. Bush’s win over Ann Richards in Texas). … The lesson is one with bipartisan relevance: parties nearly always overreach.

Political parties in America learn the lesson that America is a centrist or center right country the hard way –  by losing elections!  If God wills, there will be another election in a few years, and another chance for Americans to correct their course again, no matter who becomes president this time around.  No matter who wins, the truth remains that this earth is passing away and only in God’s Kingdom will there be no more sickness, sighing or sorrow, meanwhile we sigh and eventually face another election, if God so wills.

Election Levity for CamPAIN Relief

A headline that has appeared in my Internet Explorer home page claims that Presidential Candidate John McCain’s aids are complaining that Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin is “going rogue” by getting off the carefully scripted stump speeches and inserting more of her own ideas into her talks.  What did they expect?  They picked her because she is a “maverick.”  She’s a soccer mom, not a stay at home mom!  She is used to yelling at her team to kick a little asphalt.  She is being true to form, and they are not happy with the turn of events.  Politics – go figure.   If they wanted someone who was going to support the status quo, it is strange that they picked someone who has shown a willingness to buck her own party at times – an image that John McCain touts about himself. 

I know of some dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and Republicans  who cannot imagine how or why people would ever vote for a candidate from the opposing party.  There actually is a good reason to have lots of candidates from the opposing party be in office – it gives your party someone to blame when things go badly.  So both Republicans and Democrats benefit from a two party system in which both parties are viable and strong – you can always blame the other party for what is wrong with the economy, foreign policy, domestic policy and your insurance policy.   Many dictatorships do offer one party democracies, and we know these as tyrannies.  Besides having someone to blame for what is wrong, true democracies have competing ideas which tends to improve the rationale and policies of all the political parties.

The Downside of a Negative Campaign

  In a previous blog, The CamPAIN, I commented on the presidential campaigns spinning out of control – and with all of the spin doctors (both the campaign spokes people and the media talk show hosts), the imagery of campaigns spinning out of control is a most appropriate one.

One event which caught my attention was McCain’s own supporters booing him when he tried to defend speaking respectfully about Obama.  The negative irony of the very people claiming McCain is the candidate they would follow, booing him when he tries to the lead them should not be lost on anyone. 

Booing their own candidate is a natural result of a negative campaign, for the negative campaign is not so much about getting passionate for your candidate as it is about  getting passionate against the other candidate.  The passion of a negative campaign is hatred for the other.     What happens in negative campaigns is that people are not so much for “their” candidate as they are riled up against the other candidate.  It becomes a hate vote.   You are not for someone, you are passionately against someone else.

I think that is what you see in the reaction of the crowd to McCain’s calling for them to be respectful.   McCain’s party base is not passionate about him, but they can be riled up against Obama.  And so the campaign aims for what it believes is the best appeal they have this election – keep the other guy out of office even if you aren’t for our candidate.  On the other side, many Obama supporters seem genuinely to be for him, not just against McCain.  Obama has excited his supporters in a way that McCain has not been able to excite his own base.  This says nothing about who would be the better president but might give some indication about which man might enjoy more positive support once elected.

Appealing to hate, which is what negative campaigns do (though they would deny that is what they are doing), has many risks.  Among them is that after the election the electorate is polarized into adversarial and antagonistic antipathies with no hope of the bipartisan cooperation politicians so like to praise.  So when after a divisive election the country needs to be brought together again, the hatred fed during the campaign takes a life of its own.  Hatred is a powerful emotion which has become stirred up during the campaign.    As the FBI webpage on hate crimes notes, “Hate itself is not a crime-and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”  Campaigns push freedom of speech to the limits, and respect, reason and responsibility right out of door.

For my fellow Orthodox, I continue to advocate tuning out all of the negativity which I personally do not think is in any way helpful to our country or to our spiritual lives.  Negative campaigns are an effort to manipulate your feelings – to create heat not light.

As I mentioned in the sermon this past Sunday, remember the words of the prayer before the reading of the Gospel:

Illumine our hearts, O Master who loves mankind, with the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Your Gospel teachings; implant in us also the fear of Your blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing to You: for You are the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

We are to fear God and to fear displeasing Him.  We do not need to let the fear of a presidential candidate overwhelm our reason or our hearts.  We are to both do and think such things as are well pleasing to God.  Many of the passions stirred up in a contested election are not pleasing to God, and do not bring us to think and do things which are godly.  Let us not give leave to our senses because of the claims of a presidential campaign.   God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us.  No candidate can change that truth.


There are only about 21 days left in this year’s presidential campaign – thanks be to God!  The campaigns throwing aside goodness, reason, and hope, get reduced to campains – the effort to inflict as much pain on the opponent and upon all voters so that they are truly terrified about who might win the election.  But the campain is never about who is going to win, it is all about who should lose, as if in losing the candidate will be assigned to oblivion never to have a place among humanity again.

We have entered the campain in which the candidates and/or their organizations endeavor to sling every spurious, and scurrilous slur they can imagine, or get away with.

And though one can develop vertigo watching  the precipitously dropping stock market, both party’s campaign’s truth and ethics levels are falling even faster in the uncontrolled spin of an out of control heavier than air object.   Gravity may accelerate the fall of objects at 32 feet/second/second, but the truthfulness and morality of negative campaigning drops a whole lot faster.

In a surreal sign of where things are, when John McCain tried to stop some of the outrageous and Obamaphobic comments of his supporters at one of his rallies – when he tried to re-establish respect, reason, rationality and reality – his supporters booed him!  They are enjoying their phobias, anger and hatreds so much that they don’t want their candidate to take away their fix.  And partly this happens because in the negative campaign they are no longer voting for McCain, they are really and only voting against Obama – so they do not want to hear McCain calling for respect.  He is already irrelevant to what the campaign’s negative efforts have achieved.

In the rational world of stock markets, when the market hits a point where values are falling faster than is sane, markets suspend trading.   Would that the presidential campaign had a similar sanity check, and the campaigns of the candidates would be suspended once they hit a critical free fall speed of negativity.   I mentioned before that in France in the week before the election, campaign advertising is suspended – a wise move in our media dominated negative campaigns. 

I certainly would encourage people to turn their TV’s and radio’s off for the next couple of weeks anytime a campaign ad comes on or anytime a talk show host or commentator starts spinning the negative nexus of nonsense.

Don’t let these phobia driven campaigns take away your hope, your humanity, your rationality.   Respect for one’s opponent is a good thing, no matter how stimulating and satisfying you might find the irrational emotions of hating and fearing others.