In a Facebook conversation recently, a friend asked whether Christians should bother voting, and on what basis should they vote. Several comments derided politics as divisive and corrupt, saying that neither party has it right, so it’s not worth taking too seriously. I hear similar things from Libertarian friends, but it is both naive and self-righteous. It’s true that politics gets dirty. People mislead, exaggerate, blame and bicker.
Just like all of us.
The interesting thing about politics is that it represents the embodiment of all our collective hopes, yet it can never deliver on them. The tension between our ideals and reality is precisely what makes politics so ugly—it is a reflection of human nature that most of us would rather not face. But it is too important to look away.
Fr. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, recently said “there are no perfect pastors or priests, so why should we expect perfect politicians?” While we hold our public role models to high standards—as we should—the leaders of groups and congregations receive grace for two reasons. One, they have closer relationships to their friends, fans and followers. Two, their circle of influence is relatively small. Politicians, at least in Washington, represent us all in a way, and our relationship to them is merely contractual.
The “higher” up a politician goes, the more people he represents, the more people there are to please, the more superficial our connection, the more he is likely to be criticized for every little misstep. And for this reason, his steps have to be carefully planned. Of course, people recognize canned and planned responses and, ironically, they use this as more fodder for their criticism. There is no winning strategy for a politician without excellent rhetorical skills.
It gets under my skin every time someone says they wish politicians could just “be real.” I want to reply, “No you don’t! You want them to ignore the tough problems, tell you everything’s going to be fine, and tell you how they have a 5-point plan that’s better than the other guy’s, but without boring you with specifics.” You don’t want to hear about how balancing the budget will require cuts to something you like. You don’t want to hear that the economy is not something a president can fix (though he can do tremendous damage). You don’t want to hear that people should take responsibility for their decisions.
Politicians know this, so they frequently get caught between trying to do what they know is right versus what their constituents think is right, then balancing all that with pressure from lobbyists and party leaders. When they’re put on the spot they end up sounding like their skirting the issues or making false promises. This is what happens when you try to please everyone. But isn’t that democracy?
I enjoy politics, but I don’t expect you to. What I do expect is for Americans—Christian or not—to think seriously about their choices, evaluate their convictions, and vote for the party that is more likely to advance the values and principles they feel are important. But I have two caveats here: 1) stick to the two major parties—anything else is either a wasted vote or a vote for the person you least like. 2) vote on practical solutions, not just idealistic goals.
I vote Republican because I believe that freedom and opportunity for the whole of society are achieved through small government and strong families, communities, churches and businesses. Divisive though they be, these are not just “political” issues, they are human issues. We cannot shy away from our duty to stand up for justice in the world just because someone might disagree with it. Be engaged in the discussion, but do so thoughtfully and respectfully.