Obama? McCain?: My Faith in Party Politics

It’s a forced choice.  There can be only one.  (Anyone thinking Highlander?)

The bane of party politics.

Honestly, I generally don’t vote for the candidate.  It’s like picking your birthday or wedding cake based on the figurine that tops the cake decorations.  Hello, Kitty?  Batman?  Elmo?  A cute little bride & groom?

(The cake for my sister-in-law’s baby shower was a very pregnant woman: tall, slender, long hair, both fists on her waist…and a purple cape.)

In many ways, both Obama and McCain (or Palin?!) are cake-toppers, the face on the cake.

A cake-topper can say a lot about a cake.  With the color scheme, hand-made frosting flowers and sprinkles, the topper can make or break a cake’s appearance.  It’s the same with politics.  A lot of people vote based on the party-topper and the way s/he puts a face on that party’s politics.  But, like buying a cake, the outcome of our vote goes well beyond appearances. What about the cake of the cake?  Is it moist?  Dry?  Vanilla, chocolate, or marble?   Was organic flour used?  What about the trans-fats in the frosting?

I say, go for cream cheese frosting.

My point is, when you cast your vote in November, you are voting for a whole lot more than the cake-topper candidate.  No matter how much a maverick or inspiring orator, the candidate you elect, in many important ways, will be but just the face of a party.  Of course, we cannot underestimate the power of that face.  Elections are often decided on the mixture of sound-bytes and appearances we hear and see on in the internet and TV.  (Think, here, about many of the comments about John Kerry & Richard Nixon.)

Don’t get me wrong.  Who Barack Obama or John McCain is, come January, will be important.  One of them, assuming there are no surprises, will wield tremendous influence over American-politics-to-be.  They will be our nation’s newest political symbol.  They will be the face of American principles, and their personality, reflected back to us as well as projected out to the rest of the world.  One of them will be the commander-in-chief of an enormous military complex, and the CEO of the executive branch of our government.   Who we choose in November will make a huge influence on life together over the next 4 years.  But, this person does not not run government alone.  They do not stand independently, as a messiah, dictator, or king.  Neither Obama nor McCain can act completely outside the rhetoric and relationships that got them in the oval office.   They come as the face of a party, the face of a system of party politics.

Just as the last eight years of George W. Bush has shown, and most presidents before, in November we will vote for a lot more than just a candidate.  We will be getting more than a speech or pretty face.  The candidate we vote for will bring a list of interested parties.  They will bring an ideology, a set of ideas and political views that shape their party’s platform.  They will come to the Presidency with a perspective that shapes their commitments to certain social, economic, and foreign policies, the kind that can make or break a nation, an economy, and a presidency.

No matter how much we hype the individual – and we Americans are all card-carrying members of the cult of individuality – these perspectives and positions are the beauty and baggage of party politics…two-party politics.

And, those who want to be on the winning team invest deeply in both parties.

<sigh>

So, while cynicism convinces me that the above statement is true (sad, but true), there is a reason why I just can’t vote for McCain/Palin this year.  And, I won’t.  There are things the Republican party stands for and has aggressively promoted that I just can’t support, let slide, or get along with.  And, the issues go deep into the heart of my faith.

In addition to my disagreement with them on many social justice issues, I condemn how America’s religious and political right have used religion in their politics: to exploit people’s fear and manipulate their religious roots, in ways that twist Christianity and “American values” together into an unholy union of self-serving nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, and militarism.

Too many $6 words?

Think about it.  Especially since 9-11 (but with roots that go well before), there’s been a careful attempt to reshape the American mindset.  Nationalist rhetoric, apocalypticism, and religious self-righteousness has transformed grief into resolute paranoia.  And, its captured the imaginations of many traditionally good-hearted, neighborly, and passionate Americans.

Right-wing politicians and activists have convinced a critical mass of American people that the most powerful nation and largest military in the world should do basic things that are against the most basic rules governing most of America’s play grounds.  They’ve convinced us to fight for things which run contrary to the very principles of liberty taught in elementary schools:  a) hit first, ask questions later (preemptive war) and b) use controversial religious doctrines to restrict civil liberties (abortion, same-sex marriage) and c) to determine what is taught in schools (sex education and creationism).

Each of these issues have become decisive and divisive issues that shape our elections only because they scare us and are religiously charged.  They take attention off more concrete political issues that go to the heart of the gospel:  economics, peace, global hunger, militarization….

After September 11th, something in me changed.  September 11th didn’t make me more patriotic; it didn’t make me proud to be American, nor did it wake me up to the fact that there is evil in the world.   I already had a sense of that and a sense of where my faith should continue to be.

Instead, after being manipulated by the sensationalist ploys of American media, unable to watch TV without seeing the Towers falling dozens of times; in the wake of our President’s rhetoric about retaliation, war, and American victimization; when I began seeing friends and neighbors become paranoid of Islam and racially profiling Muslims and persons who spoke or looked like Jesus (remember, he was a Middle Easterner) – I became frightened to be that version of America.  I did not agree with its rhetoric, its racism, or reactionary retaliation.

Perhaps, I wasn’t and am still not truly American…or American enough?

At this point, I believe our nation has tremendous grief to work through, economic lessons to learn, and reconciliation to do.  My hope is that, on these issues, we move forward.  Faith in America and faith at all is not going to be found in religious or political nostalgia – in returning to Andy Griffith or the 1950’s, ostracizing dissidents and non-Christians, or building our self-righteousness on a rotating list of known and hated enemies.

I’m not sure there is any party that aligns perfectly with my religious/spiritual and political views.  In fact, I don’t have all of them worked out.  And, it’s for that exact reason that I keep a modicum of faith.  Perhaps, about the size of a mustard seed.

I am a bit fatalistic about our politics and current political situation, no matter who gets elected.  The cult of personality has tremendous power to distract us from real political questions and real politics.   But, I have hope.

There are things certainly yet unseen (cf. Hebrews 11:1) – the outcome of the November election, the Iraq War, our economic condition, and how the winning candidate is going to lead in the oval office come January.  And, in my hope, I have faith.

You should, too.

Hope…on faith.

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5 responses to “Obama? McCain?: My Faith in Party Politics

  1. You put it into words so well, feelings that I have had for so long. We need to be aware of the possibility of getting caught up in the hype, excitement and emotion of the campaigns. I also am concerned when so much emphasis is directed toward how great the USA is. Do we not realize that the rest of the world is watching too? What message does this send, only that we are an arrogant and pompus nation? I really believe that more often than not, when we do what is best for the world in general, in the long run that will be what is best for our nation as well.
    Thank you Matt for words well spoken (written). Love you, Dad

  2. Matt, thank you for your words. I become very concerned when I hear candidates (of both parties) say, “God Bless America!” I’m concerned about the ultra conservative “christianity” that is influencing a multitude of people to embrace believes and actions that are contrary to the life and teachings of Jesus. A set of beliefs that sets nation before God. May I have the courage and insight withstand these influences and to be a voice in the wilderness as you are being. God’s Blessings!

  3. Thank you, Tom. I don’t always know if I’m making sense. But, I know I feel better when I can get my response to all this political posturing out…and find myself amidst this mess of rhetoric called “politics.”

    Tally, HO!

    Matt

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