When I was a child I didn’t understand politics.
My parents were moderates – in an era when almost everyone was a moderate – and proud of it.
Back then, in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, unlike now, there were few extremists (except for the occasional lunatic, paranoid frenzy of McCarthyism and the John Birch Society) and the vast majority of both political parties were pragmatic, stodgy and, as a rule, routinely put national priorities and progress ahead of personal preferences or ideological purity.
Bi-partisanship was the rule of the day because work had to be done. Friendships, even marriages, were common across party lines.
As I look back on it, in contrast to the inchoate obstructionism that passes for ideology today, the teamwork that made prosperity and stability of that time possible seems like a childish fantasy.
The ideological lines were drawn, not along political lines, but upon different strategies to achieve what was best for all of us.
There was rarely a dispute over what should be done – the needs and demands of the time – poverty, Civil Rights, post-war and Cold War military requirements were obvious enough – the disputes, mostly civil, were about philosophy and long term strategies.
I’m not much of a joiner. During political seasons I follow both political campaigns with equal parts of fascination, dismay and, sometimes, sheer tedium.
I vote, or don’t, for issues and candidates based on how much they matter to me.
I have many friends who urge me to vote, work and even pray for the victory of Mitt Romney. These are reasonable, intelligent and imminently likable people, but when President Obama comes on TV, radio or even in conversation, they are reduced to red-faced, gibbering, near-incoherent babblers.
Their hatred is as palpable as it is incoherent. This is not racism, they tell me. Of course not. They just don’t like ‘him’. They don’t like the way he talks, or walks. Or his name.
These are good people – they look, act and believe like I do.
And they make me wonder what I would hate so passionately.
I can’t think of any person, place or thing that I would hate so much.
What comes to mind as worth hating are more like universal abstractions – things that, it seems to me, we should all hate; deception, hypocrisy, corruption, suspicion and injustice. This is what, I always thought, everyone of any (or no) faith would find intolerable and offensive. Not how someone walks.
Related: Is Choosing Not to Vote Selfish?
Perhaps I’m naïve, but shouldn’t beliefs should be personal – not stamped out by political platform committees?
For example, my students are amazed when I tell them that before 1980, abortion was a personal and moral position – not a political fault line.
In most of our country, abortion has become the ultimate political dividing line, but not in my state; we have a pro-life Democratic candidate for state senate and a pro-choice Republican gubernatorial option.
During Clint Eastwood’s ‘skit’ at the Republican Convention we saw many people’s deepest fear – an arch-nemesis with magical powers; a mythical being who, Thor-like, could raise and lower the oceans, cast hurricanes upon the Republican convention, and was single-handedly responsible for our social and economic ills – from homosexuality, to a stagnant economy, to high gas prices, droughts and much more.
Gone was Obama the Muslim, Marxist socialist. After a mere four years, Obama had morphed into a swirling, nearly invincible (even invisible) super-villain.
Meanwhile, Republicans portray themselves as the faithful remnant fighting valiantly for the restoration of a Thomas Kincaid America where everyone has – and knows – their place.
If only, they told us repeatedly, we could cast the evil Obama spirit from our land, all would be well.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stated recently that the Republican Party is “not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
I see these “angry white guys”– and their fear-filled fantasies – almost every day. But they, to put it mildly, do not bring out the best in us.
But some of us recognize that we are not – and should not be – all the same, and that reasonable people of faith can disagree (and still be friends) and that very few of us will hold the same beliefs we held five years ago or will hold five years from now, and when we hire someone to do a job – especially politicians – we expect them to do it. And we like fact-checkers who confirm how true – or false – a public statement might be.
And we particularly respect the right – if not obligation – of every citizen to vote.
Faith and politics define and express our deepest values, and sometimes fears, but neither of these should ever be static and self-immolating. Our beliefs, at their best, should enlarge ourselves, embrace and welcome others, and make the Kingdom of God more tangible – and approachable.
So I say halleluiah for our religious and political differences. We are as varied as our terrain and our ethnic, historic and religious backgrounds.
Our calling as citizens who express our beliefs can never be a rote exercise, and we dare not be lazy and mechanical as we express ourselves in this particular public forum.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.