Despite studying politics at university and believing with Churchill that of all the systems that don’t work democracy is the best, I get queasy around election time in both the US and the UK.
What disturbs me are people, who usually despair of politicians and their varying degrees of competency, but then suddenly get all fired up about the “right” candidate. Paul Ryan is one such “right” candidate. I’ve been reading accounts of his Vice Presidential nomination speech at the Republican convention and have been holding my head in my hands not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
As Ryan made all sorts of verifiably false claims in his speech about Obama, two highlighted responses in a Huffington Post account bothered me. First,
Jodie Layton, a convention goer from Utah watching the Ryan speech, said she was blown away by the vice presidential candidate. But she said she was surprised to hear that after his speech about taking responsibility, he’d pinned a Bush-era plant closing on Obama.
“It closed in December 2008?” she asked, making sure she heard a HuffPost reporter’s question right. After a long pause, she said, “It’s happening a lot on both sides. It’s to be expected.”
“It’s to be expected”. They all lie on both sides; he’s just fighting fire with fire.
That’s fine, but you’d best not be upset when he lies to you while in office, because, from past experience that is to be expected too. Surely you should be deeply concerned that a man who wants to be so close to power doesn’t believe the truth is a strong enough tool to work with.
But then maybe the candidate isn’t worried about the strength of the tool because of the weakness of the minds who desperately want him to be elected. The second disturbing statement is
Ryan, however, appears to have made the calculation that the misleading won’t hurt him with voters. He might be right. CNN’s David Gergen, while acknowledging some “misstatements” in Ryan’s address, suggested that pundits focus elsewhere. “But let’s not forget that this was a speech about big ideas,” he told his audience.
The pundit says “misspeaking” ( the 21st century phrase for “telling a lie”) won’t really hurt Ryan because he talking about the big picture. Misspeaking allows a liar to claim they made a mistake rather than told a lie. I was taught at a pretty young age that there is a simple way to tell the difference: a mistake is that I had the wrong information or misunderstood; a lie is when I know what the truth is, I choose to ignore it because I know that you have no idea of what the truth is and no inclination to check the facts.
A politician willing to lie to you to get into office will lie to you while in office for “your own good and for the achievement of the good big picture”. The big picture may be good for them, but always for you.
I mentioned that I get queasy at election time. The queasiness comes from a dislike of partisan politics. I dislike how a candidate is presented as one Christians should support over the other candidate who they shouldn’t. They are encouraged to be passionate about candidates, more often than not Republican ones, and to invest the same hope and dreams in the candidate as they do in Jesus. Election time rolls around and there he is: the man who can save us.
They seem to forget the basic biblical theology that no man can fix the world which is why we need a saviour.
Every four or five years people forget that they don’t like politicians and talk themselves into believing this one will be different leader who will make life wonderful. They forget that every candidate is mistaken in believing they have the power and ability to change the world and can control all the variables on which security, prosperity and well being rely on.
Mr Bush believed it, Mr Obama believed it, Mr Romney and Mr Ryan believe it. They always forget that everything they say about what they will do is a theory rather than a blueprint.
In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus lists the “people who can save us” in the telling of the parable of the sheep and goats. That army of humble people who don’t run for office but rather roll up their sleeves and serve their neighbours as if they were serving Jesus. Who love their neighbour because if God saw fit to make them then they must be worthy of love. If the president didn’t turn up for work for a month, we’d get by. If that army of the humble (both believing and unbelieving) didn’t turn up, God help us all.
Jesus spoke a lot about truth and love and how the two go together. He said to treat your enemies as if you love them. It’s better for your soul and theirs. If they do something wrong, call them on it. But don’t twist the truth to ensure your enemy stays your enemy and becomes an enemy to someone else.
You’d think if someone claims to be a follower of Jesus when they declare their candidacy they could do something as simple as telling the truth. But then we all know that they aren’t running for Jesus, they are running for themselves.