Saturday, January 23, 2016

Christians and Politics--the 2016 Remix

It's only January, but I'm late to the party commenting on the race to be the next President of the United States. I have waited to see what might develop before commenting publicly, because as pastor and teacher I know that I am held to a higher standard with public statements than the masses filling Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere with the latest posts and memes. And frankly, trying to explain to a public that doesn't necessarily want to weigh such decisions carefully and thoughtfully sometimes feels pointless. "What? You don't like MY candidate? How dare you!"

My support and vote are driven by:

Absolutes: I will not support a candidate who takes stands supporting moral evils that not only call for God's judgment, but undermine the fabric of human society. This includes support for abortion and approval of redefining marriage beyond the union of one man and one woman. I want a candidate whose views coincide with God's plans for human flourishing as revealed in Scripture and creation. I wrote a post before the last election about how I prioritize when candidates and parties offer differing views of what is most moral or "pro-life" here. Please read it.

Convictions: "Liberty and justice for all" is not just the closing line of the Pledge of Allegiance, but the goal of our constitutional government. Because I am acting as an American and exercising the rights provided by the Constitution, my candidate should support the original meaning of the Constitution and the duties of the President, including effectively serving as Commander in Chief, favoring the constitutional limitations on federal power, and allowing greater state and local influence on governmental decisions and directions. I will not actively support a candidate whose character is questionable or worse, and whose positions and behaviors fail to reflect integrity and consistency.

Preferences: I believe that people will do best in a society where judges follow the constitution instead of seeking to reinterpret it, where tax policy creates an equal burden for all rather than having some who pay nothing and some who pay half their income (this is a biblical pattern),  where immigration is well regulated and monitored and also growing, and where military intervention is rare, principled based on national security, and always well supported to be successful. A proven track record is preferable to inexperience in leadership.

Pragmatism: I want a candidate that has a good chance of both winning and governing in accord with his or her stated positions, and who is an able thinker and articulate advocate for those positions. And in a case where I have only bad choices, I will vote for the "lesser of two evils" rather than abstain and allow the worse evil to come.

That said, it is very easy for me to weigh in now, based on what we know.

Democratic candidates: there are none that pass any of my first three tests. Secretary Clinton is, as
one person has said, "an ethical train wreck," someone with no leadership success, who actively supports morally reprehensible (according to the Bible) policies. What we know of her character should exclude any serious person from voting for her to be president. Senator Sanders may be acceptable as a person, but is a self-described "democratic socialist," which means he does not support a Constitution that upholds and values individual liberties. He believes the government can take care of people if given enough of the people's money. And Governor O'Malley is a non-factor whose policies are also ruled out by my first three tests.

Republican candidates: In a field with a number of qualified and acceptable candidates with these tests, I find that Republicans seem to be moving toward a candidate I do not favor. Donald Trump has recently endorsed all the "right" views in some form for my first test, but until he became a candidate he was articulating the opposite. He reminds me of the long-gone Groucho Marx, who used to joke, "These are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others." His character includes openly bragging about his past immorality, praising an evil enemy (Vladimir Putin), and a pettiness toward insult that leads to responses beneath a leader.  He loved the Clintons before he was running against one. He brags of buying influence, but offers no real substantive proposals, other than saying he'll get things done and "win." His opponents are "losers." In my book, America would be losing if he were chosen as his party's candidate.

And the others? Frankly, I could accept any of the other major candidates and some who've already

bowed out. Let's get down to pragmatism. I personally favor many (not all) of the positions of men like Santorum, Huckabee, and Paul, but they have no real chance. Fiorina has much to commend her but has failed to generate enough support to be seriously considered any more. And while I have the highest respect for Dr. Carson, his clear lack of answers dealing with economic and international questions have hurt his candidacy. I think he could come up with good answers, but I'm not sure he would have the time to do so in a national crisis--on the job training for a non-executive or non-military leader has not proven a good course for our nation. And he is not effective in giving clear, concise answers. So I do not support his candidacy, though I would happily vote for him if he was the nominee of his party.

That leaves Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Christie, and Kasich. I could easily support them all. All pass the first three tests. Their differences are much less than their similarities. The three governors have all shown they can get things done, some in more difficult circumstances than others, and each with political compromises that some consider unacceptable, but I view as decisions made based on the realities they faced--they may not have been my decisions, but I understand their reasoning. The two senators
are so similar in substance that it is hard to separate on policy. Cruz has a better tax plan in my view. Rubio is more honest about his support for immigration (Cruz supported in some measure, but now does not). I happen to be closer to Rubio on that point. Both are less experienced in leading something.

Let me give you my assessment, and just take it for what you consider it to be worth:

  • Bush--a good man, a good governor, but one who does not inspire and who has proven to be a much less effective candidate than I imagined. Sadly, the last name that gave him entry into politics could be enough to keep him from going further. 
  • Christie--has governed a heavily Democratic state with success. He has not appointed judges that reflect his espoused views, but if they have to be confirmed in New Jersey, he may have selected what he could get through. He is an "in your face" political opponent, but Trump seems to have cornered the market on abrasiveness there.
  • Cruz--I can agree with nearly all his positions. He shares my faith and is unashamed of its impact on his positions. He is seen as abrasive and is apparently disliked by almost all elected Republicans in Washington, D.C., which might be a problem but was where Ronald Reagan was in 1980 and especially in 1976. He's been in the Senate four years, and held a state elected office in Texas before that. The "truest" conservatives are most passionate about him.
  • Kasich--I have lived under his governorship in Ohio, and I think he has done an excellent job in a tough time. It has helped that he had his party in control of the legislature the whole time. His decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio is abhorred by conservatives, but may have been bowing to reality--and in any case does not diminish his overall effectiveness, in my opinion. A bigger issue is the strange campaign he has run: little of substance and terrible style. 
  • Rubio--last in the alphabet, but the top of my list. His political positions are nearly identical with my own (I wish he were bolder on taxes). He is the best orator in the field, and the most likable. He has been unashamed to identify his personal faith, even as his Catholic/Evangelical identity confuses both sides. Six years in the Senate were preceded by time in the Florida legislature (including time as Speaker of the House there). He's the candidate that, in my view, should have been the natural and wise choice, but his position on immigration has offended many (it is the same as Reagan's and perhaps even less "open" than the Gipper). 
So, there you go.

Let me repeat something I wrote just before the last presidential election about how we as Christians should approach the responsibility and privilege of voting:

First, we bow before God's sovereign will, knowing that He will guide events according to his plan for the ages and while we must exercise our responsibilities and will be held accountable for our free actions, He is bringing all of history to its God-glorifying, justice-rendering, mercy- and grace-filled, conclusion.  And we are to preach the Gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth to hasten that day!

Second, we acknowledge that Christ is King over His kingdom, and while it is not here in its fullness, we who are its citizens are to live as such and demonstrate the difference it makes in our choices and in where our confidence lies.  

Third, we recognize that in a fallen world, we must often choose the lesser of two evils.  No one we could respect would argue that one candidate in our national election for president is God's man, while the other is the forerunner of the Antichrist!  They are both flawed men who hold positions and beliefs that do not reflect righteousness fully.  But we must still choose and should choose the lesser of the two evils (also known as the better of two alternatives).  I read a great post on that subject here.  The best reminder there: "Not only are the choices imperfect, but so also is the chooser."