Fulfilled in Jesus

Our pilgrimage with our Beloved in Japan -- Yoko & Ramone on the journey with Jesus!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hating Politics Intelligently


If you're going to say that you "hate politics," then make sure that you hate politics for the right reasons. Do it intelligently...

You see, it's very popular to say "I hate politics" and "I hate politicians," but many people say these things and feel these ways who actually don't know very much about politics... Don't let the popularity of "hating politics" be a substitute for being unable to actually understand politics. If we don't understand something, then it's far better to refrain from passing judgment on it than to write it all off.

In 1992 and throughout the early Clinton years, my family and I hated Bill Clinton. Somehow he just seemed so fake. We didn't have any actual intelligent reason for hating him or thinking he was dishonest, but somehow he felt like the epitome of "dishonest politician" to us. We were average Americans with our minds, feelings and hearts back in the patriotic bliss of the Ronald Reagan years.

We supported the first Iraq War. I was enamoured with the military and remember watching each news update about the war (it's eerie to remember how the news updates began with dramatic timpani montages), and then visiting the national mall to see all the different types of helicopters on display (and a Harrier as well). We were determined to support the troops and veterans -- in a way, to make up for the lack of support (and even hostility) they received after the Vietnam war.

What I realize in looking back is that the patriotism we had during those years offered a very basic, black & white view of everything. To love America meant to support the troops. To support the troops meant to support the war. Like soldiers themselves, "politics" didn't come into it. We could easily identify with their honorable, sacrificial spirit, their laying down their own lives. Anyone who would argue against the war would thus be arguing against the troops, and how could anyone argue against their honorable sacrifice?

Service. Sacrifice. Soldiers of honor. Country. Patriotism. These were the things that spoke to our hearts, the things that seemed so incredibly un-political. They were moral issues, things of valor and virtue. And we hated "politics."

I mention this example of my family during the first Iraq war because these sentiments are still very common in the United States. It is still popular for people to support the nation's wars (and president) and yet believe that they "hate politics." The word "politics" is a conversation-stopper. Anyone who argues against an American war must simply be "political."

Yes, politics involves bending the truth and lying. But above all these things (rather, underneath) lies the fact that politics involves manipulation. The politician (left or right) always seeks to connect with the emotions of the listener. The politician has an "image" to craft and sustain. They choose their words carefully. They want to be seen as a "straight-talker", they want to be seen as "honest" and "honorable."

Why? Because Americans vote by image, by impression, by sight, and by "faith." Americans vote on "character," and yet that is the ONE THING that is the most easily manipulated by proper image-projection.

If the politician can say the "right" things, the emotions of the listeners will be moved. If the politician can tap into the right veins of the listeners, the sentiments, then he/she can completely divert the listeners' attention away from the facts. A recent example was the Biden-Palin debate, where Biden listed problems with the (2nd) Iraq war, the way it was planned and begun, and the difficulty of the situation there, and Palin responded by saying that Biden was "playing the blame game." With such a response, Palin taps into that American vein that "hates politics" and seems "unconstructive." But it was actually no answer to what Biden said. It was a diversion. Yet because of the way she said it, and because it taps into cultural sympathies, it sounds like an answer. Speaking something of substance is not as important as speaking something that sounds good. This goes for all sides involved.

What makes an audience cheer? What are the things you want to be said from the platform? Listen next time you see a rally or hear a speech on TV. And think about it. Take a step back and watch what's happening in front of you. Realize that there is more going on than meets the eye. Even if the politician is a "good person" underneath or believes in what he/she is saying or doing, it doesn't change the fact that an image is being presented, and that he/she is trying to tap into your veins to sway your feelings and capture your devotion.

If you don't understand politics enough to recognize how manipulation occurs and when it is occuring, you're going to be deceived by politicians.

Listen to me, please!

Even if you "hate politics"
and especially if you don't pay attention to politics --
even if you feel this way,
that does not make you immune to being deceived by politicians.


Because a political can and will come along who will not seem like "a politician." Someone will come along looking like a plain-talker, looking like an honest person, and talking like an every-man or every-woman.

People who say they "hate politics"
--but don't know how manipulation works--
are some of the first people to fall victim to manipulative politicians.


Smart politicians recognize that there are people who "hate politics," and they aim to get this group of people to support them. Why? Because there are a lot of common everyday people who "hate politics," but actually do not know very much about politics or how manipulation works. If the politician can present him/herself as being "un-political" or as being someone who him/herself "hates politics," then even the most politic-hating simple folk among us will get on board that politician's bandwagon.

No one wants to believe that his/her candidate is "political." Everyone wants to think that his/her candidate is "different" and an honest, straight-talker. We cite these kinds of reasons for supporting one person, and remain completely blinded to the fact that our own candidate is using the same type of image-making and manipulation to keep our support and gather more supporters.

I'm not saying "don't support anyone" and I'm not saying "don't vote." But I am saying that intelligent supporting and voting begins with understanding that the candidate you support is not everything they present themselves to be. You can support and vote for a candidate, but do so intelligently. Don't just "hate politics" and vote for the person that looks "less political." There is an image created and sold to you, and each candidate is staffed with image-making advisors, marketers and social analysts who try to tap into as many public sentiments as possible. To go into this fray intelligently, (and even to successfully stay out of the fray) you need to understand:

1) What my sentiments are - what moves me
2) Every politician (no matter how honest-looking) is going for my sentiments
3) "Hating politics" without understanding this makes you vulnerable to political manipulation
4) You're actually safer studying politics than hating them and being ignorant

Listen to people who are not merely trying to get your support, but rather listen to people who are trying to explain to you how things work. The person who is trying to educate you is offering you a service and a double-edged sword -- because you can still choose to not vote for that person! That person may be completely mistaken! And if you don't understand, don't go for the person who seems better or looks more honest! To do so is just to play into their image. To do so is to be a victim of politics.

If you don't want to be a victim of "politics," then learn about politics, understand yourself, your feelings, your motivations, and don't forget the image game that is going on on all sides. Vote intelligently knowing that this is what's going on, and that you've got to look further than the image. Not at "character" (that too is an image), but rather at the more important things the campaign is trying to accomplish -- retention (or capture) of power, policies to enrich lobbying supporters, etc.

And once you've uncovered one of these important things, don't stop there. Get a bigger perspective. Don't be a "one issue" voter. For example, a candidate (or party) might appear to refrain from stealing money at home, but they may be supporting trade agreements that impoverish and cheat people in the third world. Or a candidate may support the life of unborn children, but they may be sacrificing other lives for wars overseas. Be smart and look past the "one" issue. Look further if you're going to get into this stuff.

*****

For myself, personally I don't like politics mostly because of compromise. It's necessary to compromise, always. It is tough to be idealistic. It is tough to do the right thing. If you do the right thing, you will lose support and you will not get elected.

Listen, there's no escaping this: It has been the way of American politics since the very foundation of the country. Thomas Jefferson wanted to include a clause in the Declaration of Independence that would stop slavery in the new country. But it had to be removed in order to gain the support of all the colonies. Politics---even in America---has and always will involve compromising with evil. The tag-line for Steven Spielberg's film "Munich" told the truth about all politics,

"Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values."

The politician's job is to make you (the voter) believe that he/she is not compromising, but is being straight, honest, true, moral, "of character," un-wavering, resolute, steadfast, ...uncompromising.

But politics (left and right) are built on compromising. Understanding this is a beginning to understanding what's going on and casting your vote intelligently. So get past the idea that your candidate is uncompromising. No. Your candidate will be uncompromising until it is politically expedient for him/her to be otherwise.

I like to be idealistic. Some people would say this is foolish, that I am foolish, but it's my choice to live this way and be this way, so I'll do the best I can from where I am. But this is one reason I dislike politics. Yet more than I dislike politics, I dislike politicians masquerading as if they are "not political." I hate wolves in sheep's clothing. That's why I'm writing this.

*****

I should add something. I don't blame politicians for all of this stuff. The fact is that like the paparazzi, they do what they do because it is what we want and what we expect. Politicians give us an "image" because that's what we want. We want super-human people, not fallible humans. When Jimmy Carter once said that he occasionally had bad temptations, he got criticized... by Christians!! Chrisitans, the people who bear the message of "the gospel of grace", gave him no grace. When it comes to the way we look at politicians, we expect them to be perfect. So of course they polish their image to look as perfect as possible.

Somehow part of the unspoken "deal" between the public and politicians is that there is almost no mercy for mistakes, almost no room for apology, and almost no room for grace.

Politics is not the realm of grace. And the public--Christians included--do not want it that way, either. Politics is a place where everyone turns off "grace" mode and switches to almost a complete "law" mode.


You can't apologize in politics. Well, you can, but it will almost certainly kill your political career. The other side will accuse you of inconsistency, incompentancy, etc. And not just the other side, but the public and your own supporters will do it, too. They may even do it first. I confess that I would not want to be a politician! There are many politicians who go into the fray and, I think, really do try to do good and make a difference. But they have to learn to compromise their values, guard and "shape" their image. Simply because politics is the realm of ungrace.

So I don't completely blame "politicians". And while I get irritated when I see politicians being deceptive and manipulating the public, I also get irritated at the public for swallowing it so thoroughly most of the time! For not learning from the last time a politician pulled it on them. For buying into character attacks. For believing nice-sounding words. For being distracted by coy answers that dodge real issues. One reason I dislike "politics" is because we the public are so easily deceived by it. I don't like the "game" of politics that is played between politicians and the public. It takes two to tango, and you can't put all the blame on politicians. There would be no 'dance' if there were no 'partner'.

And I want to make this clear: a "true, honest politician" is not going to fix this situation. A true, completely honest and straightforward politician would never get voted for. Because not only is "politics" an anti-grace environment, the public itself is not prepared to give grace, either. The public radiates "law"-based expectations, judgment, unforgiveness, bitterness, and ungrace. The public is anti-grace. If a politician were completely straightforward and honest, he/she would be openly human, admitting mistakes, asking for pardon & forgiveness, and admitting he/she were still learning and trying to do their best. "We the people" would have no grace for such a person.

I think the only thing that can break the cycle is for us all to become grace-full. Perhaps it would be a witness enough --a testimony-- for a politician to go into office, be honest, transparent and vulnerable, and get shot down. Get heckled. Get removed from office by the public's unforgiveness. It would be a gospel-like testimony. See, we place emphasis on winning, on staying in office. (As one person quipped, "The goal of any first-term administration is always ...a second term"). Losing is out of the question. We would never think that losing might actually be a bigger victory than winning.

But that is the math of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What looks like "loss" can actually be victory. What looks like crucifixion turns out to be the defeat of evil. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Good defeated is stronger than evil triumphant."

*****

Finally I must confess something obvious -- that I do not understand everything about these things. There is more that I do not understand than that I do understand. I don't hate the candidates---I don't know them personally well-enough to hate them. I can hate policies and tactics, but I should not hate the people themselves. I don't need to spend my time (or heart) reacting to their projected image, whether positively or negatively. I can't cast my vote and my heart based on the way candidates appear or sound. I owe it to the world to be more intelligent than that. As I am in another country now and have other things before me, I'm choosing not to get fully involved in the American election at this time.

And my heart is also given to Another, to Someone who rose from the dead. And I am concerned about people who bear His name and yet at the same time do not understand when they are being manipulated. I am filled with a zeal for Him and for them. I want them to be the intercessors He has called us to be. I want them to be salt in the world, to bear the message of His grace. We've been failing at this badly in the last decade, and I want to help --one person at a time-- change that.

God bless you!
In Jesus,
Ramone

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