Watching Politics From the Pew: Debates and Truth

Each week in Watching Politics From the Pew, Benjamin Bartlett offers a thoughtful Christian perspective on the latest political happenings in the news.

One thing Christians ought to love is truth.  Truth is about knowing what is actually real rather than a twisted, disproportional version of events.  Truth is about cutting past lies people tell each other and themselves.  Truth is about saying what is and responding appropriately.

I think one of the most discouraging things about watching political campaigns is that truth is so obscured.  Candidates promise they will do things –on their first day in office- that they never will do.  Their campaign staffs bicker and snipe at each other, trying to control the storyline of events long past.  And above all, they engage in some of the silliest and most meaningless debates you will ever see.

See, politicians know that most voters don’t vote after careful study of the candidates; they vote based on gut feelings about the candidates who agree with their issues.  And so presidential debates –for the highest office in the land!- tend to devolve into weirdly uncomfortable rituals whereby a candidate is trying to do three things.  1. Beat expectations, whatever those expectations may be.  2. Come across as being the strongest, emotionally, on the issues (though not necessarily the most knowledgeable).  3. Get at least one zinger in there.  Because, you know, it’s important for the leader of the free world to be able to use a quip that his staff wrote and coached him on.

We watch these things and we are embarrassed.  We wish the candidates could appoint someone to speak for them (actually, I happen to think this is a brilliant idea.  Each candidate appoints one person to debate FOR them.  This could only result in a higher quality discussion, right?). And we are bothered by the notion that we have to pick one of these people.

So it was with cautious happiness that I saw most people who reviewed the Tea Party debate saying Romney won and/or did the most to advance his candidacy on the basis of being better prepared and more knowledgeable than Perry.  It is an unusual blow for the truth when the person who knows more in a presidential primary debate gets stronger as a result.  And it almost makes you hope that we may yet pick the best choice from among those who are running.  But then you are reminded of the attitude of the average American voter (such as the people Jay Leno used to talk to on his Jaywalking bit), and you lose hope.

But as I mused on these things, I was reminded that often I am like your average American voter in my capacity as a church member.  I give too much credit to those who are successful in other areas of life, and not enough to those whose greatest strength is knowledge of Scripture.  I love bold statements that agree with my theological outlook more than I love the careful wisdom of a brother who has spent his life following Christ.  And I look for silver bullet solutions to growing the Body rather than trusting in the power of the Spirit.

Presidential debates are usually ridiculous, but for better or worse they expose the great human tendency to love style over substance.  Hopefully our disgust and even moments of hope while watching these debates will inspire us to greater thoughtfulness about how God reveals his Truth within the many members of His Church.

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.


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