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“They do not merely vote for him, they worship the ground he walks on. He is part of their religion.” — St. Louis Post-Dispatch correspondent on Huey’s popularity, 1935; from Huey Long by T. Harry Williams, p. 762.
The upside of my son’s dislocated shoulder was that it gave the two of us the opportunity to get him registered to vote for the first time. He wasn’t up to his usual schedule of places to go; people to see, so we headed down to the creepy former Savings & Loans building that serves as our county building. No simple DMV registration, no we had to go to the building that has hallways that quite literally lead nowhere. I wanted to tell him that voting can feel like that building, you turn in your singular ballot and wonder where it goes, or if it leads nowhere. Yet, I remember my grandmother talking about her childhood, how important it was when women “got the vote.”
I want my son to be informed on the issues and candidates before he votes for the first time, and he is. Does a candidate’s faith matter in an election? You’d think as a Presbyterian minister I might say, “Absolutely!”
But, I don’t. What matters to me, and what I try to convey to my son, is the person. I look at the candidate and ask:
Does the person act in accordance with what he or she believes?
Is the person a person of integrity, even under the push and pull of politics, under the whirl of p.r. spins and polls?
Is the person truthful, even when it’s unpopular?
Is the candidate self-aware, knowing his or her shadow side well? Is his or her ego in check? Or does he/she think he is “king of the world?” Queen of the world?
How does the candidate view globalization? Does he or she see other countries as threats or allies? Does he or she understand the nuances involved in international diplomacy? Or, is the candidate all about wielding power over and against other countries? Will the candidate take us into another war?
Is the candidate going into politics to be a public servant for the greater good, or is it because she or he did not get enough attention as a child and has to play that shadowy game of attention-seeking out on a political stage?
How does the candidate act in terms of children? Women? Minorities?
What are the candidates views on immigration?
Do I trust this candidate to lead our region, our state, or country in a wise direction? Is this candidate penny wise, pound foolish in terms of policies?
I have friends from a wide variety of faith traditions, and when I am voting, a candidate’s particular faith matters less to me than who that candidate is when the limelight is on, and when the limelight is off.
Representative Anthony Weiner of New York is a case in point. First he denied tweeting a lewd photo of himself to a college co-ed, then a week later he admitted he had done it. After his admission of guilt he said, “I don’t believe I did anything that violates any law or any rule.” I kept thinking to myself, as it played out in the news, what about his wife? She has a political job that he has jeopardized by his actions. What sort of humiliation must she be feeling? What about the college co-ed? The co-ed’s parents? What was he thinking? Was it all a matter of selfishness? A desire to get caught? Who knows? It was his shadow-side showing itself in the twitter-sphere and beyond, and it was a shame, on so many levels. As is true of life sometimes, “you can’t make this stuff up,” and that was true of the Anthony Weiner story.
I believe the great world religions are full of ethical behavior, which is why what the particular candidate believes is less important to me than how that shows up in his or her life and work. I want to say to some politicians, “deal with your authority issues,” and then come back to the political stage. We don’t need to see Shakespearean dramas acted out in public arenas. We have seen repeated bad behavior by politicians, believing they were above the fray in some way. I hope, by now, we can get beyond the public displays of private life dramas unfolding in real time. Unfortunately, as candidates rise in power, they have fewer people they can trust, and getting support for emotional or mental health issues becomes nearly impossible the higher they climb.
Moreover, there are countless issues for each candidate to consider. I will not agree with the candidates for whom I’m voting on every issue, but I want to know that the candidate has good reasoning for supporting what she or he is supporting, and that it’s not about campaign financing and Super PACS setting the candidate’s voting agenda.
I want my son to remember: no one is perfect. Politicians will fail us. We are all human. I am thankful my every moment is not being filmed or recorded, the pressure that politicians face in this techno-savvy era. The very thing that makes her or him perfect for politics may be the very thing that sinks her or his career, the flip side of that person. The person who loves people, may work too hard to please everyone and get nothing real accomplished. The charismatic leader may be too charismatic and too unrestrained in behavior.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, known for her tireless efforts on the abolition of slavery and support of women’s rights, said this,
“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”
In the end, I vote for a candidate I trust to act ethically. It’s a tall order, especially in the state of Illinois, a place rife with corrupt politicians. It’s a tall order, but one I urge my son to consider when punching his chads in November.