Thursday, October 22, 2015

Politicians and Character

       Anyone who knows me knows that I am a political junkie.  I don't know when it started; it could have been as early as junior high.  By the time I was in high school, politics seemed unavoidable - and I don't mean the student council level kind, although I was elected to serve on what was called the, "Council of Twenty-Five." (Ours was an experimental school at the time, and we did a lot of things that were, well, unusual.) The Vietnam War was raging on, with over half a million men fighting for... what?  We were given all sorts of reasons - and that's not the purpose of this post, so it's
Richard Nixon was elected as President
in the 1968 election in part because he
told the American people that he had
"a secret plan to end the war."
probably best not to go there right now! (Maybe another time...) But I know I couldn't wait to vote, and if I recall correctly, the voting age was lowered from twenty-one to eighteen years of age around that time.  That meant that I was able to vote in the 1972 election, and I still remember waiting in line for hours to cast my vote for... well, it wasn't the winner, I'll say that much, anyway.  But since that election, I have only failed to vote one time: in 1996.  We were living in California - San Francisco, to be exact - and I knew that every candidate I would have supported and every ballot proposition option I would have selected was a lost cause, a moderate drop that would be quickly swallowed up and lost in the midst of a sea of progressivism. Even so, that never prevented me from being vocal. I still recall a letter I received from the member of Congress who represented the district in which we lived, to whom I had written to express my views on a particular issue, asking that the vote to be cast soon take my stance into consideration.  I think the word, "snotty" is all I want to say of the tone of what was expressed in the reply.  Probably best to move on.  Anyway, if you go back a ways in the archive of this blog, you'll find a sample or two of some political thoughts.  On election day, my family knows that I'll be glued to the television set, up all night watching the returns as the votes are tallied.  Want to know how serious it can be?  Remember the referendum in Scotland in September, 2014? I stayed up all night and into the early hours of the morning, counting votes, until every last district had reported in.  Scotland!  Okay, our family is Scots-Irish, so there's a bit of a connection; but while a sane and sensible person would have been content to go to bed at a normal hour and get up in the morning to find that a majority of those voting had opted to remain in union with the rest of Great Britain, that wasn't how it was for me...
       So far in this campaign cycle, I've seen (or heard) the majority of both Republican debates (the main events, that is: I missed the "matinee" event which preceded the first major debate), and the majority of the Democrat debate, which took place just a bit over a week ago.  Frankly, the Republican debates are still too much of a circus - there are too many participants to take them all seriously.  We need someone like Gordon Ramsey to choose at least one, or maybe two, at the end of each debate, and have them turn in their microphones, and get off of the stage, and not return. Cut the
"Right. Your poll numbers are lower than
a sheep's bollocks. Hand over your
microphone and leave Hell's Stage."
number down to five.  That's still too many, but it's at least on the fringe of being manageable.  As for the Democrat debate, they started with five, but there's already been some sorting out done there, as well, with former Senator Webb withdrawing earlier this week from the contest.  That's too bad. He brought a great deal of integrity, and more than a few good ideas, in my opinion, to the discussion - when he could get a word in edgewise.  I know some commentators have dismissed him as a "whiner" for objecting to how much time was being given to others, but I thought he had a point. As I was listening, it was clear that the moderator, Mr. Cooper, was either unwilling or unable to restrain Mrs. Clinton, who repeatedly blew down the verbal "stop signs" he attempted to give her, time after time.  It was hard not to conclude that, to some degree, this was not so much a debate as a showcase, with the other four there to serve as "window dressing" against which to display Mrs. Clinton at her finest.
       The "highlight" of the debate for many was the moment when Senator Sanders gallantly sprang to Mrs. Clinton's defense regarding the email server issue, saying that the American people have had enough of the matter, and that it is time to move on.  I remember distinctly saying (I talk back to the radio or television from time to time, especially during moments such as these), "You don't speak for me, Bernie! I haven't had enough!"  Mind you, it's not that I want the details: but the entire issue is of concern to me, because it speaks to the character of the former Secretary of State as a candidate for the office of President of the United States.  Did she break the law?  Even if she did not, did she act as if she was above the law, or as if the law did not apply to her?  Did she at any time treat sensitive information in a casual or even careless manner?  If she did any of these things as the Secretary of State, would she feel in any way constrained from doing the same, or worse, if she became the President?  Did she lie about what she did?  Why did the story that she told change over time?  Why did she say at first that she didn't, and then later admit that she did?  How did she not know about the second server?  Who ordered the first server to be erased? Why wasn't the second server erased?  I mean, the list could go on, and on, and on; and that's just about the email issue.  There are others, perhaps even more important, such as what happened in Benghazi, where four Americans, including our Ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, died in a violent attack by Islamic militants on the American diplomatic compound and at another nearby location on September 11, 2012. Ten others were injured by the attacks, which occurred after requests for increased security had been denied by the U.S. Department of State, led by Secretary Clinton at that time.
       My point is not to examine the particulars of these or other criticisms made by the moderator during the debate, or by other candidates for the Democrat nomination, or by Republican candidates, or by pundits in the media.  Obviously, I have been giving this a good deal of thought, trying to decide, first of all, whether to even say anything at all.  Now, having decided that I want to make a statement that the issue is one of character, more than of content, I have to say that my thought process took a most unexpected turn this past Sunday morning.  Quite often, I will wake up before my alarm goes off to start the day, rising to get dressed and do the preparation prayers for Holy Communion - the "yellow book" and the "blue book," for those familiar with the Jordanville booklets containing the "Canons for Holy Communion" with its yellow cover, and the "Order of Preparation for Holy Communion," with its pale blue cover. Usually, I will use the time to reflect on the theme of the sermon that will be delivered after the Gospel has been read during the Divine Liturgy.  This past Sunday ran pretty much true to form, until, all of a sudden - and with no discernible connection to the sermon that I could ascertain - I realized that my focus on the character of candidate Clinton was entirely misplaced.  Has she done things that were foolish?  I have done worse.  Has she done things that were dangerous, if only potentially?  I have done worse.  Has she been wicked, a servant of evil?  There is no way I can answer that question for her or about her; but for myself, the answer, I am ashamed to say, has to be, "yes." How, then, can I presume to question or challenge her character, when my sins are undoubtedly greater, more wicked, more vile?    
       Anyone who knows me knows that I am a political junkie.  However, they also know - at least, they should know - that I do not endorse candidates, or parties, or ballot propositions.  It is not my place to use the pulpit, or the teaching authority entrusted to me, to tell you what to do in such situations. The Church is not, and should not be, a political agent.  Certainly, we have a duty and a responsibility to proclaim what is moral and acceptable and pleasing to God, and to warn of what is immoral, and therefore not pleasing to God.  The Church should be active in shaping your conscience; and, as Jiminy Cricket famously advised Pinocchio, "Let your conscience be your guide." That's good advice, as long as you are doing your best to bring your heart and mind and soul closer to knowing and doing the will of God; and if you are regular in your attendance in the worship services of the Church, are attentive to your prayers both in the worship services and in your home, if you are giving from the bounty God has entrusted to you for the needs of others, and laboring to turn away from the sins that always seem to trip you up, your conscience will not fail to give you the advice you need when it comes to knowing how to vote on any particular issue, or how to choose between the candidates for the office for which you are about to cast your vote.  Does the person support or oppose the positions you hold on matters which are of the greatest importance, or not?  Can the person be trusted to keep their word, or not?  Find out all you can, pray all the while, and then make the best decision you can make.  I will be doing my best to do the same.  We may not always arrive at the same conclusions! But we can't go wrong if we do it that way, if we fulfill our duties as citizens in this way.  It's complicated at times: are we citizens of this world, or of the world to come?  Sometimes, the answer to that question is simply, "yes"; and in holding dual citizenship, if only for a brief while, we are called upon to carry out our duties in both realms, rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's. May the God Who calls us and gives us grace to respond to His love with love grant to each of us, as the time for the crucial decisions to choose our leaders for the years ahead, and especially for the President of our nation, the remembrance that those who are seeking our support are also sinners, just like us - and that we are called to be merciful, as we hope to receive mercy.  May no harsh words pass our lips, may no anger, dismay, fear or despair trouble us in heart, mind or spirit, and may God raise up a person worthy of His blessing and our support when the time comes for us to cast our votes.
       Oh, and, don't worry.  I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll have something to say before Election Day arrives in November, 2016!