As I listened to Ann Romney and Michelle Obama talk about their husbands’ character, compassion, integrity, honesty, commitment, intelligence, generosity, kindness, love and patriotism, I thought, “These guys must be on the fast track to sainthood at the Vatican.”
It’s like both campaigns feel a need to portray their candidates as wonderful people, right up there with Mother Theresa. And then after the conventions, the PACs of both parties are focusing on destroying those images – amplifying any choice of words that give the wrong impression, any statement captured on an iPhone when the candidate thought he was speaking off the record, any comment made when he thought the sound system had been turned off.
Is that what we want? Is that what we expect? John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Cardinal Bernardin and Dr. Martin Luther King all rolled into one? I heard that is why Colin Powell didn’t run for president in 1996.He didn’t want to put himself and his family through that kind of high-expectation, knit-picking, character-assassinating wringer.
And then I imagined the spouses of all the candidates running for mayor next time around, giving public speeches in which they would paint their partners as candidates for sainthood. I think most of us would roll our eyes and shake our heads. It’s not because they’re bad people but because we know them too well. We will vote for one of them, not because he/she is perfect but because we make the judgment that one will do the job a little better than the other.
No perfection expected. No utopia anticipated or demands for heaven to be brought to earth. Simply that one will do a little bit better job than the other. That’s all. Just a little bit better.
One way to look at religion is that it is an attempt to figure out how the ideal and the perfect have anything to do with the ambiguous reality in which we live. In a small town where we bump into each other often, where we are seen on our good days and our bad days, it’s hard to believe that anyone, running for office or not, is anywhere close to perfect.
In my opinion, that is healthy. We are all – to speak in religious language – sinners. We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. We’ve all spoken out of turn, hurt other people, messed up relationships and been dishonest, if not to others then certainly to ourselves.
Jesus said, “Let those who are without sin, throw the first stone.” That goes for elected officials. It goes for newspaper columnists. It goes for how we talk about village affairs with our friends as we are eating breakfast at Louie’s.
It’s not that we can’t criticize what elected officials say or the decisions they make. It’s one thing, however, to make a respectful criticism and it’s another thing to throw personal, demonizing stones. Respectful criticism contributes to the public good. Stone-throwing, in the long run, tears it down. That’s why I won’t listen to Michael Moore and Stephen Colbert on the left or Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on the right.
As I view the world through my religious lens, what I see is that none of us is perfect. It’s deceitful for politicians to pretend that they are, and it’s unfair if not delusional for voters to demand that candidates show us that they are squeaky clean before we’ll vote for them.
Character does matter, but it’s also important to take logs out of our own eyes before looking for specks in the eyes of the 1%, the 47%, or the 99%.
I can’t make billionaires stop creating negative attack ads that attempt to win elections by demonizing candidates they oppose. What I can do is say to my friends and neighbors, “Let’s stick to substance in the way we talk to and about each other. Let’s not impugn another person’s motives. Let’s not make it personal.”
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