Three stories have hit me in the face this date.
Gary Johnson leaves the GOP primary race to run as a third-party candidate. (Was he ever really in the GOP primary race?) This is essentially a statement of “I can’t win this thing so I might as well lose on my own terms.” Or maybe its just a punt, I don’t know, but my point is the same. In this move Johnson goes from having almost no influence on the direction the nation is going to having no influence whatsoever. He’s not winning either way.
Bob Vander Plaats endorses Rick Santorum. The guy that brought us Mike Huckabee has finally settled on his champion. In faith heavy Iowa, one would think this is terribly important. But Vander Plaats has been doing his best imitation of a bull in a china shop, and Evangelicals in Iowa appear to be a house divided. No reports on the source of the division, but I would have to guess it is between those that want to back a winner and those that have a “principle” of some sort at stake.
The Congressional deadlock on the payroll tax. Said the WSJ:
The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.
Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he’s spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.
That’s not a bad summary of the situation and it leads to the point I really want to make. This situation has arisen because the combative new congresspersons are unwilling to compromise in the short term. It almost seems like they would rather fight than win.
The constant strain through these three stories is a desire and deep passion for the ideal outweighing progress towards the ideal. There are times where that matters, but never really in American political life. Our system is designed to produce the compromise, which is never the ideal.
This is very important to remember for the person of faith as they consider the candidates. People of faith are definitionally people of the ideal. That is much of what faith is about – an ideal to which we aspire – something that calls us to be better people. But we must remember that not everyone shares those ideals with us and in a political system designed to create the compromise our ideals, on a societal level, will never be realized.
When we consider candidates, we need to consider not who is ideal, but who can best advance the nation towards our ideal. Those are two very different things. Just some food for thought with voting now less than two weeks away.
In Other News…
Newt Gingrich still has some major structural problems. But that is not keeping some people from saying some pretty outrageous things. As reported in Christian Post, Associated Baptist Press and quoted here, The Hill:
The president of South Carolina’s largest religious organization said Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith will be a bigger concern to voters in the “morally conservative” early-voting state than Newt Gingrich’s infidelities.
Rev. Brad Atkins, the president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, which includes nearly 2,000 churches and a million members, told South Carolina’s Patch newspaper on Monday that both Romney and Gingrich could struggle in the Palmetto State because of these issues.
“In South Carolina, Romney’s Mormonism will be more of a cause of concern than Gingrich’s infidelity,” Atkins said. “Conservatives can process and pray their way through the issue of forgiveness toward a Christian that has had infidelity in their life, but will struggle to understand how anyone could be a Mormon and call themselves ‘Christian.’ ”
Yep, there it is again – theology is a bigger issue than infidelity?! Words matter more than actions?! That’s pretty astonishing when you come down to it. Some people have a different spin:
All of the stories about anti-Mormon prejudice serve to distract from Romney’s real Mormon problem, which we might as well call The Huckabee Problem. Mike Huckabee was a candidate for the Republican nomination in 2008 when he ran against the separation of church and state’s invisible wall. And that is this: There may no longer be a formal barrier to entry, but if you are thought of as a religious leader, American voters will be extremely reluctant to embrace your candidacy.
Not sure I am buying this one. There are not exact parallels between Mormon church structure and traditional Christian structure, but virtually every POTUS has served as a lay leader of some sort in their church, and that is all Romney has done. His highest office, Bishop, sits somewhere between what traditional Christians would call an Elder (the highest lay office in traditional Christian churches) and a Pastor (the lowest clerical office) but it is still simply a lay leadership position and not at all out of line with what some elders in some churches do routinely. Lott would be better off simply making the point that in general there is a greater aversion to religion in the public square period.
But that is not stopping some people from pointing out that Romney is well positioned to win this thing. As Romney advances his closing arguments both Michael Crowley and Ross Douthat are describing Romney paths to victory.
But back to the issue of religion in the public square. Romney’s faith is being targeted, directly, with only as single agenda in mind – same sex marriage. Yesterday’s Michael Medved show featured lengthy discussions with the a couple of the atheist types that have been battling public religious Christmas displays this year. They all cited Christian “bigotry” against homosexuals as something that made religion a negative force in society. One was quite vehement in his opposition to Medved’s request for donations to The Salvation Army, and I cannot think of a more egalitarian or beneficial Christian organization.
We of faith are facing a major battle in this area. It is going to get much uglier than it already has been. We can little afford infighting (or should I say glory hoarding?) and squabbling when we are confronted with this kind of fight.