I recently had dinner with a good friend that was loudly pronouncing his intention to write in Ron Paul for president Tuesday. He knew of my activities on this blog so he did not even wait for me to ask “Why?” He launched right in.
His reasoning was straightforward. Our nation and society appears to be in decline. (I can’t argue with that.) There is little essential difference between Republicans and Democrats. (Not sure I agree with that, but I let him continue.) All that happens when we elect Republicans is that we slow the decline. (I agree with that assessment entirely.) Therefore we need a truly new and radical approach, hence Dr. Paul.
OK, it was a very pleasant dinner and I learned long ago better than to argue with a Paul-pod so I moved the conversation on, but I have been thinking about it a lot, particularly because I agree so deeply on his comments about decline. Where my friend and I would deeply disagree is that it is not government or politics job to reverse societal and cultural decline. That job belongs to churches, schools, and to us as individuals.
The American form of government reflects the society and culture around it, it does not shape it. That’s what it means to be a democracy. This is what lies at the heart of de Tocquville’s now almost trite quote “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.” I agree with De Tocquville’s sentiment but I disagree with his pessimism.
If government acted in a vacuum, he would be absolutely correct. But it does not; it acts in concert with any number of cultural shaping institutions (that would be those schools and churches) that are counterbalances to the forces of greed and moral/ethical decay that seem to drive the world. In church talk, this is a simple statement of our “sinful nature.” In theology talk we would call this a consequence of “original sin.”
Fortunately, now that we have gotten to the church talk, there are also the concepts of grace, redemption and sanctification. I do not want this to descend too deep into theology, but religion provides a means for us to overcome this continual decline, our sinful nature. It is not the job of government to do that, it is the job of government to stay out of the way of religion, while religion does that. (This is, in fact, a good yardstick for where it may be suitable for government to interfere with religion. If religion teaches something that contributes to the social and cultural decline, as opposed to attempts to reverse it, then it may be up to government to decide such is an unsuitable religion for a decent nation.)
We have discussed endlessly here about the ways in which the Obama administration is interfering with the practice of religion – and then in fact contributes to the social and cultural decline. However, a third party vote will not help stop that decline. It will only acknowledge the decline – in a sense reflect it. While I agree that a vote for a Republican will not reverse the decline, a vote for a Republican will move us in a direction where the church will be free to operate in our nation and IT will reverse the decline – provided it does it task well. If the decline is not reversed, I must wonder if the issue is not more with the church than the government, but that is a discussion for another time.
I have noted that my life has been increasingly unpleasant in recent months. I am richly blessed financially and with friends and loved ones. But it just seems hard to do things anymore. I have heard people complain that things they used to be able to get done with a quick email to a government agency now require the completion of a 15-page form. That’s just irritating and that irritation reflects in their attitude. In my own professional experience dealing with government agencies I have numerous instances where that which was formerly a “fixit ticket” is now a severe fine-able offense. This builds resentment in my clients and that resentment is reflected in their attitude towards customers and vendors.
I know of an emeritus professor (meaning “honored”) at a university that was recently handed, quite rudely, around the campus for hours in a simple effort to obtain a parking pass. This by people he had worked with and along side for decades.
But even more deeply, I note “life on the street” seems more unpleasant. My wife and I take long and extensive daily walks. We live in a relatively quiet suburban neighborhood, but in the last few months our walks feel more like we are in Manhattan. Crossing street is more a game of “dodge ‘em” than it is testament to California’s previously famous courtesy to pedestrians. We were recently accosted by a woman who objected to our standing on the public sidewalk to “speak” to her cats. Simple business transactions have grown increasing problematic. I had the simple scheduling of an appointment stretch into a series of emails amongst four or five people that went on for an entire afternoon and resulted in accusations of personal insult.
I am willing to bet that you have similar stories to tell as well.
Folks, people are just not happy right now. This is, I believe a reflection of both what is going on in the nation generally and of our elected leadership. Let’s face it – Obama is a petulant, truculent, prickly pear of a human being. It began with “I won” and it pinnacled in the incredibly sulky first debate performance. When that first debate “outed” his sulkiness, he responded with an even more unpleasant biting nastiness. When this is the tone set by the leadership of the nation, it seems natural that such would be the tone seen in the nation. In this case the nation reflects its elected leadership.
Reflecting On The Reflections
And so, as the vote approaches we must ask ourselves what candidate best reflects the culture and society we want and what candidate sets the tone that we would most like to reflect. Do we want a candidate that impedes the institutions that better our society and culture or one that will set them free? Do we want a candidate that responds with petulance and biting sarcasm, or one that models grace, good will and confidence?
It is a stark and simple choice that the nation faces next week. I truly believe that the majority of the nation clings to some concept and understanding of the Almighty because it is our deepest desire to live in a good, free nation and not to succumb to the forces that de Tocquville foresaw. If you read this blog, you likely believe the same way. In these last hours, we must all work to spread both our faith and our optimism – for such will work naturally towards the vote that we believe is necessary to preserve that faith and optimism.
I look forward to a long night, but a good outcome Tuesday. And mostly I look forward to a post election nation where the gloom, clamor and nastiness recedes into the mists of history for another few decades. I think we all do. All we need to do now is press hard to get there.