Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Wednesday
Jun152011

SIZING UP THE SILLY SEASON

The business of government is mostly housekeeping, but during political campaigns we convert it to theology.

"The Silly Season" happens every four years, when we have a presidential election campaign.  When James "Scotty" Reston was Washington correspondent for The New York Times in the 1950's, he applied the silly-season label to our electoral process.  The label was accurate then.  It still is.

James "Scotty" RestonWe have just seen two spectacular examples – Donald Trump backing the birthers and Sarah Palin's bus tour through New England.  Were these staged-events trial-balloons for the Republican nomination?  Or, were they publicity stunts to promote the Trump and Palin brands?  Probably both.

The President – every President – has special leverage to stage similar events.  It's easiest to do internationally.  President Obama received a spectacular reception as an O'Bama when he toured Ireland because his mother was Irish.  It was an easy way for him to court the American Irish vote.  Look for President O'Bama to be the Honorary Grand Marshall on March 17, 2012, for a major St. Patrick's Day Parade, such as Boston, Chicago or New York.

Superficial nonsense is built into electioneering – for at least four reasons:

+  We enjoy flashy showmanship.

+  Dramatic, emotional statements appeal to our prejudices and sway our opinions.

+  To grab our attention, issues have to be simplistic -- ideally reduced to memorable sound bites.

+  Significant issues are complex, difficult to understand, and perhaps impossible to solve.  Actually dealing with them in a campaign is a sure way to bore the public and lose votes.

John Charles FremontYes, campaigning has to be simple and specific to reach voters and sway them. And effective simplicity in politics is also an act of genius. The best political slogan ever belonged to John Charles Frémont in the 1856 campaign: "Free Soil. Free Men. Frémont." Those five words told the story for the first Republican presidential candidate, whose platform was homesteading the West and freeing the slaves.

Realities of the Campaign

Events during campaigns cause unexpected issues to emerge.  Probably neither candidate will have personal convictions on the matter.  They'll take positions which they think will win the most votes.

Campaigns are unbelievably exhausting for the candidates – often candidates endure 16-hour days packed with events, TV, handshakes and speeches, followed by strategy meetings after 1 a.m. in some motel.

This year, the Republicans lack a candidate who can unite the whole party -- a normal situation for either party not in power.  If General David Petraeus just wiggles his pinkie, the Republicans will probably stampede to nominate him next summer.  And he would be far from their worst choice.  

General David PetraeusGeneral Petraeus is highly intelligent and has balanced judgment.  He's an honors grad from West Point, with a Ph.D from Princeton in international relations.  Like the President, he has served time as a university professor. But he has never run for public office, and after Afghanistan, he is in line to head the CIA. What would cause him to run for president?  A sharp, public disagreement with the President -- so look for President Obama to get along nicely with him.

You see, the presidency is a special role in our society.  We would never be so stupid as to hire a person with no direct prior experience to coach an NFL team, but we've had a number of innocent, ignorant presidents, some of them generals.

Normally, an incumbent president owns the nomination to a second term.  And so it will probably be for Barack Obama.  But, the Democrats have another viable candidate -- Hillary Clinton.  Mrs. Clinton has burnished her image as Secretary of State and now leads the President in popularity poles.  If Mrs. Clinton resigns in the next few months -- or publicly disagrees with Mr. Obama -- she's running for president again.

Are presidential campaigns silly wastes of time?  In theory, campaigns educate the public, but they’re more distortion than education.  However, campaigns have real value, as George Will pointed out in 2008. Campaign intensity is both training for and prediction of a person's performance as president. 

Example:  In 2007 and 2008, Barak Obama came from way behind Hillary Clinton to capture the Democratic nomination.   Why?  Better staffing, better planning, and a more appealing message.

Mary Matalin and James Carville, still marriedThe best book on a presidential campaign is All's Fair by Mary Matalin and James Carville.  It's not only the best, but probably the best that can be written. 

Why?  In 1992, James and Mary were engaged.  They were also the directors of political operations for, respectively, Democratic nominee William Clinton and Republican President George H. W. Bush.  Their book takes you through the campaign, going back and forth between Mary and James' experience of the same events.  It's safe to predict that their scenario won't be repeated.

Sideline info:  At the end of each day, they talked on the phone – but never about politics.  When the election returns were in and Clinton had won, Mary called James, cussed him out for five minutes, and slammed down the receiver.  Asked about his reaction, the Ragin' Cajun answered calmly, "Oh, if she'd won, I'd probably have done the same."

How Political Discourse Has Deteriorated:  The Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Each presidential candidate will claim some variation of the old theme:  "I want to campaign on the issues, but my opponent continues to avoid the issues and deals in personalities."

Nonsense.  Neither candidate will want a full, reasoned discussion of real issues.

Stephen A. DouglasLincoln and Douglas could fully discuss the slavery issue in their Illinois senatorial campaign of 1858, but a corresponding discussion is impossible today:  (1)  Our attention span is too short.  (2)  In-depth discussion of any issue would bore the electorate and would lose votes.  (In 1858, an audience could take a half day of speeches and consider it entertainment.  During the 2012 campaign, check the candidates' web sites.  They will outline their programs in some detail, but almost no one will read their web sites, except their opponents.) 

(3)  TV needs sound bites, not detailed, documented reasoning -- and America now gets its info primarily from TV. Most TV shows neither need nor want in-depth presentations. They're entertainment. One of the excellent TV shows may discuss creative legislative programs or structural changes in government, but the ratings will be low.

To show how our political life has deteriorated in a century and a half, consider:

The format for the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates was that one man spoke for 60 minutes, then the other for 90 minutes, then the first had a 30-minute "rejoinder."  The candidates alternated as to who spoke first to the huge crowds at each of the seven successive debates.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas' situation differed much from today's candidates.  They were neighbors.  They had both courted Mary Todd, who married Mr. Lincoln.  Regarding the '58 election, the two men met and agreed on their series of debates.  They didn't need staff to negotiate the terms.

Abraham Lincoln. He grew a beard after he was elected President.The leading Chicago newspapers sent stenographers to catch every word of the debates.  The Chicago papers printed complete texts of the debates, and they were reprinted in full by other papers across the United States. 

Until 1914, U.S senators were elected by the State legislatures, so both Douglas and Lincoln each were attempting to win a majority of legislators for his party – so the winner could go to the Senate.  The Democrats and Douglas won.  Or so it appeared.

After the '58 election, Lincoln compiled the texts of the debates into a book which sold well.  It was one of the events leading to Lincoln's winning, in 1860, both the Republican nomination and the Presidency -- and defeating the Democratic candidate, Stephen A. Douglas.

Be sure to read some of the debates -- there are excerpts in the Wikipedia article, "Lincoln-Douglas Debates".  The debates were significant, but they were politics, not political science dissertations.  Both Lincoln and Douglas were shameless in their appeals to audience bigotry.  It was politics as usual, but at a deep and thorough level.

What We Can Expect

In contrast, what can we expect from the presidential campaign of 2012?  The candidates will speak millions of words on a few "issues":  Obamacare, the Federal deficit, our wars in the Middle East, for example.  There will be much heat, little light.  The candidates will be speaking mostly to their electoral bases – not for public education.  Of course, they will shave their positions in an attempt to appeal to independents in the middle.  But candidates' positions often don't affect the election nearly as much as peoples' gut feelings.

A good example was the 1948 election.  The Republicans had a sure win, they thought.  Harry Truman, the Democratic president, was not highly regarded.  And two portions of the Democratic party had split off -- the Dixiecrats in the South had nominated Strom Thurmond.  Henry Wallace was the Progressive candidate.  So, Republican Tom Dewey was marching confidently to the White House.  But, on the day after the election we all woke up to discover that Harry Truman had been re-elected.  

Why?  Depth polling showed that people voted for Harry as the conservative candidate.  Well, that puzzled the Republicans.  But Harry was conservative in this sense:  The post-World War II recovery was well under way. People wanted to keep what they had and build on it.  They felt safer with Harry Truman than with Tom Dewey.  Politics is like football.  The smart money always bets on Goliath.  But, you never can be sure. 

And in the 2012 campaign, one or two unexpected events will occur – almost meaningless in the sweep of history – but they will be headline grabbers in 2012.

Richard M. NixonFor example, do you remember Quemoy and Matsu?  Probably not.  But they were an example of an election issue blown out of proportion.  Quemoy and Matsu received lots of air time in the 1960 debates between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. 

Both candidates pledged military support for the Nationalist Chinese government of Chiang-Kai-shek on Taiwan.  Separated from mainland China by 100 miles of the South China Sea, Taiwan also retained possession of two small islands, Quemoy and Matsu, only five miles from mainland China.  The population of the islands was mostly military who hunkered in the bunkers because the island and the Red China mainland regularly traded cannon volleys.

So, the two presidential candidates in 1960 tried to outmaneuver each other in their support of Chang and these two inconsequential islands.  Support was premised on the notion that if Quemoy and Matsu fell to Red China, so would Taiwan. Neither candidate and few in the media had sense enough to challenge this domino theory.  They should have said, "I understand everything except the 'therefore'."

What We Cannot Expect

John F. KennedyBarack Obama is an unusually intelligent President, and he will probably voice some sentiments about "telling the truth to the American people" during the campaign.  And he may tell a bit of the truth that he knows, but what he can say during the next 18 months is limited.  He and his presidential opponent may be fully aware of the real issues, but they won't be able to discuss them.  Why?  They would lose votes, rather than win them.

Here are some issues that we won't hear about during the 2012 campaign:

The United States is on a self-destructive course because:

We have a Federal budget which we cannot afford, with the chief discretionary expenditures being those for the bloated military/industrial complex.  We are using wars to bolster our economy -- thus inflating the deficit.

We do not have the political will to levy the taxes needed to pay for the expenditures.

The value of the dollar is drastically declining.  While we do not yet have run-away inflation, we can expect it.

We are becoming an eastern province of China, which is now buying nearly half of our new national debt in Treasury bills each year.  And have you noticed how much of our consumer goods are Chinese manufactures?

A large portion of the population is living out of the Federal till – including me, with my Social Security benefits. However, subsidies to the rich vastly exceed subsidies to the poor.  That's nothing new.  The wealthy have been disproportionately subsidized throughout our national history.

The United States is rapidly declining – but still retaining the trappings of empire - living on borrowed funds and deficit spending, with self-righteous strong-arm foreign policies to impose our international control, permanent warfare, and a wealthy elite that is exempt from military service.  (It didn't work for Rome; it probably won't work for us either.)

Most presidential candidates in the past 50 years have claimed that we should free ourselves from dependence on Middle-Eastern oil.  Our oil freedom is technologically possible; politically impossible.  Oil companies still dominate our national policies and our foreign wars.

Meanwhile, we farm out more of our manufacturing, especially to Southeast Asia.  Look at all those lovely restaurants and botiques on our Main Streets.  Economically, we are more and more a nation that is trying to survive by taking in each others' laundry.

Speaking of laundry, this list could go on and on – the erosion of civil liberties, the national drift towards totalitarianism, the threat of climate change, and the consequences of economic selfishness – unemployment, foreclosesures, homelessness, a growing percentage of people in poverty.

Democracy has turned out to be not majority rule, but rather rule by well-organized. well-connected groups who steal from the rest of us.

Turning the Nation Around

Will we be able to turn this Nation around so that we again have a rapidly expanding economy –- with hope and vision for the future?

I'm not holding my breath.  Are you?

Yet, our national economic salvation, if it happens, may come from an unexpected quarter – the people we work so hard to keep out – Hispanics and Southeast Asians.  Nearly every one is an entrepreneur.  They couldn't make it in the old country, so they come here determined to become wealthy Americans - just as Europeans did in past centuries. But the new immigrants have what many Americans now lack – spunk.  I look to the new immigrants to provide our future businesses and industries.

Robin WilliamsAnd what about the professional politicians?  Recently, I watched the Robin Williams movie, Man of the Year.  His curtain line was: "Politicians are like diapers.  They should be changed frequently – and for the same reason."

Into the Deeper Realities

That's funny -- and it has to be true, or it wouldn't be funny.  Yet, Robin's wit is also a cheap shot.  For over two centuries we have used politicians as whipping boys for our wit.  Yet they are the people to whom we, wisely or unwisely, entrust our governments – Federal, state, county and city. What of them?

I seriously considered going into public service -- politics and government. That's why I went to law school. But, I diverted from that goal by getting involved in inner-city ministry in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine. However, I have been enough involved in politics and government to realize deeper realities:

*  Some people in politics and government have ability and balanced judgment, as well as being genuinely motivated by the ideals embodied in our Constitution. As citizens, we have the responsibility to identify, encourage, support and pray for them.  We will find them in both political parties.  We also need to pray for more of them -- and encourage and support them when we find them.

*   Proverbs tells us, "Without a vision, the people perish."  True then.  Still true today.  And we depend on an occasional excellent candidate for public office to provide us with a vision for our nation, state, or city.

*    Most of the events of the presidency -- and other public offices -- are unexpected.  So, the main quality we need in public servants is balanced judgment, and balanced judgment is not an abstract quality.  If you join a people in making decisions, you see the quality of their judgment.  But there is so much chaff in the media, it's almost impossible to get a real feel for how a candidate makes decisions.  However, check the Rolling Stone interviews with presidential candidates.   They may be biased, but they'll have enough depth to provide insights.

*  Many people in politics and government are motivated by ambition, greed, and other deadly sins. Others are well-meaning, but inept.  As citizens, we have the responsibility to identify and oppose them, as well as praying for our deliverance.

*   Evidently, as citizens, we can expect three presidents during our lifetime who are great speakers.  With other presidents, we have at least four years of discomfort -- and often years of anguish.

*  Also, perhaps no more than once in our lifetime will we be able to wholeheartedly support a presidential candidate.  And he or she will inevitably disappoint us.  (More on that later)

*   I encourage you to get involved in party politics at the local level.  You may discover the local politicos to be a sleazy collection.  Yet, the promotion of new candidates depends on them.  They are the base of our government.

*   So, if you seek a miracle.  Here are two:  

That the United States of America has survived.  (For the first 80 years, that was in doubt.)

That our government works as well as it does.

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Quote:

"There are no great men.  Only ordinary men.  However, at times, ordinary men make extraordinary responses to great challenges."                                                                               --  "Bull" Halsey

[That's a good quote to remember when sizing up candidates.  And who was Bull Halsey?  Admiral William Halsey commanded the U.S. Third Fleet at the battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.  It was the largest naval battle in world history.  During the naval battle, most of the remaining Japanese fleet was destroyed.]

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Purpose of this blog is to compile a book for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2011 by Jack Towe

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