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Just Win, Baby

When it comes to discussing political issues, you can be certain of being either irrelevant, incorrect, or naive. Perhaps, with a little political savvy, all three can be accomplished.

  • Ben House,
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When it comes to discussing political issues, you can be certain of being either irrelevant, incorrect, or naive. Perhaps, with a little political savvy, all three can be accomplished. At this point in our political process as Americans, I can assume, falsely, of course, that there is no need to convince Christians to be involved in politics. "The Religious Right" is now a part of our political vocabulary, almost as common as a political phrase as "the President committed perjury." The books on Christian involvement in politics would once have fit in a small satchel with enough room left over for a sandwich or two. Now you could fill a book case with good books; you could paper your walls with newsletters; you could drive either across the whole United States or even from Texarkana to El Paso listening non-stop to lectures on the topic. Great works of the past are also being reprinted. Conservative Christians have arrived on the political scene and are there to stay.

On the one hand, there have been great gains for Christian conservatives; on the other hand, some Christian involvement has been foolish, compromising, and embarrassing. If our goal was to establish the United States as a holy commonwealth with Biblical laws and Christian morality at every level, we have failed. If our goal has been to begin to learn the process of politics and to be a bit of salt and a ray of light in a spiritually dead and dying world, we have been blessed.

Having generally introduced the topic of Christianity and politics, let me brace myself and introduce some thoughts on the subject. In politics, you have two kinds of people. You have political ideologues and you have political managers. Political ideologues are people who are motivated primarily by a set of beliefs, whether conservative, liberal, Christian, humanist, socialist, or free market. For the ideologue, sound political doctrine is everything. Mary Stuart was said to fear John Knox ( or any Calvinist who was convinced he was right) more than an army of ten thousand soldiers. Knox was ideologically committed to a commonwealth that was Christian, Protestant, and Presbyterian. The ideologue loathes compromise, pragmatism, and playing politics. For him, great issues are at stake the only good Commie is a dead Commie and compromise and appeasement are what gave the world the likes of Adolph Hitler. Every government program to the ideological conservative leads to socialism and one-world government. Every tax break to the ideological liberal leads to the oppression of the poor by the rich. Principles are all that matters.

The political manager operates under a different system. For him, politics involves one thing, that is winning. Second place winners are first losers. The manager recognizes that you must always have something to show for the effort. When the manager hears Henry Clay proclaim, "I'd rather be right than President," he has one thought: Can we win with that slogan? (The smart managers realize the answer is "No," and the Whig party goes back to nominating famous military leaders.) The manager realizes that the politics of pragmatism is politics, that compromise is the American system, and that playing politics is rough and tumble. In a political line that was hopelessly flawed, Robert Dole, a successful political manager in the Senate and a dismal one on the road to the White House, said, "If you want me to be Ronald Reagan, I'll be Ronald Reagan." Being Ronald Reagan was smart politics. It worked for Ronald Reagan twice in California as governor and twice as President. It worked once for George Bush. It worked many times for lesser candidates. Dole should have never said what he said, but he should have been Ronald Reagan. Clinton did a much better Reagan impersonationtough on crime, tough on foreign policy, "the age of big government is over." The political manager does whatever is necessary to win.

Christians in politics have fumbled and fought over whether to be political ideologues or political managers. The ideologues have marginalized themselves in the political arena. They have anathematized the Democratic party with a little help from the likes of Bill Clinton. They have threatened to rend the Republican Party, which is uncomfortably trying to keep them in the big tent and keep them quiet. Christian political managers have been rare, sometimes foolish (i.e. some endorsed Robert Dole long before he had the nomination), and generally inept. But keep in mind, the movement is young, the gains are real, we have barely begun to fight.

Where does this place us for the year 2000 Presidential election? At this moment, it appears certain (a meaningless word in electoral politics prior to election day) that Al Gore will receive the Democratic nomination, having proven that Bill Bradley was more liberal and dull. I, for one, will not write Gore off as a strong contender. Only if General Dwight D. Eisenhower decides to run again will Texas Governor George W. Bush be denied the coronation as the Republican candidate.

My ideological friends (my claims that I too am ideological will be unheard) will opt for someone else. Perhaps, Pat Buchanan, who is in the race for the third time. I love Pat Buchanan. I have read his writings, watched him on television, put his bumper sticker on my car, and voted for him twice in Arkansas primaries against all hope. If I lived in Iowa or New Hampshire, I would work for, vote for, and contribute to him in 2000. I hope he is the surprise candidate in 2000. But I don't think it will happen. Buchanan's candidacy ended in the South Carolina primary in 1996 a conservative, Southern state with a large Christian right influence which buried Buchanan under a Dole landslide. Buchanan cannot reassemble and remodel the old Ronald Reagan coalition.

What about Gary Bauer? Mr. Bauer runs a fine Christian organization that focuses on family and political issues. He is a great conservative Christian operator. He has almost no chance of winning the nomination. "Well, if we would all get behind him, send him money, vote for him, pray for him, then...." That depends on how many of us are contained in that word "all." At this point, my friends will call for the rallying of the troops behind a third party. The American Tax Payer Party (which I supported in 1992 and 1996) stands a great chance in 2000. If all of its supporters will move to Montana, we can maybe swing that state's three electoral votes. Otherwise, on a national basis, the party can attempt to outpoll Ralph Nader this next time around.

In 2000, I want to go with the political managers who are saying, "Let's win." America has a two party system. If you want to succeed in politics read that sentence several times. Third parties in America have two fates: they fizzle and go unnoticed, or they get absorbed into the larger mainstream two party system. Yes, I know that some expert is predicting the collapse of the two party system. Yes, I know that the Democrats are finished as a political party and the Republicans are going to self-destruct. Yes, I know the two major parties are hopelessly doomed. I just need to know what year or decade or era of American history you are discussing. The two parties have both been finished many times. Like the great whale, Moby Dick, the two party system swims away and the political coroner is always last seen attached as a useless appendage to the whale's great body.

Governor Bush is going to strike chords across America that will appeal to some vague nebulous body of everyday people who will put him in the White House. At various points, he will cause us to wince. He will not be pro-life enough; he will be too compromising on gun control; he will protect social security for the future (for he must win Florida); he will, like his daddy, want a "kinder, gentler" America; he will support some vague notions called "family values"; and most of all he will be for "Compassionate Conservatism." (A brilliant phrase coined by someone who understands.) He will be pragmatic; he will compromise; he will rub shoulders with the enemy; he will play politics. But, he can do something our ideological favorites cannot do: He can win.

We will continue this line of thought in a later article, but for now I will leave with this political philosophy: Better Solomon than Adonijah; better Constantine than Nero; better Elizabeth than Mary; much better Roosevelt and Churchill than Hitler and Mussolini; and better George W. Bush than Al Gore. Meanwhile, lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence, and pray for our king.


  • Ben House

Ben House is the author of Punic Wars & Culture Wars: Christian Essays on History and Teaching and the the editor of HouseBlog.

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