Four years ago, on the first Tuesday of November, I was one month from my 18th birthday and therefore unable to vote in the Presidential election between George W. Bush and John Kerry.
This time around, I wish that were still the case.
As we near the 4th of November, 2008, a day that seems destined to go down in history as one of the more important days in the history of the electoral college, etc., I become evermore concerned with the potential future of our nation and ever less confident in both Barack Obama and John McCain.
The thing is, in each of these Senators we have men who seem devoted to their nation, to the freedoms that it stands for and upon which it was built, and who are savvy politicians, each rhetorically gifted in their own ways (despite the media’s best efforts to convince that only one of them is actually a gifted rhetorician). And in fact, for what its worth, I think that both will lead this nation in positive directions – at times.
But, as many others have elucidated before me, and with much more clarity and profundity than I could ever muster, it appears that we are stuck having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Such is democracy.
Yes, what disturbs me is wishy-washy – or downright dangerous – policies. But above all, what disturbs me is the nature of this election season and the tone that is sets for American culture at large.
I have read many (even hundreds) articles arguing for and defending each candidate (though admittedly many more pro-Obama than pro-McCain) and I have seen dozens of T.V. ads, endorsed by the candidates themselves, that attack the other candidate or their party. I have read how McCain is too old and Palin too dumb; how Obama is too young and Biden too creepy. I have read how McCain is a war hero and how Obama is an intellectual giant of our time. I have read how McCain is a maverick and how Obama is a messiah. I have read how McCain is a communist and Obama a terrorist, how McCain is a war-monger and Obama a baby-killer. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle on each of these issues.
And I think that in each of these cases we are seeing a modern day political rhetoric of ethical ambiguity. That such tags and insults are thrown around so carelessly, that media and candidate alike see fit to attack their opponent with such shortsighted, nonchalant ruthlessness is unfortunate indeed and perhaps a sign of a more dangerous, deeply rooted ethical decay at work in the fabric of our society.
Indeed, where are the voices of opposition? Where are the voices of mediation? We are all tolerance with no wisdom.
Here in America we believe in freedom: freedom to say what we want, when we want, how we want, where want; the freedom to carry a fire-arm; the freedom to do away with our unborn, unwanted children; the freedom to vote; the freedom to create; the freedom to worship; the freedom to educate and be educated; the freedom to come from nothing or to be virtually nothing; the freedom to drink, eat, procreate, and play – we are a people who believe that we are all inherently deserving of these liberties, and more still.
Our Founding Fathers believed this too when they wrote that all men are created equal. But they also believed that these freedoms unfettered would lead to problems. And so they set up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by which our government, representative of, and elected by, We the People, would lead and guide this nation. And these documents would allow for said freedoms to be enjoyed properly and would also limit the power the government had, particularly its most important figure.
These documents, they hoped, would enable the responsible enjoyment of those freedoms. Yet, here we are today, witnesses to the bastardization of those principles, witnesses to irresponsible enjoyment of those freedoms, enjoyment that necessarily diminishes our ability as a nation, as well as individuals, to truly enjoy them, let alone retain them. For except that we invest in the concept that there is inherent value in human life, or human dignity, in other words, in being a human being, then freedom is meaningless. And surely, the ethical ambiguity natural to our modern sense of politicking is anything but devoted to this grand idea!
But, you see, we too are guilty. We too partake. We, the average Americans, the voters, the campaigners, the tailgaters, are guilty of dishonesty and pandering, of scathing attacks and insulting innuendo, of forgetting that in each breath, word, blink, nod, bowel movement, kiss, or cry there is value, inherent value, in fact.
We are guilty of turning a blind eye to the suffering of the poor, here and abroad, of ignoring the plight of the uneducated, of forgetting the inherent value in all human beings. I assure you, we are. We think we are not, but indeed we are guilty of clamoring in favor of public policy and government intervention because it means that the less fortunate among us will be served but we won’t have to get our hands dirty. We are guilty of hiding behind red doors and steeples, behind 10% and Fox Faith, behind rhetoric and words and worship-filled refrains. We are guilty of attending rallies, picket signs raised high, decorated with cute slogans and cliches. We are guilty of crying out for unnamed justices. Yet, we are guilty of inaction.
Unless We the American People – from the poorest homeless man in Skid Row to the middle class soccer mom in middle America to the Commander-in-Chief in Washington – adopt an ethical and responsible approach to enjoying the freedoms our forefathers fought so valiantly to have, then we, like many other once-great nations, will find that our freedoms have become meaningless, innocuous conventions. Freedom is meant to enable us to live well, not serve as the means to do as we please.
I read recently in Relevant Magazine this quote from current Christian leader Chris Haw: “What is more important than how we vote on Nov. 4 is how we live on Nov. 3 and Nov. 5.”
So whether you agree with Mr. Obama on the war or with Mr. McCain on the economy, whether you side with Mr. Obama on abortion or with Mr. McCain on health care, it is more important that we discuss the issues with grace and with humility, with compassion for one another and for the candidates. And whether you believe your candidate of choice is the greatest thing since Frozen Custard or whether you believe you are choosing the lesser of two evils, whether you believe in “change you can believe in” or that “change” is a meaningless word, it is far more important that you and I enact the truths in which we believe, that we be the hands and feet that enable the successful implementation of the policies on whose side we align, and that we enjoy our freedoms with a measure of responsibility that will enable our children and their children to also enjoy the wonder of being American, but more importantly the wonder of being alive.
How are we to resolve this, how are to change this politic of ethical ambiguity? What must we do to insure that our grandchildren will be able to fight for the freedoms Americans have fought for so many times? Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure. But we first must learn to cross party lines, to engage in thoughtful dialogue, and to serve one another.
Remembering, of course, that truth is truth and no man can make it otherwise.