Thursday, January 03, 2008

For whom should we vote?

Today, the Iowa Caucuses officially launch the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaigns. Of course, some of the candidates have been actively campaigning for a year or more; some have really been campaigning for years.

I'm really not looking forward to the 2008 campaign. These things tend to be so bitter and so divisive that it's next to impossible for the victor to establish any mandate or build any unity. Four years ago, even the sacrament of Holy Communion was actually tossed around as a potential weapon when it was suggested that John Kerry be barred from communing because of his support for legal abortion; I still find that suggestion absolutely appalling. I actually posted briefly about it last year.

How do we as Christians make a choice between candidates? This can be especially difficult if no candidate shares 100% of our views. There are lots of important issues; are some more important than others? Should we weigh some more than others? It's tough.

Years ago, I came to the realization that the likelihood of finding a viable candidate with whom I agreed on all of the important issues was next to impossible. I often seem to be a liberal among conservatives and a conservative among liberals. That's hard to find on the national scene, at least in terms of viable candidates for the presidency.

I am politically liberal enough to oppose capital punishment and war (anytime, anywhere), to support radical gun control and the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS (not that we as a people have done well in these areas), and to believe that education is a key issue in this world. I am politically conservative enough to oppose abortion, racial quotas (which is, to me , simply racism that we feel good about), and to believe that lowering taxes is a good thing which ultimately helps the economy as well as the poor (at least in theory). Neither side seems to me to be particularly strong on human rights, which should embarrass this nation to no end. Both sides tend to demonize their opposition, most recently the sinful, sub-Christian hate we see directed daily at President Bush from the Left; the Right hasn't been much kinder regarding, say, the Clintons.

How do we then wade through all the crap to determine which candidates are worthy of our support?

While we need to take many issues seriously, in my view there is one issue which trumps the rest. That issue is character. Politico Peggy Noonan said it well:
"In a president, character is everything. A president doesn't have to be brilliant...He doesn't have to be clever; you can hire clever...You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks. But you can't buy courage and decency, you can't rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him...He needs to have, in that much maligned word, but a good one nonetheless, a 'vision' of the future he wishes to create.. But a vision is worth little if a president doesn't have the character - the courage and heart - to see it through."
Too true. Booker T. Washington once said, "Character is power." Richard Nixon once spoke words which came back to haunt him, saying, "Character is the most important qualification the President of the United States can have." One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Martin Luther King: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Incidentally, isn't all that true of Church leadership as well?

A key method of determining someone's personal character, in my view, has to do with the marriage covenant. I believe this to be the most important promise we make this side of heaven. Conservative writer Marvin Olasky said it well in his book The American Leadership Tradition (p. 270):
"Reverence toward God does not confer the ability to have a successful presidency; look at Jimmy Carter. Faithfulness to a wife is no guarantee of faithfulness to the country; look at...Richard Nixon. Faithlessness in both areas, however, is a leading indicator of trouble. Small betrayals in marriage generally lead to larger betrayals, and leaders who break a large vow to one person find it easy to break relatively small vows to millions."
Personal character is, for me, the #1 issue in any campaign. I tend to vote for the candidate whom I feel wins the "character battle". I especially enjoyed the 2006 Senate race in Pennsylvania, when we had two candidates of excellent character running for office - Roman Catholic warrior hero Rick Santorum and the quieter but equally faithful Bob Casey. It seemed to me that whomever won that race, Pennsylvanians won.

There are several worthwhile candidates running this year, in both major parties. Several seem to be of exemplary character. They are worth a look.

I urge all Christians to make character a key issue in 2008. It is even more important than war, poverty, taxes, the environment, or immigration.

Additionally, we need to be in prayer for the process as it unfolds, that God will raise up and anoint the right person for this job which has such drastic implications. We need to be in prayer for President Bush as well as for the two candidates who will ultimately be vying to succeed him. Regardless of our politics, we should faithfully lift up these people and ask that the Spirit will bless them and, through them, this broken world.


Anonymous said...

These are great points Keith. I really appreciate the way your faith commitments are holistically tied to your political stances.

It seems to me that candidates are generally too tied to party-line positions to really let their personal character and commitments shape their political positions. Until our generation gets sick of this situation and calls for a different way of doing politics, we will have to deal with things as they currently stand.

It's difficult, in the meantime, to determine who has character and who doesn't.

Art said...

Totally agree, Keith. But like Matt wrote, character can be difficult to determine, especially in a political candidate.

Unknown said...

I think a Huckabee vs. Obamma matchu would be the most uplifting match up. Clinton would make it the most negative and most dirty of any of the candidates.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

I think an Obama vs. Huckabee race would be a wonderful thing. Both seem to be decent men.

Unknown said...

Well said Keith. It would be interesting to see Obama vs. Huckabee.

Jeff Kahl said...


I agree with you that character is the number one issue in determining a presidential candidate. I'm not terribly thrilled with any of the candidates with regard to issues/policy, but I do think that many of them are decent human beings who deserve respect.

Let me also say: Even though we may come at politics from slightly different perspectives, I truly enjoy reading your stuff and have been stretched by your well-reasoned positiong! Thanks for sharpening my dull brain!


Keith H. McIlwain said...


Greg Cox said...

Personally, I hate the fact that this is all being talked about this early. I read last month that in 1968, there were still candidates declaring as late as march of that year.

While I like change, I do not like the fact that these primaries have been moved up so early. Sheesh - by the time we Pennsyltuckians vote, it will be moot!