Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let’s Just Follow The Rules

In this campaign season politicians and commentators on the Right are continuing to maintain that the United States was, is, and always should be “a Christian Nation.” Folks on the left seem to be falling over themselves to establish their own bona fides as God fearing religious women and men. Whether or not this is a good thing is open for debate. It is, however, the way things are. Religion and the religiosity of the candidates is clearly and firmly on the table for discussion. And since this is the way things are, I have a suggestion to make to all of the candidates and all of their supporters: let’s just follow the rules.

I want to be clear, from my perspective as a Unitarian Universalist clergy person I am not talking about the rules laid down by the RNC or the DNC, by the Federal Elections Committee or even the US Constitution. I’m suggesting that the candidates follow THE rule, the so-called “Golden Rule,” the rule that says, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” That’s the Christian version of this rule, but it shows up in just about every one of humanity’s religions. Buddhism says, “hurt not others in ways you would find hurtful.” Islam says, “No one of you is a believer until you desire for your brothers and sisters what you desire for yourself.” Judaism says, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows.” The British Humanist Society says, “Don’t do things you wouldn’t want done to you.” From Bah’ai’ to Zoroastrianism there are numerous other variations, yet among them all there is a remarkable consistency in the core message.

And it translates well, I think, into the political realm. So, for all of you candidates—and all of your supporters—for whom being religious is so important, here are some translations of the rules into terms appropriate for you:
  • Do not run such ads as you’d call “false” and “misleading” if your opponents ran them about you.
  • Do not distort statistics in a way that if your opponent did it you’d call it unfair.
  • Do not present your opponent’s positions in ways you’d not want them to do of your own.
  • Do not present your own positions in ways you’d begrudge your opponent. (See again the rule about statistics, for instance.)
  • Do not decry behavior in your opponent which you yourself (or your supporters) are doing.

This does not mean, of course, that you can’t point out real differences. It just means that you shouldn’t do it by means you wouldn’t want your opponent to use. Naturally you will highlight your strengths and try to obscure your weaknesses. And so will your opponent. It’s human nature. So don’t waste time and energy complaining about it when they do—especially don’t accuse them of being misleading or dishonest, since you know you’re doing it too. And when you do it, don’t do it in a way that if they did it you’d have something to complain about. Follow the rules.

The popular wisdom may be that all that we, the electorate, want is drama, but the truth is that what we’d really like is the solid information we need in order to make a truly informed decision come November. Show us who you really are and not who you think we want you to be. Forget the pretty packaging, and show us the truth. Forget manipulating the data and tell us who you are—warts and all, strengths and weaknesses both. We may dream of a perfect President, yet we know we’re going to have to settle for a human being. So show us who you are, and if you really are the best candidate—with both your flaws and your greatness in place—we’ll know. After all, if you’re elected we’ll find out soon enough.

It’s one thing to be seen showing up at a church or other religious buildings and to put religious words and phrases into your stump speeches, but that’s not what being religious is really all about. As the Jerry Rubin once put it, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me what you do 24 hours a day and I’ll tell you what you believe.” If you want to convincince me that you’re a religious person, then run a campaign that follows the rules.

In Gassho,

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2 comments:

randomthoughts said...

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Robin Edgar said...

Here`s a slight reworking of Jerry Rubin`s bon mot -

“Don’t tell me what U*Us believe. Show me what U*Us do 365 days a year and I’ll tell U*Us what U*Us believe.”