Monday, September 12, 2011

Is Contempt of Compromise Wise?

As the saying goes, familiarity may breed contempt.

But affinity can breed illusion.

How many of us spend so much time with people so similar to ourselves that we develop a myopic assumption that the world is full of people who think the way we do?

Or if not the world, then at least, the United States?

If this type of ethnocentrism is as prevalent as I suspect it is among both sides of our political aisle, might it be particularly popular among evangelical conservatives, who think we have a lock on methods of effective governance? How many churched voters have fostered a belief that the American electorate isn't as much of a problem as politicians? How many evangelicals have woefully underestimated the degree to which the mores and morals by which we evaluate politics are shunned by people outside our faith? And how has this inaccurate assessment encouraged us to consider political compromise by our nation's elected leaders a bad thing?

After all, try voicing a moderate political opinion these days among groups of evangelicals, and see how fast you get accused of heresy.

But is political compromise necessarily wrong?

Politicians Don't Get Elected in Vacuums

For the most part, politicians get elected by being the person who best represents the ideology of the majority of their voting constituents. We often forget that basic rubric of democracy. Therefore, the extent to which liberal politics resonates with as many voters as it does comes in large measure from the fact that many voters hold liberal viewpoints on political issues. As happens with conservatives. And liberals are as loathe to change their minds as conservatives are theirs.

Not just the politicians, remember, but the people who elected them in the first place.

Which makes blaming politicians for our country's woes a rather ineffective strategy for fixing those woes.

Nevertheless, some evangelical activists have embarked on a campaign to implicate politicians for acting against the wishes of the majority of Americans. This campaign assumes that liberal politicians have somehow hijacked the political process and managed to seize their mandate from a victimized electorate.

But all this effort acknowledges is that many Americans simply don't vote, which is a dangerous point for conservatives to want to prove. Think about it: if people don't vote, that generally means they're content with the status quo. And if they're content with the status quo - a status quo which many evangelicals, including myself, think is taking us on a negative trajectory - then isn't the fact that there aren't enough of us to push for relevant change more of a social indictment against what conservatives want? If people still don't feel compelled to vote, even after things have gotten as bad as we think they've become, for what are they waiting that conservatives haven't been able to provide?

I suspect that a majority of Americans simply aren't waiting for change; they're content with life as they know it. So politicians aren't getting a mandate to change course.

That should scare us into prayer for our country and it's citizens, not just its leaders. But it sounds like some conservatives, particularly some Tea Partiers, maybe find it a lot easier to blame politicians.

How Compromise Got Its Bad Rap

Meanwhile, activists of both conservative and liberal stripes look back on the history of politics in the United States and conclude that the reason we're in our current stalemate owes heavily to bad compromises previous administrations and congresses have made.

And we can probably all agree there's a certain amount of truth in that assessment.

But was it the need for compromise itself that was bad, or the simple fact that past leaders didn't craft good compromises that has led us to where we are today?

Don't forget that compromise crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the two keystone documents of our country. If succeeding generations of presidents and congresspeople haven't been able to replicate that original pattern of unity for the sake of the union, how does that automatically implicate compromise?

Without compromise, what's left besides developing a dictatorial style of leadership? Isn't tyranny what the Colonists were trying to defeat? Yet listen to some hard-core conservatives, and you'll hear calls for a dictator to foist the desires of one group of voters upon everybody else.

Aren't unilateral decisions the hallmark of the China's, USSR's, and Iraq's of our world? Isn't excluding the voices of major chunks of the United States electorate because they belong to the wrong political party something we expect from Third World despots?

We need to remember that God, not politics, provides our daily dose of what makes America great. And He's also appointed the people who serve in our elected offices, and He's granted you and me the ability to vote those people into - and out of - those offices.

And not just us evangelicals. Or, for those of you who remain skeptical that I'm politically conservative enough, not just Republicans. I talked with somebody last week who was genuinely shocked when I told him I knew of evangelicals who were registered Democrats. That was as implausible a notion to my friend as Baptists being superior to Presbyterians.

Whomever Makes Diversity Work for Them Wins

In politics, compromise may not be desirable, but it is essential. Running a country like the United States isn't the seamlessly efficient, resolutely uncomplicated, and charmingly heroic undertaking many Americans today like to believe it should be. Politics can be viewed through a Christian worldview, but it is not theological doctrine. The Gospel of Christ is worth dying for; the gospel of Rush Limbaugh isn't.

This doesn't mean that liberals and conservatives should be each other's doormats. There's nothing pure or perfect in any political theory.

Remember, absolutes belong to God, but there are few absolutes in politics. Yet don't we often reverse those two facts? With grace, we float through life assuming that whatever sins we may be committing are covered, but we dither over legislative issues as if the free world hangs in the balance over each one.

Let's face it: conservatives and liberals in the United States find their greatest differences in how each interprets the absolutes in our politics, which come down to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For example, on life, conservatives generally believe life begins at conception, while liberals generally believe life begins at birth. A significant difference, yes, and for many people, a game-changer. But both conservatives and liberals still have a lot to learn about life on both sides of birth, and how it needs to be respected.

On liberty, conservatives generally believe that rules and regulations restrict freedoms, while liberals view rules and regulations as necessary buffers for personal and corporate excesses. Conservatives are also generally more willing to spend significant more tax dollars on defending freedoms than liberals are. But can't rules and regulations which may crimp freedoms for some, while protecting the rights of others, be seen as an exercise of freedom for the greater good? Otherwise we'd have anarchy, in which nobody is really free, and we'd be faced with some of the same types of turmoil our military attempts to quell overseas.

On the pursuit of happiness, both conservatives and liberals find plenty to bristle over, depending on the rule or regulation they perceive to be inhibiting their definition of a good time. People who wanted prayers during New York City's official 9/11 observance faced the same consternation as do gays who want to marry. It all boils down to what you think is important. And whether we like it or not, that will vary by the individual.

United We Stand, Divided...

Maybe back when the ways voters got their information were less sophisticated or plentiful, history could be more easily chiseled in the edifice of public opinion by elite masters of national dialog. But today, we've got websites and pundits from a panoply of political ideologies contributing to the stew that has become our national shouting match. And this has elevated real-time rancor and rhetoric to a frustrating level of stagnation which imperils the socioeconomic future of our country.

By now, evangelicals should know that moral arguments aren't going to win many converts. Even inside communities of faith, we have our own problems with hedonism and carnality which portray poor examples of Christlikeness to the culture around us. We're enduring a rocky transition from a churched culture to a non-churched culture, where Biblical references once commonly understood - if perhaps not believed - are increasingly foreign to new generations of Americans. We want our old America back, the country where nativity scenes went unchallenged in front of city halls, and where God was our Heavenly Father, not Allah.

Conservatives don't realize that the more we alienate our fellow countrymen with such polarizing stances as eliminating Social Security, the more we dilute our political posture. By the same token, liberals don't realize that they're alienating our nation's entire employer class by forcing through Obamacare while they controlled Congress. Radical imperialism cuts both ways, and neither way benefits the country as a whole.

For years, it's been the political moderates who've decided national elections, and most pundits predict that 2012 will be no different. But moderates like me tend to look for the people we think can work the best with both their party and the opposition.

The way to do that is know your core principles, the opposition's core principles, and how to leverage everything else. Those types of politicians aren't going to be everybody's hero all the time. But why should we expect them to be?

Many of the problems they're dealing with were created by other people our electorate voted into office years ago.

Both conservatives and liberals.

How will belligerence on our part lend our generation any respect?
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