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Monday, July 5, 2010

Parades, Politics, and Popularity

This past Saturday, I took the boys up to the town square for the annual 4th of July parade. (OK, so we had it on the 3rd of July, but you get the point). Actually, our little parade has quite the history and reputation, being the longest running Independence Day Parade west of the Mississippi. All sorts of politicians and celebrities have made appearances over the years.

This year, being an election year and all, the parade was domineered, uh…dominated by floats from political candidates. Again, because of our parade’s history and reputation, the leading candidates for Missouri’s US Senate seat were both there, as well as our current US Congressman. Add to that the candidates for State Office, County Offices, etc, and we had quite the crowd.

As I’m watching some of these floats go by, watching these candidates shake hands and kiss babies (do they do that anymore?) I was struck with some thoughts about our electoral process. (And aren’t you glad you get to read about it!)

It seems that some of the candidates felt they could influence your vote by the sheer size of their float or the contingent of people with them. Some even had multiple entries spread throughout the parade. (Oh, look, another group of people with _________’s name on their shirts. Boy, they must be really qualified to be elected with all that T-shirt money they’ve got).

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, a float with a 40 foot sign bearing the name of one candidate rolls around the corner. (I know, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s my blog after all, so I’ll tell it my way). I guess the thought is that when you step into the voting booth, that huge name will be branded in your mind causing you to check that name on the ballot.

It all seems to be about name recognition, or popularity in the good ol boy network, or how many different ways they can put their name or face in front of you. One candidate even finagled his way into singing the national anthem at the beginning of the thing. (I always choose candidates based on their singing voice….really. I heard Lincoln could really belt out the tunes).

Meanwhile, we’ve had no meaningful debates among the candidates for our state offices, and the “forum” that was held offered little help. The questions were printed in the newspaper in advance and did little to really hit on policy issues. It was just more of the “come on guys, you know me” kind of thing. The “talk” from supporters around town for one office all center on how “nice” this guy is, or how that one “always smiles at me.” Great qualifications for public office.

So what’s my point? (Other than to frustrate folks with way too many parenthetical comments). I guess my problem is twofold; one aimed at the voters, and one at the system itself.

As for the voters, it seems we have lowered the standard for those we elect to lead us to who is most popular; who has the most impressive parade float; who spends the most money; etc. This is nothing new I know. But I also know that our founding fathers had a much bigger vision here.

Samuel Adams said that “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who…will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.” Wise and virtuous men. That’s who are to be looking for; not the guy with the coolest t-shirt brigade or biggest sign or most well known name.

Today voters seem to be taken in by the “flash” and don’t even look to see if there is any real substance behind it. That’s why candidates spend thousands on the local level, millions on the national level, because they know how easily impressed we are. And after all, they know they’ll get a good return on their investment if elected.

Which also points to my second complaint, the problem with the way the system has developed. Politics in many ways has become a very lucrative business. And this is not a good thing. Our Founding Fathers warned us of the dangers of making political offices pay too well.

In his opposition to seeing our Government leaders draw hefty salaries, Benjamin Franklin said: “Place before the eyes of such men, a post of honour that shall be at the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.” He warned that “by making our posts of honor, places of profit” we would “sow the seeds of contention, faction & tumult” and would draw into government posts, not men of virtue, but men seeking their own “selfish pursuits.” Sadly, I think we’ve arrived at the very kind of situation Franklin was hoping to avoid.

Unfortunately, many folks are unaware of these and other thoughts from our Founding Fathers. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The 5,000 Year Leap, either at your local library or through the National Center for Constitution Studies. Most folks are such a product of the revisionist history that has dominated our country for the last couple generations, that we have no idea about the principles upon which our Founders built this great nation; and how disappointed they would be in the parade and popularity contest methods we’ve come to expect.

Again, I know none of this is new. It’s been going on, and going downhill, for a long, long time. But it needs to stop. We need to elect men of virtue again. We need to focus on candidates who actually know what they are doing instead of just those that can spend a lot of money for “flash.” We at least need to elect folks who have a working knowledge of our nation’s/state’s governing documents…little things like the Constitution. (Just one reason why I’ve officially switched to the Constitution Party. In case you missed it, you can read a bout that here).

Furthermore, I have to throw in my “pet peeve,” which is this idea of “electability.” The reasoning goes: “I know this candidate might be better qualified, more virtuous, etc. But he’s just not electable, so I’ll have to go with the dominant party candidate, or whatever.” If folks would get a spine and stand for what is true and right; especially if all the self-proclaimed Christians would step up and vote their convictions, we could see a landslide of change.

Everyone loves a parade. At this point, I’d love to see a parade of professional politicians marching out of capital buildings all over the country, replaced with responsible citizens who are looking to SERVE their nation/state, the way our Founding Fathers did. People who agree with the prayer of George Washington as expressed in his farewell address, “that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained” and that “its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue…” Amen!

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