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January 30, 2008

The Gospel Truth

The Gospel Truth

By Elaine Viets

You’re stuck at a family dinner, listening to your brother-in-law Bob blather about the virtues of Politician Rich. At least, that’s what I’ll call the guy, since we don’t name names at The Lipstick Chronicles.

"Rich is a real man," Bob said. "A standup guy. He’s not soft on terrorism or welfare. He’s not an over-educated snob."

Well, on that last point, you agree with Bob. Politician Rich did graduate from college, but you suspect it’s because his family donated a new campus gym. You are thrilled to have common ground at last.

"I agree he’s not over-educated, Bob," you say. "In fact, Rich is dumber than a box of rocks. His political career is lackluster. His main achievement is cashing in on his family connections."

At this point, your spouse delivers a hearty kick to your shin and gives you a glare that could laser the skin off your face. But you persist, hoping to convert this poor slob.

For ten minutes, you detail the failures of the Rich administration and the reasons why he needs to be voted into early retirement. Your spouse is now encased in a layer of frost. You know you are in for a chilly ride home. But you are sure once Bob hears the facts, he’ll change his mind. You will offer up your personal suffering for the greater good of the country.

You deliver your Rich catalogue of failure, then sit back and wait for Bob to say, "Darn, you’re right."

Instead, there is only silence. The loud silence of doom.

"Uh, we have to go," your wife finally says. "I have work in the morning."

That’s when you know that 2008 will be a long election year.

After the frosty reception at the family dinner, you have plenty of time to contemplate your failure. What went wrong? Why didn’t your well-reasoned facts work?

My friend Karen has the best explanation. In fact, it’s the only one that makes sense. It may help you save your job and your marriage.

Like most Americans, Karen and I were discussing politics. "I can’t understand why any working person would vote for that man," I said. "Look at his record. He’s never done anything for workers."

"You don’t get it," Karen said. "Politics is like religion. It’s not based on cold fact. It’s about what you believe. You grew up Catholic. But what if I said to you, ‘Elaine, it would make more sense for you to become an Episcopalian. You’d get in the best country clubs, hired by the best firms, and always know which fork to use. Besides, there isn’t much difference between High Church and Roman Catholic. So join the winning religion.’ Would that convert you?"

"Of course not," I said. "That’s insulting. It’s ridiculous."

"It’s also logical," she said. "But logic has nothing to do with religion – or politics. You can present logical arguments for why Americans should vote for a candidate, but if someone doesn’t believe, the arguments won’t work."


That was the sound of everything falling into place.

Suddenly, politics made sense.

If someone said, "Elaine, you don’t dance, drink or gamble, but you adore a good choir. You should be a Baptist," I’d laugh that person out of the room. That’s not how I choose my religion.

There are practical reasons for joining many religions. But if you don’t have the faith, those arguments are worthless.

Saddest of all are the nonbelievers, who say there is no difference between the political parties. They are truly lost souls.

As this election year grinds on, and nothing seems to make sense, remind yourself that it’s probably hopeless to try to argue someone into abandoning their political party. Use those arguments on voters inside your own party. Help them choose a candidate they can believe in.

That is the Gospel truth.


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Arggghhh. Engrave this one on marble . . . no, *granite* tablets.

Excitement in my family: our son, who doesn't turn 18 until October, will be permitted to vote in the (probably meaningless) primary, which occurs long before his birthday. So, now, he gets to be frustrated too by the inexplicable votes of other people.

Great, thought provoking blog, Elaine. It's gonna be ugly this year, no question. And of course, the contradiction of American politics: the kind of person we would wish to elect would never succeed through the process.

Great post, Elaine.

Here's my solution to voting for the right candidate: All candidates are anonymous. No more parties, no more bickering. When you vote, you get a list of where Persons A, B, C, etc. stand on the issues and you vote for the one who matches what you believe.

Yeah, I know. I'm dreaming.

As a Canadian your political system fascinates me. Why is the process of choosing a new president so complex and why does it take so long? We can here, at least in theory, have an election campaign that only lasts 36 days.

I think I want to move to Canada.

Wonderful description, Elaine. No wonder how much we try to make decisions intellectually, emotions play a bigger part than we know or will admit.

So sad, but so true. In the 2004 election run-up, I had to stop talking to two friends who were planning to vote for the candidates whose wives "were the best groomed". Aaaarrrggh. There's just no talking to some people.

And it starts young. In the last election, my then-4-year old asked, "Simone's Mommy and Daddy are voting for Blah Blah. Are we voting for Blah Blah?" And I replied, a LITTLE too LOUDLY, "we are NOT voting for BLAH BLAH. In our family we do NOT believe in BLAH BLAH the LEAST LITTLE BIT!" It's probably the only thing she will remember from early childhood.

Kinda like why we pray for the Steelers.

Apart from my paranoia that the media have created this whole primary scenario just to have something to write about... I have to say I am heartened by the surge of interest and participation in national politics. Look--new voters! The kids are getting involved! It's been too long since we've seen that kind of excitement--not to mention some real choices between candidates.

A decade or more ago, I had the privilege of participating as a staffer in a senatorial race. It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life (even though we lost). We were a bunch of rank amateurs and eager volunteers led by a couple of professionals, in a shabby third-floor office with a shoestring budget--and we came darn close to winning. But the enthusiasm of everyone involved was undeniable.

So whoever you choose to support, you should feel some passion for the candidate--not just pick him or her (!) because he or she is the lesser evil. And you should be able to defend your choice without feeling guilty or worrying about offending anyone.

Sheila Connolly

p.s. We still adore Simone and her mommy and daddy, and pray for their conversion.

Jeez, Karen, a well-groomed First Lady is really at the top of my list. That scares the heck out of me.
Darlene, our political process makes no sense to me, either. I'd move to Canada if the winters weren't so cold.

Elaine -- wonderful analogy! Now I see that, despite abruptly changing me from Baptist to Catholic at age ten (leading to my current status as inactive Unitarian), my parents did give me a consistent belief system as a Democrat, which I still am (after a brief college fling with the Socialist Workers Party). (Union supporter, too, and I know many of the IWW songs).
I remember stopping in Springfield because the great-niece and nephew wanted to see a campaign train that was coming through. I said we could as long as they remembered what our friend from Texas said, "Don't vote for him!" (of course, too young anyway) The nephew was stopped by security because he was carrying the souvenier he's chosen in New Salem, a switch-blade comb. Oops! They were bored after a few minutes, but remembered when election returns came in. "Wait! E. told them not to vote for him!"
I'll stop now, lest I further offend members of opposing religions.

A friend told me in another election that her five-year-old wanted her to vote for a candidate because she'd been watching the news and was afraid no one would vote for that person and his feelings would be hurt.

Elaine, you are brilliant! I have no problem discussing politics when the discussion is reasoned: I believe it is entirely possible for two people to look at the same, objective facts about the state of (fill in the blank with the issue of choice) and come to different conclusions about what should be done to fix it. I find those kinds of discussions valuable and informative; I have even been known to change my mind because of them.

What I can't fathom, for the life of me, are the folks who simply ignore the facts altogether. Thanks to your blog, I now understand how they can do so :)

Anybody know how the political system in Iceland works? My husband saw a poster once and is now convinced that the best way to get away from the chaos here is to move there to become sheep farmers . . .

Harley, you bring up what I consider one of the best perks of parenthood--the opportunity to indoctrinate tiny human beings into whatever kind of political ideology you yourself embrace! It's certainly worked well in our household.

I did change religions. But it took Nixon to trigger my conversion.

To Darlene - Our election process is driven by lots of things...one of which is $$$$. The front runners of both political parties have spent millions and we aren't even to through the primaries. This is one of the reason it is almost impossible for an unknown or third party candidate to break in.

As far as Politician Rich - I cannot discuss PR without my eyes popping out of my head and steam coming out my ears. I see so many of our privacy rights gone and maybe never to be seen again.

As far as electing a president - I admit, I've never voted for the one with the best dressed spouse. (That is just scary) I don't always look at what they promise to do when elected to office. I do look at their stands as it would effect things like selection to the supreme court. That worries me BIG TIME

Very interesting blog and comments

Kerry, I know an Iceland joke, from a friend who visited that nearly treeless land. "What do you do when you are lost in an Icelandic forest?"
Stand up.
How come so many of the saner political systems seem to be in cold climes?

I have always joked that my three favorite topics of conversation (sex, religion, politics) are, unfortunately, the three topics most likely to get you in trouble but quick. Now that I spend most of my day in an environment full of people who pretty much believe exactly the opposite of what I believe, I've learned to not engage in violent disagreements anymore. I have gotten really good at nodding my head wisely and saying, "you've got a point, there," when in fact, I'm thinking, "what a complete moron." You just cannot win political arguments (or religious ones for that matter).

Oh, Susan...my heart goes out to you! That is how it was in my house growing up. Dad was a bigoted, ultraconservative. All of us kids grew up (this was in the 60s,70s)very liberal, but we learned early not to argue with Dad. It just got you grounded. lol.

There are many benefits to indoctrinating your children early. After being a longtime Hillary supporter and conveying that to my kids, I had my moments of wavering and thinking I might vote Obama in the NH primary. My eight year-old went after me hard and got me back on track. He reminded me that (1) I thought she'd make the best president; and (2) it would be really cool to have a woman President. He went around for days wearing a Hillary button.

Great blog, Elaine.

Your son is so cute!

I'm a firm believer that 'none of the above' should be on the ballot. If that wins, all parties must start over with new canidates!
And get rid of the electoral college! Way outdated and a third party doesn't stand a chance.
To people trying to sway my vote, I have a stock answer. "Thank you. Your request will be taken under advisement"
off my soapbox.

****NEWS ALERT****

Edwards is expected to drop from the campain this afternoon.


It's going to be an interesting year, no doubt about it. I don't talk politics a lot, mainly because it is indeed a conversation stopper when the other party doesn't agree. We were told as kids that politics and religion were the two button-pushing subjects. I can't say much as changed, although sometimes I wonder just how well-informed voters are these days. It isn't necessary to listen to the candidates...the analysts do it for you. Sound bytes change interpretation by taking taken out of context.There are a lot of promises on both sides, but not so much "how" as far as their completion is concerned. Now we have Senator Obama being tapped by the Kennedy's as someone who might bring back the glory days of JFK's Camelot...I worry that this in itself will obscure the issues.
More importantly, I have to hold my views private in the workplace (B&N). We are chastised every election year for being biased or promoting one party over another because our political table isn't 'balanced'. Believe me, we've counted...equal books. So, while I'm there, I just listen.
Super Tuesday should be interesting!

It's touh keeping quiet here in Florida, a red state, where people like me are regarded as a weird cult.

that should be "tough." Gremlins keep ruining my typing.


Guiliani is expected to drop out soon.


Heh. Good one. My family's a little bit different. The discussions at my family gatherings go more like this:

My Dad: "I can't imagine why anyone still thinks Clinton was a good President."

My Uncle: "You got that right. I don't know why he didn't get run out of office."

Nods all around until I speak up:

"Gee, I don't know, maybe people liked eight years of peace and prosperity?"

My mom and aunts: "NO POLITICS! NO POLITICS!"

Another actual conversation:

"Boy, John Edwards is such a phony. Living in that big house."

"Yeah, and those expensive haircuts."

Nods all around until I speak up.

"Yeah, and George Bush was living in a cardboard box on the street when he was running for President."

My mom and aunts: "NO POLITICS! NO POLITICS!"

I trust you see the pattern here.

Elaine, I know what you mean -- I live, not only in a red state, but in the part of the state that gave birth to Pat Robertson's Regent University and the Christian Coalition. We are, moreover, a heavily military region. Religious conservative republicans often run unopposed in my state congressional and senate districts. The only way my vote "counts" in a presidential election is to contribute to the total vote count (i.e., I helped ensure that GW didn't win the popular vote the first time out).

My daughter, Harley, has grown up into a liberal her parents can be proud of. She's going to be really bummed about John Edwards.

JD, that sounds like dinner at my grandmother's house.
Kerry, keep up the good fight.

Cyndi, I noticed it takes a lot of money to run for President! But why the primary system and how did it evolve? Is it a way to preserve the rights and influence of each state?

Elaine, you're welcome to come to Canada any time. We may have snow, but we don't have hurricanes and a parka in January hides those inches you may have picked up over the holidays. (I mean that you in the generic sense.) Plus we know lots of ways to stay warm. Have you ever noticed how many romance writers live here?

Funny post, JD! It sounds way too familiar to me. My friends who were interested in the spouses would do exactly that when the topic turned to politics. As long as they were allowed to voice their viewpoints, it was fine, but they would change the subject when it was my turn to voice a stand.

It's too bad that so many candidates have dropped out already. Our primary is not until March 4th, and I'm concerned we won't even get a chance to vote on the last two standing.

That's okay, Karen. You can vote in the general election, and if you are white, they may even count your vote.

A friend used to say, "I hear what you're saying," when he didn't want to be pushed into taking a side. It would frustrate people, but there was nothing there they could take real offense at (and there would have been if he said what he was thinking).
Darlene, Canada is sounding better and better. Could you arrange some blind dates, too?

I finally figured out who Mitt Romney reminds me of -- one of those male underwear models from the circulars in the weekend paper. Can't you just see him in a T-shirt and boxers smiling his robotic smile with his perfect hair?

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