FIRST PERSON: Who should vote?

by Gary Ledbetter, posted Monday, August 23, 2004 (10 years ago)

DALLAS (BP)--The political doctrine of my childhood was summed up in two statements: “Anyone can become president” and “Every American should vote.” I don’t think I’ve believed the first statement since my voice changed but I’ve more recently come to doubt the second just as much. Maybe the reasons we vote have become less idealistic.

A recent news story shows the cynicism of modern political campaigns. The story was comparing the sources of campaign funding for presidential candidates Bush and Kerry. No surprises really; some favor one man, some the other and a few send significant amounts to both campaigns. Listening to some of the contributors talk, I was saddened to hear a strictly bottom-line mathematical reasoning. If one candidate is likely to be beneficial to a person’s personal business or broad field of endeavor, that candidate is the only candidate he will consider.

A law professor was quoted as speculating that some trial lawyers will pawn their Lear jets to see that John Kerry is elected so that the limits on business liability and lawyers’ fees supported by the Bush administration might be overturned. Is it really that simple? Is it only about money in my pocket?

With this and so many other examples in mind, I’d like to suggest that not all Americans should vote. Governing our nation is a high privilege. Those who make critical decisions for America (its voters, I mean) should come up to some minimal standards before leaving the house on Election Day.

For example:

-- Voters should be able to see beyond self-interest.

Let’s be honest. We have low unemployment, low inflation and a standard of living beyond the imaginations of most people. This election is not about whether we will starve. There are some important things at stake, but seeing them requires that we care about the nation rather than just our own bottom line. Voters who can be controlled with promises of personal prosperity are unfit to govern their nation.

-- Voters should be able to tell the difference between worldviews.

Regardless of where you come down on the issues, this presidential election presents the most distinct choice we’ve faced since 1980 at least. Those who say, “It doesn’t matter since they’re all the same” or “It’s all just politics,” are being lazy. The candidates don’t claim to see things the same way and they are objectively coming from different perspectives.

It’s hard to understand the high regard our nation gives to “undecided” voters. Are they undecided about their own convictions or are they uninformed regarding the convictions of the candidates? Columnist Jonah Goldberg tells of a young woman who listened to the 2000 Gore/Bush debates as an undecided voter. Afterward, she expressed disappointment that Mr. Gore was not as liberal as she’d hoped, so she was going to vote for George Bush. I doubt she’s the only scary voter out there. Those who don’t make up their minds until they enter the voting booth should be better informed.

-- Voters should not spend their franchise on empty gestures.

Third-party candidacies sound more noble than they are. No one truly expects Ralph Nader or any other third-party candidate to become president though these candidates may better represent their constituents on a few issues. That doesn’t make them qualified to lead and it doesn’t make this gesture a worthy investment of support.

Evangelical Christians have been susceptible to these campaigns in the past. No successful politician is as strong on every issue as we would like. Our own pastors and parents can’t pass this test in their much smaller contexts. Rather than striking a blow for purity, we risk giving up our influence altogether when we follow a man with only one or two “perfect” ideas.

-- Voters should be free of regionalism and other types of “group-think.”

A clever old song refers to Grandpa, who “voted for Eisenhower ‘cause Lincoln won the war.” I am the son of a county that voted Republican for a hundred years because of that same war in a state that voted Democrat for the same period and reason. You might argue that block voting empowers a minority but it also makes individual convictions useless. If such solidarity was ever a good idea, it is now a stupid reason for voting the way we do. Vocations, unions, ethnic groups and age groups that vote in lockstep are not behaving as free people. Citizens whose consciences are ruled by others should not govern a free nation.

-- Voters should value their vote, but not sell it.

Some misunderstand our decision-making process by saying, “It doesn’t matter.” Others misconstrue the value of their vote by inviting politicians to bid for it. “If you want my vote, you’ll need to....” This thinking may explain the ascendance of the undecided voter. They are hoping candidates will respond to their whims. A man should already know and show what he is by the time he becomes a national candidate. Our job is to discern that reality and compare it with truth and right. Candidates who come up with new convictions based on polls of undecided swing voters are the untrustworthy pandering to the immature.

In 1 Kings 9, God promised Solomon that his dynasty would rule Israel forever if he and his sons honored the Lord in their leadership of the nation. If they did not, Israel would be cut off from the land. The nation would suffer if the king was faithless.

In our nation the people rule. America should not be compared too directly with Israel but these historical accounts do tell us something of God’s nature and His expectations. While our elected leaders are placed by God, Romans 13:1 also applies to us. We have been given the responsibility for our country. If we are faithless, selfish or ungodly in our stewardship of America, we should expect the nation to decline or even be lost to us. I do want everyone to vote -- provided we “rule” wisely as we do.

I am less troubled by someone who thoroughly disagrees with every conviction I have and votes that way than I am by someone who agrees with me and votes contrary to the convictions we share. A stand-up disagreement is better than an irrational, impetuous misuse of our citizenship.

Be that courageous and wise ruler. The outcome of the 2004 election will not surprise or hinder God. Neither will the next president usher in the Kingdom of God. It is enough (and challenging) that we be faithful in using all the things God has given us for His service. In whatever way He chooses, He will bless us if we are faithful rulers of our nation. That should be our goal.


Gary Ledbetter is the editor of the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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