Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Politics and Religion in Family Gatherings and in Campaigns

I hate that sectarian religious differences have become such a focal point in this election. It is stupid politics and the Dems must just love to watch it. Now that I’m in Ohio for Christmas with my side of the family, I’m finally getting a chance to talk to all the relatives I haven’t spoken with for months and who, in their own way, also have been watching this election unfold. Let me tell you . . . they’re all pretty repulsed by this over-the-top religion talk and they sense that it is very, very bad for Republicans to allow it to continue.

Fair or not, they blame both Huck and Romney for the prolonged God discussion and for what they consider the bad press it’s generating for Republicans. Like I suspected, none of them paid any attention at all to the substance of Romney’s beautiful speech (who was the egg-head adviser who thought regular folks would even listen to that speech? Never were so many beautiful words wasted on so many pundits and so few voters . . . ). All they know is that Romney gave a big speech about religion and that, after the speech, everybody started going bonkers with God talk. Then Huck surged and it continued . . . Let me be clear: it’s not that any of my family are too shy to engage in God talk; it’s just that none of them thinks that the Republican primary is the place for polite people to do it.

I have an interesting mix of religion in my family. One side (Dad’s) are half-hearted "kinda-sorta" Presbyterians (meaning they were churched at a Presbyterian church as children but haven’t seen the inside of another church since the last family wedding . . .) but they’re definitely Protestant and decidedly not Catholic. But coincidentally (and oddly), every one of the brothers is married to a Catholic woman. So all of us grandkids (with the exception of my aunt’s daughter) have been raised Catholic. When we’re all together as a family, we might joke about religion and gently tease our Protestant fathers and grandparents . . . but happily they give back as good as they get and so we’ve all developed pretty thick skin and a fair sense of humor on the subject. Even so, for obvious reasons, we avoid engaging in serious or heated debates with each other about religion at family gatherings. Occasionally a joke will cross the line and get nasty . . . and then everyone will give the offending party a warning look that says it’s best to move on. Now, in smaller groups of us or in one-on-one conversations, no one shrinks from a more direct approach if pressed. But this kind of God talk is not for public consumption with good reason. We know we have more to lose from pressing it than we stand to gain from the exercise. If any of us really wants to take the time to work on the eternal soul of one of our fathers, we have enough time to do that in private. A large gathering--even of family--is a kind of public gathering. When arguments about religion are aired in public like that it is rude.

Granted, a campaign is not exactly a family gathering . . . the voting public are not a family. But it is similar in this sense: we all have more to lose by hurting and dividing each other with this sort of talk than we stand to gain by besting each other in this kind of debate. The object of such jousting cannot be greater clarity about either politics or religion . . . it is always something else. It is always in the service of something much lower . . . like naked ambition or showmanship.

That said--mainly because Mitt and Huck appear like the wise-a** college kids home fresh from break and with all sorts of strong opinions on taboo dinner table conversation--everyone here is giving them that warning look and is leaning toward Giuliani or, begrudgingly, McCain . . . though they are wishing--wistfully--that Thompson seemed to give a damn. I think my family are less fair to Romney in their assessment of him as a wise a** college kid using religion as a way to show us his verbal fortitude--because the substance of what he said was very close to what I have said here . . . but, again, it was the timing. No one listened to the substance of his speech. The perception is what will matter in the end.

Discussions - 2 Comments

With all due respect, this post seems to suggest that we should treat politics with the same casual, touchy feely politeness of family. Romney's speech sounded great but was riddled with inconsistency. I would rather have a "rude" but philosophically sound person in office than a person who can give a good sales pitch. Politics should be a place where every part of a candidate is on display (yes even his faith). Thus, it seems that we have more to gain as a country by looking at every aspect of a candidate. We are electing this person to hold the highest office in the "free world!" That seems a little different than just passing the gravy.

Every metaphor can be stretched too far . . . and I agree with Brutus that there are times when what we call "rude" at a family gathering is necessary--and even good--in politics. Killing terrorists (for example) is quite different work than passing the gravy! But, then again, the head of the family must defend his home. As far as the metaphor stretches, I still hold there are things we can learn from it. Just don't try to stretch it too far.

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