Summary: Twenty-first political campaigns in the United States seem to be a far cry from the intentions of the founding fathers of our country. And yet, the aspirations for titles and positions go back in history. Every organization with people seems to have a pol
It’s that time of year again… the air is cool and crisp, the days are getting shorter, the leaves are beginning to fall, and the television is full of pithy little advertising spots exhorting why I should choose one candidate over another. I think I’ve figured out how to identify a negative attack ad simply from the first two seconds of the soundtrack playing under the announcer’s voice. What was once an overwhelming number of For Sale signs throughout Cape Elizabeth are now outnumbered by little pasteboard signs simply proclaiming the name of a candidate—and occasionally a cute little slogan. My mailbox has already received multiple campaign fliers, and I think we’ve been called by pollsters at least 4 or 5 times during the last month.
Obviously, modern technology has completely changed the face of political campaigns. We are a media-saturated culture, and candidates work harder to condense their message into soundbites that can complement a compelling image on our television set. In a recent interview with Leadership magazine, Andy Stanley was quoted as saying, “You cannot communicate complicated information to large groups of people. As you increase the number of people, you have to decrease the complexity of the information
While Andy was talking about the discernment process in the life of the church, his comments accurately reflect the political campaign process in the United States. Indeed, as the population of the United States has grown, and the issues have become more complex, the campaigning seems to have become more simplistic and elementary. Advertisements are designed to appeal to our emotions, not our brains—and even debates are now highly orchestrated media events designed to attract viewers and sell commercial space. Adlai Stevenson, Democratic candidate for president in 1952 and 1956 said, “The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.”
Certainly, political campaigns didn’t used to be like this—I’m not even sure that the founding fathers could have imagined the amount of money which would be spent (dare I say, “wasted”) as candidates aspired to greatness. The strategies, maneuverings, political back-stabbing, and the back-room deals all seem contrary to our desire of discovering someone with high ideals and the ability to lead our nation. I’m even tempted to suggest that the biggest problem in American politics is directly related to our campaign practices.
I like to try to imagine what the first presidential elections were like—in the days when the country was unified around a person that had demonstrated they could do the job that needed to be done. I may be naïve, but I like to think that George Washington didn’t campaign for president or attempt political maneuvers to be elected. I like to think that consensus developed among those first delegates, and that they elected the only person that they felt could do the job. What we do know is that that first electoral college unanimously cast their ballots for George Washington to be the first president. According to the official White House website, Washington was disappointed at the end of his first term because “two parties were developing…in his farewell address (at the end of his second term), he urged his countrymen to forswear excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions.” I’m confident that Washington would be very disappointed if he could see the elaborate campaigns that are orchestrated today.
And yet, campaigns are not simply an element of United States politics. As long as there have been people and as long as their have been organizations made up of people, there have been politics and campaigns. Even Jesus’ Kingdom was not exempt from the sort of political maneuvering that is commonplace today. In our Gospel lesson today, you heard how James and John didn’t think twice before approaching Jesus with what they probably thought was a very normal and appropriate question—they wanted to be Jesus’ right-hand man (and His left-hand man). They wanted everyone to know that they were the ones Jesus relied on—his assistants and the two that would be in charge if anything ever happened to Jesus. They wanted to make sure that they didn’t go down in history simply as part of the Twelve, but wanted to be identified as special.
Don’t give James and John a hard time, now—for their behavior isn’t really all that bizarre. Have you ever thought about why people give their entire life (for two years) to help run a presidential campaign? While there are exceptions, it’s probably not because they want to be professional campaigners—it’s because they hope to stand out and be noticed by the candidate they are campaigning for. They’re hoping for a job in the administration of their candidate—assuming their candidate wins the campaign. James and John are probably just doing what comes natural—they want to know who’s going to be the “Chief of Staff” and who’s going to be the “Press Secretary.” These are important issues to figure out before Jesus comes to power.