dimanche, septembre 09, 2007

My editorial from the Intel-Politicians Fail to Lead by Example

Politicians failing to lead by example

By Elizabeth

If the Republican Party leadership wants to hold onto a significant number of Senate and House seats in next year's elections, they better not run on the "family values" platform.
In the face of a torrent of scandals, when it seems like every time we look around another pillar of the right wing is being busted on ethics violations or admitting to sexual "sin," that phrase is coming to seem increasingly hollow.
Thus somehow it wasn't surprising when, last spring, that icon of the right, the architect of the '90s Republican Revolution, Newt Gingrich, admitted he was having an affair right around the time he was investigating former President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair.
When it comes to the idea that politicians can be role models for us or for our kids, the bloom is long since off the rose.
That is really too bad, because those of us who are trying to raise children with sound, faith-based values in a throw-away culture need all the help we can get.
We shuddered when we heard about former Florida Rep. Mark Foley sending sexually explicit messages to former Congressional pages who could have been our sons.
We were disgusted when Louisianan David Vitter's acknowledgment that he had a business relationship with a dubious D.C. escort service went virtually unrebuked by his Senate cronies.
As the mother of a 10-year-old boy, I was both outraged and grossed out when Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig (who may be contesting the charges against him and reconsidering his decision to resign) was arrested on charges of trolling for sex in a public restroom.
It's not that Democrats haven't had their own share of ethical misdemeanors — former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey resigned after revealing he had an affair with a man he had once appointed to a state job, and Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson was indicted last spring by a federal grand jury on bribery and corruption charges.
What is nauseating is the idea that, again and again, various denizens of the religious right have acted as though they alone were defending public morality against the depredations of those who threatened it — particularly immigrants (illegal and in some cases legal), abortion-rights activists and gays who want civil unions and the ability to marry.
As evangelical scholar (my former colleague) and Palmer Seminary professor Ron Sider has pointed out for years, American evangelicals in general don't have a great track record on traditional "sin" issues, from sexual promiscuity, racism and domestic violence to divorce and materialism.
The point here is not that because various members of the religious right are constantly being exposed as hypocrites, that makes their ideological foes correct. Nor does it let various liberal mainliners and their ethical relativism off the hook.
It's rather that the pride and self-righteousness of some religious conservatives, the gap between their public avowal and private practice, not only disgusts the faithful, but drives away those who desperately need to have faith in God, who is both just and merciful.
One theme that threads the Gospel stories is the encounters Jesus has with the religious authorities of his day. By and large, he doesn't appear to have been too fond of them.
Why? They majored in the minors, and they were much better about attacking other people for their misdeeds than about admitting their own sins.
A comment by journalism professor and blogger Jeff Jarvis in a recent New York Times article on open secrets in the political world left a deep impression on me. If the public expects that politicians will be moral leaders, they are naïve, he asserts. "There is always a taint of, if not corruption, then compromise about them," he said. "This idea that they are moral leaders is moronic."
In my more cynical moments, I am impelled to agree with Jarvis. Our political leaders at the moment are not role models I would like my children to emulate.
But call me a moron (many have).
I do continue to believe that contrition can be genuine, and even the most hardened sinner can turn from the path they are on and repent. And I also know something else — that what I criticize in them I am most afraid of in myself.
A politician chastened by the acknowledgment of his or her own brokenness, slow to judgment, quick to mercy, is not necessarily going to make a flashy campaigner — may not even win the election. But he or she has the capacity to win the trust of a people weary of having that confidence abused and to transform a culture sick of half-truths into something both healthier and more whole.
Isn't that, at least in part, what politics is all about?

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