In the first case, a reader named Liz responded to my relentless Romney vs. Santorum logic as follows:
Ughhh. What a totally un-romantic analysis. I hope you didn’t choose a wife this way. If so, trust me – she feels totally unloved.
Liz, you’re exactly right. My analysis of politics is unromantic. And no, I didn’t pick a wife that way! There’s no contradiction there–because marriage and politics are very different things. Romance is a key part of a good marriage (so is logic, by the way) but more than a tiny bit of it is a recipe for disaster in politics. It is a mistake for us to put politicians on a pedestal the way we so often do. They are fallen men and women, just like the rest of us, and by electing them to significant office we are throwing them into a lion’s den of temptation, threats, and relentless demands from the left for other people’s money. Even the best ones invariably disappoint–including President Reagan, by the way. I admire him deeply, but you can’t argue that he failed to achieve his goal of shrinking the federal government. Thomas Jefferson famously pointed out that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty–and he didn’t say “unless your preferred candidate wins.” Politicians are not the proper subjects of our adoration (or our hatred, by the way). They are to be held accountable. If that sounds bloodless and unromantic, it’s because the stakes are truly that high: If we screw this up, we are at risk of losing the America that has led the world for so long.
Secondly, during that radio interview, I remarked that I would not let Gov. Romney watch my daughter, which spurred a fair amount of controversy, and I’m remiss in responding. Sorry. Belatedly, though, the point I was making then is very similar to the one above: It is right to get involved in politics, but it is wrong to lionize preferred politicians whom you really don’t know. In my case, unlike David and Nancy, I don’t know Gov. Romney personally. I’ve spent a tiny amount of time with him and several hours, at this point, watching him on TV. It’s not that I don’t like him and think he’s a good man–I do. But the highest compliment I can pay someone is to entrust my precious daughter to his care, and I wouldn’t pay that compliment to anyone I don’t really know, including any of the current presidential candidates.
What I find in American politics today, however, is that based on watching TV, we tend to decide we “trust” and/or “know” certain politicians. In the evangelical bubble, this often takes the form of statements like “I know [insert politician's name here]‘s heart” or “I can tell he is a strong Christian.” My response to that is: You’re fooling yourself. You can’t know these things based on watching someone on TV. If you think you can, you are likely to fall victim to someone saying the things he knows you want to hear (and by the way, the words to use if you want to make evangelicals fall all over you are pretty easy–Speaker Gingrich played many of us like a fiddle earlier this cycle). We don’t really know these people, and they have an incentive to do everything in their power to make us fall head over heels in love with them. It’s wise to resist that. After all, Jesus commanded us to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Too often, we evangelicals tend to be as silly as schoolgirls and as vindictive as unbelievers, depending on the candidate.
Unless I actually know a politician very personally–for example, my preferred U.S. Senate candidate this cycle here in Pennsylvania, with whom I spent many hours before he ever ran, and whom I therefore would trust with my little girl–I adopt President Reagan’s famous maxim about the Soviets: Trust but verify. You may say that’s unromantic, but again, politics isn’t romance. It’s deadly serious business. The guy who wins the White House doesn’t become our babysitter or Sunday school teacher or neighbor; he gets the power to deploy soldiers and even nuclear weapons, to appoint judges who will decide whether millions of unborn babies live or die, and to make charges to a national “credit card” our kids will have to pay off. If we step into this fray naively, we will destroy our country. That’s not an exaggeration; it’s a fact. And if you ask me, blind, overly romantic trust in Republicans who say the right things and then fail to do them is a non-trivial part of why we’re in such dire straits today.