Between Two Thieves

I hate elections. It’s not that I don’t value my right to vote, but I hate the time leading up to elections. I hate the posturing, the rhetoric, the mudslinging, and especially the commercials.

Why don’t we all just admit what we know deep down inside? No elected official will ever keep all of his or her campaign promises. I’m not saying they’re all liars (though I wouldn’t rule that out). I’m sure many of them really believe that what they propose is the best thing (let’s not ask for whom just yet), and I’m sure that many of them sincerely believe they will keep those promises. As I said in my blog entry, Truth, Justice and the American Way, I’m convinced that when any president wins an election, the first thing that happens after being sworn in is that they take the new president aside and tell him, “Now here are all the secret reasons why you can’t keep those campaign promises.”

But the real issue is that for any elected official, the number one priority is always getting re-elected. And polls only make it worse because they’re all skewed to report only the opinions of people who answer polls (which I never do) – and then they run the risk of creating what they claim to report. I’ve already suggested in my blog entry, The Truth is in the Middle, that the current system is broken. Now I just recently read that people outside the U.S. see our political situation as, “hopelessly polarized.” That’s what they think of us, and to a large extent they’re right. We need another choice besides the extremes, one that isn’t just a little closer to the middle (taking votes from one party or the other), but one that is truly in the middle – taking votes from both parties.

I learned a new word when I was in Jamaica once: Politricks. The word implies a deep distrust of politicians, and I can understand why. The rhetoric of politicians and pundits is often nothing more than empty words echoing in a vacuum. Here’s an example. I saw a post on facebook stating that Stephen Colbert said this: “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition, and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Now, I like Colbert as much as the next guy, and I know that many people are giving each other facebook high fives over this quote. So I’m sorry if I’m going to rain on your rhetorical parade, but these are just words in a vacuum. They sound good, like they could be part of a rousing sermon – but they’re meaningless, and here’s why. It’s not that anyone thinks Jesus didn’t tell us to feed the hungry, or that anyone doesn’t want to feed the hungry. The problem is that we can’t agree on how to feed the hungry. Should the government do it? Should it be up to the religious groups? Should it be up to the individual conscience? Quotes like this only make the polarization worse, because they feed the self-righteousness of one extreme or the other, claiming a monopoly on common sense against the other side. Great for ratings, bad for people.

When the emperor Constantine took over the Roman Empire in the fourth century (312 CE in the west, 324 CE in the east), he was hoping that the Church would help him unify the empire. But what he found out was that the Church was apparently, “hopelessly polarized,” so before he could unify the empire, he had to figure out how to unify the Church. Unfortunately, our situation is in some ways the same. The Church is itself also very polarized, with different factions within the Church aligning with the respective extreme political parties (I count both the Republican and Democratic parties among the extremes).

Another interesting fact about the Roman Empire is that the men who made up the senate were all super rich. Not surprised? Well, do you know how they justified this? The rationale was that you could trust rich people more because they don’t need to steal. (pause for laughter). Seriously – that was their reasoning. Now of course we know that rich people DO steal, and the fact that rich people steal in spite of their wealth is just more proof that money can’t buy happiness.

We still live in a world where only the super-wealthy can be politicians, and this is perhaps the biggest part of the problem, because they will always do what’s best for them, even if they have to lie to the poor people to get elected (and stay in office). This goes for donkeys as much as elephants. The difference between the Roman senate and our own government is that in the Roman Empire politics was a volunteer position. They didn’t get paid for it (which is why they had to be wealthy, so they could afford to have a full time job with no salary). But don’t feel sorry for them – often they would get a cushy gig as the governor of a province and skim the taxes to pay for retirement.

The point is that there was a time when politics was a service to the public. Now it’s self-service. It’s an ambition. It’s an office one buys with campaign dollars. It’s an end in itself, justifying the means of saying whatever one needs to say to get elected. And the truth (and indeed the people) are all caught in the middle, crucified between the two thieves of the extreme left and the extreme right.

This is the point where I usually try to offer some ways we can fix the problem. I don’t want to be one of those people who complain about the problem without at least the suggestion of a solution. But sometimes it sounds a bit too facile. I would love to say to the left and the right of the Church, “C’mon Church, let’s get together – you know, They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love, and all that jazz. But at the end of the day, I got nothin’. I don’t have a good solution, or even some way to start down the right path. I honestly think we really are, “hopelessly polarized,” and fixing it might take starting from scratch in some areas (#cough# flat tax #cough#).

Realistically, there is no global fix. It’s going to take change on the individual level, beginning one person, one heart, at a time. But no one can make that happen for anyone other than him- or herself. I firmly believe that peace on earth begins with peace of mind, and that only happens when a person does some real soul-searching.

To that end, I recently made what I’d like to think is an encouraging, inspirational video based on some of the concepts from Spiritual Blueprint. It’s the first of three, but it’s only a couple of minutes long. Check it out, I hope you like it. Here’s the link (feel free to share it):

Jim Papandrea

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About Jim Papandrea

Jim Papandrea is an author, educator, and singer/songwriter. Visit his website at:
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