There are few people that I have more respect for than former Reagan ambassador Alan Keyes. Ever since I read his book in high school called “Our Character, Our Future,” I’ve believed that Alan Keyes is a voice for righteousness in a nation that sees darkness creeping in from all directions. That doesn’t mean I’m always going to agree with him, though I can probably count on one hand the times I remember disagreeing.
But beginning in the last election, I’ve been disappointed to see Keyes outline an absolutist position on politics that is unfortunate, and I believe untenable if we are to bring our country back from the brink of collapse. Don’t misunderstand, I believe in absolutes. I believe there is an absolute right and wrong for the situations we face as human beings. I also believe that we can absolutize nothing but Christ. And it’s on this latter point where I worry that Keyes is falling short. Seeking, or believing that a political candidate will arise who will be perfect in word or deed is not only impossible, it smacks of the same kind of unrealistic expectations for a flawed man that we saw the Obama Zombies place on “The One” in 2008. Yet, in a recent piece entitled “Obama or Romney: the Republic Fails Either Way,” Keyes writes the following:
In 2008 I refused to support John McCain and rejected the specious argument that made it imperative to support the “lesser of evils.” Christ made it unequivocally clear that it is always imperative to apply the standard of God. (“Be ye perfect even as your heavenly father is perfect.”)
While clarifying this standard, he goes on to note his belief that the “lesser of two evils” scenario is what we are presented with again, this time between Romney and Obama. Though this is a clichéd phrase, I think it’s important to be cautious before throwing around the term “evil” to define individuals. Certainly I have not been hesitant to use the term evil to describe some of the ideas and positions held by this president. And I do not argue with those who point out that Romney has once held similar positions on some of those issues. Does he still? Not according to his direct words. Is his word trustworthy? Is doubt in the authenticity of his words enough to define him as an “evil” choice in this campaign. Those are questions that I don’t believe can be answered so easily and so quickly.
I know Alan Keyes recognizes the limitations of politics. I know that he knows the cross can do what politics can’t. But I think it is a critical thing for Christians to remember in election season that we are not choosing a “spiritual leader” for the country. Simply gaze through our list of presidents and even in the great ones you will find few that you would regard as spiritual mentors and leaders. No Spurgeons, no Campbells, no Wesleys, no Luthers, no Chambers. This isn’t to say that I don’t want our leader to be spiritual. I do. I don’t want to trust the execution of the laws of man to someone who fails to acknowledge and submit to the law of God. But there is more than a semantics difference there.
Should he be elected president, Mitt Romney has carved out a platform on issues that would take us in a direction opposite that of Barack Obama. From the size and scope of government, to the tax code, to the more important issues of life and family. That cannot be overlooked. Contrary to the absolutist nature of our own worldviews and theology, our political system crumbles if we apply the same standards. That doesn’t mean there can’t be “make or break” issues. That doesn’t mean there can’t be “deal breakers” for who we will support. It simply means that we do not have the luxury of waiting for the perfect candidate if we seek to make positive change in our culture.
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If what I’m arguing is enough to be termed “choosing the lesser of two evils,” show me a single election in American history where the same cannot be said. Show me a single election at any level of government at any moment in history where one of the candidates would not be guilty of evil put to the standard of perfection. Explain to me how any Christian can then legitimately participate in the election process. That is the trouble with applying absolutist dogma to political leaders (notice I didn’t say issues).
I spoke with Christian radio host Steve Deace on my show several weeks ago, and he outlined his support for Newt Gingrich (hardly a candidate who would meet the standard of perfection) by analogizing the political game to a football game. Obama has been on the one yard line pushing for the touchdown to end the civilization. Deace suggested that Newt would take over and start throwing long bombs down the field to move us in the other direction. He suggested that Mitt would take the ball and run it straight up the middle for virtually no gain for four years and then hand it over to the left after accomplishing nothing. He may be right. But what was implicit in his argument? That Newt and Mitt were both going in one direction (one just more aggressive than the other), and Obama was going in the other. That’s the point that I think Keyes is missing.
In the end, Keyes may prove right. Regardless of who we select, Obama or Romney, the republic may fail. I would contend that even if we chose someone like Reagan or even Alan Keyes, our republic might still fail. That is certainly the lesson of history that we may be able to delay, but as the Lord tarries probably not avoid. Our political system has become corrupted, bloated, and over-regulatory to the point that the once ingenious government complexity that protected our freedom has been transformed into a freedom obliterating bureaucratic state. It is unlikely that any one president is going to be able to reverse that tide.
Indeed, I think Keyes would agree with me that the kind of government we need is one that respects the self-government concept of our Founders. But self-government only works when there is a common morality amongst the people – something that government should encourage, but that government cannot dictate or ensure (no matter who the president is). That is up to the church, the community, the people. And our effectiveness is revealed in the kind of candidates we are nominating, not vice versa.
The question that is put before us then is not one of choosing or finding a perfect candidate – and refusing to vote for anyone who isn’t. That’s a flawed strategy that will all but ensure the heightened and speedy demise of our civilization. Rather, it is our job in the political realm to be setting a direction, a course, and determining the philosophies we want our government to hold.
To that end, Obama is going in one direction...one defined in some areas by evil; Mitt Romney – for all his flaws – is promising to go in another.