Spirituality for Today – October 2008 – Volume 13, Issue 3

None of the Above

By Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

A photo of a stack of newspapers with the words Election 2008After a season of campaigning that seems to have lasted nearly as long as a presidential term of office, the day of the election is almost here. No last minute political endorsements lie ahead in this article, just a political option. The great state of California has an intriguingly seductive addition to the usual array of ballot choices: None of the Above. Apparently, the voters of California can express their displeasure with the candidates offered to them by choosing that option. I would like to cast my vote in favor of the inclusion of this selection on ballots nationwide. In their wisdom – and frustration – the voting citizens of the Golden State do not perceive this selection as wasting their vote, but as making their point. They want better candidates!

In the words of the poet Adrienne Rich, "We assume politicians are without honor. We read their statements trying to catch the code. The scandals of their politics: not so much that men in high places lie, only that they do so with such indifference, so endlessly, still expecting to be believed. We are accustomed to the contempt inherent in the political lie."

The electorate is crying out for office seekers of sound moral character and palpable political competence. Albeit of varying political credos, candidates must be devoted to the principles and values that created and sustained America to this point. Attempting to list the desirable qualities of a candidate, one may find one's self uttering platitudes such as: a person who can sense the mood, take the pulse, feel the pain, and hear the voice of the nation. Yet, these phrases may appear so commonplace because they are so necessary. The people want a candidate whom they can trust to protect, secure, and enhance the well being of the country; a leader whom they can depend on to be steadfast in pursuing the good and to be wise in discerning the way.

The other side of the coin may be that the candidates want better voters. Candidates feel compelled to tell particular audiences what they want to hear and only what they want to hear. If a voter will support a candidate solely on the voter's parochial interests being satisfied, the candidate concludes that his or her statements must address these issues alone. This may result in speeches filled with ambiguous affirmations, selective truths, or outright deceptions. On account of this myopic attitude, the voter actually aids in creating the questionable status by which many politicians are perceived. Much of the "pork" attached to bills before the legislature often result from some grudging promise made on the campaign trail.

As I said before, when a society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish.

Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand; or your republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth Century as the Roman Empire was in the fifth; – with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who savaged the Roman Empire came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your own country by your own institutions.

–letter to Henry Stevens Randall, May 23,1857 from Thomas Babington Macaulay

The candidates would like to address a populace that is just as concerned about the common good as about regional issues. Often, the needs of a particular area of the country become paramount and national efforts are required to remedy those problems. One might look at the massive rescue efforts in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. The members of any viable community or of any thriving society live in a relationship of give and take; the individual and the group each have a claim on the other. In a free society, there exists a dynamic tension between the part and the whole. Often, in the process of lawmaking, sacrifices and compromises are necessary to establish a balance of justice between local and national issues. Our institutions would be well served by a voting populace who are aware and responsive to these distinctions.

With all of the hopes and prayers of an expectant citizenry, a new administration and a new legislature will take upon themselves the burdens of governance. One can hope that they meet the challenges before them successfully. Let there be a time when every election provides candidates that the voter would feel confident.