Thursday, September 04, 2008

Changing the Tone - a Political Opinion ...

Spoiler alert: I am about to express a political opinion. For those of you who do not feel it is appropriate for pastors to have, or at least to express political opinions, you may want to skip on ahead to another blog. You have been warned ...

I've been watching the political conventions, and all four presidential and vice-presidential candidates say that they want to change our government. They all say, essentially, that the government isn't working like it should and one of the main things they all want to do is change it. McCain's line is "Washington is broken." Obama's line is, "Yes we can."

Additionally, in order to give evidence for the need of change, they all list off many of the same symptoms - high gas prices, the ubiquitous but poignant "single mother" story, unattainable health insurance, the ongoing war in Iraq, jobs being sent to foreign countries, deteriorating relationships with our global partners, and so forth. Both conventions featured litanies that were remarkably similar.

But there is at least one very stark difference between the two campaigns in how they talk about changing things.

Obama says, We are going to change things but they are not. Whereas McCain says, We both are going to change things, but ours will be 'good change' whereas theirs would be 'bad change.' This is a pretty big philosophical difference. I like McCain's approach better, because at least he is acknowledging that Obama has some new ideas. He just doesn't like them. Obama is just saying that McCain just has old ideas, and would offer nothing new. I don't think that's fair.

Actually, what I truly believe is that neither one of them is going to change things all that much. The two-party bureaucracy that is the U.S. federal government is so entrenched, so ingrained, things are going to pretty much function as they have been for a while, and a new president is not going to make that much of a practical, policy level, this-is-how-we-get-things-done kind of way. I mean, the checks and balances of our system of government are there for a reason, right? I remember high school civics class - the president just doesn't have unlimited power.

How the president can change things, in my opinion, is by the tone that is set, the atmosphere in which the government operates. Truly great leaders motivate the people around them by creating an atmosphere of enthusiasm, support, and encouragement. This atmosphere is contrasted with bitterness, selfishness, and just downright meanness that can cripple any environment in which people work together - a business, a church, or a government.

So I'm going to be listening to the two campaigns very closely over the next few weeks, to hear the tone that is being set. Because if they talk about change in a bitter, selfish, and mean tone - that's really no change at all. That's how Washington is now; it's what McCain means when he says it is broken. How ironic it would be if they talked about changing things using the exact same tone that they are trying to change! That just wouldn't work.

But, if they talk about change with enthusiasm, support, encouragement, and (dare I say it without sounding partisan) hope, then they will be modelling the change they would bring. I believe that politicians lead like they campaign, and if you campaign with bitter name calling and mean attacks on your opponents, that's probably how you will lead, too. If you campaign by saying, I'm going to force my agenda through, no matter what others think, that's probably how you will lead, too.

And on the flipside, if you campaign by saying, I'm going to work together with many different people, try to bring together many different sides of every issue for dialogue, and listen to as much information as possible from all sides before making a decision, well that's probably how you will lead as well.

And in my opinion, that would be a pretty good change.

So Barack, John, Sarah, and Joe, if you read this, here's what I want to hear from you. I want to hear respect and hope and open mindedness and willingness to admit you are wrong and the ability to compromise and thoughtfulness and integrity and good humor and humility.

And here's what I don't want to hear from you. I don't want to hear what your oppenent is or is not going to do - I want to hear what YOU are going to do. I don't want to hear about your opponent's experience or lack thereof - I want to hear about YOURS. I don't want to hear any details about your opponent's personal life including their kids, their spouse, their faith, their beverage of choice, and so forth - I want to hear about YOU, as much as you are willing to share.

Don't tell me why I shouldn't vote for the other one, tell me why I should vote for you. Tell me how YOU will change the tone of our government.

Or better yet - show me!


John said...

So Barack, John, Sarah, and Joe, if you read this, here's what I want to hear from you. I want to hear respect and hope and open mindedness and willingness to admit you are wrong and the ability to compromise and thoughtfulness and integrity and good humor and humility.

Good luck.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I agree with John-- good luck... and a good post.

Adam L. Gordon said...

Thanks for this, Andy.


John Schmalzbauer said...

Three cheers for civility.
As an Obama supporter, I liked the tone of last night's McCain speech much better than the previous evening's "red meat" addresses. He actually said some gracious things about the other side.

Still, I wonder how much McCain himself is responsible for the negative ads (Obama the Messiah spot) put out by his team. The "celebrity" ad from this summer seened to go beyond the good change/bad change contrast. It made me wonder if McCain is letting his operatives play bad cop, while the candidate acts all magnanimous.

I agree with you Andy that the Obama campaign could be more honest about McCain's potential as a reformer, even while making the case that he doesn't go far enough.

Also, maybe the next time there is a negative advertisement, the other side should turn the other cheek. That would be a real change in politics.

John Schmalzbauer said...

P.S. to my previous post:

Of course, maybe I should have taken my own advice and praised McCain's civility without mentioning his negative ads.

Brad said...

Andy, your idealism is showing.

What a world it would be if candidates stopped talking about each other and started talking about what they would do!

i echo your hopes, and your pessimism that anything is going to change all that much.

but here's a question: can a person who votes with an administration 90% of the time really call himself a maverick that will change washington? In fact, you've inspired me to post...

Carey Adams said...

I think both candidates have been guilty of playing "good cop" in their own comments while letting their campaigns and surrogates talk trash. It's pretty hard to take McCain's kind words about Obama at face value on the heels of those speeches by Fred Thompson, Sarah Palin, and others. And there has been way too much talk from Democrats slamming Sarah Palin for having a pregnant teenage daughter while Obama tells reporters that families should be off limits.

Anonymous said...

My primary exception to either campaign is when McCain is referred to as the original maverick. The original Maverick is, and always will be James Garner. Garner, who entertained us all with the Rockford Files despited having bad knees (from war injuries no less, two puple hearts.) Garner, who bravely led the "Beef, it's what for dinner," campaign for the U.S. Cattelman's Association, prominently eating steak while recovering from quintuple bypass heart surgery. Race car driver, golfer, American icon.
Garner for President 2008.

steveh said...

I'll be glad when the election is over...

Gregg said...

Unfortunately, the political approach you speak of hasn't ever seemed to work... What works is Karl Rove divisiveness and personal attacks. What really galls me is that people listen to all of that crap and make decisions based on it! We are a pitiful nation that has a popularity contest to find out who will lead us. I, too, wish it were different.

BruceA said...

John S -

Also, maybe the next time there is a negative advertisement, the other side should turn the other cheek. That would be a real change in politics.

John Kerry tried that in 2004, after the Swift Boat ads, and all it got him was a reputation of being untrustworthy.

History shows that negative advertising moves voters. I don't know if it is possible to change that.