On possibly being a political junkie

By Johan Maurer
January 14, 2008

Well, am I a political junkie? Certainly, I used to be one. That became apparent to me back during the closing phase of the 1992 US presidential campaign, when I was doing a lot of travel for Friends World Committee for Consultation.

One of those trips, just before election day, involved a retreat during which I had no easy access to radio, television, or newspapers. I definitely experienced withdrawal symptoms, followed by a welcome period of strangely unfamiliar peace and calm.

After that experience, I never again let myself get so completely hooked into the need for moment-by-moment access to political news, even during election season. And the nature of my interest has shifted, too. At one time I loaded all my hopes on the successes or failures of particular candidates--which of course added to my cravings, because each new poll would be another "hit."

Of course I still care about the candidates, but now I'm just as interested in the overall levels of popular participation as I am in the fates of individual candidates. If there is such a thing as the crowd's wisdom, it seems more likely to be exercised if the "crowd" is actually involved.

Even if the crowd seems subject to manipulation in any given race, the evolution of community identity seems to me to be a precious quality in the long run. This is one of the silver linings I see in the recent Russian electoral results.

Howard Zinn writes that elections are often a distraction to give people a sense of efficacy when the actual choice of candidates is drawn from a fairly undifferentiated set of elites, all of whom are committed one way or another to the protection of elite privileges. As analysis of the past, this is too often true, but is it relevant?

Actual sea changes in politics come rarely, but they do come, so don't let cynicism make you a functional reactionary!

The New York Times recently editorialized that President Bush's abuses of power have been so shocking that "... the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them." So what are the chances that any of the likely winners of the current US presidential race will actually take on that full agenda?

To put it another way, what are the chances that we'll elect a hero who will restore the Constitution and national honor on his or her own? I doubt that will happen. I put a lot more hope in an aroused electorate making it clear in many different ways that we want our country back.

I have some additional hopes and expectations for a very specific segment of the US electorate: evangelical Christians. For this community, of which I'm a member, hero-worship has been a terrible, costly, and arguably demonic temptation.

Political operatives who basically despised us apparently used a tempting collage of redemptive story lines and faux morality to seduce far too many of us into a politics of total ethical bankruptcy whose victims range from millions of Iraqi civilians to millions of American mortgage holders. From now on, brothers and sisters, read the actual Bible, not the cooked books of political religiosity.

"I can't stand your religious meetings. I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That's what I want. That's all I want." (Amos 5.21-24, The Message.)


(c) Johan Maurer is a freelance writer and recorded Friends minister planning to live in Elektrostal, Russia. He has until recently been based in Portland, Oregan, USA. His weekly commentaries appear on Can you believe?

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