As I write this, we are one week from election day. We have heard (endlessly) from both major political parties that this election will determine the future of our nation. Each party’s candidate declares that they will lead us to peace and prosperity, while the other party will lead us to ruin. The ads that fill our TV screens, newspapers, and social media feeds lionize Candidate A and demonize Candidate B.
I am glad I live in a country where I have the right to vote and, in doing so, have a voice in determining the direction of our nation, state, and community. It is not a perfect system, and it is one that can create a great sense of frustration, but it is a rare privilege in the history of nations that we can cast a vote that matters.
As we look at the array of candidates scattered across the ballot, it can leave us feeling a bit disillusioned. How often have you walked out of the polling place only to admit that you had to “hold your nose” as you voted for a particular candidate? We know that no candidate (just like no person or pastor) is perfect, but we long for better choices to fill these important offices.
I woke up this morning thinking of what was most important for me when considering a candidate. I’m not talking about their voting record or party affiliation, but I’m referring to the kind of person they are. In other words, what kind of person do I desire to see running for political office.
A PERSON OF CHARACTER. We have plenty of characters holding public office, but not nearly enough women and men of true character. What I desire to see are people who can be trusted.
How do do you know if a politician is lying? If he’s moving his lips, he’s lying. Too often this is the case. We have a wealth of promise-makers and a dearth of promise-keepers. I understand that politics is the art of compromise. Elected leaders cannot always deliver on the commitments they make, because those decisions are not made in a vacuum but are formed in a maelstrom of divergent views. We all understand this.
Just tell me the truth. I can handle it. I want a man or woman whom I feel I can trust to make the hard decisions based on the best interest of the citizenry, rather that their desire to get re-elected for another term.
A PERSON OF CONVICTION. In addition to character, I want to see a candidate or office holder who has genuine convictions. I want to know where that person stands. I don’t want a person who is inflexible and unwilling to listen to reason or even change their mind. I want someone who has a sense of what is right and what is wrong. And I want that person to be willing to do the right thing even if it’s not the popular thing.
A PERSON WITH COMPASSION. The most capable and trustworthy of leaders needs to have a heart. It is not enough that he or she loves this country; I want them to love people. This may seems a little mushy, and perhaps it is. A leader needs to be able to have the perspective of distance, to have the ability to step back and see the big picture. But a leader also needs to know that the decisions they make not only affect financial markets and consumer confidence; those decisions also impact families.
A politician may make beautiful speeches with star-spangled backgrounds, but do they care, truly care for the people that make up the nation? Is their concern only for a segment of their constituency or for all? Are they as concerned for the least of these as they are for those perceived to be far greater? Perhaps it is naive of me, but I earnestly want them to be people of compassion.
A PERSON OF CONFIDENCE. With compassion, convictions, and character, a leader can point people to a brighter future and begin to lead them there. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthian church that if a trumpet doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the people know to get ready for battle (1 Corinthians 14:8)? If a leader is uncertain and wavering, it is nearly impossible to hold the confidence of the people.
Arrogance, of course, is a poor and dangerous substitute for confidence. Arrogance will cause a leader to ignore differing opinions and forge ahead believing that he or she knows best. I want a leader with confidence. I want a leader who is strong. But I want a leader who is confident enough that she or he is willing to listen to wise counsel and make course adjustments while holding onto deeply held convictions and maintaining the integrity of their character.
A PERSON WITH COMMON SENSE. It would be nice to have a genius running things, but I’d rather have someone with common sense – that ability to process information through a filter of sound, practical judgment. This is not ignoring the facts or downplaying intelligence; rather, it is the exercise of real-world intelligence rather than merely “book smarts.”
I am not saying I want those in leadership to just act based on their “gut,” but I do want them to consider what their “gut” is telling them. Admittedly, this is a bit difficult to quantify, but leaders who display common sense along with intelligence create confidence in their constituency.
PERHAPS I’M EXPECTING TOO MUCH. I’ll admit that the list above is daunting. It would be a challenge to fill a compact car with elected officials who could check all the boxes. Still, I am convinced that we need to set higher standards for those seeking high offices.
In a 2018 NPR/PBS/Marist poll, pollsters reported the confidence level in the Presidency stood at 43%. For Congress it was even worse – 25%. Do we deserve better? Yes, but we have the leaders we elected. If we want better, we need to demand better.
But… before we grab our picket signs and hit the streets, let us consider one thing further – Perhaps our political leaders are a pretty fair reflection of our culture. In other words, we don’t have higher expectations of our leaders because we don’t have higher expectations of ourselves. We may want to vote for people of character, conviction, compassion, confidence, and common sense, but are we committed to be those kind of people?
Note: If you haven’t voted early, make your plans to cast your vote. There are no perfect candidates. Be informed, pray, vote, and then pray some more – and don’t forget to be gracious in victory, as well as, in defeat. Remember, our candidates are not our messiahs. People will disappoint us. Political parties will let us down. Make sure your confidence is someone who is sure and certain, and whose promises are always kept. Jesus is not on the ballot, but He can be in your heart!