Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Proverbs 29) transports me to a civil war battleground that has only recently emerged. It’s not likely to be the arena for re-enactors in blue and gray to face off, though; it’s a battle between different shades of red. It was David Bossie, president of the arch-conservative Citizens United pac, that announced a few weeks ago that The Civil War has begun. Another of his political leaning, Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks fame, modernized his analogy, saying This is a little bit like gang warfare right now. These and other Tea Party types were reacting to the announcement by establishment Republican leader Karl Rove that he was creating a new superpac, Conservative Victory Project. This project aims not to target Democrats for defeat, but extreme, unelectable, unviable candidates in the 2014 Republican Senatorial primaries. Translated: he is taking on the Tea Party, vowing to vet potential candidates so that reliably red states like Indiana will not again blow it by selecting ideological purists likely to offend the all important middle, the swing voters. The Tea Partiers are loaded for bear and are gearing up for the war, be it civil or gang, determined to continue their own vetting process that will bring true believers into the halls of power. It all points to a potentially interesting mid-term campaign season next spring.
Vetting candidates for leadership has been around for a long time, and crosses many cultures, from Confucius to Socrates to Solomon. Each of these imparted wisdom, often in the form of short, pithy sayings, intended to prepare the ruling class with the moral authority to govern, whether that governance would happen in ancient China or Greece or Israel. It’s interesting to read through some of Solomon’s pith, and see how it translates into the various rubrics for ruling characteristics we see posited today. It is generally practical, not ideological in nature. That is to say, the sage was more of a Karl Rove than a Matt Kibbe. The proof in the pudding for Solomon’s ideal leader included the ability to raise well-disciplined children, to mediate conflict and soothe hot tempers, to communicate a vision that brings stability to the nation, to protect the fundamental rights of the powerless poor, to be prudent in speech and humble in action. These are the traits defining a righteous ruler, according to the wise King. The wicked and foolish ruler, in contrast, is the one who pampers and spoils children, speaks before thinking, hasn’t the first clue about the rights of the poor, and has a destabilizing lack of vision that leads to an extravagant lack of restraint among the people. When the righteous are in authority, the sage writes, the people rejoice; but when the wicked rule, the people groan. Likewise, when the wicked are in authority, transgression increases. Good, practical advice, for sure, spoken wisely but not always followed by the sage Solomon. I’m not sure he would have gotten past his own vetting process.
In the upcoming vetting wars, if the Republicans want to learn about how to deal with their newfound faultlines creating tremors and divisions and gang banging, they need only look as far as their rival party. The Democrats have historically had to deal with competing interests among various constituencies, putting together coalitions not based on an over-arching ideology, but community interests. That is why those of us on the left who do have over-arching ideological commitments, to progressive economic policies that empower the poor rather than heaping more power on the wealthy, to prison reform, to peacemaking, are doomed to disappointment among our leaders. Doubling down on the Patriot Act, increasing the targets of drone strikes, and getting Wall Street execs to trade in their CEO status for cabinet positions, this all points to the reality that there are not sufficiently powerful (read monied) interests in place to guarantee voting blocs and effect policy. We live with the compromises because of all the other constituent groups who have gained sufficient power to secure human rights and bring about progressive policies. We work for the day when more groups enter the tent, when policies will more closely approximate values and candidate vetting will include the capacity for peacemaking and prison reform and progressive economics. Until then, we can enjoy watching the war on the other side of the aisle.
How about you? Wher does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.