An optical illusion is created by the pageantry of national political conventions. Because they serve the same organizational function as a junior high pep rally, and because politicians of the same party only occasionally take one another on seriously, the illusion is that the “Republicans” or the “Democrats” are on the same team. And I suppose they are, in a very rough cut way, but not nearly to the extent that people tend to think.
Because we don’t have a parliamentary system, it is not possible for us to develop microparties that can keep their ideological purity at a bunch of individual (and much smaller) pep rallies. The horse trading comes later, when it is time to form a government. In our system, the horse trading comes first, and this throws a bunch of people off.
In the parliamentary system, an ideologically pure party is allowed to fly their own flag, and march to their own music, and it is able to keep the resultant optics as their principal identity. When they band with another party to form a government (as they inevitably do), everyone knows that it is a provisional alliance only, one that could end at any time with a bloody knife fight in the cabinet meeting.
With our system, the political parties function the way a large denomination or a church might. The optics of an a priori unity are the big thing — as Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment testified. “Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.” This is because — in part — our system of spoils gives the majority party a great deal of power in things like committee chairmanship. It therefore doesn’t matter that much to the Texans if some professing Republican senator from the upper right hand corner of the country is practically a socialist — he still helps push the party at large over the line.
These appearance come out to play whenever I try to explain to people that I am not a Republican, but that there are a bunch of good Republicans, and that I wish them well. I am consistently interpreted as throwing my support to the party at large. And then I am told that “the Republicans” didn’t do diddly the last time they had control of the Senate, the House, and the White House. This is quite true. Not only am I told this, I have frequently said it myself. The Republicans didn’t.
Part of the reason they didn’t is that “the Republicans” don’t really exist. The committee chairs exist. The party leadership exists. The system of spoils exists, and men play the system — sometimes badly and sometimes well.
Let me illustrate this by generalizing one more notch up. This is also true of Americans. Americans haven’t done anything about abortion — any time they have had control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, which is all the time, they haven’t done anything to stop abortion. Americans talk a big game about human rights to other countries, and we send missionaries (and armies) to countries where abortion is still illegal, and we are doing it to spread our idea of human rights, which includes access to abortion.
But notice what I have done with this generalization. The fact that Americans haven’t done anything about this atrocity does not at all mean that the Americans (whose opposition to abortion is honest and sincere) are chumps for opposing abortion as Americans. You play cards with the hand that you are dealt. Americans who support abortion are my enemies, and Americans who are fighting it are my allies. It makes no sense for Americans to give up because they are Americans on the other side. That is why we have to fight.
Back to the Republicans. A number of the Supreme Court justices who have kept Roe alive (unlike the children) were justices appointed to the Court by Republicans. That’s bad. Some of this happened because of appointees who were more tricksy than they should have been (Souter) and some of it happened when the appointing president should have known better (O’Connor).
But if we shall blame “the Republicans” for these disasters, whom should we thank for Scalia and Thomas? There was a time when I would have included Roberts in that, but he’s not here anymore. He’s down at the crossroads, learning how to play the guitar.
So, who do we thank for Scalia and Thomas? If “the Republicans” exist in the way that the disillusioned claim, then we have to thank them. But of course what we need to do is thank the good guys fighting the good fight within the party. We don’t need to thank the bad guy Republicans at all. They are the bad guys.
So let’s come back to the point which kicked this discussion off. When a minister votes for Obama, he is not contaminating his soul. It is not a sin in that sense, it is not a sin like adultery. But he is revealing his soul — it is a sin like writing an inane letter to the editor. The overwhelming majority of the men who did this were being blown along by the zeitgeist, and they failed to understand the times and they had no notion of what Israel should do (1 Chron. 12:32). And they did this despite having a solemn responsibility to know.
Now I could envision a man voting for Obama while heartily detesting everything he stood for. I have never met such a man, but he does manage to show up in my thought experiment. Suppose a minister believed that America was under the wrath of God because of abortion, and that Obama was the culmination of this. This man wanted to hasten the day of wrath, and so he voted for Obama — when Elisha gave a positive prophecy to Hazael, he wasn’t approving of what he was going to do (2 Kings 8:1-13). If I met such a man, I would disagree with him, but he wouldn’t be showing us that pathological condition endemic to squishy evangelicals, that of desperately wanting to play with the cool kids. I wouldn’t hold that he was exhibiting the peculiar blindness of the multitudes of evangelicals who voted for Obama in the thrill of that great “wait up for me, guys!” moment.
But the fact that this thought-experiment guy isn’t being that way is small consolation. Vast crowds of evangelical ministers would still much rather be cool than righteous.