Okay, so let’s have a little fun with the Paul Ryan pick. And by “a little fun” I mean a short political sketch that will make all my friends think I have lost my mind. But I haven’t. Promise.
Remember, going back to Old Testament analogies, everything hinges on where we think we are. How are we reading the story? Are the purists who are refusing to vote for either of the two major candidates simply cranks? Or are they stalwart representatives of the truth, schooled in the ways of Jehu, son of Hanani (2 Chron. 19:2), letting Jehoshaphat have it for an ungodly and unnecessary alliance with Ahab?
And Jehoshaphat, on a better day, was willing to do something that must have seemed absolutely nuts to every respectable pundit, including Peggy Noonan and David Brooks (2 Chron. 20:20-21). Making an alliance with Ahab, on the other hand, must have seemed reasonable and prudent — to everyone except Jehu son of Hanani, and the other cranks there with him out in their little trailer park republic.
So Jehu was a bit chuffed with Jehoshaphat about the Ahab alliance, but didn’t Jehu understand that to refuse to align with Ahab was in effect a vote for the king of Syria (2 Chron. 18:3)? And wasn’t Ahab clearly the lesser of two evils? Yes, he was, but that didn’t make it okay, not if you were Jehu.
And Amaziah tried to hire mercenaries from Israel to help him out (2 Chron. 25:7), and he was given what for (2 Chron. 25:13). But what about the 100 talents of silver he had already paid them? The prophet told him to put it all in perspective — God was able to give him much more than that. For us to put that amount in perspective, all we need to do is consider than Obama can blow through 100 talents of silver in about ten minutes. That by itself is not an argument for the Republican who would blow through the same amount in 45 minutes. And now with Ryan on the ticket, it could take upwards of 4 hours.
And when Asa was rebuked for paying Ben-hadad the king of Syria to get Baasha king of Israel to lay off (2 Chron. 16:2), could not Asa have argued with Hanani the prophet (v. 7) in exactly this pragmatic way? How was Hanani’s counsel anything more than an approach that would let Baasha do whatever he wanted? Refusal to vote for Ben-hadad is a vote for Baasha. Well, that’s certainly the way it looked, and it looked that way because God wanted to look that way. Things are tough all over.
On the other hand, at the same time, and be that as it may, we can be pretty confident that Daniel didn’t float through the corridors of Babylon, never quite touching down on those marble floors. He didn’t compromise his own commitment to Yahweh, which was tested repeatedly, but there must have been times when he did some pagan superior’s bidding — like the time he came at Belshazzar’s summons (Dan. 5:12). After all, he worked for pagans, and he was the chancellor of the University of Babylon. Did he ever have to promote some lean Chaldean sociology prof on the rise, and did he ever have to do so in coordination with that same Chaldean operative’s uncle?
So which is it? When evangelicals vote for Romney/Ryan (as I have no doubt droves of them will do), is it trusting the arm of the flesh to save, or is it Daniel cutting a reasonable deal in Babylon? Faithful believers have done both, and it is the task of wisdom to figure out what kind of situation we are in. Moreover, faithful believers differ over what we ought to be doing in this situation. It is a tough one, I grant. If I lived in Ohio or Florida, I acknowledge that little beads of sweat would be lining up across my brow as I wrote these very words.
Like I have said before, I am not voting for Romney. And here’s the part where people will think I am driving in an erratic fashion down the back streets, trying to lose somebody. I would vote for Paul Ryan if he were at the top of the ticket — and yes, I know about the TARP vote. Perfectionism is not what we want. I also would have voted for Ron Paul, had he been the GOP nominee, despite his DADT vote. Why? Also because I am not a perfectionist. So why am I not voting for Romney? Because the principle of “not being a perfectionist” is not infinitely elastic. My joints aren’t that limber.
How will I feel, someone will ask, if Idaho goes for Romney by thirty points, but Ohio and Florida squeak through for Obama by five votes each, and in the aftermath, blog comments here reveal that my public opinions expressed in this place had caused at least twenty Floridians to vote for Rand Paul and fifteen Ohioans to vote for Kuba the Clown? The answer is that I will feel pretty cheesy — kind of like Jehu would feel in a refugee column running from Jerusalem or Hanani would have felt in a Syrian concentration camp.
I did vote for McCain because of his VP pick — and that was because of a number of factors. The structure of his move was similar to Romney’s, but there are still some differences. McCain was not as conservative as Palin, just as Romney is not as conservative as Ryan. And a VP pick is more permanent than “running right” in campaign speeches. So why is this different?
Here are three differences, at least as I work it out. First, I grant McCain was off the conservative reservation a number of times, but his lack of consistency was . . . consistent. It was the work of a crotchety old guy with a jumbled worldview. Romney’s pattern of moderate liberalism was far less mavericky, and thus more indicative of deeper ideological problems. Second, the recent vintage of some of Romney’s positive changes (pro-choice to pro-life) bothers me, and seems completely tied up with his desire to be president. On top of that, add Romney’s refusal to disavow that dog’s breakfast Romneycare. I don’t want a president who thinks that anything like that is a good idea. Remember, he’s the one who is going to “replace” Obamacare. With what, champ? And last, without pretending that McCain was in any way a good Christian, he at least was one.
At the same time, be that as it may, and at the end of the day, the Ryan pick was about as good a pick as I would have expected Romney to make. I really am happy about it. This is an area where the VP selections Palin and Ryan are very much alike. I think Ryan’s appeal will overshadow Romney pretty quickly, just as Palin’s charisma did with McCain. That is all to the good, and if it draws Romney significantly to the right, as I suspect it will, then I myself will join Miriam and all the ladies as they dance on the shores of the Red Sea.
So what do we do? We trust God and try to read the story we are in. We do this knowing that “trusting God” is not a magic formula — the Jews on the roof of the Temple, just before the Romans destroyed it, thought they were in a Hezekiah plot line when they were in a Zedekiah plot line. They said they were trusting God, and they said they were reading the story. But they weren’t. We have to trust God with a whole heart and read the story with a whole head.