Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

Defining the Opponent

We’re a week away from election day and I don’t know how it is at your house, but my mailbox is being inundated with glossy, oversized postcards. And my phone rings daily, several times, with messages from candidates and requests for funds from political parties. Wow.

The one common characteristic to all the ads is the way they “define” their opponents. I started noticing this word, “define,” several months ago, usually coming from the mouth of one of Obama’s or McCain’s campaign reps on TV.

“Defining” the opponent is quite an ingenious strategy. It appears that the aim is to make the opponent look as bad as possible while staying within the bounds of “factual.” One of my local favorites: the Bluestem Fund (a Kansas thing) is a PAC “defining” a certain local Republican candidate for State Senate. About every other day I’m getting something in my mail from the Bluestem Fund, telling me how awful this candidate is. Just one example: he “voted against funding” for science education. The bottom of the card asserts that this abhorrent action is “fact.”

The issue lurking is Kansas’ infamous fight over how evolution is taught in public schools. In the hopes that you won’t dismiss my criticism of the Bluestem Fund on the assumption that I support their opponent, let me say that I’m not in favor of this Republican candidate’s position on the evolution question. I’m not happy at all that it is even a political issue. I have very strong opinions about what ought to be done on this topic, but I’ll save those thoughts for another time.

Back to “defining” a candidate. The Bluestem Fund’s approach is classic: you take a “fact,” rip it from its original historical context and magnify it as much as you can for your political aim. Mix in a little alarmist language about what will happen if so and so gets elected and you have the classic “defining the opponent” slop.

Everyone does it. I’m sickened by it and I promise you, I’m not trying to sound all morally superior. Let’s call “defining an opponent” by what it is: lying. Otherwise honest, decent, hard-working public servants are all doing it. Their campaign advisors are doing it. They should be ashamed, but, more importantly, we should be ashamed that such “defining” works.

Could we get just a little grass roots movement going to demonstrate that we will not be bought so easily with this tactic? We hear again and again that campaigns pull this sort of stunt because it works. So, let me just start with Christian people. We should never, ever, ever, engage in these sophisticated forms of lying for the sake of getting “our” candidate elected. This tactic ultimately demonstrates our lack of faith in a good, sovereign, holy God. No matter who gets elected, there is still a God in heaven…whose eyes are everywhere…who is not surprised by anything.

I’m not advocating political quietism. We should get involved and exercise responsible citizenship. That’s my point: the tactic of “defining” an opponent is rash and irresponsible. Worse, when Christians engage in it, it demonstrates our loss of perspective, our foolishness. It’s not worth the horrible consequence of eating away at truth with de-contextualized “facts.” Let us not sell our birthright for this mess of political pottage. We are contributing to the degeneration of American society. Christians are supposed to be salt and light, not pawnish political hacks.

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October 28, 2008 - Posted by | Christian Spirituality

2 Comments »

  1. Dare I use a word such as “holiness” to define who we as Christians are supposed to be? If we are indeed to be a people “set apart” than why is it that there seems to be little noticeable difference in the way Christians are acting and responding to the political “slop” we find ourselves in? It would be refreshing to see us (Christians) act with integrity, even if we disagree or find ourselves in total opposition to another’s position. Ah, but let’s attack the person too – that’s the American way. Lest we forget, “American” is not the same as (or do I say defined as) “Christian”.

    Comment by P.R.JUST | October 29, 2008 | Reply

  2. Amen, brother!

    Comment by Steve Rankin | October 29, 2008 | Reply


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