The President Matters, “Yours” Does Not
The year is 2003. In the wake of controversial military action overseas, troubling economic uncertainty on the homefront, and an upcoming election on the horizon, presidential approval ratings are consistently low. With promises of change, the man in the Oval Office is a polarizing figure: his supporters ignore his many faults for the sake of the bits they appreciate about him, while his critics do nothing but demean, insult, and disparage every element of his character and behavior. Talk radio, tee-shirts, and campaign rallies all proclaim that the Head of State is “Not My President” while the Commander-in-Chief’s opponents attempt to wash their hands of him by pointing out that they “voted for the Other Guy.” Rather than seeking a virtuous and capable candidate for his own sake, voters are now simply looking for someone – anyone – to displace this person whom they do not like.
The year is now 2012. Save for the colors of the bumper stickers, how much has changed? As the Republican primaries edge towards their climax, how much has the rhetoric centered on the abilities and character of a proposed candidate versus his or her likelihood at successfully challenging President Obama? Sometimes, a candidate’s electability is not even a factor, such as the rather ridiculous assertion one acquaintance made online that she would vote for convicted serial killer, rapist, and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer before President Obama (also: she would never vote for Mitt Romney – unless he was running against the President). Since when did the person who would be President not have to be good, but merely “good enough”?
Admittedly, in the light of hotel break-ins and stained dresses, the honor once given to the Office of the President has waned in recent decades. Whether it was over a ballot-counting scandal or a “missing” birth-certificate, our last two Presidents have entered office with their eligibility to do so under heavy suspicion. Over the course of the last fifty years, the very image of the Executive Branch has been covered with mud, so it should be no surprise that little effort is now exerted to find the right person to sit in that chair – we simply want to keep the wrong one out of it.
And yet we cannot be defined solely by what we are against. This is a matter of integrity, not only to our country and the principles of representative democracy, but most especially to ourselves as honest, truth-seeking Christians. The corrupt game of politics is decried so frequently it has become cliché, yet we are more than willing to jump in and play dirty – to vote not for the best, but simply for the better – in the interest of a perceived higher cause. Principled truth cannot be exchanged for prudence, no matter the situation.
And to worry about the devastation that one bad President can wreak is to forget that the Founding Fathers had the exact same fear. From its foundation, this country was built on a political process that minimizes the possibility of one person ever undermining the liberties that define the United States. We have no King Obama; the Constitution and its clear Separation of Powers assures us of that. To remember this truth is to realize the freedom (and need) to put a rational, principled leader in the Oval Office – not simply someone who can play the game of election season.
In short, find the person you feel proud to call “my president” and throw your ballot in his or her direction with complete confidence that, if nothing else, you will be voting your conscience. But remember that, when all is said and done, “your” President is largely immaterial – only The President, whoever that ends up being, matters and that person should garner all of the respect that the office carries. With any luck, he or she will represent you in a manner you agree with and, maybe, will be proud to see.
But if the primary reason you cast your vote for a particular candidate has more to do with whom you don’t agree with rather than whom you do, then you should think twice about whom you may find representing you. He won’t be “your President” either.