Posted by: Brian Musser | November 7, 2012

Changing our Politics

I have been thinking about politics today more so than usual.  I suppose it may have something to do with yesterday’s election.  Watching people celebrating Obama’s re-election last night I had several realizations.

1)  The candidate we support in an election gives us a sense of identity.  We do not vote for who we agree with as much as we vote for who we identify with.  I think this has a lot to do with the ubiquitous visual imagery about the candidates that come via campaign advertisement.  The questions of the election was not about do you agree with Obama’s position on taxes or Romney’s foreign policy but do you see yourself as part of the identity group that supports a person like Obama or the one that supports a person like Romney.  When I saw people in Times Square celebrating the announcement, it made me try to understand what they were celebrating.  What had they won?  Why were they joyful?  I was skeptical that those people were the ones that had invested large amounts of time and energy into campaigning and they were celebrating a job well done.  I hoped that they didn’t honestly believe that just because Obama defeated Romney all the countries problems would go away and we would have 4 years of bliss.  I came to the conclusion that their sense of identity was validated because the candidate they supported won.  This proves that in a democracy who they are is in the majority and the majority is right.  They are in the right.  This validation of identity is a huge reason to celebrate.  We support the candidate whose followers we want to be like.

2)  Then my train of thought went pessimistic.  What is Obama going to be able to do to solve any of the problems our country has?  We expect our leaders (especially our president) to be able to right the ills of our society.  We think that if Obama was more like (insert your favorite president here: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Millard Filmore) he would single-handed be able to right the ship.  What is possible for a single person to do to change an entire nation?  Being a minister naturally I started bringing my Bible into this.  I thought of the history of the nation of Israel.  I remembered how the kings of Israel would alternate between good and bad, between right and wrong, between holy and evil.  The example of Josiah came to mind most vividly.  One person decided to do what is right and the entire nation changed.  In history one person leading justly could make a difference and set the course for a nation.  It is possible for one person to make a difference.

3)  But Josiah was a king and Israel was a monarchy.   Can an elected official make a difference within the limited time of 4 years?  Can an elected official make the difference in a democracy?  Can an elected official make a difference like Josiah when he doesn’t have the absolute power or the permanent position the Josiah had?  In a democracy it is assumed that the people have the ultimate power.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Alexis de Toqueville’s: Democracy in America and the idea of the tyranny of the masses.  If the people have the ultimate power and they elect someone base off of who they identify with then could that elected official ever actually change the nation?  Or if they tried to move us wouldn’t we just elect someone else next time, someone who is “more” like us?  Not only that but we would feel betrayed by the elected official who tried to change us.  One person could make a difference but it would be hard for that one person to be an elected official in a democratic society.

4)  What happens to American politics when getting elected becomes the point and not the means to an end?  What happens when our political parties realize that we vote out of sense of our identity?  Our candidates no longer challenge us to do what is right but respond to our wishes.  Our candidates no longer lead us in a particular direction and/or growth.  Our candidates validate our identities.  Our candidates try to sound as much like us as possible.  When we vote out of a sense of identity we get a mirror in political office.

5)  This makes changing our country conceptually simple and impossibly hard all at the same time.  If you want to elect better leaders become a better person.  We are in charge of this country and we elect people base on who we are, who we think we are and who we want to be.  The easiest way for us to create a better country is not by electing George Washington reincarnate but by becoming George Washington reincarnate.  The easiest way for America to become better is for you to become better and then help all the people around you to become better.  If we all became better that would require our politicians to be better as well just so that they could identify with us.  Changing us is more important than changing our leader.

6)  This may seem like a daunting task.  I have extreme trouble changing myself.  I hardly ever even attempt to try to change someone else.  But I believe that there is an effective way to change.  It is the only way that true change is possible.  Through the power of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit people can change.  I know that from personal experience.  I have seen it work in others lives.  It is well documented throughout the history of the church.  If you want to do what is the absolute best thing for your country you should commit to a lifelong goal of becoming Christ-like.

7)  I have strong reservations against the idea that at one time America was a “Christian” nation.  I just do not see the evidence in our history that we every followed Christ as a nation as closely as we like to imagine we did.  So do not misunderstand me.  This is not a request to return to the fabled America that once was.  I am not imagining things were more Christ-like 50 or 100 or even 200 years ago.  But I am imagining a nation that could be.  What if we elected a President who was truly Christ-like not because of some political agenda and slick campaign strategy but because “we the people” were also trying to live our lives Christ-like and we just naturally voted for the candidate we identified with?



  1. I love your attitude. The pessimist in me believes that opposition is as strong a motivation to vote as support is. Many votes were cast “against” rather than “for”. But it is definitely better to change the world by starting inside ourselves, and moving the change outward.

    • Invisible Mikey,

      Thanks for the comment. I would agree with you about opposition as a motivation for voting comments with one caveat. We vote against someone not because we necessarily politically disagree with them but because we don’t want to be identified with them.

  2. Brian, this is one of your best blog posts. Good thoughts. Keep following this.

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