What do we render to Caesar?
I’ll resist the urge to pen a postmortem on Tuesday’s election; much better things have been written on that topic than I could produce. And I’m sure you’ll accuse me that I would be singing a different song than what I’m about to sing if Romney had won, and perhaps you’re right.
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
It’s hard for me to shake the impression that politics is becoming both too important and too unimportant. In the modern age, the state has aggregated to itself many functions previously performed at more immediate levels: state and local governments, civic and religious groups, families, and individuals. When people rely on government to enforce “fair” trade, to oversee schools, or to provide medical and retirement care, then it certainly makes politics and elections much more serious events. When government is limited to enforcing the rule of law, protecting property rights, enforcing contracts, and providing national defense, then elections become less serious (desirably so, in my opinion). In a sporting event, the best referees are the ones who you barely notice: they enforce the rules fairly and impartially and let the game live on its own. The worst referees are the ones who play clear favorites for one particular team. It seems the people who rise to political prominence are not impartial referees, but biased ones whose only “virtue” is consistently making bad calls in favor of one party or set of interest groups.
The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else–Frederic Bastiat
I’m not suggesting that the solution is bipartisanship; actually, when government sees its role as being a federal Santa Claus with taxpayers footing the bill, I think gridlock is a good thing. Spending slows down when politicians can’t agree on what to spend; see the Clinton-era budget surpluses (helped in many ways by the internet boom raising tax revenues).
So, in that sense people take elections too seriously because we have ceded too much power to government. Yet we also view politics as a game; politicians themselves do so too. Logrolling, influence peddling, voting shenanigans, all point to leaders who must not take their jobs very seriously. Part of this is a result of the above: with so much legislation to consider and enforce, politicians can’t be expected to be very deliberative in their assessments. How many members of Congress read the entire ObamaCare bill before voting on it?
But we citizens don’t take it very seriously either. Why else would we consider it a major gaffe how many times Obama said “um” during the first debate? Why else would we consider it a major job requirement that a President be good-looking or an eloquent speaker? We don’t care at all how attractive or eloquent referees are.
All of this makes me decreasingly engaged in politics as time goes on. I still consider myself very concerned for the future of my family, city, state, nation, and world, but my impression of the ability of politics to solve the problems I thought it could solve has all but disappeared. I know we are called to be engaged in civic life; I consider my participation in teaching, conversations with friends, and, to a lesser extent, blogging, to be more useful and productive ways of trying to affect the body politic than voting. But much more important than those activities is fighting on the spiritual front; prayer, time in adoration, and confession will likely be much better uses of my time than facebook arguments.
I’m not trying to argue an either/or scenario; this is clearly a both/and. We need to both be engaged in evangelization and prayer and in politics and voting. I’m just beginning to see the much greater efficacy of efforts in the former than in the latter. With the limited time we all have in our schedules, should we watch post-debate pundit commentary or volunteer an hour with 40 Days for Life?
As I mentioned to Katie, our culture needs saints, not politicians. I’ll never be a politician (clearly), but we are all called to be saints. If I want to effectively fight the culture war, I need to first hone my battle skills by fighting my own concupiscence.