The Sincerity Question We Don't Need to Ask
For the last seven years, we have been asking ourselves, "Does George W. Bush really believe the stuff he says." For example, while campaigning for office, George W. Bush reportedly told a group of supporters in 1999, "I believe God wants me to be president." In July of 2004, he re-asserted this faith, stating, "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job." When Bob Woodward asked Bush if he asked his father for advice regarding going to war with Iraq, Bush replied: "He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice. The wrong father to go to, to appeal to in terms of strength. There's a higher Father that I appeal to."
The sincerity question is beside the point when it comes to George W. Bush, however. Time and again, pundits have essentially defended the President by asserting their opinion that he actually believes that he is a vehicle of God's will and that his connection with God is a reliable means of directing the course of our nation. The implied logic behind such defenses goes as follows. If Bush believes what he says, then he is not a corrupt and manipulative politician engaging in the worst kind of hypocrisy and abuse of the political process. Instead, he is a legitimate participant in the public debate regarding what is the best course for our democracy. Accordingly, his views must be taken seriously.
This defense is a distraction from the real issue. The real issue is that the policies Bush seeks to advance in the name of God are in direct conflict with our democratic principles. Because they are in direct conflict with our democratic principles they are in direct conflict with the interests of the American people. The harm these policies cause us is evident even without invoking democratic principles, but the point of invoking them is that doing so allows us to definitively establish that Bush's point of view is NOT legitimately democratic. It may be voiced in a democratic political process, but it may not be approved by people who espouse a democratic worldview. Indeed, we who hold a democratic worldview have a duty to defend it by condemning the worldview Bush has been asserting in his exercise of political power.
We believe the president's strength and power comes from the people. Whether the people express God's will, we do not bother to determine. We don't need to know. One thing is sure, however, we reject the idea that the president may put aside the will of the people in favor of his private hypothesis about what God wants him to do.
Of course, when a person claims to be a vehicle of God's will, that doesn't necessarily mean the person is aware of how God's is using him. It doesn't mean that God's will is to use Bush as a vehicle for wisdom. If God speaks through George W. Bush, I would venture to guess that he does so in the same way he speaks through Hurricane Katrina. It's definitely not something to run a campaign on: "Vote for me-God has appointed me to be a disaster of Class Five proportions!"
One more time, then, we must repeat, it doesn't matter whether the idiot believes his own words; his words remain the height of idiocy.
Today, however, we are faced with another kind of sincerity question: the one posed by the presidential campaign of John Edwards.
The Sincerity Question That Actually Matters
Last week at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, John Edwards took a stand that sets him apart from every other politician running for president-if he really means it.
In a direct challenge to Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, Edwards argued, "We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other....It's time to end the game. It's time to tell the big corporations and the lobbyists who have been running things for too long that their time is over."
The distinction Edwards is drawing here needs our serious attention, and his.
Are we ready, all of us, to start looking at what makes a corporate politician and what makes an honest one? This is not a rhetorical distinction, but a factual one. It is an incredibly useful distinction too for anyone who cares about the integrity of our democratic political process, but it is only useful if it is applied to facts: What are the candidates' different policy positions? Is the candidates' conduct actually consistent with their positions? How are they running their campaigns? How are they funding their campaigns?
Presidential candidates are extremely sophisticated power players. If we are to usefully apply the distinction Edwards has defined as the rule the voters should apply in choosing the next president, our analysis of the facts surrounding their campaigns will also have to be extremely sophisticated.
To his credit, I do believe Edwards has articulated the correct rule. He deserves credit for doing this and the other candidates deserve to be criticized for missing what is frankly plainly obvious. Edwards at least qualifies to have the sincerity question asked about him. Like Bush, none of the others hold a perspective that is democratic enough to warrant questioning its sincerely.
Edwards did more last week than simply articulate the standard by which all candidates should be judged in the next election-corporate or anti-corporate. Edwards also invoked the magical incantation: "real change."
What does real change mean? I'll give you one example: the American Revolution. That was real change. Are we talking about a revolution? I'm not talking about a violent revolution, but I do think a revolution is what real change requires.
There is a growing voice in America demanding to be heard. It is the voice that recites litanies of facts, anecdotes, and scholarly analyses explaining with exasperated passion that corporations have taken over our government and that our government is no longer democratic. These voices cry out that nothing is more serious than the loss of our government to corporate power and that we really must engage with this usurpation of our democracy as our highest priority.
When Edwards invokes the magical incantation, "Real Change," we have to ask: Is he really prepared to pursue it? Does he understand what is required? Here's what Edwards told us:
"Real change starts with being honest -- the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It's rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits. It's rigged by the very wealthy to ensure they become even wealthier. At the end of the day, it's rigged by all those who benefit from the established order of things. For them, more of the same means more money and more power. They'll do anything they can to keep things just the way they are -- not for the country, but for themselves."
"[The system is] controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it's perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed. This is the game of American politics and in this game, the interests of regular Americans don't stand a chance." Edwards has identified, here, the new king that rules over an America that has lost its democracy. That king he correctly calls "the established order." If Edwards is serious about pursuing real change, he's going to have to overturn that order, and that is the definition of a revolution.
In America, we patented a new kind of revolution way back in 1776. The patent's description of this new technology of revolution had nothing in it about violence. The sole characteristic that made our type of revolution new and different from all that went before was this: instead of killing one king to appoint another, we replaced anti-democratic, authoritarian power with a democratic political process carefully engineered to retain lasting integrity. Unfortunately after neglecting this technology for 200 years, its integrity has worn out.
If Edwards plans to make his campaign about "Real Change," he is going to have to raise political process integrity to the first place in his political agenda. He is going to have to champion an ambitious program to engineer from scratch a political process that can maintain its democratic integrity in the face of technology, corporate power, and global economics. We have the sophistication in our society to achieve this undertaking. We can design a political process that is virtually money-free, that improves the quality of wisdom in our political discourse, that encourages better candidates to participate, that is less immune to vote theft, vote suppression and vote fraud, and that tabulates election results in a way that more accurately reflects the will of the American people.
Our ability to engineer a better system is obvious, just as the usurpation of our government by corporate power is obvious. Edwards has had the guts to speak the obvious about corporate power. Now the question is whether he has the guts to speak the obvious about real change.