We cannot avoid politics by avoiding the polls.
When I was in graduate school my fiancé and I took a night class. The professor was brilliant and popular and we all vied for his attention. I think he liked it that way. After one round of Socratic questions that I answered without mistake, this professor gestured to my fiancé and asked, “Why are you marrying THIS guy?”
His subtext seemed to say that I could do better. Neither I nor my soon-to-be husband had anything to say. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my professor had pulled a political maneuver.
Politics shows up anywhere humans hunt for power.
According to the most conservative of dictionaries (American Heritage) “political” has six definitions. The first four are about government, politicians, interest in politics, partisanship. But the fifth definition is like an umbrella, covering almost everything we do, every relationship we have.
Political: definition 5 — Based on or motivated by self-serving interests, especially in attempting to gain power or to please people of a higher rank in an organization: political maneuvering within the company.
Politics “consists of social relations involving authority or power,” according to Wikipedia.
This is the type of politics I watched in my graduate classroom. My professor was attempting to gain power by insulting my fiancé.
The same semester on a golf outing, a smart-assed manager came up to my fiancé, pointed at his legs and said to me, “Why are you marrying him? Your kids are going to have skinny legs?”
We didn’t end up golfing there. Political power plays on the green. At core this is what bullying is all about, taking power from someone else and stockpiling it to get what we want.
Politics in the Dining Room
We were on vacation when I struck up a conversation with a small business owner about belief. He said, “There’s no way to know one way or the other. Beliefs are personal.” I asked him about faith. He explained that faith is the opposite of reason or evidence, it’s just like belief. I asked “Who taught you that definition of faith?”
He was about to explain when he stopped mid-sentence, “My wife is giving me the sign I need to stop. She doesn’t like debate.” He then looked at me apologetically.
We both looked over at her. She stood up, smiled sweetly and asked everyone if we wanted some dessert.
A political maneuver in the dining room. It seemed full of kindness, but it kept me and her husband from talking about the things we cared to discuss. In the end she used her social relation as our host and his wife to control the conversation.
Politics in Denver
When I watched Governor Romney and President Obama debate in Denver this October I wanted to see how they interacted as much as I wanted to hear their arguments. Near the end of the debate the moderator, Jim Lehrer, notified President Obama that his two minutes is up.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, I — I think I’ve — I had five seconds before you interrupted me — was — (laughter) — that the irony is that we’ve seen this model work really well in Massachusetts, because Governor Romney did a good thing, working with Democrats in the state to set up what is essentially the identical model. And as a consequence, people are covered there. It hasn’t destroyed jobs. And as a consequence, we now have a system in which we have the opportunity to start bringing down cost, as opposed to just —
MR. LEHRER: Your five —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: — leaving millions of people out in the cold.
MR. LEHRER: Your five seconds went away a long time ago. (Laughter.)¹
I realize both candidates interrupted and ignored Mr. Lehrer as moderator. Governor Romney did as well. However, President Obama proved to me that he knew how to use his bully-pulpit. I realize Romney does as well (Romney’s apology for bullying).
When I watch a debate I’m looking at how candidates use their power just as much as I’m following their policies. It’s the same thing I look for in a friend or a co-worker, what do they do with the power they have, do they use it to leverage and bully their points? How do they treat the person they disagree with? Have they spoken out of sheer conviction? Or are they only showing us what we want to hear?
We cannot escape the political forces in this world by refusing to vote or becoming hopeless about the state of things. Political moments will surprise us on a family vacation, our Christian schools, our churches. Until we are unafraid, until the Lion lays down with the Lamb, politics is here to stay.
¹quote from KUNC transcript