A Vote for Personality or Ideas?

Jim Tonkowich | Institute of Religion and Democracy | Friday, October 3, 2008

A Vote for Personality or Ideas?

October 3, 2008

Richard Cizik, Vice President of Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals appeared on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” last Sunday to comment on the presidential election.  He included in his comments assorted reasons that evangelicals and conservatives—including himself, it would appear—might consider voting for Barack Obama.  The result was a pastiche of misguided thinking about voting. 

Mistake #1:  Ideas Do Not Matter

“I am a conservative,” Cizik reassured interviewer Liane Hansen.  “But that does not mean I am going to vote that way.”  That is, Cizik claims that he has a clear worldview—a conservative philosophy of public life and public morality, but that worldview does not determine the way he votes. 

This is the same as saying that ideas do not matter—or at least that they do not matter much.  Yet the history of the twentieth century is strewn with wreckage due to bad ideas.  Our struggle with terrorism is a battle of ideas.  Legislation is always produced based on ideas. 

Do we want to be governed by bad ideas or good ideas?  Contrary to Cizik, comparing a candidate’s worldview with our own is the critical factor in every voting decision. 

Mistake #2:  Personal Style

Cizik went on to say, “I could disagree with Obama, and do, on same-sex marriage and abortion, but that doesn’t mean that those issues alone vote against him because I think there are character and integrity issues that are even more important.”  In his comments, Cizik did not address “character and integrity,” that is, comparing the candidates’ virtues and finding one of them wanting.  Instead he talked about personality. 

Sen. McCain, he said, is “a bit of a warrior”; someone with a “warrior nature.”  Obama, on the other hand, “is a healer.  He is looking to build common ground, even with his opponents.  That is my personal style.”

So according to Cizik, it is McCain’s “nature” to be belligerent.  Obama, by contrast, is an amicable, healing presence just like… well, just like Richard Cizik.  But a winsome personality promoting bad ideas is a danger.  People discount a candidate’s ideology because they like him or her.  Election as a clash of personal style instead of a contest of ideas is the scourge of American politics in a video culture.  Promoting personal style as a way to decide between candidates only adds to the problem.

Mistake #3:  Moral Equivalence

“The Democrats have as many issues appealing to evangelicals as the Republicans,” Cizik told Hansen.  “On some issues of compassion, international and religious freedom, justice issues the Democrats weigh heavily.  On the sanctity of life and the protection of traditional family the Republicans are better.”

Leaving aside “international and religious freedom” where Republicans in general and President Bush in particular have been strong advocates, Cizik argues that  “compassion” and “justice issues”—code words for more government entitlement programs—have the same moral weight as the sanctity of life and protection of the family.

This is an old ploy at the National Council of Churches and the liberal Protestant mainline lobbies.  It is both sad and distressing to hear the Vice President of the National Association of Evangelicals working out of their playbook when the moral equivalence argument is so patently false.

Sen. Obama is a tireless proponent of an unlimited right to abortion.  He opposed a ban on partial birth abortions and led the opposition in the Illinois Senate to legislation designed to save the lives of infants who are born alive in spite of abortions.  He has said “the first thing I’d do as president is, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act,” legislation would prohibit any limitations on abortion.  The law would strike down federal and state laws requiring parental notification, protecting live infants who survive abortion, and banning partial-birth abortions.  In short, three decades of hard-won pro-life gains would vanish with one vile pen stroke.

This is not an even trade with “compassion” and “justice issues.”  As Hadley Arkes writes elsewhere, “To put things on the same plane, in that way, is to betray a scheme of judgment with no sense of moral weighting or discrimination.”  Again, the National Council of Churches does this all the time.  The National Association of Evangelicals should know better.

Regarding family and Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, as studies by the Becket Fund demonstrate, “The legalization of same-sex marriage poses a direct threat to the civil liberties of religious Americans who oppose homosexuality….”  I cannot imagine that the National Association of Evangelical’s “45,000 churches and tens of millions of members” are as cavalier as Cizik when marriage, family, biblical doctrines, and their own religious liberty and freedom of speech are all at stake. There is no moral equivalence here either.

Evangelicals should vote their consciences, but those consciences need to be formed by biblical truth, serious moral reasoning, and valid arguments.  The left-over, re-heated sophistry of the religious Left simply will not do.

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