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Choosing the Right Operating System for Washington

John Mark Reynolds | Torrey Honors Institute | Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Choosing the Right Operating System for Washington

October 7, 2010

This article originally appeared at the Washington Post's On Faith page. Click here to read the continuing conversation.

Religiously, I am in a mixed marriage: my wife devoutly uses Mac products, but I grew up worshiping at the Church of Windows. Both operating systems are in our houses and in our brief cases, and I have noticed that there are things I will try on one operating system and not the other.

Working with our Apple products is like living in a benevolent aristocracy. You can do less, but what you are allowed to do, you can do easily and with pleasure. If Apple forbids an activity, then I do not consider doing it, because the benefits are never worth the pain.  On the other hand, Windows 7 gives me many more options and software choices, and many people not working for Microsoft write software to get things to happen on Windows machines that supposedly cannot be done. Nothing works as easily or as elegantly as on a Mac (I am talking about you Window's Media Center), but third parties allow you to do some amazing and unexpected things poorly!

In short, depending on the operating system with which I start, my possibilities are different. Start with the wrong OS for the wrong job and everything will be harder.

This analogy works for me when I consider voting for a candidate. Before knowing anything else, I want to know the political OS of the candidate. If I focus too much on particular things a candidate says in the heat of an election or the opposition research on my screens, then I may make a bad choice.

No politician deserves our trust and every pol will let us down. We don't get to vote for Jesus. No party has a monopoly on virtue, but one party has the right OS for our time. The deeply flawed Republican Party has spent too much, stolen too often, and disappointed Americans by being inconsistent with stated values, but the values are the right ones.

The other party does not have to be hypocritical in order to spend and tax more. They are consistent when they grow the size of the Federal government. At least with Republicans, the primary voters (as Mike Castle of Delaware knows to his regret) might throw the hypocrites out.

Christianity demands we love our neighbor, help the poor, and enable strong families. It is hard to know the best way to do this, but experience mostly has shown that great political liberty combined with strong private morality is the best way to go. Caught between twin assaults from big government and secularists or libertines interested only in personal peace and affluence, America may become a nation with less liberty and weak private morality.

O'Donnell has the best OS for our times. She supports liberty and strong personal moral standards.

Christine O'Donnell would not have gotten my vote in the Delaware primary, but she would in the general election. Nothing in her background suggests she is particularly qualified for the office, but her opponent is particularly unqualified for it at this time in our history. The voters of Delaware are not electing a resume, but they are picking a voter for the Senate.

On the Supreme Court, O'Donnell will vote for a Scalia, her opponent a Kagan.  Delaware voters must decide the justice that best supports their values.

If you searched Delaware there is no doubt you could find better people to sit in the Senate than either candidate, but those are not the choices the voters have.

O'Donnell believes in God, limited government, and the vision of the Founders for this great nation. Her OS is sound, though early in her life she had difficulty integrating that sound view with the world. This may continue, but her trajectory is sound. Her teachers and background indicate intellectual curiosity and a willingness to take risks, but also an ability to settle into mainstream views over time.

This is not the worst situation for a new senator, but it is particularly attractive when compared to her opponent. Her opponent is a typical politician with utterly predictable ideas and no political imagination. So far as I can tell, his political OS when faced with a problem will demand more: government programs, tax money, and power to the state.

He will likely say fewer foolish things over time than O'Donnell, but do more consistently awful things. Given the choices, voters should pick the person as senator least likely to do harm and most likely to grow in office: Christine O'Donnell.

Can she win? Joe Biden's election to the Senate proves the voters of that state have a high tolerance for politicians who often say foolish things. O'Donnell may start by speaking with the wisdom of Joe Biden, but she is most likely to vote for the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln.

Since we cannot get both settled intellectual maturity and good actions, Delaware voters should pick the OS most likely to good in the situation our nation now faces. One candidate will spend and tax more, the other candidate will tend to spend less and tax less. One candidate will make the Constitution fit his needs, while the other will try to limit her actions to the Constitution.

Which is the OS most likely to lead to our prosperity?

Of course voters must hope O'Donnell continues her trend of growing out of bad speculative ideas, but in Delaware it should be easy to get rid of a Republican senator who does not grow in office. On the other hand, elect her opponent and he will be in office for decades continuing his long career of predictably foolish actions.

A good example of her need to grow is her artless statement that God wants her to run and win. That statement is a kludge, a hack bit of theology that should be abandoned. If she simply meant that she tries to do what God wants, she should say this and leave it at that. If she personally believes she is obeying God and He will give her success, wisdom says to keep personal revelation personal.

She should go read her Augustine: God's providence is not always easy to discern in the details of daily history. Personally God may comfort His children by drawing aside the curtain a bit, but that knowledge is not for the rest of us. Too much public confidence in private prayers may indicate pride, a dangerous quality in a politician.

If O'Donnell meant that she knows God wants her to win, she might be right, but she is probably guilty of a bad theology. At least she has shown the willingness to abandon bad theology in the past, so we can hope that soon she will clarify her statement.

When I go to buy personal electronics, it is easy to imagine better choices. I wish for the flexibility of my netbook with the ease and stability of the iPad. Those are not choices Target is giving me so I must settle for the OS that best meets my needs. Christian voters will find much to dislike in either the Republican or Democratic Parties, but they must choose, because those are the choices available. We will get imperfect pols and no Utopia.

If I were a Delaware voter, I would pick the candidate with the OS most likely to recall to her mind that Utopia will not come this side of God's Paradise and that no politician can be trusted: Christine O'Donnell.

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.  This article originally appeared on October 4, 2010.