Another election year is upon us. The Iowa Caucus is front and center in the news. Political opinions (and angry arguments) are dominating social media. It’s almost enough to make a person despise the entire process. But we shouldn’t despise it. Our system of electing leaders is uniquely American, and has worked quite well for over 200 years in preserving our freedoms.
However, for the last couple of election cycles – and perhaps much longer than that – it seems that people are voting based on personalities, rather than principles. I don’t have any concrete data on that, but it seems to be the case that when someone has decided that they like a certain candidate, almost no facts can sway their support. This is true for almost every candidate. When information comes out that reflects negatively on that individual, those who have chosen to support him or her dismiss it out of hand. They will not allow new information to change their mind, because they are supporting that person, regardless of the facts. It may be that the candidate is likable, or a strong, aggressive leader, or a committed Christian. But once people latch onto a particular personality that appeals to them, it is extremely difficult to change their mind.
I believe this shift toward certain personalities represents the beginning of the end for the American way of selecting leaders. Author FA Hayek wrote of Nazi Germany, “Hitler did not have to destroy democracy; he merely took advantage of the decay of democracy and at the critical moment obtained the support of many to whom, though they detested Hitler, he yet seemed the only man strong enough to get things done.” They pragmatically opted for someone with a certain personality trait, rather than voting for someone who reflected their principles.
I believe that as Americans, we ought to participate in the process. It is our right, our privilege and our duty. As a Christian, I see it as a type of stewardship that God has given to me, to help preserve the freedoms He has given us. But I don’t want to get caught up in “bandwagon” politics, where we just float to whoever is the most popular or likable candidate. There ought to be principles that govern our voting each and every time, regardless of who is running. If possible, try to remove from your mind the individual candidates, and make a list of what principles are important to you in a candidate. Then from that list, see who ranks best.
Here are some of my guiding principles when it comes to voting. Keep in mind that this isn’t exhaustive, and that my list may look very different from anyone else’s list. This is just to spark your own thinking on the matter. I’ve tried to arrange these in order of importance to me. Whichever candidate seems to match up best will probably get my vote.
1. High moral integrity
It’s a good idea to never truly “trust” any politician. People will disappoint you. But to the best of my ability, I want to see whether candidates have any personal character and integrity that guides them. If their highest moral compass is what people will vote for, and they flip flop whenever something becomes unpopular, that is not a person of character. They will do or say whatever they have to in order to get votes. Then once elected, they’ll go on to do whatever they truly want to do, regardless of the commitments they made.
I want to know what are the guiding principles of that person. Is he or she a sincere person of faith, or do they only talk about their faith in God when they are pandering to the evangelical voters? Integrity means consistency. It’s okay to change your mind on something, but I want to know why they changed their mind. I want to see someone who lives a moral lifestyle. I want to see someone who loves God and loves his neighbor, rather than someone who simply wants to be in charge. Do they treat others with genuine respect, or do they look down upon those who disagree with them?
Samuel Adams said, “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who, so far as his power and influence extend, will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.”
2. Love of the country & constitution
I have no desire to vote for someone who does not believe that the ideas of American freedom are exceptional. Our country is special and unique. Our constitution is the best political document in history. But in the end, it is just a piece of paper. It has no power to guarantee us freedom when we put in office those who do not respect it, and seek to undermine it. Those who want our country to change, and who see us as simply “citizens of the world” are not going to get my vote. I want to see, as much as possible a genuine love for the United States, for American ideals, and for the preservation of the form of government set up in our constitution.
3. Intelligent and capable world leader
This should be obvious, but many times it is not. Once people attach themselves to a certain personality, it seems that any foolish thing they say that ought to disqualify them only makes their supporters dig in more deeply. Please don’t vote for someone just because you like them, like their policies, or like their religious affiliations. They need to actually be capable of doing the job. He or she must be extremely intelligent and capable in the world of politics. Not just in business. Not just in giving speeches. They must truly have a presence and demeanor befitting of a world leader. It doesn’t matter if the world agrees with our President, but they ought to be able to respect him as a capable leader.
4. Consistent advocate of conservative values
I am politically a conservative. That means that I will vote for someone who has consistently stood for conservative values. Do some digging. Research their record and history on the issues. If they have changed positions, I want to know why. I’m leaving this one rather vague on purpose. My point in this post is not to make you agree with all the various conservative positions that I hold. I want all American citizens to think through these things for themselves. There is a wide spectrum on foreign and domestic issues, where we each find ourselves. Know what positions are most important to you and why. Then take a good, hard look at how strong the candidates are on those issues.
To wrap up and clarify a couple of things, here are some points that may play a minor role in my decision, but they are not primary in deciding who will get my vote:
He doesn’t have to believe just like I do. Would I love to see someone in office who is saved, who walks in the Spirit, and has a Biblical worldview? Of course I would. But I do not believe that is essential in a good leader. George Washington was an Anglican, though a deeply religious man, and most likely a born-again Christian. Thomas Jefferson was a theist, who believed in a “higher power,” but had serious doubts about Christianity. Abraham Lincoln was probably not a saved man, although he had a great fear of God. These were men of principle, of faith, and of high moral character, and they made excellent political leaders – even though none of them would have lined up with my theology. The constitution forbids a religious test for anyone seeking the presidency. I don’t apply one, either.
I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of voting “strategically,” just because someone is considered to be “unelectable.” I will vote for a candidate that my principles allow, rather than casting a vote simply to keep someone else out of office. Others may argue that by voting a certain way, that I am simply throwing away my vote, or that I am effectively voting for the opposing candidate. That is ridiculous. I will vote according to my conscience, not according to what is politically pragmatic. That’s what it means to have principles.
I don’t really care much about which party they are. Whoever tops the above list will get my vote. I owe no party my loyalty. I do have to be loyal to my own principles.
There can be differences of opinion on a lot of things. Again, I go back to the big principles above. If a leader has good character, loves our country, and stands up for conservative values, I’m okay with some differences on particulars, even if they might be “big deals.” If a candidate sounds great on some of the issues that are important to me, but can’t be trusted with the principles listed above, they won’t make the cut. When I have the choice, I obviously have to go with whoever aligns most closely with the issues that are important to me. But a few disagreements here or there are not going to change my decision. There will never be a candidate who perfects holds every single position that I do. Unless of course I run for office… Just kidding. Let’s stop with the delusions.
I don’t expect you to agree with all of these. They are my personal guidelines. I do encourage you to make a similar list for yourself. Determine as you engage in the political process, that you will not be swayed by personality, but instead will vote according to a set of guiding principles. This is not only a wise use of our liberty, but also one of the best ways to preserve it.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Do you share some of my guiding principles for voting? Do you disagree? Civil, rational discussion is always welcome.