American politics is full of many things, most are far from honorable. But one thing which is more present than ever in both parties does give me hope. It is not supposed to have a place in government, the Constitution makes that explicit; and yet both parties honor and celebrate it with vigor.
I didn't watch much of the Republican Convention (I missed the genesis of Eastwooding :-(). All I did see was the last of Mitt Romney's speech, and of course the 100,000 balloons + 500 lbs of confetti. Did you see what happened next? The Romney/Ryan families left the stage amid raucous celebration, and suddenly the entire stadium - tens of thousands of celebrants, fell silent. Why? This man came to the podium to lead everyone in the closing ceremony - the shift from partying to praying was remarkable.
This same phenomenon will no-doubt occur at the close of the Democratic Convention - religion is a powerful, powerful force in American politics. But instead of an instrument of spirituality, community, and moral purpose; it is a bludgeon of orthodoxy, divisiveness, and ultimatums.
If I were President Obama, I would ask that the invocation to open the Democratic Convention speak of this passage from the Gospel of John, where the people brought a woman accused of adultery to Jesus, and asked if they should stone her as the Law of Moses commanded. He contemplated this, and then said: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." The crowd then dispersed, and Jesus told the woman to "go, and sin no more."
If you have or know children, I'm sure that like me, you've counseled them with a variation of these words. We do this because we want them to turn the other cheek, and to do to others as you would have them do to you.
These simple yet powerful lessons which every politician has earnestly shared with his or her children, are fervently ignored when it comes to their own behavior.
Imagine how many undecided votes the candidate would attract if they began their convention with the promise that their party would henceforth (through to election day and beyond) act with respect and integrity? What if they would judge the other party only the way they wish to be judged, and seek to create bridges (even during the campaign) with all parties and candidates, for they know that once the votes are counted, all those elected are required to work together to serve the country.
They'd have my vote.
Divisiveness is difficult enough in good times, but in tough times it results in catastrophic dysfunction. We witnessed the invective in Congress and the White House over the last four years, and we have suffered because that made it impossible for them to accomplish anything.
Why can't we the electorate demand and expect civility? I have to believe the majority of American voters seek in their leaders a level of morality that at a minimum reflects what they were taught by their parents.
Religion is not supposed to influence politics but it does. There is no political risk greater than dismissing religious leaders or their opinions. Today, religion influences three issues - reproduction, homosexuality, and Israel.
Can we find a religious leader, a peer of Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and their brethren to advocate cooperation and respect? Can we help this voice become as powerful as those who care about abortion and gay marriage? Can we ensure that this voice is just as vigilant about holding government accountable?
It would be impossible for the Falwell/Dobson/Robertsons, the Democrats/Republicans, and even the left or right wing media to stand in opposition to a moral and effective government. Imagine if candidates had to condemn all forms of negative campaigning because they had to live up a moral standard?
America is a deeply religious state - over 80% of Americans are religiously affiliated, and every one of these religions espouses spirituality, community, and moral purpose. It took less than five years for the Tea Party to go from random disaffected pockets to a major political force. Why can't we create a pro-cooperation movement between now and the 2015 primaries?
Today religion in politics is an agent of divisiveness; whereas religion itself is a champion of community. It is up to us to transform the former into the latter.