In my last article for Fox News Opinion, I introduced the idea of pre-partisan ground rules which set the table for honest partisan debate in our shared political life. Here I will itemize them.
I also defined the unreality of the non-partisan, bipartisan and post-partisan – terms used principally as gimmicks to advance partisan agendas without debate, or without accountability to the checks and balances needed for a healthy political order.
Now, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in its simplicity of thanking God for his good provisions. In terms of our political life, I believe a thankful attitude translates into the pre-partisan, which is rooted in unalienable rights given by the Creator.
Here is a proposed “six pillars of honest politics.” As you read them through – regardless of your political views – is there anything in them not attractive to all people of good will? And how much healthier would our nation be if we had political leaders who embraced these pillars?
First, the power to give affirms that the unalienable rights given by the Creator belong to all people equally, and leaders in human government should serve such a gift.
The only naysayers I have encountered here across the years are atheists or secular humanists who do not like the mention of the Creator. Okay. But constitutionally, no one is required to believe in the Creator, who in Genesis 1-2, gives us the gifts of life, liberty and property. These rights belong to all people as people, regardless of what they believe, protected by the rule of law as itemized in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Who does not want these rights protected, and from what other source in human history can they be located?
Second, the power to live in the light means leaders in human government at every level should be as fully transparent as possible.
Wouldn’t that be lovely, across the board? Imagine the difference it would make.
Third, the power of informed choice is rooted in an honest definition of terms in political debate, providing a level playing field for all ideas to be heard equally, apart from which political freedom is not possible.
Another way of putting this is “truth in advertising.” And by definition, it is pre-partisan in nature, eager for the most robust debate possible, and only honest partisans have interest in it.
Fourth, the power to love hard questions is in place when political leaders honor and answer those who pose them the toughest questions.
Whom can we trust when it comes to choosing between candidates? The one who dodges tough questions? Or the one who runs straight at them, eyeball to eyeball with the voters?
Fifth, the power to love enemies recognizes that even the harshest of political opponents share a common humanity and are to be treated with respect.
People often talk about civility and tolerance. But those are so often little more than condescending terms in the political world, meant to manipulate others. Are we energized when someone says to us, “I tolerate you”? Or rather, would we respect a political leader who disagrees with us fiercely, but still celebrates our freedom to pose him or her tough questions?
And sixth, the power to forgive recognizes the need to address our individual and societal transgressions against one another, and to work toward justice and reconciliation.
We are in such a deep hole as a culture, that nothing less will do in the long term. We could start with Native Americans and African-Americans for whom no political program has yet to honor fully.
These six pillars are by definition pre-partisan, setting the ground rules for honest political discourse, a sine qua non for the healthiest possible public policies. Am I hopelessly naïve in pursuing such a hope? Can thankfulness trump cynicism? I have been living these ethics, in the presence of tough questions from even the most ribald partisans, for decades.
In my next article for Fox News Opinion, I will propose a mechanism based on these pillars that could transform the incoming Congress.
John Rankin is president of the Theological Education Institute in West Simsbury, Connecticut. For more visit his website: www.johnrankin.org.