The price of attending a baseball game has escalated dramatically in recent years. One series of commercials shows the cost of tickets, food, and souvenirs, but notes that the bonding of fathers and sons was "priceless." Political campaigns have also become increasingly expensive, not just in advertising dollars and polling expenses, but in hopes dashed when winning candidates proved personally untrustworthy, as was too often the case during the 1990s. The cost of citizens giving up on democracy: Incalculable.
"Vanity, vanity, all is vanity," the writer of Ecclesiastes declared, and some citizens have concluded that all politics is vanity and that vanity is useless. But just as a free-market system turns subjective selfishness into objective altruism by allowing entrepreneurs to make money only if they offer goods and services that other people are willing to buy, so free elections harness vanity by forcing vote-seeking candidates to pay attention to voter interests. That has its dark side-the politics of pandering-but it's better than top-down, social-planner alternatives that ignore the lessons of history.
In the past year some disappointed evangelicals have said that since politics is vanity we should give up on it. If their complaints preserve some citizens from seeking salvation in politics, that's all to the good. There is nothing really new under the sun; our timeline (page 16) of important historical events in the political life of this young country shows how Thomas Jefferson played ball with the "religious right" of his day; how today's strategy of "going negative" is new only because of the technology available to candidates; how-from Whiskey Ring to Whitewater-American government has always been a magnet for scandal and corruption; how social issues-from slavery to prohibition to abortion-have shaped the parties; and how demagogues have always used bigotry to score political points.
But if evangelicals and others turn from skepticism to cynicism, they-and the nation-will be the loser.
WORLD subscribers will notice this special issue differs from a typical weekly issue: Missing is our take on the news of the week; in its place is a mix of political analysis and reporting to help readers old and new start to think about this fall's campaign crescendo. Fred Barnes kicks off our coverage with an overview of the presidential race. Ed Veith makes the case for gavel-to-gavel TV coverage of the conventions. Tim Graham shows how the news media have moved from narrator of the political story to arbitrator of the political agenda. Bob Jones begins a series on key congressional races with a visit to Southern California, an important battleground for control of the House. Tim Lamer addresses Social Security, an issue likely to be central in the presidential race. International editor Mindy Belz focuses on a foreign-policy issue both parties would probably like to ignore: the suffering in Sudan. And we close with an examination of the state of our political parties-a historical overview of how party power has weakened, a look at leading ideas to reform the presidential primary system, and some thoughts on third-party efforts by a former third-party candidate.
Consider this the program for the great American sport of politics.