In Smiley's People, the last novel of John le Carre's brilliant Cold War trilogy, British spy George Smiley finally defeats Karla, his major Soviet enemy. The book ends with Smiley's jubilant assistant saying, "George, you won," and Smiley responding without much enthusiasm, "Did I? Yes. Yes, well I suppose I did."
It's with relief rather than jubilation that many greet the victory of George W. Bush. Relief, and thanksgiving for God's kindness: One year ago He spared us a Y2K technological catastrophe, and in recent weeks, with incredible dramatic flair and the use of unlikely human instruments, He just barely saved us from the political chaos that would result if uneven vote-counting became an accepted way to win an election.
We should be thankful that God is giving us another chance at a time when, to quote the 18th-century British novelist Tobias Smollett, "one half of the nation is mad-and the other not very sound." Actually, 4/7 of the Florida Supreme Court was mad, and the other 3/7 not very sound-but, in the crunch, Chief Justice Charles Wells wrote a crucial dissent that showed respect for the law. Lots of the main actors of recent weeks were mad and others were not very sound, but-undermining the belief of those who think all Democrats are bad-Judges Burton, Sauls, Lewis, Clark, and Wells did the right thing.
They, and the five Supreme Court justices who finally stopped the Florida follies, and Katherine Harris, and many volunteer election observers, have given all of us good gifts: opportunities to have a good man in the White House, to have law-abiding judges appointed, to correct our election laws. But, just as at Christmas we are supposed to think not just about the presents but about the deeper meaning, so I would like to suggest five lessons that we could learn from five wild weeks.
First, we should not succumb to political paranoia. The Clinton impeachment proceedings two years ago fed Christian and conservative rage against the Democratic machine, because no Democratic dissidents emerged. This time, both Democrats and Republicans experienced anguish, but since WORLD subscribers are predominantly Republican, I received message after message with this prediction: The Democrats will steal the presidency. Well, they did not, in large part because of some Democrats who did their jobs and stuck up for the rule of law.
Second, we should not adopt the Pollyanna attitude that everything is dandy. The Clinton impeachment and the Gore postelection campaign showed that some people, including some judges, are so much a part of a political machine that they prefer immorality or chaos to losing political power. Long-term Democratic pollster Pat Caddell recently said that his party "has been hijacked by a confederacy of gangsters who need to take power by whatever means and whatever canards they can." Of course, the GOP has problems too; there's a lot of work to be done everywhere.
Third, we have seen once again that God is in control, but God uses human instruments to do that work. We've seen the importance of individual courage, commitment, and the willingness to serve in grungy, oft-ignored positions like "county election supervisor." I like this comment from WORLD subscriber Evelyn Murk: "I'm tired of being a thermometer, shaking my head and clucking my tongue over the shocking action of the Clinton administration." Instead, "my greatest desire is to be God's Thermostat," able to change the existing temperature.
Fourth, we've seen the importance of basic logic. We need more teaching of the four deadly questions that I picked up several years ago from Professor Jeff Myers of Bryan College: What do you mean by that? Where do you get your information? How do you know you're right? What happens if you're wrong? The Florida Supreme Court could not readily answer questions like, What do you mean by voter intent? Are you getting your guidance from the legislature or are you making up procedure as you go along? If you do it your way, will chaos ensue? As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court had to step in and sadly shake its head at the mess made by judges who did not think things through.
Fifth and most important, we've seen once again that we are not to be ping-pong balls. When everything seems shifting from day to day-a 4-3 ruling one day, a 5-4 the other way on the next-we should remember to trust the Rock whose birth we soon celebrate. On Christ alone we should make our stand, for all other hopes are shifting sand.