Columnists > Voices

Beyond the margins

Political choices do matter: A reader takes us to the woodshed

Issue: "GOP: No room for error," Oct. 19, 2002

I sensed it was probably not a totally agreeable letter. "I am a subscriber to WORLD," it started, "your brother in Christ, and a recently defeated candidate for Congress in Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District. I lost in a primary election, to another brother, for the right to oppose Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian, left-wing incumbent.

"I love WORLD magazine. The information and perspectives expressed in WORLD articles have often sharpened my political and spiritual thinking regarding various issues."

But I could tell more was coming-and it was. "The reason I am writing, though, is a comment about American politics you made in your Sept. 28 column. Specifically, you wrote: 'Yes, the choices within our political system make a difference; but no, the difference they make isn't much more than marginal.'

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"Wow," my correspondent said, "do I disagree."

I felt cheap. Here was a faithful brother who clearly had poured himself into the political battle-and I had in effect dismissed his effort as meaningless. And still, even in his disagreement, he was treating me with civility.

So I called Phil Alfonsi-who lives near Wisconsin's capital city of Madison-to set things straight. And I asked him if I could pass on to you our conversation.

"One big concern," he said, "is that this is exactly the attitude that dominates the American church today. So you have a lot of company. While other special interests organize and vote at astounding percentages, Christians lumber in at around 33 percent of their eligible voters nationwide. Pastors are afraid and apathetic regarding our cultural war. Nobody wants to offend anybody, even if the truth is publicly obliterated and our core beliefs are mocked."

But why should we put ourselves out, I asked, when we always seem to end up being disappointed?

"If we follow your line of reasoning," Mr. Alfonsi replied, "we just give up. We've got to fight as though we have nothing to lose-because the fact of the matter is, we have nothing to lose by fighting, while we have a lot to lose by not fighting.

"Besides," he continued, "what else is new? There will always be those who capitulate. But let's not brand political involvement as meaningless just because some people make some bad choices. Politics is limited, of course. As legislators, we can change laws, but we can't change hearts. Still, over the course of time, the morality of a society's people is influenced by the behavior they see condoned or forbidden by the laws of their land, laws that reinforce arbitrary definitions, understanding of what is right and wrong. So, for many people, if it's legal, it must be moral. That puts the responsibility of lawmakers and the people who elect them in perspective."

But, I argued, isn't the proof in the reality of what happens year after year? After all, you ran for Congress on a platform of truth and righteousness-and you got beat.

But Mr. Alfonsi stuck by his guns, suggesting the issue had more to do with the pragmatics of running for office than ideological handicaps. "The reason I got beat was not my Republican or Christian platform. It was because I lacked name identification, and money to create name identification. I also inherited a biased media, who defined the news coverage. During the primary, the three Democrat challengers against an incumbent Republican governor were in the paper or on the news almost every day for months."

Besides, he added, "Christian incumbents need to remember that they got elected to glorify God. If they vote for that which is right and get defeated for it, so be it." And, he stressed, even Christians disagree on some issues, making it tough to count on them as a coherent and dependable bloc of voters.

So, I asked, doesn't that discourage good people from running for office?

"Yes," Mr. Alfonsi said, "and so did your column, when you said so pointedly that it doesn't ultimately make a difference who gets elected. All this results in a public lack of enthusiasm for the ignored challenger. The counter punch could be the power of Christians at the polls. If Christians really believed they could make a difference, and thus voted in mass, the results could be radically different."

What single factor might make the biggest difference in letting Christians act together? Especially since, even as Christians, we don't agree on all issues, what legitimate things might we do to act more in concert?

"We shouldn't apologize so much for political pragmatism," Mr. Alfonsi stressed. "Who cuts off his hand to get rid of a sliver? When Christians abdicate their support for candidates because their views don't perfectly mirror our own, or especially when Christians simply don't care, the vacuum always gets filled with those who oppose us.


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