Paul Steuckler instructed, "Watch their belly buttons, not head fakes! That is the key to playing good basketball defense." We could stand a little of that homespun wisdom in our discernment of political candidates.
Coach Steuckler taught us that where the belly button goes, the body must follow. Not so with head fakes, hip jukes, ball fakes, and shoulder feints. A friend of mine had the dubious distinction of guarding Michael Jordan at a fantasy camp. Steve said, "Michael dribbled a few seconds. I thought I was doing fine. He gave me a head feint left, and the next thing I knew, he wasn't there-he was dunking. I stood there wondering, 'What happened?'" While this is understandable when most of us go up against a basketball legend, it should not happen to us with politicians.
Politicians' belly buttons are their actions, which reveal what they really believe. What they have done will tell us what they will do. We do well to avoid their head fakes. Their words are often feints. Hitler, early on, pandered to Christians, because it advanced his power base. Bill Clinton spoke passionately about women's rights, and then abused women.
Politicians attend dinners and prayer breakfasts they care nothing about because it is politically expedient. Smiling, they visit organizations they abhor. They learn to use any part of the body politic to shoulder feint into a beneficial position.
How can we make sure that we watch their belly buttons? It's not easy. It is impossible to read motivations of men's hearts (only God can), and politicians are often gifted with an extraordinary ability to passionately and sincerely speak? So what can we do?
First, recognize that politicians seldom intend to do wrong from the start. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, "Few men set out to do evil." Hitler convinced himself that he was best for Germany. He might have said to himself, "I know best. I can help this country the most. If this furthers my goals, it is good!"
Second, look at actions instead of words. This is difficult and easy: Difficult in that we must look at entire careers and not just random points highlighted by political opponents, and easy because of the plethora of information available today. This means considering not only competence, but also character. Newt Gingrich's competence as a doer, his knowledge of history, and his willingness to do the unpopular speak well of him, but his character, displayed in his failed marriages, brings proper pause.
Third, look for substance, not style. We live in a culture of emotionalism. Sincerity, image, and passion are often valued above all else. One cannot question the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's passion and sincerity, but one can say he is sincerely wrong and his passion is misplaced.
Fourth, become clear biblical thinkers. To watch a politician's belly button we must know what to look for. Opinion will not do. Nothing can replace complete, thorough, deep, biblical thinking.
God grant us the ability to watch belly buttons.