Could Paul Be President?

Note: In light of the fact that finally, officially, we have our two presidential candidates lined up and ready to go (and, regrettably, to wage smear campaigns on one another during the general election), I thought I’d post an adapted version of a recent article I wrote for the Relevant850 newsletter. Enjoy.

I’m not sure why Paul (Saint Paul, that is) would ever want to be the president of the United States, but let’s say he wanted to. Would he have a chance of being elected if he ran in 2008? In a word: NO.

Why not, you might ask? He’s a brilliant writer, thinker, and all-around passionate person, not to mention a SAINT! He wrote the texts that became the theological foundation of the Christian faith, after all. That has to count for something, right? Unfortunately Paul has a huge skeleton in his closet: a history of mercilessly persecuting and killing Christians. His past is very, very sketchy, and if you are a politician running for President of the United States these days, your past better be absolutely spotless.

It doesn’t matter how brilliant or well-spoken Paul might be. The minute word got out (and circulated via cable news) about Paul’s wild pre-conversion days as the Christian-hating Saul, he’d be toast. The James Dobsons and Pat Robertsons across America would denounce Paul as an unpatriotic anathema—someone who, with such a horrible record of unchristian behavior, could not be trusted to run the country. Let’s face it: if Paul ran for President of the United States, he might as well pick Osama bin Laden as his running mate. He’d have about as much of a chance as Ron Paul to win the presidency.

It’s a strange time when, in America—a country which has always prided itself on fresh starts and second chances—a presidential hopeful is absolutely bound to their past sins, scandals, and gaffs. The 2008 election has proven that one’s past is, perhaps, the most important determinant of one’s electability. Each of men running for president has their own personal albatross: that is, their own past baggage that could prove disastrous for their White House chances.

For Obama, the biggie is Reverend Wright—the outspoken Chicago pastor who has a penchant for colorful, impassioned critiques of America. When the Wright soundbites hit the cable news circuits a few months ago, Obama was suddenly questioned: is he unpatriotic by association? Does Obama share his pastor’s extreme and polarizing views of race, 9/11, and the American government? Even as Obama denounced Wright’s remarks and severed ties with the controversial pastor, the media seems determined to brand the Wright scandal as Obama’s potential Achilles’ heel.

John McCain’s major albatross, of course, is his association with President Bush. Now the extent of his actual association with Bush is relatively negligible in the grand scheme of Republican politics, and indeed, Bush and McCain have been bitter rivals more often than they’ve been buddy-buddy. They differ quite a bit on policies too, but the mere fact that McCain is a Republican, supports continued troop presence in Iraq, and doesn’t publicly denounce President Bush makes him “Bush II” in the many voters’ eyes. He can distance himself all he wants from the current administration, but the past eight years of Republican-led government will nevertheless haunt McCain as he tries to build a case for himself as a “different type” of Republican.

In each case, the most damaging thing for the candidate is in the past—and it’s not even something they themselves did or said! It’s some one they were associated with: Obama with Rev. Wright, McCain with Bush… Are we really ready to disqualify someone on the basis of who they know? Should politics really be about how cleanly one has kept his or her company, admitting only the most inoffensive, neutral, uncontroversial people into the inner circle? I’m not so sure this is at all what we want in a leader.

Think about Jesus: he kept company with some pretty scandalous and generally unseemly people. He openly criticized the government of the day, in much stronger language than anything Rev. Wright is saying of America today. Heck, if Paul would be a controversial presidential candidate, imagine Jesus! He wouldn’t have the murderous record of persecuting Christians to defend, but he would have to answer for those pesky claims of divinity (talk about elitism!) and his tendency to favor blunt language over politically-correct platitudes.

The point of all this is not to suggest that Christianity and politics are impossibly opposed; on the contrary, I think that Christians should get involved in politics. But it’s important to remember that our faith is about forgiveness—redemption, renewal, and the unbinding of past shackles. Our faith would be pointless if we let our past mistakes inhibit our future success. We are reliant on the reconciliatory power of the gospel—that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”… that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting our sins (past, present, and future) against us (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). As Christians, we’d be hypocrites to demand spotless moral records from anyone, even our presidents.

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7 responses to “Could Paul Be President?

  1. Great post, Brett!

  2. Good. (I think you meant to say in light of rather than in lieu of.)

  3. quite right, my friend. Thanks for the copy-editing tip!

  4. petertchattaway

    Whoa, for a second there, when I first saw the headline, I thought you were talking about Ron Paul. :)

    Given a choice between McCain’s sometimes critical relationship with Bush for the past 8 years and Obama’s passive and not-so-passive endorsement of (not mere association with) Wright (and Fleger, etc.) for the past 20 years, I would think it would be obvious whose past ought to be the bigger albatross, here.

    And then there is the question of whether we can “forgive” people for things that they feel utterly unrepentant about. Obama himself tried this when he gave his infamous “race speech” and then declared that Wright had “acknowledged” the pain he caused, when in fact Wright had done no such thing. (Was Obama lying about Wright’s “acknowledgement”, or merely self-deluded? Either way, it doesn’t speak well for Obama’s ability to represent the nation and its interests when dealing with more hostile entities; one is reminded of how Jimmy Carter gullibly interfered with Bill Clinton’s efforts to deal with North Korea in the 1990s, which led to the proliferation of nukes there today.) And then Wright repeated everything he had said before, and this time Obama was forced to disown him more forcefully.

    If Obama had not been so hasty to forgive, when Wright had shown no sign of even wanting forgiveness, that whole episode could have turned out a whole lot better for him, and for Wright, and for who the political discourse as a whole.

    Likewise, the people as a whole should not just assume that Obama has abandoned his radical ways simply because he has publicly distanced himself from the YouTubed statements of a couple of his fellow radicals. Obama needs to be a heck of a whole lot more clear about his change of heart — if indeed there has been one — and about his reasons for that change.

    But hey, I’m just a Canadian, so don’t mind me. :)

  5. Criss Mitchell

    I have often heard people echo Peter’s concern about Obama’s change of heart concerning Wright, so I thought I would add my two bits.

    God used Wright was an implement in “saving” Obama. Think about the Pastors that have nurtured you as new believers… I know my (former) Pastor has uttered all manner of foolish, even hateful things. And I stood by him. I disagreed with him- I sometimes argued and confronted, but more often I looked away. Sure, I was embarrassed. Sure, I disagreed- but he “saved” me. I was lost and he showed me Jesus. I owed him my life. As someone who came from an unchurched childhood, my Pastor became a father figure. I understand Obama’s reluctance to distance himself from his Pastor. I understand why he choose to “look away” from his “nakedness.”

    but that’s just one guys opinion

  6. Interesting stuff, Brett (and Peter). Thanks.

  7. Peter–

    I’m not sure why you expect Obama to change from his ‘radical ways’ since he doesn’t, by all evidence, have any.

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