Preface: Mike, if you happen to read this, I’m sorry that you became Example 1-A for my lament. You are a public servant, however, and I just happened to see your ad one too many times. Good luck in the race, and I hope you’ll give some thought to that He-who-made-a-way guy, if elected.
How does a particular amalgamation of mainstream politicians become so appallingly atrocious that I will likely vote in the upcoming gubernatorial election for a scruffy-bearded ex-contestant on Survivor, CBS’ never-ending reality show that must nowadays refer to its few remaining viewers? Well, unfortunately, I can’t say much about the systemic causes of the ever-deepening rot of America’s political ruling classes/parties, but I can gawk at and lament about the trainwreck produced incessantly by the election cycle’s inescapable death march toward November.
Meet Mike Pence, Indiana’s very own Flat Stanley, a shockingly boring and vanilla Republican candidate for governor, and the current Congressman from the state’s sixth district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Go ahead, clickthrough to his website; my post will still be around when you wake up from your nap.
Recognizing that some numbers sound like English words, Pence’s campaign, ever-so-cleverly named “Pence4Indiana” on YouTube, is responsible for this excruciatingly generic drivel of a “campaign ad.” It airs on just about every commercial break during the Olympics, but I’ll only ask you to waste 30 seconds of your time watching it.
Great, eh? Indiana has somewhat of a significant National Guard, and some people choose to serve in it. Good for them. Nevermind that the National Guard is not the active-duty Army, even though our military adventurism of the last decade turned them into that on a de facto basis.
But this post is not about the people who choose to join the National Guard or any other branch of the armed forces, their multitude of reasons for doing so, or the like. It is about the jarringly annoying way politicians use rhetoric for perceived gains, especially when weighed against banal statist obeisance to the supposed religious principles of the majority.
(Please, read that previous paragraph again if you have to. This is not an attack against people who join the armed forces. It is a much, much broader lament about a society that both desires and permits injustice and rewards politicians who fail to question the reign of death posed by our foreign policy on the encouragement of the military-industrial complex and the fear machine. Deep breath.)
Let’s start with the absolute basics. I was elected as a delegate earlier this year to the Indiana State Republican Convention, and if you know anything about me at all, you know that I went solely in support of Ron Paul. The state party did everything in its power to ensure that our voice was silenced, using its night-before-the-convention emendations to parliamentary process to silence the strong minority of us who were attending not to schmooze with powerful people in button-down shirts, but to challenge the legality of a clause preventing any debate about party-appointed nominees. Instead, we could only vote yea or nay to their slate of party-line-towers hoping for political careers. This, America, is how you get your politicians.
Anyway, on the second day of the convention, we had the distinct privilege of listening to people speak for 3 hours. These people included one Mike Pence, the party’s uncontested candidate to replace Mitch Daniels as governor. Here’s part of Pence’s riveting speech that day, just after he spoke about “faith,” “morals,” and how to “renew our land”:
Two centuries ago, as our pioneer forebearers labored to carve a home in the woods that was Indiana, they did not labor alone. And I believe with all my heart that He who made a way through that dense and dangerous forest, through harsh elements, toils and snares is with us still today.
I start with this not because those comments sounded particularly stupid to me at the time, but because his snoozer of a speech as a whole, and these excerpts, reveal enough about the candidate’s perspective to illustrate a basic theology: God is with Us, Jesus is on Our Party’s side, He will help us navigate this stormy political climate, and it’s a Good Thing for my candidacy if I sound this way when I speak to Hoosiers.
Now, back to the advertisement.
I’m not sure it’s fair to label it as an advertisement, actually. The information it contains is not especially relevant to Pence’s gubernatorial campaign. If I was in high school again and asked to judge the few statements that Pence makes for their communicator’s purpose, I would have to say “to inform.” Of course, Pence did not sit down and film an ad, involve creative firms to produce an ad, and pay immense sums to NBC Universal to air an ad every waking hour of the day just to inform Hoosiers that their National Guard is the fourth largest in the country. There are deep, persuasive elements at play in the ad, and Pence wants you and I to know that he thinks about the American military exactly as we common people do.
As if we had any question about that.
But beyond the feel-good background music and the silhouetted imagery of glorious assault rifle barrels, what do we learn about Pence as a candidate here, other than the fact that he doesn’t mind taking regular Congressional junkets (on the American taxpayer’s dime) as photo ops to shake hands with our troops?
Considering the placement of the ad–during Olympic commercial breaks when our pro-USA excitement is generally pretty high–can we accept the its intentional nationalism (at best) or blatant jingoism (at worst)? Isn’t the Olympics supposed to be apolitical, to foster a sense of respect and togetherness for humanity, and aren’t we supposed to be affected by seeing the faces of The Other who, though he or she happened to be born in some other region of the world, wishes to live a fruitful life, just like us?
How do we square the dichotomy of military bravado with the command to love one’s neighbor, and especially the example of nonviolent resistance to oppression and corruption given by one Jesus of Nazareth?
How is signing on to destroy human life, or worshipping those who do, a “blessing”?
What do “service” and “sacrifice” actually mean?
I’ve often thought that we, as American Christians, should be far more forgiving to Pontius Pilate. After all, he was just a lad born into the undisputed, uncontested, unchallenged and unmistakeable ruling empire of his day; the world had never before seen such a thing as Rome. Personally, he had aspirations of power and political greatness, and was doing his best to work his way up the chain of command, even if that meant toiling as Prefect of Judaea. Now, I don’t have any insider access to his personal thoughts, but I think it’s fair to say that he probably went about his life without ever questioning the morality of the use of force against oppressed peoples, which meant he had no problem using brutal force against those who his empire dominated violently, even for the most benign of reasons. He, like Rome in general, was not especially critical about who made their way onto his kill list from these inconsequential lands.
Through the armed-forces-worship, this is exactly what I hear from Pence’s advertisement. Only, it’s not in an explicitly abhorrent sort of way, whereby he cheerleads the deaths of people who happen to be on the wrong side of our armed drones, or superimposes the number of dead Middle Easterners all over the screen.
It’s in an I-know-the-American-people-are-totally-cool-with-this sort of way.
And that, to me, is far worse.