Thursday, October 29, 2020

Why I voted FOR Biden.

I recognize that this election season is all about opposing your opponent.  It's about coalescing around hatred for ones enemy, about tapping into that group energy that comes from having a person you can focus your anger on.

It's classical Alinskian politics, after all.  Nothing motivates human beings more than having a villain to fight, a face to put on your hate, a heel to boo and hiss and attack.  And Lord have mercy, do we have that energy going on right now.

But though I feel that spirit out there mightily, and it rises up on the wings of my anger about clear threats to the integrity of the republic, I also don't really trust that energy.  It's evil, after all.  And my Teacher doesn't fight evil with evil, no matter what Palpatine might be hissing at me on Twitter.

I take a deep breath, center away from that form of power, and try to think positively.  Where is the good in my choosing?  How does seeking the good...not just my own, but of the republic I how I will act as a citizen?  I have already voted, going early because, seems necessary this year.

So let me say this:  I voted for Joe Biden because he's a decent person who will be a decent, competent president.  When I voted, I did not do so grudgingly, or with reservations.  I am not simply voting *against* someone.  I want Joe Biden to be president.  Frankly, I wanted him to run in 2016, and was disappointed when he made the choice to step aside.  My decision to cast my vote for Biden is affirmative, not a "best of two bad choices" or a poke in the eye to those who see the world so very differently than I.  There are reasons for this.  Let me lay 'em out for ya.

1) Biden is a moderate.  I am also a moderate.  Well, moderate in some things.  I am moderate in my moderation.  But generally, I don't believe in abrupt change, or in moving suddenly unless there's a truck coming at you.  Evolution is life's path through the order of creation, and it is also the best way to accomplish necessary adaptation.  Abrupt changes to living systems are likely to fail.  Moderates consider the possible good on either side of a contentious issue, and find the path that makes the most sense given the reality we inhabit.  Not the pipe dream of a perfect future, or the lie of a perfect past, but the reality of where we are, who we are right now, and how we might take that step to become better.

I see that logic in most of what Biden does.  Take, for instance, Biden's  stance on busing, for which he was attacked during the primary season.  Busing was, quite frankly, a shortsighted solution to a real problem.  Decoupling students and parents from local schools is an ideologues idea of an answer to systemic failures in our school systems.  I would vote against any candidate who proposed it, because there's value in community, and in not having to drive halfway across the damn county to bring my kid something they forgot, or to pick 'em up when the nurse calls.  It's not racist to oppose it, because race isn't the only thing at play when it comes to busing. 

Moderates think about such things, and I am voting for Biden because he is a moderate.

2) Biden knows how to work with others.  Again, this is because Biden isn't a radical or an egotist.  He doesn't see politics as a zero sum game, but understands that you're better off at least trying to connect with those who aren't your base.  He's representative of a better time in American politics, when folks were willing to reach across party lines to get things done.  A better time, frankly, than the one we inhabit.  He's got a track record of this, a lifetime of evidence that he is willing to find common ground and treat those who disagree with him honorably.  

He is a liberal, in the classical sense of the term.  Liberality is the enemy of radicalism, and has always been.  It is neither leftist nor right-wing.  In the Soviet Union, it was the liberals who were harassed and imprisoned.  In Nazi Germany, liberality was equally attacked.  Why? Because liberals are a threat to every form of authoritarianism.  They insist on listening to and considering the potential merits of other positions.  Liberality also assumes that the person you are talking to is not a caricature, but an actual human being.  Kindness, grace, mercy, and understanding are liberal virtues.  Biden is a liberal in the most traditional sense of the word.

In part, that comes from his persona.  Let's talk about that. 

3) Biden is a centering presence.  Tone matters in leadership, as it does in all relationships.  Try saying something to your wife in a gentle tone.  Now say it in a snarky, bullying tone.  Which one is more likely to have you sleeping on the sofa?

Biden listens.  He is genuinely the kind of person who cares.  It's why he's been around as long as he has, because it's not just a facade or a schtick.  It's his identity.

If you want to unify a nation, there are different approaches to doing that.  The best approach is to appeal to the center, to reach out to the best shared spirit of a people.  That calls a nation together.  It unites from common purpose, and from a position of shared hope and determination.  It is the path of nations that are growing and moving forward.

You can also use darker energies to force unity.  Fear and hatred are excellent tools for pulling a people...or a subset of people...towards a given end.  They can be powerful.  These work well when coupled with brute force.  If a people aren't united by common purpose, you can motivate a subset of them with fear of an enemy, then use the coercive power of a police state to subdue and subjugate the rest of them.

A leader must express that, particularly if they want to lead more than a subset of partisans.  If you want a nation to cohere, and if you dislike divisiveness, you need to choose leaders who refuse to use the energy of division and disruption.  Seek the measured, the thoughtful, and the leader who will acknowledge and respect a worthy perspective, even if it is offered by a political adversary.

That said, there's always the concern that a moderate leader won't be able to push back when pressed, that they'll not have the necessary spine to resist when the integrity of the nation is attacked or pressed by a hostile aggressor.

After the first debate, we know what he looks like responding to blind aggression now, so, yeah.  That one's fine.

4) Biden is old. 

He is not young. For many folks, this is spun as a negative.  Joe Biden is 77.  He isn't hip and edgy and now.  Farthest thing from it.  But with age can come wisdom.  A lifetime of experience is not irrelevant, nor is it irrelevant that he understands the ebb and flow of political fads.  I don't buy into the idea that age is only a negative.  Jesus Mary and Joseph, it's not like we're living in the world of Logan's Run.  Well, not quite yet, anyway. 

I value the vision and depth of those who have lived more years than I, seen more things than I, and know more than I.  I understand things in middle age that I did not in my youth.  Every year, my well of experience deepens. 

There are two concerns, of course.    First, that age can come with significant diminishment of cognitive function.  Which is why I've made a point of listening to Biden speak off the cuff, and listening to him answering questions.  Not for just a soundbite, but for a whole hour of speaking, unfiltered by any spin.  He's not the best at it, not as good as Obama or even as Reagan.  But neither is he incompetent.  

Second, that age can calcify a person's perspective, and make them less likely to respond effectively to a new and unanticipated challenge.  Old dogs often go back to the same bag of tricks, over and over and over again.  It's a human tendency, and one I feel in myself as I get more curmudgeonly with age.  To counterbalance this, you need liberality, a willingness to see the good in the new, and one other thing.  You also have to have people who you respect to teach you things you don't already know.  Which gets me to the next point.

5) Biden is more than Biden.  

He isn't perfect, and he doesn't pretend to be.  But Biden is the sort of leader who knows to listen to wise counsel.  He does not assume he knows everything, or that his opinions are the only ones that matter.  A Biden presidency would engage the minds of other human beings, tapping into deeper expertise and acknowledging that one single person cannot know all things.

If your understanding of leadership is that good leaders are strong and in complete control of everything, that might not work for you.  Some folks assume that a leader who doesn't just give orders and demand loyalty is somehow "inauthentic."  As a pastor who cares for my community and from my doctoral work in leadership dynamics, I know that churches...and by extension, any human group...that are run by one person with ultimate power?  They fail. 

The strong church...or organization, or the one where the gifts and wisdom of the whole group are utilized.  Expertise is not smothered by ideology or ego.  The power of the team, and the strengths we all bring?  They all need to be brought forward.  In a time when we are tested by a hornet's nest of crises, we need that kind of leadership.

6) Biden personally manifests the Christian virtues. 

This isn't going to work for everyone, as not everyone is Christian.  But I am.  The teachings of Jesus define my path, and while I'm the farthest thing from perfect, I measure my success as a soul by how I do what Jesus asks me to do.  What that looks like as we live day to day is defined well by the classical Christian virtues.  There are many different ways to present that set of morals, but one of the clearest is found in ancient Christian teachings about vice, sin, and the virtues that counterbalance them.

The Seven Deadly sins, we know.  Lust. Gluttony. Greed. Sloth. Wrath. Envy. Pride.  Give power to a person ruled by those sins, and they will cause harm.  Against them...not in parallel but on their own terms... we find arrayed the angels of the Seven Virtues.  Chastity.  Temperance. Charity. Diligence. Patience. Kindness. Humility.  Give authority to a soul that has tapped into the power of these graces, and they will be a blessing.

Let's break those virtues down.  Chastity means containing carnal desire through fidelity in relationships.    Temperance expresses itself through moderation of impulses, by refusing to allow the momentary impulse to drive your choosing.   Charity means benevolence, a willingness to sacrifice self for the greater good, and a turning away from the hunger to maximize personal benefit at the expense of other.  Diligence means putting in the hard work necessary to do a thing.  Good things take time, dedication, and focus.  Patience means playing the long game, ignoring the provocation of the moment and keeping your heart turned towards your purpose always.  Kindness requires a concern for others and their wellbeing, and for that concern to govern your behavior towards all.  Kindness rejoices in and magnifies the successes of others.  Humility creates in us a willingness to learn, an openness to be changed when we are wrong, and a servants heart.

I see all of these spirits working in Joe Biden, and not just now, but over the many years we've been able to watch him in public service.  Is he perfect?  No.  None of us are.  But you can tell from his life where his priorities lie, and how his deeply held lifelong faith forms and shapes who he is.  You shall know them by their fruits, as my Teacher said.

7)  Joe Biden Loves to Drive.  

This isn't going to work for everyone, because not everyone loves cars the way that I have since I was a little boy.  But Joe Biden's a car guy.  I love cars.  Sweet baby Jesus, do I love cars.  Biden still owns the same Corvette he bought back when he was a young man, and clearly takes pleasure in it.  The thing he hated most about being VP was not being able to get out and drive.  He likes the feel of a fast car, the elemental pleasure of being behind the wheel.  

As it so happens, the first truly fast car I ever drove was my uncle's '65 Stingray.  Fuel injected 327, sky blue, gorgeous.  Dang, was that fun.

This is, I'll admit, a silly thing, but I know that were I to ever meet Biden, I'd have trouble ending the conversation.  Because God help me, I can blabber on about cars all day long.  Just ask my congregants.  So while I feel some lament about depriving Joe of that for the next four years, well...I can appreciate him.