On Morning Edition on Monday, NPR reported on debates among Senate candidates in three states: Ohio, Tennessee, and Maryland. In the Tennessee event, Congressman Harold Ford, Jr, the Democrat, said this:
I'm a Christian. And I got a relationship with somebody upstairs. And it's a wonderful one. I understand from the outset, he knows more than I will ever know.Now, Congressman Ford's opponent in this race to take retiring former Majority Leader Bill Frist's vacated seat, Republican Bob Corker, is quite a piece of work himself, and the attack campaign has been truly dirty. But I'm very glad I'm not a Tennesseean, and don't have to choose between voting for Congressman Ford and giving an edge to Mr Corker. Because I'd have a very hard time voting for Mr Ford, or anyone else who would make the above statement in a political speech, and here's why:
The fact that you're a Christian — or a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist... or an atheist — is not relevant to politics, and doesn't belong in a political discussion. That you think it's important to say it as part of a political discussion says more against you, as a politician, than does most anything else you might say. That your relationship with "somebody upstairs" who "knows more" is more important to you, as a politician, than is your relationship with me, your constituent, is telling, and worrying. What it tells me is that you will lead and legislate based on what you think your somebody upstairs wants, rather than what your constituents want, or what's best for your district, your state, the country, or the world. And that worries me.
One thing about relationships with somebody upstairs is that everyone who has such a relationship has a different one, and yours is, to me, unpredictable. I can clearly see some of what you stand for based on whom you choose to stand with. But the nature of this is that it's capricious. You may stand up there tomorrow and tell me that your friend upstairs, the smart one, wants <X> — and this is something you made up, something out of your own sensibilities that you attribute to the upstairs somebody.
And here's the frightening thing: No one can debate it with you. No one can refute it, no one can argue with it, no one can tell you it's wrong, because you know, for opaque reasons of your own, that this somebody who's way smarter than you (and, by implication, than I) wants it. It reminds me of what I saw on someone's refrigerator magnet once: "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." I'd amend the first part of that to "I claim that God said it," and that's no way to govern.
The funny thing is that we came from a background in which our leaders were answerable only to God, and we rejected that some 230 years ago. I think few people today would consider that a mistake, that few want to go back to those days and that way of leadership. And yet we have statements like this, from Harold Ford and from George Bush and from so many leaders and would-be leaders in between.
Our democracy is based on the assumption, the theory, at least, that our leaders are answerable to the people. I'll never vote for someone who puts anything above that.