No one wants to see a person in power who categorically opposes that which is vital to our life, liberty or pursuit of happiness. Yet, we all will. Every single time we look at an elected representative.
Because perfect ideological copies of YOU, there are none.
The religious right knows this intimately, as hard-nosed, bigoted leaders screaming their way across America’s television screens, radio stations and huge church halls…fall from grace, again and again.
From tax evasion to homosexual sex, hiring prostitutes, embezzlement, pornography or even worse, child pornography & sexual abuse (don’t get me started on the Catholic Church), these fundamentalist orators who lecture the masses from on high prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that what people say in public, and what they do in private, does not always align. Which is fine when you’re the local milkman who spouts off about God while never spending a day in church. But, when your signature will pass legislation into law, and impact the lives of millions?
Then? Discordance is worrisome.
Yet, what can we do? Candidates for political office are human beings with personal opinions. So are all of us. Find me a human who runs for office on 100% what he believes (no skeletons in the closet) and I’ll give you (well, I’ll give you Bernie Sanders, but…I digress)!
I’ll give you, an illusion. A myth. An almost always impossibility. In fact, if Bernie hadn’t literally spent his entire adult life being public about his ideals and carrying his youthful ideology successfully forward into the next few decades of his life? Well, we wouldn’t be able to assume he was 100% behind what he said, either.
This is reality. This is Earth. This is humanness.
This is…what we must grapple with.
In truth, it’s not all that bad. If an elected official’s personal opinions align with 89% of the American People, then lucky him or her. Lucky us! It’s only when a person’s viewpoint is in the minority and they STILL push for it, that we get nervous: by design and with good reason.
Our government is set up as a representative system – not a leadership system. Put simply, elected servants are not expected to tell us what to do. They’re expected to follow us. Listen up and obey, we say, while generally being far too busy to spend time understanding the issues or doing deep research. Make us feel comfortable, make us feel like everything is okay, promise us that everything will get better, and we’re happy. Whether or not it’s real.
That is why social change is so very, very slow. And not just social change. Scientific advancements also suffer delays! Did you know it takes an average of seventeen (17) years for new, proven knowledge to reach the public? And that’s only if you’re lucky enough to have discovered something that those in power actually want people to know about. Why? Because humans are involved and we can mess anything up. Even science.
In the midst of this messy ordeal, most humans go for one of two extremes: (1) ignore what we don’t like about a candidate or (2) cling to a remembered wrong and NEVER let it go. We saw plenty of that during the 2015-16 Primary. And…it did not serve us.
Is it any wonder that most of us avoid running for office with the diligent devotion of a serial killer? Seriously, who amongst us wants to be judged by our fellow humans, under such conditions, within such a system?
Three types of people, actually.
The truly amazing, the truly terrible and those who make a living by obfuscating, manipulating, lying and generally making our lives miserable. That’s an exhausting swamp we must wade through, election cycle after election cycle after…am I still supposed to care? Just kill me now, right? No wonder voting is at an all time low.
But, let’s just set all that aside for a moment, and go back to our apparent moral contradiction. How can a person (like Joe Biden) vote in a way that completely goes against his personal, moral code? Perhaps, the question is, how can he not?
Finding the balance between personal and public expression of opinion is a hallmark of Americanism. It’s the very definition of “polite” society. What are the three things you do not discuss at work? Let’s say them together: sex, politics and religion.
All of us dance this fine line. Especially those who serve in the public sphere. For them, this is a normal, daily part of living in our awesome & diverse society. A Catholic cannot preach her personal religious views to a classroom of students in a publicly funded school…an anti-abortion doctor cannot refuse to offer abortion as an option to a patient in his or her publicly-funded clinic…and a bigoted police officer is not allowed to target black or latino or white citizens.
So, now that we’ve all nodded our heads and said, “Yes, yes, this is true.” I would like to point out three variations of Americans seeking that delicate balance between personal views and public responsibility.
(1) I don’t agree, but I’ll keep my opinions to myself.
If you support Biden for president, then you support a Roman Catholic who personally believes life begins at conception and who is personally anti-abortion. That is what he believes now and always has. However, in his role as an elected public servant, he has expressed his willingness to support a woman’s right to choose. He has said, “I choose to run as a Pro-Choice Candidate, but this does not mean I am a Pro-Choice man.” This, in my opinion, is reasonable.
(2) I was young. Whoops!
It is also reasonable to grow up. Which is why I have no reservations about Tulsi Gabbard, based upon her long-ago, youthful anti-LGBTQ opinions. Tulsi changed her personal views dramatically as she stepped out into the adult world, replacing them quickly with a deep respect for diversity. She now has a long history of public service and advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community.
(3) It took a long time, but I eventually got there.
Nor is it unreasonable to believe a person who finally, after many decades of staunch adherence to one opinion, changes their mind. During the 2016 Presidential Election, some extremely strong LGBTQ rights advocates on my island were also extremely strong supporters of Hillary Clinton. They knew she spent decades supporting the idea that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” but she changed her tune in 2013 and so, they were satisfied. No longer an issue. I’m with HER!
Not all LGBTQ advocates feel the same. As a minority group that still suffers the lash of bigotry and grieves those who suffer terrible abuse at the hands of homophobia around the world…their pain is valid. Their fear is well-placed. Their thirst for equality and security is entirely appropriate. Their perseverance necessary.
However, the future requires that our goal remain clear. To educate. To inform. To enlighten. To gain allies. To empower. To protect. And, to lift people up, out of the darkness from which they were raised. To invite everyone to join us in a better, more loving world.
How can we do this, if we cannot forgive? It is the transitioning of people from one world view to another, that must happen. This means, we cannot respond to youthful mistakes with forever anger. We will not succeed at bringing more people into the fold, while smacking down active allies. We cannot rebuff honest expressions of contrition and dismiss apologies as vapid…and expect success…nor can we hold grudges against those who offer year upon year of continuous work to better our lives. This cold grip on hostility and hate, only weakens the LGBTQ equal rights movement.
Pro-Choice advocates of America are looking upon Joe Biden and asking themselves, “Can I trust a man who always has and still does personally disagree with me, but says he’s a pro-choice candidate?”
And Pro-LGBTQ Rights advocates are invited to look upon Tulsi Gabbard and say, “Can I trust a woman who used to personally disagree with me, but who had a massive change of heart and has served my country as a pro-LGBTQ member of the military and a pro-LGBTQ civil servant for close to 20 years?”
Earned forgiveness is golden.