Political Delusions and Common Ground

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Today on February 19, 2014.

The Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that in psychology, delusion is "a rigid system of beliefs with which a person is preoccupied and to which the person firmly holds, despite the logical absurdity of the beliefs and a lack of supporting evidence." So, to say someone is delusional is to argue that he believes something not only false but absurd.

In our time, civil political discourse is difficult because the foundational presuppositions of the Right and the Left are so divergent as to be irreconcilable. Yes, we can "reach deals" on the budget (sometimes) and other such matters, but philosophically, our views of the world and life itself look out over landscapes so different as to be unrecognizable to one another.

Perhaps this is why we are treated to the following headlines:

On Democrats: "Delusional Steny Hoyer Claims Democrats Are In Good Position To Win Back The House," "Delusional DNC believes 2014 'will be a great year for Democrats'," "Harry Reid is the Leader of Delusional Democrats."

On Republicans: "Republicans are delusional about US spending and deficits," "Republicans are delusional on Obamacare," "Why Some Republicans are Delusional About Oil and Energy Policy."

These dismissive and even insulting criticisms somehow fail to endear warring sides to one another. The alienation and contempt evidenced in these headlines speaks to the derision and disdain in which each party's leaders, writers, and thinkers hold their partisan counterparts.

Yet this kind of insulting rhetoric is not new in American politics; partisan sparring and jabbing is older than the Republic itself. What is new is the desire not for dialog and comity but power for the sake of ideological achievement.

The founders of the nation argued that our Creator had revealed Himself such that we understand the essentials of moral truth "naturally;" the "laws of nature" are embedded within us. Thus, our essential rights are self-apparent (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and governments are created to protect them. These are the major arguments of the Declaration of Independence and the premises of American government and public life.

Do we still, as a people, affirm these convictions, or have we descended into a poisonous brew of relativism, post-modernism, and paganism? And as this descent accelerates, our capacity to function as "one people" is diminished.

In addition to the disarray concerning our foundational principles, there is the question of intent. Os Guinness has asked "whether we are able to settle our deliberations and debates in public life through reasoned persuasion rather than force, intimidation, and violence." This is a key question, but there is another that must be asked with it: Do we want to resolve our disagreements, or do we simply want to win - the election, the referendum, the vote, etc.? The Left's project of ideological victory often seems to surpass any desire to look for principled and effective compromise.

What's in contention is the desire of those in the political sphere to work together or simply beat and silence one another. Comments from such persons of the Left as Rahm Emmanuel ("never let a crisis go to waste") and John Podesta (who calls for the extensive use of Executive Orders to enable the president to achieve his objectives) disinvite reasoned, civil, temperate debate and compromise.

The Apostle Paul said that because Christians recognize the gravity of God's coming judgment, we are to "persuade men" (II Corinthians 5:11). Christians engaged in public issues should never seek simply to win; of course, again like Paul, we do not wish to "run in vain" (Philippians 2:16) but want to realize our cherished goals. However, for Christians, means never justify ends.

But as we pursue political victory, let's always reflect both grace and truth, and a steady recognition that, as someone once said, to silence an enemy (or to defeat him at the ballot box) is not to have changed his mind. The eternal victory already belongs to Christ, and Christians belong to Him. So let's do political battle this side of eternity mindful that temporal victory is never our chief goal.