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Dole's spiritual flatlands

Dole's spiritual flatlands

Perhaps it's time for evangelical voters to declare August 16 Independence Day

Christian conservatives normally attack Bob Dole for lacking a moral spine on crucial issues such as abortion. That evidently is true, but here's one more problem: His political pragmatism isn't very pragmatic. Bill Clinton, pragmatist supreme, is practicing not only the political triangulation of depicting himself as midway between liberalism and conservatism, but a "spiritual triangulation" as well. I came to understand the importance of spiritual triangulation while writing a book on 18th-century American history. Before the Revolution, three major camps dominated political discussion. Those favoring big government sided with the British. Small government folks, wanting lower taxes and more local control, turned against the British. Righteous government folks did not necessarily side with big or little, but merely wanted officials to act according to biblical principles. They were the swing vote. The American Revolution began when Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams practiced spiritual triangulation by leading the small and righteous government folks to form a coalition against the big government people, whom they successfully portrayed as immoral. Today, the three points on the equilateral triangle still remain: Big government on the left, small government on the right, and righteous government at the top. Bill Clinton, starting from a position of weakness because of his history of personal immorality, has worked hard to become the Defender of the Faith that America is a country of compassion and fairness. Most WORLD readers understand that the president's actions belie his rhetoric, but Mr. Clinton has astutely been pretending to move not so much rightward as diagonally upward.

Bob Dole, however, thinks in linear rather than triangular terms, so he has tried to move leftward rather than upward. Instead of practicing the spiritual triangulation that is essential to a winning candidacy, he persists in slapping down his conservative Christian supporters in order to "move to the center." That movement has provoked reactions such as this one in a letter to me from faithful WORLD reader Dan Phillips of Sacramento: Dole "has no compass; he's a total Beltway thinker. ...What do we do? If we vote for Dole because he's 'less stinky' than Clinton, this sends the message to the GOP that we're the faithful wife whom they can disgrace and abuse and 'sleep around' on, and we'll still be waiting there for them with a cup of hot chocolate." What do we do? I'd suggest that we watch the upcoming Republican convention very closely. I still believe what I've been arguing for a long time: that the lessons of American history and the nature of the American political system suggest that Christians need to work in political coalition with others who oppose secular liberal aggression. A coalition, however, requires mutual forbearance, and Mr. Dole is demanding everything his own way. Evangelicals have been a long-suffering people, yes, but how long can the wait go on? Not much longer, I'd suggest. If by August 16, at the end of the San Diego convention, Mr. Dole has not shown the willingness or ability to spiritually triangulate a coalition of conservatives and Christians, I'd suggest that we sit out the presidential race this year and concentrate our political volunteering and contributing on congressional races. A re-elected President Clinton could do enormous mischief, most clearly by installing evil judges and not installing the anti-ballistic missiles that could stop aggressive acts by evil regimes. But a Congress that is not only quantitatively but qualitatively strong, one willing to say no to a lame-duck, corruption-laden president and yes to prayer, could help to avert disaster.

If Mr. Dole is the clear loser going into the November elections, Republican congressional candidates could even be helped as distrustful voters almost instinctively go for a divided government, re-electing a GOP Congress to keep Mr. Clinton from gaining too much power. In any event, we should remember that political work is secondary to our family and church labors; let's not get too excited about electoral victories or despondent about defeats. If our societal foundations become stronger, God will be glorified and, incidentally, national politics will improve. Yes, we should pray that Bob Dole will come to both his ethical and his political senses. Yes, we should maintain the goal of electing presidents who understand coalition-building from the right. But if the convention goes badly, we should be prepared to declare August 16, this year, our Independence Day from presidential politics.