Lend Me Your Ears

No one knows it all. And the candidate who thinks he knows it all doesn’t know how little he knows. Avoid that candidate. But most candidates are not that arrogant (or at least not openly so). So, who will have a candidate’s ear?

This is an important question. The old saying, “Bad company corrupts good morals,” is as true for politicians as it is for your teenager who is hanging out with the wrong crowd. So what should we look for to find out who will have influence?

What’s in a Name?

That’s a famous line from Shakespeare. Had Shakespeare been talking about political campaigns, he might have been asking how important is an endorsement really? Endorsements may be important, but don’t follow them blindly.

Don’t Assume

Always keep in mind that organizations that endorse candidates usually have a limited agenda. So be careful of “extrapolation.” For example, someone may be endorsed by a pro-life organization, but don’t assume that such a candidate must be conservative and will probably stand strong in defending marriage or opposing things like the homosexual agenda or obscenity.

Do They Know That of Which They Speak?

Endorsements by individuals, including celebrities and ministers, don’t in themselves mean much to me. It’s not that I have something against celebrities and ministers, but unless they really know the candidate, all they know is, at best, what they may have gleaned from a one- or two-hour interview. Now that is better than basing an endorsement off a speech, but the real question is whether the “interviewer” really knew the candidate and politics well enough to know what to ask or to evaluate the reasonableness of the answer, such as when a candidate makes a promise that can’t be kept.

When it comes to state offices, the answer is probably not. I’ve only seen one person of celebrity status (meaning made a movie, was or is on a TV show, or has written, sung or produced a song) on the Hill talking to legislators and observing the process. And apart from the Minister of the Day who may pray to open a session or those who attend our Ministers Day on the Hill event, I assure you there aren’t many ministers who ever come to the Hill to speak to a legislator or to consistently observe the process.

The point is this: It’s not that hard for a candidate to “put on a show” for an hour or two during an interview and say all kinds of good things. Good candidates know their audience and know what kind of things that audience wants to hear. I understand that, and that’s fine. But no matter how good a judge of character a person thinks he is, actions do speak louder than our words. For example, if the candidate was an incumbent, did the person making the endorsement really know how the incumbent has voted? If not, then their endorsement isn’t based on all the facts.

I have seen people endorse a candidate in this election cycle for having certain values that I know that candidate hasn’t adhered to faithfully. I’ve seen candidates make promises I know they will have a very hard time keeping, if at all. I’ve seen a candidate talk about standing strong on an issue that isn’t, in fact, even an issue in Tennessee. I’ve often wondered if the “endorsers” would have made their endorsement if they had known those things. Maybe they did know, but unless they really know their politics, they probably didn’t.

Second, and in my opinion more important than celebrity and ministerial endorsements is finding out who will have the candidate’s ear. It’s generally one of two kinds of people. First, it is their close personal friends—to whom they may feel accountable on a personal level. In this regard, you really need to watch our interviews with the gubernatorial candidates. The second group of people are those who finance their campaign.

Taking the latter group first, it can be helpful look at whom a candidate is getting his or her money from, whether running for a state office or a federal office. But keep in mind that politics makes strange bedfellows.

For example, I had an avowed atheist support me in my first election because he agreed with my policy positions and liked the incumbent less than me. I had a personal friend get all over me because of the person’s support. Another example is U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who caught flack because a liberal pro-abortion doctor supported him, yet the Senator has been true to the pro-life values he campaigned on.

So individual contributions are worth looking at. Just keep in mind that a contribution here and there from someone with values different from the candidate’s may not mean much. On the other hand, a pattern of contributions from those with different values may indicate that those people think they will have influence.

While contributors can be deceiving when it comes to knowing who will have the candidate’s ear, candidates generally don’t have people on their fundraising team who don’t share their values. The values of those people can be a good clue as to what a candidate really values.

And, if PAC’s are giving a candidate money, then most likely that candidate will support that PAC’s issues. Here’s a situation in the last session of the Tennessee state legislature proving my point about the influence of money.

But the people who are in a candidate’s inner circle will have the most influence on him or her. As a state senator, I knew lots of people, but they weren’t my confidants. I did try to listen to everyone because I never knew who might provide a pearl of wisdom. However, when push came to shove, there were only a handful of people to whom I turned to help me sort through all the information and issues that needed to be considered.

This information can be hard to find. But at least when it comes to the gubernatorial candidates who have raised $1 million or more, we hope our interviews with them will provide you some insight in that regard. We hope you’ll check out our gubernatorial interviews to see the questions we asked and watch the candidates’ answers.

Un-Spinning the ‘Sin’ of Spin

It’s telling that we have a television news channel with a show called The No Spin Zone. News is supposed to provide facts. But in politics everyone (it seems) tries to put “their spin” on the facts. And when it comes to campaign promises, one really has to watch for “the spin.” We’ve almost come to expect it. Here are some thoughts on the “sin” of spin and cutting through it.

“Spin” to me is an effort to make something look different (better or worse) from what it might appear to the average person who is looking at what happened. It is not the same thing as giving a constituent more information by which he or she can better evaluate what took place. That’s not what is meant by spin. Spin is generally more in the genre of distortion, deception or manipulation. And sometimes it may just be outright lying.

In the old days we called things like deceit, manipulation and lying sins. And while two people can see something in different ways, the real crux of issue surrounding “spin” is the matter of integrity. Integrity in elected officials matters. A candidate might espouse the right values, but without the integrity to follow through with votes consistent with those values, it doesn’t matter much what they say their values are. Our actions reveal what we really believe.

In a way, the issue of integrity goes back to my first article on the subject of evaluating candidates. Sometimes the only one who will ever know the truth is God, and a candidate who doesn’t understand there is an all-knowing Judge to whom he or she must give an account is more likely compromise on integrity.

Cutting through the Spin

So, how do we cut through the spin to find the honest politician? It’s hard, particularly for people who are not familiar with the political process. That’s why a candidate’s responses to voter guide efforts by organizations that share your values are important. Those voter guides may raise issues about which the typical voter is not aware and about which no candidate is talking.

Using Voter Guides Effectively

First, voter guides can give you information by which to evaluate the integrity of a candidate’s campaign rhetoric. FACT’s Voter Guide and personal interviews with the leading gubernatorial candidates will be on our website beginning July 16th. Often times a survey question relates to legislation that has been voted on or been filed. FACT’s voter guide makes reference to existing legislation if such has been filed. In those cases, you can look up how the candidate voted on that legislation and see if the vote and survey answer are consistent. Where there is no vote by which a comparison can be made, compare the survey answers to the candidate’s campaign rhetoric and publications. If there are inconsistencies, take note of that fact.

Also, while some candidates won’t answer voter guide questionnaires from any type of organization, if possible find out if a candidate has answered any organization’s voter guide survey. If so and if a candidate espouses political positions consistent with an organization’s values but won’t answer that organization’s survey, then take note. The candidate may be avoiding putting into writing what he says he believes.

Parenthetically, one way to find out about a candidate’s record is to read the information from other candidates for the same office. But if a candidate is criticizing a fellow candidate’s position, see if the criticizing candidate actually cites you to the legislation at issue. If not, the criticism may lack substance, in which case the critic’s own integrity may need to be questioned.

A Promise That Can’t Be Kept

Second, watch out for subtle contradictions. For example, watch out for candidates who talk about smaller government and lower taxes while also talking about new programs they want to initiate or agencies or organizations for which they want to increase funding. In my opinion such talk may lack integrity because honestly:

  • at the state level, the state has no money for anything “new” unless collections begin to go up or the candidate is willing to cut some existing program. So, if they promise smaller government and new programs, ask them where they will get the money—what they are going to cut? If they can’t tell you, they haven’t thought it out.
  • at the federal level, it is fiscally broke, thanks to the Democratic and Republican parties who have taken turns driving us into bankruptcy. Enough said about a congressional candidate who wants less government, lower taxes, and less debt and also proposes to start something new.

A Promise That Wasn’t Kept

Third, has an incumbent made a campaign promise in this cycle or in the past that has not been kept? If so, did the incumbent try to explain it away? Or did the incumbent have the integrity to admit either that the promise never should have been made (Bible scholars, consider Jephthah) or that breaking the promise was wrong.

Rationalization for why it was “okay” to break a promise is a quality that can well (and most likely will) carry over into other issues at other times. We can rationalize about anything if we put our mind to it. Integrity and humility are most evident when a person is willing to admit he or she was wrong. No candidate is perfect. Pretending that one is perfect simply means the person is more imperfect than he or she thinks.

Undermining Their Stated Values

Fourth, will the candidate commit to vote for a Speaker that holds views consistent with the ones the candidate espouses? Ask a candidate if there are any values a candidate for Speaker must hold or cannot hold in order to get your candidate’s vote for Speaker.

In other words, if being pro-life (or pro-Second Amendment) is very important to you, a candidate who says he or she is pro-life (or pro-Second Amendment) but votes for a Speaker who is not pro-life (or pro-Second Amendment) will have just killed most, if not all, pro-life (or pro-Second Amendment) legislation that will be filed.

Why? Because the committees that vote on legislation will reflect the values of the Speaker who appoints the committees. For example, regarding funding for abortion under “Obama Care,” my recollection is that, in the end, Nancy Pelosi won the day, not Congressman Bart Stupak and his so-called “pro-life” coalition. The same kind of thing happened in the Tennessee state House under former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh with respect to pro-life legislation.

Have They Walked the Talk?

Last but not least, is a candidate’s talk consistent with their personal walk—do they walk the talk? If the candidate espouses pro-family values, do they live out pro-family values? It makes a difference. For example:

  • Are any “indiscretions”—DUI’s drug use, infidelity, etc.—far enough behind them that a sustained course of conduct since then has made it clear that what was in the past is in the past?
  • If a candidate has disclosed his or her financial records, do those records reflect a consistency with what the candidate says he or she values? Maybe this is just me, but if a candidate professes to be a follower of Jesus, and the information is available, how does that candidate’s giving compare to his or her income? Many candidates espouse “compassionate conservatism.” Many profess the need for civil government to do less and private associations to do more in caring for the disadvantaged. All that is fine, but does the charitable giving of those candidates reflect a willingness to put their money where their mouth is? Someone once said, “If you look at where a person’s treasure is, there his or her heart will be also.”
  • What nonpolitical activities is the candidate engaged in and for how long? And is there anything to indicate that those activities reflect a decision motivated by the heart or by a desire to firm up their political base? For example, if a candidate says he is pro-life, has he been involved with a local pregnancy resource center, adoption agency, or abstinence education ministry and, if so, did the involvement begin prior to being in politics or deciding to run for office? Candidates can’t be involved in every kind of activity, but the ones they are involved in and for the longest will be a clue to their real values.

In other words, don’t believe the lie that a person without integrity in his or her personal life will exhibit integrity in public life. If anything, elected office at the very least tempts one toward rationalization, compromise, and even outright dishonesty. People don’t often (ever?) get more honest once they get into politics. Remember the Tennessee Waltz sting anyone?

Again, having the right policy values is critical. Without the integrity to follow through when it’s time to vote, a candidate’s campaign values may not matter.

Supreme Court or Supreme Contempt?

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kegan has given too many signals of her contempt for the law to believe that anyone would vote to confirm her. Here are just three examples.

The most recent example is found in the opinion by federal District Judge Tauro, who ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In the opinion, Judge Tauro notes that “the government has disavowed Congress’s stated justifications” for DOMA. In other words, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said it didn’t care what reasons Congress gave for passing DOMA, it was not going to defend those reasons. DOJ offered its own reasons.

Knowing the President wants to see DOMA repealed, it is not surprising that his Department of Justice would abandon Congress and come up with a new justification that the court was able to quickly dispose of. Dale Carpenter, an ardent proponent of same-sex marriage, said that the DOJ giving up Congress’ asserted interest in procreation was “a gift to the gay-marriage movement.” According to him, “The DOJ is helping knock out a leg from under the opposition to gay marriage.”

Strike One

What does this have to do with nominee Kagan? Well, the decision not to defend the reasons for DOMA given by Congress was made in a meeting of DOJ attorneys in which she was involved.

Strike Two

Second, in case you missed it, nominee Kagan did all she could to keep the military from recruiting at Harvard, where she was Dean of the College of Law … contrary to federal law.

Strike Three

Third, when working for the Clinton administration, nominee Kagan was instrumental in getting the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to change its opinion regarding the medical need for partial-birth abortion. ACOG’s opinion was offered to the courts and relied on by the Courts in striking down the early attempts to ban partial-birth abortion. While the ethical rule that prohibits lawyers from submitting false evidence to a court applies only to the lawyers actually trying the case, it reflects a serious flaw in her character to be involved in altering a “witness’” testimony that the Department of Justice, under President Clinton, was going to use.

Elena Kagan, three strikes. You’re out!

Reaching Beyond the Border

Family Action of Tennessee, FACT’s sister organization, has joined several others groups to reverse the ruling of an activist judge who thinks she can singlehandedly overturn 200 years of religious freedom in America.

Many don’t realize that The Family Action Council of Tennessee and its legislative arm, Family Action of Tennessee, is part of a nationwide network of pro-family public policy organizations. That allows us to have a greater reach and greater impact. In fact, the other day we took action to protect the National Day of Prayer.

Last Wednesday, Family Action of Tennessee signed onto an amicus brief filed by one of its sister organizations, Liberty Institute, in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the National Day of Prayer in Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Barack Obama.

You may recall that on April 15, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the federal government’s observation of prayer is unconstitutional, despite numerous rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court that protect longstanding traditions of religious invocations.

Americans shouldn’t be forced to abandon their religious heritage simply to appease a political agenda. Judge Crabb’s ruling striking down the National Day of Prayer contradicts what our Constitution’s authors believed about the importance of religion to our society.

When Congress passed a statute in 1952 calling for the President to issue a proclamation designating the National Day of Prayer, it memorialized the virtually unbroken tradition of Presidents from Washington to Truman who designated a day of prayer.

The First Amendment clearly allows public officials to acknowledge our nation’s religious heritage. It’s outrageous that one activist judge has tried to undermine more than 200 years of American history.

The brief argues that not only is the National Day of Prayer constitutional, but that Judge Crabb’s ruling establishes active hostility to religion and must be reversed. Those represented in the brief alongside The Family Action of Tennessee include Dr. James Dobson, the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family Action (Citizenlink), the American Civil Rights Union, Let Freedom Ring, and Liberty Counsel, along with 27 other family policy councils located in states nationwide.

Is a Person a ‘Top Ten’ Type Candidate?

When I think about late night talk shows, I admit having enjoyed some of David Letterman’s “Top Ten” lists. It can be pretty funny. When I think about whom to vote for, I’m mindful that God has given us his “Top Ten” list, too. Having a list saves us a lot of time trying to read through the whole Bible and figure it out for ourselves. And for me that “Top Ten” list provides some insights into what I should look for in a candidate.

God’s “Top Ten” list is, of course, the Bible. It’s been said that the first five commandments relate to man’s relationship to God, a “vertical” relationship. The second five relate to man’s relationship to his fellow man, a “horizontal” relationship. In my first post on the subject of what I’m looking for in a candidate, I basically talked a bit about a candidate and the first five commandments. This time I’m going to focus on the second five commandments.

If God is a God of order, then I take it that there must be some reason God made the first commandment dealing with our relationship with one another, “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land.” If so, I believe that reason is the fundamental importance of the family relative to the stability of a culture.

In the Garden, God created a man and a woman and put them together in a relationship we call marriage—husband and wife. And He gave to them the responsibility to reproduce and to tend and cultivate the Garden—essentially the work of building a civilization, a society.

God did not create lots of people and establish a civil government though I guess He could have and then charged civil government with the responsibility to make sure the earth society was properly developed.

And God did not create us unisexual or self-reproducing. Instead, He made a man. He made a woman. And He required the two of them to bring about reproduction. That is what God called good. That’s God’s created design for the family. And that’s whom God put in charge of the task of continuing to fill and to develop his original creation.

Which Government Is Best

What this means to me is that a candidate needs to understand that the primary form of government rests upon the ability of an individual (not civil government) to govern himself or herself and upon familial government. Dysfunctional families tend (except for the grace of God) to produce dysfunctional individuals. Dysfunctional individuals can’t help but produce dysfunctional civil governments, educational systems, judicial systems, etc.

Defending and Promoting Families

It also means to me that a candidate must be willing to speak up for and in defense of the family unit as God designed it. And while I don’t expect a candidate to talk about God at every stop like some preacher, I do expect him or her to talk about the fundamental importance of the family. Failure to do so would, of course, disqualify a whole lot of candidates because most of them think such talk is not politically popular. And, for sure, the media will hate them. But if a candidate is willing to talk about the family and marriage, it tells me that person may understand ultimate accountability and may understand where their values come from. And it sure shows the courage of the person’s convictions in the face of a hostile culture and media.

Does a candidate have to in every context use “Bible words” in discussing the value of the family? No (see last week on that subject), but if a candidate doesn’t ever bring up the family at all, he or she just may not understand what’s No. 1 on God’s list of top five things on the “horizontal level.”

Collateral Damage

Not understanding the importance of the family can also affect how they view important things that affect the culture and families like:

  • the rights of parents to control the education of their children,
  • abortion,
  • various asserted “homosexual rights,”
  • pornography and adult businesses,
  • gambling,
  • marriage and divorce reform, and, yes, even
  • welfare and taxes.

Welfare and Taxes?

Sure. A candidate who doesn’t understand the primacy of self-government and familial government may say he is for limited government and say he is for lower taxes, but he may just be saying so because that is what people want to hear nowadays. Okay, let’s be charitable. It could mean the candidate has just never connected the dots between the strength of the family and the size of civil government. But the truth of the matter is that strong families allow civil government to be smaller.

Undermining the family and undermining individual responsibility through governmental policies forces the government to step in because someone or something must provide order if we are not providing it for ourselves. I avoid like the plague a candidate who says the civil government needs to avoid “social issues” or describes himself only as a “fiscal conservative.” They have a different Top Ten list from mine.

What to Look For

  1. As indicated above, does the candidate ever talk about the importance of the family and marriage or say much about its importance on his literature or webpage?
  2. All the candidates want to improve education, but do the programs a candidate advocates take away parental responsibility, or treat children as if they belonged to the state? Yes, the state has an interest in the next generation—but in their ability to preserve and govern the state. That’s not the same as trying to “raise” or “parent” a child or do things for a child that parents need to do for their children.
  3. Do they sound like “big government” even if the end is good? The end does not justify the means, and if it’s government, then it’s more of your money, too.
  4. Does the candidate value home education, and how much, if any, do they want civil government to control it?
  5. Does the candidate support or oppose expansion, promotion, or protection with respect to the “social issues” mentioned in the bullet points above? You might want to check our upcoming voter guide for this question. And, if currently elected, what does the candidate’s record reflect on these issues?
  6. Is the candidate’s marriage apparently solid, and do his or her children seem to respect and honor their parents even if the children have made their own different decisions about how to live their lives?