“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” —Groucho Marx
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson’s presidential race against Barry Goldwater turned out one of the most controversial political ads in the television age. Entitled, “Peace, Little Girl”, the ad shows a cute little girl plucking flower petals in a serene setting. Suddenly, a man’s voice booms out with a countdown from 10, and with each step closer to 1 the camera hammers in on the little girl’s alarmed face. Tighter and tighter the shot gets until all you can see is the darkness of her right eye resulting in a black screen. Then, dramatically the viewer sees the result of the countdown as the shot cuts to a nuclear explosion with the subsequent mushroom cloud.
Johnson’s campaign only ran the ad one time on one network, NBC, but all three major networks ended up re-running the ad in the midst of news reports and talk show-esque type programming. So, essentially, Johnson got some pretty significant bang for his advertising buck by creating one of the most notorious commercials in the history of American politics (the fact that it still arguably holds that status in the midst of our modern mud-slinging age is a testimony as to just how shocking it really was in ’64). You can watch the ad by following this link (or by clicking the picture above) – “Peace, Little Girl”
What was more interesting to me as I read about and watched that ad this morning was not the sensationalized nature of the commercial, but the words of the narrator at the end of the ad:
“These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.”
Johnson, who had inherited his incumbant status from the assassination of JFK, was attempting to create a deep-seated fear that Goldwater was going to blow the earth up in a hail of nuclear missiles and, in essence, end life as we know it. Johnson’s campaign was successful in convincing the world that Barry Goldwater was basically Wyatt Earp with warheads for six-guns and this kept the Vice President’s sheets in the White House for another term. Ironically, LBJ was the president that increased our presence in Vietnam from less than 20,000 troops to more than half a million during those fateful four years. We ended up seeing 58,000 American lives lost in those jungles and more than a million Vietnamese. Pretty rough numbers for a guy who claimed that love was the answer.
Doesn’t the language at the end of this ad sound familiar? I think I’ve almost heard these exact words from people on both sides of the aisle regarding this very election.
All of this history that I’m spouting is to elevate one solitary point today. I, as an American citizen, feel a strong charge to vote because I believe that a good citizen takes part in the civic process. I will wear my “I Voted” sticker proudly and bite my tongue in order to avoid ridiculing those that treat the democratic process with capricious indifference. They are those who are merely concerned with eating, drinking, and being merry – and who knows, tomorrow they might die. But, and I say this confidently, I have no dog in this presidential hunt. I understand that it is somewhat in vogue to be “candidate neutral” and this has been brought to the forefront by this election (read interesting articles here and here and maybe just a little bit here). Even the evangelical world has its own version of this ascendancy toward political independence, I’ve heard more times than I’ve cared to the ridiculous statement, “I vote Jesus”. The absurdity of Jesus running for office is not clever, it’s a lack of dedication to being informed, thoughtful, and responsible. I understand that it is used tongue-in-cheek by some, but one man’s quip often becomes another man’s philosophy. But, in spite of the under-whelming candidate pool, I have found great peace in this election cycle.
When Paul was writing to the Philippians he said something near the end of the first chapter that offers needed, though not new, perspective.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ…
Philippians 1:27 NLT
The New Living Translation gets the essence of the Greek better than most translations in this verse. Philippi had a history with Rome (not Robama). Because fighters in this area had sided with the Roman establishment during a crucial battle the little burg was given the honor of being named a Roman colony (not a Romney colony). Author Alex Motyer offers this,
“Colonial status meant that the people of Philippi were reckoned as Roman citizens. Their names were on the rolls at Rome; their legal positions and privileges were those of Rome itself. They were a homeland in miniature.
…the whole legal position of the colonists…became the same as if they were on Italian soil.
– Alex Motyer, Message of Philippians
Paul directly assaults the Philippians’ civic pride with this poignant reminder: “you aren’t Romans first, you’re Christians”. I wonder if Paul wouldn’t write something similar to us here in 21st Century America?
The thing that struck me so profoundly this morning was the unbelievable amount of weight that is being placed upon the shoulders of one human being. Was the fate of the world truly in the hands of either Lyndon Johnson or Barry Goldwater? Could either of those men have really stopped this rock we’re on from spinning? And to the candidates that we find before us in 2012 I offer the same question. Is this election cycle historic in the sense of our very existence? Whether you answer yes or no says more about you than it does about the candidate you are tethering your hopes to.
I believe that we don’t have to “vote Jesus”. I believe this because the kingdom of God is a Benevolent Monarchy, a Sovereign Oligarchy (if you’re Trinitarian you have to ponder this), or a Loving Theocracy. My Leader isn’t elected He’s appointed. In no form or fashion is God’s Kingdom a “rule-by-proxy-democratic-republic”. I don’t have to “vote Jesus” because the Sovereign Creator has already placed all things at His feet. I can vote for whoever I want to, regardless of the “social liberals” or “religious right” yelling at me about this policy and that policy. If I were to vote “wrong” in this election I can still go home in peace because even as the most powerful nation in the world, America is a small hamlet with inferior defenses and a pitiful economy when compared to the kingdom of heaven. Neither of these candidates will save no damn the world. Neither of these candidates can alter the course of our future any more than God allows them to. Neither of these candidates, even with a friendly Senate, Congress, Supreme Court, and constituency behind them, has more power that 4 old women gathering daily for prayer in the basement of an old church in “Anywheresville, America”.
So friends, on Tuesday, vote wisely, vote conscientiously, and vote confidently. But after you vote, and after the results are in Tuesday night, and after the potential recounts are recounted and appeals are appealed, lay down in peace. Not because the right man for the job got into office, but because on the eternal throne that infinitely supersedes any chair in the White House, there is a gracious, loving, and benevolent King that didn’t just “earn” your vote, but that sacrificed His life for you. He was, in a way, assassinated. But He couldn’t be removed from office, because even the prevailing policy of death, with its precedents and implications, had to bow to His Divine strength. He is the one in charge. He is the source of our confidence.
I bid you “peace, little nation”.
The King’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will.