The wonderful thing about elections is the free opportunity we are given to fully analyse and critique other people. Not only are we allowed to make assessments of character and judgment on someone who we have never met, we are encouraged to do so, with all the cynicism we can muster. We run the ruler over policies, temperaments, character qualities, prejudices and commitments, sometimes glorying in the opportunity to espouse our assessment of a particular politician, often hiding our own party preferences in order to appear objective. It is a strange phenomenon, which many seem to enjoy, if not revel in.
In the midst of the campaign we have been invited to focus on “trust”. This has a two-pronged thrust, alternatively giving both comfort and challenge to each side in the debate. On the one hand we have been invited to question the PMs credibility, given his questionable commitment to truth and transparency over a range of issues, including children overboard, WMDs and the war on Iraq. The leader of the alternative government however faces questions in relation to his trustworthiness to lead the economy. As a consequence, a fine-tooth comb is run over history, policy and character, and evidence produced to both substantiate and rebut the claims. Almost every person in the street is prepared to offer an opinion on both.
But what is interesting is that we rarely run the same standards over ourselves in relation to the same matters. We are far more prepared to forgive – even justify – ourselves for poor handling of the truth, and less than exemplary handling of our personal finances. Our willingness to hold others up to such close scrutiny while turning a blind eye to similar faults in ourselves is an interesting paradox.
Our instinctive response is to indicate that we are not running for public office. But ought that make a difference? When Jesus said ‘in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you’ (Mt 7:2), he added no caveat in relation to political leaders. And who would argue that our society would not be better off if we all ran such high standards of integrity over ourselves?
One observer suggested that we get the leaders we deserve. As we contemplate the choices before us come election day, we would do well to pause and ask what those choices reflect of ourselves. Would you vote for someone who acts like yourself?
October 3, 2004