Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why I Won’t Run for Jim Webb’s Seat

Well, to begin with, nobody is asking me to do so and most who know me would be horrified at the though, but the scenario crossed my mind during a conversation yesterday about the possibility that Jesus was serious when he said that thing about loving enemies.
So, to begin again, I have neither the political profile to raise the $20 million it would cost to run a campaign, nor is that $20 million just lying around the house. But that's not why I won't run.
Sure, I have no experience in elected office, nor have I ever sought an office. Moreover, I haven’t spent years laboring away in the process for either major party, nor have I spent time serving on the staff of any office holder. But that's not why I won't run.
On top of those very good reasons, there’s no groundswell of public support clamoring for my participation in the process.
But none of that has stopped plenty of millionaires from ponying up for the experience. (Oh, right – I don’t have the millions.)
But even if I had the millions to create a campaign, I’d never run because I could never be taken seriously.
It’s not that I’m a pastor. There have been dozens of clergy persons who have been elected to the House and Senate over the years including the Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Robert Drinan, who was elected to Congress in 1970 as an outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam , the Rev. John Danforth, an Episcopal priest who served in the Senate for 20 years, and the Rev. William Hudnut III, a Presbyterian pastor who served in Congress in the early 70s and then was four-term mayor of Indianapolis. We Presbyterians are particular attached to the public witness of the Rev. John Witherspoon, who was the only active clergy person to sign the Declaration of Independence.
But even if I did not have clergy baggage to carry, I’d never run because I could never be taken seriously.
I do have some relevant experience, having spent 10 years working for the Council of State Governments, for whom I served as a senior policy manager and editor of numerous state policy publications. I actually am more than reasonably well informed on the issues of the day, and once upon a time wrote extensively on issues ranging from agriculture policy to ethics and campaign finance reform.
But despite having at least a decent understanding of the issues, I’d never run because I could never be taken seriously.
There are dozens of other good reasons why I, like all but about a dozen of 7.8 million* Virginians won’t be seeking the U.S. Senate seat that Jim Webb is vacating at the end of his term in the office. But non of them are the reason I won't run.
I won't run because I’d never be taken seriously. I'd never be taken seriously because if I ran for office I would have to confess that I seek to abolish war.
Imagine a candidate for major public office – or any public office, for that matter – stating that he or she seeks the office in part to pursue the end of war as a legitimate expression of national policy and power. One might get elected in certain small precincts to offices which don’t actually have anything to do with expressions of national policy and power -- mayor of Berkeley, perhaps, or of Woodstock. But gaining admission to the world’s most exclusive club while promising to seek the abolition of war? Impossible.
Even if one had all of the other necessary and desirable attributes that I am clearly lacking, and even if one had all of the money that I am also clearly lacking, not one of the 50 states would send you to the United States Senate.
We are a long, long way from the day when it will be possible to speak of the abolition of war in sophisticated circles and be taken at all seriously.
Of course, there was a time when the same thing would have been said about anyone who dared dream of the abolition of slavery.
Slavery, after all, was once broadly viewed as the perfectly natural order of the world. It was ordained by God and blessed by the Bible, and it had been practiced from the beginning of history. It was human nature. It was, plain and simple, the way things are, the way things had always been, and the way things would always be.
All of which is taken to be unalterably true of war today.
Sure, slavery still exists in the world, but nowhere is it legally practiced. Nowhere is it considered legitimate. War, of course, is not only legal and considered legitimate, it is still broadly celebrated. Our warriors are lionized, and often, as with Sen. Webb, elected to high office. War is the way things are, the way things have always been.
I dare to dream of a future otherwise.
Oh, go ahead and call me naïve. As we say where I grew up, I’ve been called worse by better.
All I know is that the abolitionists of slavery were right and all of those who called them naïve dreamers wound up on the wrong side of history.
The path to the end of slavery was long and difficult, and it included the tumult of war. The path to the end of war will be every bit as long and difficult, but its outlines reach out before us.
Martin Luther King loved to say that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. He borrowed the phrase from an abolitionist. Bending that arc today remains the chief task of those who would create a foundation of justice on which to build a world without war.
*OK, not all of those other 7.8 million people who live in the state are eligible to run. I’d guess that at least a million or two of them are either not 30 years old or haven’t been a U.S. citizen for at least nine years.

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