Monday, October 27, 2014


If you were expecting a slice and dice piece about the state education budget or education policy you’ll have to wait for the next essay. I’m going to write about education today, alright, but it’s going to be about the education we’re giving our children and grand-children about the art of politics.

Unfortunately, the Kansas gubernatorial campaign has really gotten far too nasty for my tastes. It’s so bad that I fear that we’re giving our children and grandchildren the worst kind of education possible.

Last night, Nancy and I spoke with a couple of folks we know and admire. One thing led to another until the subject of the conversation became the gubernatorial campaign and the ugly ad about Davis that’s been produced by the Republican Governors Association. Our friends mentioned that all we really needed to know was that the Fraternal Order of Police had endorsed Paul Davis. I understood their point, but reminded them that as far as I was concerned, the police have a bit of a credibility problem these days. They’re shooting far too many of us and I don’t like that. And, besides, their endorsement, the endorsement of a union, or any other advocacy group means nothing to me. I’ll make up my own mind about who to vote for without their help.

I take their larger point. The ad is ugly. If it really is about fitness for political office, none of us is safe. We’ve all got skeletons in our closets. I’ve got a few myself, which I suspect the Democrats would try to dig up if I were running for office against their candidate.

But, I don’t want Paul Davis supporters to think they’ve taken the high ground, because they haven’t. Some of what they’ve had to say about Sam Brownback is as ugly and mean-spirited as it can get. Knowing that Brownback claims to be a devout follower of Jesus and also knowing that many Brownback supporters share his faith, they’ve cleverly implied that he thinks as highly of “Hitler, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao, and even the Mafia” as he does of Jesus.

The intent was clear – to cast doubt in Brownback’s Christian supporters’ minds about whether he is really a Christian. The bogus “claims” and the intent were scurrilous. Draping them in polite language didn’t make them any less scurrilous.

Do they really believe they’re heaven’s gatekeepers? Are they so sinless that they can cast the first stones?

I’m going to make this plain. Sam Brownback’s religion has nothing to do with this political campaign.

But, beyond the deceptive language and the ugly ads, there’s something even worse. You can barely get the words Brownback, Davis, Orman, Heulskamp, or Mast out of your mouth these days without seeing the veins in peoples’ necks bulging or their temples throbbing. They’re the telltale signs that there’s more than politics at play. There’s hate!

We need to wake up. Politics ain’t beanbag, but it ain’t all-our war either.

We’re really giving our children and grandchildren an education. We’re teaching them to hate those who political opinions differ from ours. We ought to be ashamed!

But, there’s a way out.

Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were political rivals. Tip was the Speaker of the House when Reagan was President. They fought many a political battle. They fought hard. In a 2012 New York Times op-ed, O’Neill’s son said his father had once described Reagan as “Herbert Hoover with a smile.” He also said Reagan once claimed that his father looked a lot like the main character in the Pac-Man game (“a round thing that gobbles up money”). Their political differences were profound, which O’Neill’s son described this way: “They were two men from humble Irish-American backgrounds who did not back down from a fight, and their worldviews were poles apart. As someone who watched the back-and-forth from a front-row seat, I know they each believed deeply in what they fought for — and that each had deep concern about where the other’s political views could take this country.”

In spite of the differences, they understood that their respective jobs were to “keep the country moving.”

They didn’t always like one another, but they still shared deep mutual bonds of Christian charity.

When Reagan was wounded in an assassination empty early in his Presidency, O’Neill visited him in the hospital. The “Gipper” was weak; he’d lost over half his blood. O’Neill whispered a few words at his bedside, and then knelt down. He gently grasped Regan’s hands and prayed the twenty-third Psalm.  When he was finished praying, he leaned over and kissed the President’s forehead, then left the room.

They were to fight many battles in the years after the President’s recovery. There were “wins” and “losses” on both sides. There were compromises.  But, whatever the outcomes¸ they both believed in putting the country first.

 That’s what our children and grandchildren should be learning.

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