Why Politics Matters Deeply and Why Politics Is Sometimes Dirty Rotten Business

Last week I watched two very interesting DVD accounts of political lives. I was struck by how important politics is, on the one hand, and why the whole business stinks on the other.

Charlie The first DVD I watched was a 90-minute History Channel documentary titled: "The True Story of Charlie Wilson." Charlie Wilson was the Texas Republican Congressman whose story was made into the popular Hollywood movie, Charlie Wilson's War, in 2008. The documentary was obviously not as fast moving and dramatic as the movie but it had a lot more interesting information than the movie. (I saw the movie last year and enjoyed it.)

Charlie Wilson was a hard drinking, hard living playboy who was drawn to partner with Gus Avrakotos, a CIA agent nicknamed "Dr. Dirty." The two of them would mastermind, over the course of ten years, to arm the Afghan Mujahideen in their war with the Soviet Union. Together these two men created the largest and most successful CIA campaign in history. One could say, and not exaggerate the facts at all, that the two of them, not Ronald Reagan, brought down the Soviet Empire. (Reagan did help them toward the end of their effort.)

This was an unorthodox alliance if where ever was one. Arming the "freedom fighters" with high-tech stinger missiles was the knock-out punch (President Reagan approved it) that finished the Red Army and sent them home in utter defeat. This was the beginning of the end for the Soviets. But at what price did we help the Afghan fighters win this war? We left Afghanistan after the military campaign was over, as we have sometimes left other countries. The besieged nation then became a staging ground for terrorism in the pre-9/11 world. We now know that this created the very problem that we face in Afghanistan today. "The True Story of Charlie Wilson" will plainly show you why politics really matters in the real world of life and death. But it will also show how deals are made and who makes them, thus politics often stinks!

Wallace The second DVD I watched was the 1997 TNT mini-series on the late George C. Wallace, who served four different terms as the governor of Alabama. This made-for-television series was an award winning film starring Gary Sinise, who plays Wallace brilliantly. It also stars Angelina Jolie, in one of her earliest big roles, as Wallace's second wife, Cornelia. Mixing real historical television scenes with Sinise acting as Governor Wallace is done in a deft and effective way. Wallace is rightly pictured as a driven, politically shrewd and power-hungry man. I have to admit I disliked Wallace with a passion. I was at the University of Alabama just a few years after he stood in the door of the Foster Auditorium to prohibit two black students from registering. (The National Guard was federalized and the governor was removed!)

What I had forgotten was how Wallace, initially more liberal and progressive in his views, took the "race card" when the Klan offered it to him and became an ardent, angry segregationist. He bitterly fought the Civil Rights Movement for several decades and might have been the nominee for president of the Democratic Part in 1972 had he not been shot five times in a Laurel, Maryland, shopping mall where he was campaigning. But I also forgotten that Wallace, after he had been shot and lived with pain every day of his life, made a very public profession of faith in Christ and went to specific black people in Montgomery to confess his sins and seek their forgiveness. In his fourth term as governor, in the late 1980s, Wallace did more to advance Civil Rights than any previous Alabama governor. In the film version of his story the hymn Amazing Grace is used after Wallace appears in a black church service to ask forgiveness. It is very moving stuff. I was again struck by this thought: Politics is necessary and politics really matters to the well-being of many people and the protection of their basic civil rights. But politics is messy precisely because angry, self-serving, needy people run for office in order to pursue their own power and personal agenda.

So politics is necessary. In fact, Christians should not flee politics or hate this part of the created order. We need righteous men and women to serve us as citizens. Sadly, too few do. And as a result the people suffer. But no matter how you cut it there is often a rotten side to politics because people sometimes do rotten things. This means you can never solve the deepest human problems through politics alone. These are two very good DVDs. I found them in my public library and enjoyed them both. They reminded me of what can be done, and what cannot be done, through politics.

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