The eleventh commandment of President Ronald Reagan was: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." Reagan lost a few elections to Republicans, Reagan_2
including his challenge of a sitting president, Gerald Ford, in 1976. Later he won his party’s nomination in 1980 and then became the oldest president in U. S. history by his second term.
Reagan’s view was that you should never down your own your teammates. Why? Ultimately, you’re on the same side.

I do wish the various conservative media types would heed Reagan’s rule but by now it seems a fond wish at best. The favorite line of these talkers seems to be, "How can we dredge up more on John McCain today?" Meanwhile the Democrats have united, for today, behind the realization that one of their two candidates has a great chance to win in November if they do not destroy one another now. One fact is simple, at least in the past forty years or so: the Democrats should win (given the unpopularity of the present Republican in the White House this time around) but they somehow tend to find a way to not win when they should.

John McCain’s recent attacks on Mitt Romney’s position on the War in Iraq come very close to violating the Reagan commandment, at least when he has spoken about Romney’s words re: "timetables." But then Romney did not openly endorse "the surge" in December of 2006 when he knew he would be a presidential candidate. By this action, and for whatever the reason, he thus dodged a potentially divisive issue at that time. Election_ballot_2
Both candidates have been guilty of blurring several issues and both have clearly violated the Gipper’s rule as things have heated up. Partisans have a hard time agreeing on who violates this commandment since they only see the other guy doing it. This kind of debate will clearly hurt the party, either party, in the long run.

Senators Obama and Clinton, at least in their more recent debates, have actually shown a little better restraint regarding one another. The question is whether this will last if today’s Super Tuesday results leave them in a very tight race for many months to come. This outcome seems likely given the way the Democrats split up delegates through the primary process.

One thing is sure to me and opposed by many on the far right and the far left. Both McCain and Romney are solid Republicans. And both Clinton and Obama are solid Democrats. Yes, they differ, but more often on style and leadership skills and how they will approach issues if elected. On most important issues they all differ very little. (Please don’t write a litany of their obvious differences since any intelligent voter today knows they do differ on several matters by this stage of the debate!) The debate then is finally about who best represents their party in the general election. And, I think, electability is also a major issue on both sides. For many thoughtful primary voters, who care about who the next president might actually be, this should be an issue in a world of political realism. I am personally hopeful that we will have a healthy national debate without violating Reagan’s 11th Commandment on either side in the days ahead but I do not intend to hold my breath for long.

Historically it has been the Democrats who ate each other up in the primaries. But then they have also rallied by the fall and even made up general election tickets (JFK/LBJ comes to mind) with their two biggest challengers. The Republicans, lest they also forget, linked two strong rivals when Ronald Reagan ran with George H. W. Bush, who called his supply-side thinking "voodoo economics" in the primaries of 1980.

The Republican who has invoked the least harsh rhetoric over recent weeks has been Governor Mike Huckabee. Some think this is because of his chances of being McCain’s vice-presidential running mate. Maybe, or maybe not. Who knows? It is all speculation right now. But Huckabee has demonstrated, to my mind, real class in the way he has  taken the high road in recent weeks. The same can be said for Barack Obama, at least overall.
Politics, being what it is in America, is a kind of uncivil rhetorical blood sport. I suppose we can’t expect much less. Yet today I am thinking that we should all, Republicans and Democrats both, remember the words of the late Gipper. One poll result is clear, to my mind, and that is this: Most of us hate this bitter, personal, acrimonious spiteful stuff when we see it. We can deny it or we can stop it. Christians ought to know better but on the Republican side they seem to be the very people who are engaging in this the most.

A lot has changed in my lifetime. I can never remember Christians having such a negative role in a campaign and in public life, especially in how non-Christians perceive us. Do some Christians think they had real power and now they are losing it? Do others fear much more than they love? Do we know what it means to be civil or have we associated our beliefs with God’s kingdom Church
so closely we think our real enemy is "flesh and blood" rather than "principalities and powers?" I, for one, will pray for the next president, and respect the office still, no matter who wins. This needs to be a democracy of laws and people, not a nation of anger and recrimination. Regardless of who you vote for today, and I vote today in Illinois, keep your eyes on the real prize! God’s kingdom will not be stopped in its tracks, or arrive in glorious power, regardless of what we learn from election results later this evening. 

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  1. jls February 5, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Amen to this. Regardless of who wins in this election cycle, we are citizens of an eternal kingdom. Let the politicians be partisan; our job is to be salt and light. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other” (Mk 9:50)
    In this Internet age, we have access to more information than ever before, at least in principle. But in practice, the bulk of what we receive is still filtered through the mainstream media, partisan pundits and commentators. One talk radio host cites McCain’s votes against the Bush tax cuts and concludes that McCain would definitely raise taxes. Another cites the fact that McCain has never voted for a tax increase and concludes that McCain would not raise taxes. Whom should we believe? Few of us have the time or inclination to do original research on the candidates. So we are still at the mercy of the media, the pundits and the campaigns. As we receive this filtered information and the accompanying spin, I think we need to weigh and reweigh it carefully before jumping to conclusions. And leave open the possibility of changing our positions as new information comes in. Some people are saying, “If McCain gets the nomination, I will refuse to vote in November.” November is nine months away! Why would you want to make your decision now, ignoring all of the interesting world events, information and dialogue that will come up in the months ahead? Rather than jumping to conclusions, I want to pray for God’s wisdom.

  2. John H. Armstrong February 5, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    This is a marvelous and thoughtful response. How I wish the sanity and respect of this reflection could dominate our society and our Christian talk both. “Pray for God’s wisdom.” Amen. I would have voted one way two months ago and may change my mind again as the next months unfold.
    What a novel way to think—to think I could change my mind upon learning more and discerning more clearly issues and people. We would be a better nation, and our churches would be safer and better communities, if we all thought as suggested in this comment. Thanks!

  3. Adam S February 5, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Anyone who wants some examples of improper Christian behavior around politics should go to the comments under Christianity Today’s interview with Obama. (
    While it was not a hard hitting interview. The comments show both ignorance and a mean spirit that I am ashamed to see come from Christians.
    Hopefully we will eventually learn to behave and follow Reagan’s 11th commandment.

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