A tidal wave of Republican presidential candidates is right behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who has announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. The only likely candidate for the Democratic nomination – Hillary Clinton – is a tsunami all by herself.
All together these candidates wash away efforts to advance the common good.
First, presidential candidates suck all the oxygen out of the room.
They draw attention away from pressing issues. Reporters, columnists and talk-show hosts turn from stories that require investigation and interviews to the easy speculation pieces about candidates. Newspapers and news broadcasts fill up with candidate pieces.
Consequently, pressing issues get less space, less time, less traction in public awareness.
At the same time, ordinary folk talk about candidates as if what they say and do now is of penultimate importance.
It’s almost impossible to frame and to advocate for issues when the public isn’t listening, when the public is distracted by the theatrics of presidential politics.
Second, presidential candidates play to their base as if their ideological issues are the really important ones.
Are flat taxes more important than just taxes? Is abolishing the IRS a greater priority than ending human trafficking?
Cruz, for example, focused his announcement on liberty, not poverty. Liberty is no doubt an important value. But is it a more important issue than poverty, which is of primary concern for many Christians?
Presidential candidates shape our values, issues or both. We end up embracing their agendas, rather than allowing our faith traditions to prioritize our values and issues.
In a way, the church’s agenda gets secularized by presidential candidates, even those who wrap themselves in the Christian flag.
Focusing on time-tested, vote-getting issues is good for candidates. Not so good for advancing the common good.
Third, presidential candidates raise gobs of money.
Many found obscene Pastor Creflo Dollar’s plea for 200,000 faith-followers to sow $300-plus in donations to raise $65 million for a luxury business jet.
His public relations representative tried to rationalize the appeal by saying that the plane would haul thousands of pounds of food and supplies around the world.
When in fact, the plane is designed to haul golf clubs, not food cargo, as an aviation expert said.
Presidential candidates travel a parallel track to the absurdity and obscenity of prosperity preachers like Dollar.
Candidates plea for followers to give often and generously for vague promises of a better tomorrow, raising hundreds of millions of dollars – maybe billions of dollars – for activities that really benefit themselves and their campaigns.
The day of his presidential announcement, candidate Cruz launched a 10-city fundraising campaign with the goal of getting $1 million toward a goal of $40 million for his campaign.
Cruz has said that his likely opponent, Jeb Bush, will raise more than $100 million. Unannounced candidate Clinton has been raising money since last year with a reported goal of $1 billion.
Those kinds of numbers are hard to imagine, especially when churches and nonprofits struggle to raise funds for initiatives that have real boots on the ground.
It’s challenging to figure out why folk give to vague ideological promises, instead of proven real-time efforts. Nevertheless, they do.
And when they do, they have less to give to programs that advance the common good.
In at least three ways, presidential campaigns diminish efforts to meet human needs and enhance human well-being.
We must accept what is – ambitious politicians want to be president. We must change what we can’t accept about presidential politics.
We don’t have to let presidential politics determine our conversations, define our agendas and govern our giving.
We can name presidential politics this far away from primary season for what it really is – a distraction.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.