Shutting Out Preachy Politicians

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s conservative stand on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and birth control has dominated the news of late. The attempt by some in the media to reframe the national discussion toward birth control and away from the Obamacare mandates that infringe on religious freedom seems a success.

And, unfortunately, Santorum, while sincere, has been sucked into that manufactured red herring. Though he’s surging in the polls among conservatives, Santorum hasn’t a chance in Hades of winning against Obama. Though he’s experienced and capable, he often comes across as sanctimonious, which has never worked in American politics. Americans don’t like to be preached to. Even when Obama gets all “up in the pulpit,” his poll numbers sink like a stone.

Americans above all are interested in freedom.

Freedom to create, earn, do good, keep their money and, yes, sin without government’s disapproval. Moralizing from Washington, no matter how squeaky clean the messenger, just doesn’t cut it.

Example: Last year PBS aired a series called Prohibition, one of awardwinning documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s best historical films yet. Its provocative trailer begins: “It was exactly what we wanted. And it caught us completely by surprise. It turned citizens into criminals and criminals into kings.”

Of course, the “it” was the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol. It was ratified Jan. 16, 1919, then was repealed 13 years later in 1933 by the 21st Amendment, the only amendment repeal in our history.

Every law begins with good intentions. Banning alcohol started as a movement led by wives fed up with their sorry drunk husbands slugging down the rent and grocery money. Apparently American men at the turn of the 20th century were infamous sots. Europeans watched aghast as the United States made this absurd law and what followed. Burgeoning organized crime, illegal alcohol production, unregulated usage (women and children were now drinking, too!), bootlegging, speakeasies, backyard stills and an economy on the edge of a Great Depression ended prohibition. Interestingly, it was again a committed band of women who righted the tipsy ship.

Prohibition, the ultimate experiment in legislating morality, proved an abysmal failure. It taught us, among other things, how creative Americans can be when confronted with a law that tries to stop them from their God-given right to sin.

Every year we say goodbye to one or more talented entertainers who prove what the freedom to choose our own destiny means. When interviewer Diane Sawyer asked the late singer and well-publicized drug user Whitney Houston what the worst drug she ever used was, Houston pondered, then almost defiantly replied, “Me.”

Decisions in our courts and in our Congress have led to unintended consequences of promoting if not legislating immorality.

Example: President Lyndon Johnson’s sweeping, well-meaning Great Society legislation of the 1960s unleashed the a colossal social welfare spending program with ramifications that changed society possibly forever.

Economist Thomas Sowell believes it helped destroy the black family, stating, “The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.” Unwed teenage mothers in black communities were put up in apartments and paid a welfare check per baby.

A 40-year steady erosion of family values has resulted in a nation in moral decline. But moralizing isn’t the answer. It’s leadership. If people believe in a leader, they will follow without the sermon.

My mother was a devoted Christian woman who detested piety. She also had a sharp wit. One day a neighbor’s college age son was at our house. He said rather condescendingly to mother, “You know, Eunice, I’m a Christian.” To which she quickly replied, “I’m so glad you told me, otherwise I’d have never known it.”

This election season is about the economy: soaring debt, unbridled spending, job creation through boosting entrepreneurship, expansion of government that impinges on our freedom, Obamacare, and unfunded mandates that will destroy our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.

Candidates, stick to those themes, not sin, which is always in the eye of the beholder.