I'm a Democrat and don't care who knows it. Energized for this very political year, I've been going to meetings, registering at Democratic websites and sending in various paper forms offering to help my favorite party and its candidates.
In return, I get plenty of communications. There are several emails each day, occasional "signed" photos in the mail, and a phone call now and then. Nearly every one of these contacts requests one thing: money. The most recent was from my state party's office "inviting" me to a dinner honoring South Carolina's Democratic senator and Congressmen. It was something I'd love to attend but there was one problem: It cost $500 a person. My guess is that my active Republican friends experience the very same thing.
This past Sunday, it was my privilege to read the Gospel lesson from the 14th chapter of Luke. It describes how Jesus attended a dinner hosted by a prominent religious leader of his day, and within the passage, Jesus offers some advice to his host:
(Jesus) said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brother or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you ...
The very way our major political parties conduct their campaigns must make us question how they will govern. They only expose their candidates to those affluent enough to fund their campaigns. And their campaigns are extremely expensive because all the party gurus, Democratic and Republican, are convinced that they need lots of television advertising to win. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus was savvy enough to recognize that the kind of dinners our political parties host involve some quid pro quo. Those who pay hundreds of dollars expect something in return and elected officials, who seem to be running constantly for re-election, know that they will always need more money to buy more ads.
Wouldn't it be nice to return to the days when politicians actually talked to us face-to-face to get our votes and instead of our cash? We've tried to pass laws to reduce the influence of money on our politics, but the lawyers -- bless their hearts -- can always find a way around them. Maybe it is time for voters to make it clear to candidates that we'd rather they return to a more transparent and open style of politics.
Some of our most innovative political experts tell us, as if we didn't already know it, that those expensive television ads are becoming less and less effective among an electorate jaded over the years by televised lies and manipulative half-truths. The really smart pol might take the money required for one week's worth of attack ads and host a few barbecues for the voters and forgo the $500 price tag. They could come and talk with us common folk and listen to our concerns about the funding for our children's education, the cost of our health insurance and the risk of our job moving overseas. It might not only get them elected. It could help them really do what's needed for the benefit of all the people once they're in office.
The Rev. Allen Brill is a Lutheran pastor and administers the political website whynotsouthcarolina.org.