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10 Modern Rules for Seeking Public Office (Apparently)

I have come up with 10 directives for seeking public office, at least on the national level, based on watching this election season’s political debates.

1. Eliminate middle ground.

Moderation must be viewed as the posture of the unsure, the compromiser and the coward.

“There is nothing in the middle of the road but yellow streaks and dead skunks,” or so the saying goes. I actually heard that one at a moderate Baptist meeting.

2. Declare yourself and your kind as right and all others as wrong, stupid, uneducated or any other pejorative adjective that is available.

I think some of this national political polarization can be traced to the talk-show genre. Mudslinging has often been a part of American politics, but the increase over the last couple of decades may be rooted in talking heads.

3. Remember that most Americans today act and vote based on emotion rather than rational thought.

Appeal to their anger, prejudices, fear and sadness at first. Then provide them hopes based on your election that will lead us forward or backward to the utopia that was or will be.

4. Reduce issues and your positions on them to brief and simple slogans, mottos or clichés.

Many Americans seem to have little to no interest in reading deeply and widely, looking from different perspectives, seeing through another person’s eyes or nuanced thinking.

Expecting people to think will put one at the bottom of the political heap. Just ask Gov. John Kasich.

5. Judge a political position to be right if you take it and wrong if your opponent takes it.

Do not be concerned if you change your mind and position. People have a right to do that. Besides, Americans have short memories of what you once said but can be swayed with a good image.

6. Attack anyone who calls you into question.

Be the aggressor. Never let them see you sweat. The more personal the attack, the better. A good lie told often and confidently can have incredible short-term power.

7. If your opponent is found to have made a moral error, never let it pass from the minds of the people.

If your candidate is guilty of the same or a similar error, shrug it off as a moral lapse or youthful indiscretion.

I was once naïve enough to think the attacks on Bill Clinton were actually about his philandering.

Now that the leading Republican candidate is a boastful womanizer, the candidates’ character seems to be no longer a major issue. Go figure. It must have been party affiliation all along.

8. Remember that most Americans seem to vote based on which party or candidate will benefit them financially.

Socioeconomic class seems irrelevant. Ronald Reagan asked the American people in the debate with Jimmy Carter, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

Smart politicians have always known that they will rarely go wrong when they appeal to the baser instincts of the people.

9. Do not concern yourself with the lies that must be told to get elected.

The good things that you plan to do once you are elected will more than compensate for the things you had to do to get elected.

Besides, most Americans have short memories and will continue to support you regardless of what you once said you would or would not do.

On top of that, you always have the other party to blame for stifling your agenda.

10. Paint a forthcoming utopia that will arrive when you are elected.

It may be a yet unrealized dream of what can be or a return to that which many Americans believe once was.

Make sure your constituency knows that this more perfect society will be relatively pain-free for the good people (us) and will only be painful to the bad people (them).

There are far more possibilities than those outlined herein. Readers may have their own ideas.

When in the dark, I know it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; but right now, the political and national darkness seem so vast, and one candle seems so small.

Reggie Warren is pastor of Union Hill Baptist Church in Brookneal, Virginia, and a former member of the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics.