Friday, February 02, 2007



Blogpastor asked me this question recently: Is President Evo Morales good for Bolivia?

Is a nation's well being tied to the inherent goodness of those in elected office? Politicians, like the people they serve are a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. There is truth to the maxim: leaders reflect the nation they lead. And lets not forget the other one: people get the leaders they deserve

On a more positive note, the vast majority of elected leaders don't spend their time thinking up of ways to make life difficult for their people. The general populace have on many levels benefitted from sincere and able politicians. In general terms, all elected officials have a mixed record and its up to the public to decide if they deserve a second chance during elections.


Evaluating elected officials in terms of their policies over a long period is a sobering experience. Policies are subject to historical changes. An emergency aid policy, highly beneficial to one generation becomes a source of unhealthy dependancy in the next. A just war in one generation only leaves a confused geopolitical escenario in the next. Creating sovereign states by arbitrarily imposing borders appears to be a rational solution until inter-ethnic rivalries deepen claims made by communal leaders; borders then become nothing but lines drawn on maps. The nations of the earth, as a consequence, crash under the weight of their own alliances and vanities. The issues are beyond the efforts of "good" men and women.

But lets not go overboard. There is a place for using the adjective "good" in political discourse; Elected officials have put into place policies which have contributed to the common good. Finding solutions, albeit temporary, in the midst of a worsening economic crisis provides relief for desperate families.


The problem is the human tendency to accumulate/seize power to promote oneself and their coterie. Politicians are not exempt from these innate impulses. How easy it is to deceive ourselves into sacrificing the interests of the defenceless for the larger good, especially when the larger good are our friends. Followers are also at fault. We get a narcotic fix in projecting our secular leaders as great men or women of great moral virtue. Politicians are elected to do a job; they are not mythic figures nor are they paragons of moral virtue.


The Bible, describes our relationship with government leaders. We are called to pray for them (1Timothy 2: 1-4) because civil authorities under God's sovereign rule possess a mandate to do good and punish the evil doer (Romans 13:1-6). Our submission to them is based on these biblical mandates. The Old Testament provides rich examples of godly men who worked under the authority of non christian kings. Joseph was succesful in Pharoah's cabinet; Daniel served Babylonian kings; Nehemiah was an able administrator in the Persian court; Esther intervened in a crisis, influenced the Persian king and avoided a massacre. These men and women of of God were positive influences over goverment officials and kings; their involvement in the affairs of state were however not based on the intrinsic goodness of the kings. Christian support for elected officials has as its reference point, the Biblical revelation concerning the place of the nations in God's redemptive plan.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans: 3:23). All includes national leaders. Politicians placate their base constantly and at times they do it at the expense of the nation. Also, politics can be a tough business. Winning votes can sometimes mean bringing out the knives and the knuckledusters. Read Solomon's succession of David in the first 2 chapters of 1 kings; it reads like a Brian de Palma movie. Politics is about managing power for noble ends; it is not for the fainthearted. Absolute power does corrupt; hence the need for checks and balances in a democracy. C. S Lewis supports democratic freedoms because of the inclination to abuse power even amongst the noble. Democratic freedoms spread power in and through the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state. And of course elections give the people the right to change elected officials.


It is easy to let politicans off the hook and leave the governing process to realists who constantly choose the lesser evil. No, there is a moral dimension to government policies. And intelligent politicians of all stripes know this. There is a line, if crossed, will not only cost them votes but also their own reputation with the populace. They can't be slaves to immediate political gains. Sometimes the larger good has to prevail at the expense of the elected official's own political base or favorite lobby group. For instance, President Morales of Bolivia last year had to choose between supporting the actions of his supporters or sticking to a policy which benefitted the entire populace. He chose the latter. His opponents did not give him much credit; some of his supporters griped. Not supporting elements within his base will probably cost him some votes; not many but some.

The prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, in the heat of an election campaign made remarks which did nothing for his image as a politician open to differing views; he apologised and scored some points; his party won handsomely. Singapore pundits were once again left to comment on the differences between a landslide victory and an overwhelming victory. A new generation of Singaporeans have emerged; they want a political climate open to differing views; the new PM reflects their values and his apology signals a positive change.


So can elected officials be a source for good? If doing good means the promotion of decent living standards and a degree of social stability than the answer is, yes; that's a no brainer. Exaggerating a leader's persona or projecting him or her as a great national moral change agent however is another matter. David was the greatest king of Israel. His devotion to God and his success as a warrior-king were unmatched. His biographer, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in the the 2 books of Samuel does not provide a reverential look at this David's life. No stone is left unturned. Some of the stuff is embarrassing and offensive. It is not a pretty picture.

History has left us with the ruins of those who tried to lead their nations under the cover of fixed ideologies, dizzying calls to freedom and false promises. Communism ran its course and died because its idea of history was a deception. The American media after deifying their elected leaders tend to find fault with them, sometimes endlessly. And maybe the problem is not the fault finding but the juvenile attempts by handlers or lobbying groups to project their political clients as men and women of destiny. Political leaders are limited and flawed; they are not heralds of moral or social transformation. So please...spare us all the jingoism.


Christ, the Good Shepherd, is the only moral crusader worthy of consideration. Only He can lead us into the promised land.


Anonymous said...

I like what you said about checks and balances being needed because of man's falleness and how absolute power corrupts. What if that near absolute power acts for the good of the majority, as in Lee Kuan Yew's case of benign autocracy?

Bolivian Beat said...

Good point about power concentrated in the hands of a benign autocrat. The majority of any nation might be willing to concentrate power in the hands of one man or a system as long as power is not abused on a massive scale and especially if the system delivers the goods. Singapore of course is a prime example. A benign autocracy works in Singapore also because the people have chosen security and stability over "freedom" in every election.

Things however will begin to change however if power is abused and if the system does not deliver a higher standard of living.

Anonymous said...

The downside is when succession is not properly planned and a talent and integrity vacuum appears after the autocrat departs. Still safer and better in the long haul for the country to have well-established institutions that preserve and maintain the checks and balances.

Bolivian Beat said...

The good thing about Singapore is that we don't have personality cults. Unlike North Korea and Maoist China in the 50's-70's where huge murals of Mao and Kim were draped all over the place, Singapore does not have massive photos of MM, SM and the PM draped over streets and buildings. I doubt if Singaporeans will gravitate towards this sort of propaganda.