The Politics of Oprah

  According to the latest polls, the considerable lead that Vice President Gore enjoyed over Governor Bush has vanished. After trailing by ten points or more, the governor now enjoys a two to six point lead. So, what happened? A speech or policy proposal? Criticism of his opponent? No, in all likelihood, it was a kiss -- a kiss that points to the decline in the state of our political discourse. After falling behind the vice president and hearing some pundits declare the race over, the Bush campaign went on the offensive. But this kind of offensive was different from what we are used to in politics. The governor hit the talk show circuit, just as Gore had done before him. He went on the "Regis Philbin Show" wearing a "Regis" shirt and tie. And then, biggest of them all -- "Oprah." And he threw in a big smooch for the hostess. Finally, he and Laura went on Larry King: the most respected, nice-guy interviewer on TV. Well, the tactic may have worked -- but the rounds on the talk show circuit, and particularly the kiss for Oprah, tell us a lot about what's happened to political conversation in America. Historically, presidential candidates have been expected to offer voters a vision for the nation, to rise above the fray, and to address the great issues that affect America's destiny -- issues of war and peace, the economy, and our moral leadership. But this year it is different. Instead of challenging voters, the politicians are catering to their worst instincts, glibly promising more of anything they think will appeal to the voters. Instead of articulating a vision for the common good, they work at frightening us by telling us the other candidate will take away some of our goodies. TIME magazine keeps track of each new presidential campaign pledge with its "promise-o-meter." Every week, the mercury travels a little higher, as the rhetoric intensifies. But appearing on talk shows is the worst yet. The message is, "American voters are selecting the leader of the free world, but please don't interrupt your daily routine of watching television." Voters should be acquainted with the issues, so they can cast an informed ballot. And if there's any group that ought to be demanding more of candidates (and the voters), it's Christians. The Scriptures teach that government was ordained by God Himself. This means we have a special obligation to respect government as God's instrument for order in the world and to demand more of those who would lead us. Christians, of all people, ought to insist that candidates tell us more than what they are going to give us. We should be asking them about their vision for the nation and what is expected of us as citizens. Well, happily, today the debates begin. I hope you'll be watching. And we can hope and pray that the questioners will ask tough questions, on issues like missile defense, RU 486, foreign policy, and taxes. There still is time to turn this race into a genuine national debate on the great issues that face us. If this doesn't happen -- if the election is "Oprahized," or if we are fed a steady diet of what makes us feel better -- the electorate will probably tune the campaign out. And that's bad for democracy. So let the debates begin.


Chuck Colson


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