The Political Culture of Outsider Candidates

ContributedChristopher Keating reporting for the Hartford Courant writes that outsider fever has bitten all of the candidates for governor: “All five major-party candidates for Connecticut governor say they are outsiders — no matter how educated or connected they are.” Voters have already shown their antipathy to political insiders, so the candidates are seeking to position themselves as average civic-minded citizens. In our culture, being against politics is a pledge frequently made by those seeking elected office. There is more here than politicians responding to anti-incumbency sentiments.

Our political culture draws upon biblical motifs, Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Enlightenment thinking. Especially important are biblical motifs, which resound through synagogues and churches each week. Images of politics in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are as mixed as our attitude toward politicians. Some images are outright negative. Think of Egypt, which enslaved the children of Israel; Babylon, the great whore; and Rome, which crucified Jesus. There’s also Paul’s questioning reference to principalities and powers. Further, many of Israel’s kings led the people into idolatry. On the other side, there are images of politics redeemed. Here there is the New Jerusalem; Israel’s better kings, which led to national renewal; and Jesus’ many references to the kingdom of God, which have more political resonance than most pietists realize or liberals admit.

Taken together, these images suggest that politics is neither pure evil nor sheer goodness. Rather, it’s a domain of important human activity in need of constant reformation. On the one hand, politics can help, guide, and even inspire. On the other hand, political power can lead to abuse. Everyone loves to quote Lord Acton’s 1887 Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

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