[Originally posted on Helium in March 2009, and it quickly rose to #2 out of 111]
2 When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.
~ Pr 29:2
The question of moral accountability for leaders isn’t necessarily a black and white issue. There is no such thing as a perfect human being. Therefore, whoever is in charge will fail us at some given point. If we were to only elect perfect leaders, we would have none!
Having said that, however, as a matter of practicality, we should be looking for leaders that exemplify everything we ourselves would desire to be. We should be looking to put the ones in office that will be a shining example for ourselves as well as other governments. One who is without scruples, one who is without a moral guide or one who is without compassion for others will not make a good leader. There are countless examples in the world today of leaders who are simply grabbing the power and the wealth for themselves and for their cronies. The result is mass starvation, unimaginable inflation and the rapid depletion of the resources that the nation does have.
This isn’t just a theoretical question. Putting people into office who are known liars will guarantee we will be lied to. Putting people into office who are known thieves will guarantee we will be stolen from. Putting people into power who are cowards will guarantee that we get a leader who will blame others instead of themselves when things go wrong. Putting people into power who are power hungry will guarantee limitation of our civil liberties. Putting people into power who are greedy will guarantee their actions will be bought by special interests. We need to stop thinking of having a minimal moral requirement for a leader as not having concrete consequences.
One of the problems we have had in the US is that we sometimes exalt people into power who only have the appearance of morality. Just because a person prays, goes to church and talks a good talk does not make them righteous. Jesus criticized the religious leaders of His day because they strove to only appear righteous without actually being so. The Jews of His day would look upon them as righteous because of their rituals and traditions. We too sometimes look at the show and conclude that he or she is a moral leader instead of looking at their track record. Even worse, we have sometimes re-elected people into office even after the discovery of lies and cover-ups which show they are the opposite of what they try to portray. Americans in general have fallen too many times for appearances instead of true character.
The US political system also has a way of limiting choices. How many times have you heard of voting for “the lesser of 2 evils”? Yet, this is a myth, when you seriously consider it. People only want to vote for 1 of the 2 main political parties. The reasoning is that only those parties are “electable”. So, people vote only for the 2 parties, and only the 2 parties are electable because they are the ones people vote for. The catch-22 should be obvious. Yet, if neither party has a candidate that is deserving of the office, then voting for an undeserving candidate says something about the electorate.
This is a good time to point out that often people get exactly what they deserve in leadership, and especially so in a democracy. As stated above, people have a tendency to vote in “practical” terms. However, is it “practical” to vote in the “lesser of 2 evils”? Why not instead vote for the person who has the character to not lie, cheat and steal from the general population?
Ancient Israel rejected the Ultimate King for a human imperfect king (1Sa 8:7-19). They got the king they deserved. How much less do we get rulers we deserve in a democracy, where we the electorate choose the leader? If we are moral and vote for moral leaders, we will get moral leadership. If we are immoral and vote for immoral leaders, we will get immoral leadership. We can decry corruption in government all we want to, but we have to remember they were placed there because a significant number of people did not refuse to vote for people of low character.
In fact, it becomes a significant feedback loop. If people of character get elected, then not only are the rules made fair by those in charge, but people of character will become enticed to run themselves. If only crooks get elected, then they will set the rules so only crooks can run and moral people will be too disgusted to run. Furthermore, once corruption sets in, it becomes more difficult to turn around because of the corrupt laws that have been passed. At that point, it takes a significant number of people to possess moral outrage to change an unfair system.
However, it can be reversed. It has to start with the grass roots. It has to start with you and I making sure we are people of character before we can vote for people who can be a shining example of hope. If we want moral leadership, we must vote moral leaders into office. If they fall short of expectations, we must be willing to vote them out of office. Otherwise, the entire nation can and will suffer. If we elect good leaders, ones who know how to keep their word and have honest dealings, then we will have leadership that exemplifies what the old Superman show used to say, “Truth, justice and the American way.”