The Body Politic was launched last year by Rick Barry and D. Leiva, two friends who have worked in politics for opposing parties. Last night, they came together to discuss how they feel about each other's primary season so far.
Rick Barry: Tonight is Super Tuesday. For readers who don't know, Super Tuesday is probably the single biggest day of the presidential nomination season. It’s the day that the most states are voting at once and the single day when the most delegates are up for grabs. Everything up until today could be considered to be preliminary. This is the first...I don't know the right word I'm looking for here.
D. Leiva: It’s the first concrete showing of a candidate’s chances.
Rick: That’s a good way to put it. But the primary campaigns have basically been going on for a year at this point. So, after 12 months of campaigning on the Democratic side, I want to ask you, my Republican friend, if you’ve seen anything from the remaining Democratic candidates that you admire or that’s encouraging to you.
D. Leiva: The thing that I have seen on Democratic side that has encouraged me is a better tone. Candidates have engaged with one another. There seems to be a mutual respect that is shown, a collegial level of engagement where even when there is disagreement there is still respect afforded to the other person. And that’s encouraging to see.
Rick: Is there any one anecdote or event that stands out in particular to you? Something that highlights the respectful tone you’re describing?
D. Leiva: Well, I don’t know if there’s a particular event. It’s just the overall tone with which debates are conducted and candidates address each other. I haven’t really kept up with the ads enough to be able to opine about them, but I do remember that in the debates candidates have been more interested in debating policy than attacking each other or giving in to combative lines of questioning. Have you seen anything in the Republican side over the past year that seems encouraging to you?
Rick: That’s a great question, and a tough one, considering how toxically the Republican primaries have been characterized this year. But believe it or not, I’ve been encouraged by how seriously the Republican candidates seem to take the pain points of their base. Say what you will about their policies or tone, but the Republican candidates seem to have each listened deeply to the worries and difficulties of various groups of people. There’s something humane in there. Am I giving too much credit to them? Is this just a natural outflow of a cynical campaigning process? Or is there a kernel of something worth honoring in there?
D. Leiva: I think there’s a kernel of something worth honoring there. I think the way they are voicing those concerns may be misguided or inappropriate, but I do think that the candidates on both sides of the aisle are running because they truly and ultimately care about the country and the citizens. And that’s honorable.
Rick: This is also the first time in recent memory that I can remember seeing this many viable candidates across the two parties actually articulating distinct visions for how to govern and what to prioritize. For as loud and rough as it has been, it seems to me like there’s a lot more real debate going on on both sides right now than there was in any time in the past few elections. More opinions are getting heard, and that means more people’s points of view are getting considered, right? Right? Please say I’m right—I need a silver lining here.
D. Leiva: I do think you’re right. This is the most eclectic set of opinions that I can remember that have dominated the policy debates. That is a good thing. But, Rick, do you see anything within the Democratic primaries that worries you, among the many opinions being expressed?
Rick: As a Christian and someone who generally votes Democratic, my classic worry about policies that make sense to me is that they could risk encouraging statism. I’m fine with a group of people in a representative democracy deciding to use the government’s infrastructure as a tool in things like poverty relief, but the flip side of that is that candidates proposing those kinds of programs generally talk about them in ways that make them seem like the only part of the puzzle that matters. The Bible tells me that the state is a good thing, but we shouldn’t ever look to it as a primary thing or an ultimate thing. And that’s something that’s in full swing on my side of the aisle right now. There’s definitely a lot of talk about logistical solutions to problems, but not much discussion of the deeper human dimension of a lot of those problems. How about you? Where do you think your party’s primary season has fallen short?
D. Leiva: Where do I begin? No, I’m just kidding. Like you, as a Christian who generally identifies as a Republican, and has worked for one, I worry about blanket policies for problems that don’t give people choices. I am more comfortable thinking that we’re responsible for our own choices and that our elected representatives use their positions to protect us from the extremes. But what I have seen this election cycle is an exploitation of those fears that if we let government play too big a part in our lives that we’ll have no choice left, and I think that’s a dangerous fear to play up. The Bible tells us that God is ultimately in control of our lives, and like the birds in the sky and the flowers in the fields that are provided for, how much more will he provide for us? Playing up fear and putting forth certain policies as ultimate solutions is not what will save us, and seeing and hearing so many candidates speak about their solutions as things that will save us is deeply disappointing to me as a Christian.
Rick: You talked about “so many candidates,” and compared to the Democratic field, that’s been absolutely true. You all had, what, 17 at one point?
D. Leiva: Yes.
Rick: With so many people coming into the race and now dropping out of it, who has even had a chance to make an impression on you? What are your thoughts about your fallen compatriots?
D. Leiva: You know, at the beginning there were SO many candidates that it was hard to be impressed by anyone. Many candidates that started out strong also faded much sooner than I would have imagined. But I always admired Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. I always found both candidates to be articulate and confident. But those that know me won't be surprised by that answer. I have been more surprised by John Kasich’s candidacy than anyone else. He has said many things that I found agreeable, sensible, and positive for the country. As for the candidates that are no longer in the race, I was very surprised by how quickly Rand Paul’s campaign fell apart because he was touted as a candidate who could finally break through his dad’s libertarian ceiling, but it just didn’t materialize as his supporters had hoped. Now, there have been nowhere near as many candidates on your side, Rick, but has there anyone that has made an impression on you? And though there were only a few, what did you think of the other candidates that threw their hat in the Democratic side?
Rick: I’ve always thought Jim Webb is pretty interesting, and has a background that seems pretty counter-cultural for a high-ranking Democrat in a lot of ways. Some of that has led him to stances that I strongly disagree with over the years, some blind spots that are big red flags for me, but I think there would have still been something to gain from having him in the debates for a while longer. I was also intrigued to hear more from Lawrence Lessig and see how his participation would have changed the way the Democratic debate goes, but he didn’t even make it into an actual debate. I guess for me the real recurring theme was wishing we had had a few more viable candidates with distinct opinions and real value propositions in there during the pre-season.
D. Leiva: So, is there anyone that was in, or that is still in, that you like or liked?
Rick: Putting me on the spot, huh? Well, I’m going to dip and dodge a bit, because my thoughts and feelings about the remaining candidates on my side are honestly split. As a Christian, I’ve felt for a long time like the society around us worships money in a way that’s pretty insidious—we conflate money with morality in our hearts, minds and even laws too often and too easily. So, bearing that in mind, I’ve really responded to Sanders’ messaging. I think he’s putting his finger on that problem in a way that a lot of people in the public eye—not just politicians, but lots of people with cultural power—have been hesitant to. I think some of his central ideas are important for people to hear, wrestle with and process. But as someone who has worked in politics and worked in government a little bit, and who has been watching the political climate for years and years now, I think Hillary Clinton is probably better equipped to execute the technocratic role of President. If a Democrat is allowed to use a racing analogy, I like a lot of things about Sanders’ engine, but I think Hillary is probably a better driver.
Let me ask you one last question. It’s Super Tuesday, and while we’ve been talking, a bunch of states have been called for candidates from both parties. On your side, it looks like Trump is walking away with at least five wins and the lion’s share of the delegates. Cruz has taken two states. Kasich gave a strong showing in a couple states. Rubio is fighting for second or third in most of them. And there’s apparently someone named “Carson” on a couple of the ballots? What do you think these results say, good or bad, about your partisan allies?
D. Leiva: I think at the very least the one thing that can be said about what this race represents is that the party is currently very divided. There is no cohesion over the solutions but there is plenty common ground on identifying the problems. It seems to me that save for Kasich and Carson, a lot of the Republican candidates focused on voters’ fears to present themselves as the solution, and voters have not been able to agree on neither the tone or the strategy for who they want to nominate as candidate for president on the Republican side. There is something brewing in the party, but I cannot yet determine whether this is a good or bad thing.
What are your thoughts on what the results of the Democratic Super Tuesday represent? Do you see this as a good or bad thing?
Rick: Well, part of me sees what’s happening on the Republican side as a very good thing for the Democratic side, but that’s obviously not what you meant. I honestly don’t know what tonight’s returns mean for my party. There are definitely a couple “divides” in the Democratic party’s base, but I don’t think they’re as deep as the divides that are starting to emerge on the Republican side this election cycle. My whole adult life I’ve been surprised at how well your party has held together such disparate groups of people with such different priorities. Feeling like my partisan allies are a less-fractured base—not un-fractured, just less—is a weird experience.
D. Leiva: Well, this has certainly been a fun night spent together watching the results come in and analyze them in real time. I think as this election cycle continues, it is even more important to look to Christ as our savior, but also as our example of how to love others, particularly those with whom we don’t agree. I know I need to keep that at the forefront of my mind with the way the Republican primary is playing out.
Rick: Do you mean you need to keep that at the forefront so that you can get ready to vote for a Republican you disagree with, or so that you can feel better about voting for a Democrat for once?
D. Leiva: No comment. For now.
Rick: There’s probably a lot more we could get into, but I’ve got to kick you out now so that I can say goodnight to my wife. This has been fun—our first attempt at a “public conversation.” Thanks to everyone who read through. And if you want to dig deeper into how you can let the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and eventual return change the way you look at politics and people who disagree with you, sign up for our monthly newsletter, which hits inboxes on the first Monday of the month.