VC Note: I wrote this piece on November 15, 2015, though I decided against publishing it until recently.
In the world of politics, a person is often faced with the decision to sell out one’s principles in order to further his or her own ambitions. I dare say that every activist has faced this choice sooner or later and if you haven’t yet, that likely means that you are still quite new to the arena.
In 2014, while running for local office, I had the opportunity to sit-in on several of the meetings of the JMU College Republicans. If you are new to this website, you might not know that student activism has been an interest of mine ever since I began my political journey as a high school student and so I try to encourage students any chance I get. Unfortunately, I was told that my presence at the JMU CRs upset some of the local establishment Republicans, given that I wasn’t wed to their partisan banner anymore, and they were pressuring the CRs to get rid of me. As a result, one evening a student came up to me and flatly said that I was no longer welcome at their gatherings. However, if I were to tell you that the JMU CRs hosted an event honoring Bill Bolling during that semester, that likely tells you all you need to know about the values of that organization at that time.
Anyway, before my exclusion, I appreciated the chance to listen to several of their speakers. One week it was Delegate Ben Cline of Rockbridge County with whom I had a very positive interaction after the meeting. However, it was a speech from my own state senator, Mark Obenshain, that sticks most strongly in my mind…even over a year later. During his talk, he extolled several former JMU Republicans who went on to successful careers in politics, such as a few of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s past and current employees. Unfortunately, each and every person he mentioned that night shared a common trait; they either sold out their principles or never really had any principles to begin with, and all were more than willing to step on anyone who gets between them and power. I had more than my share of nasty run-ins with many of these folks. Although these names were likely foreign to many of the students around me, I knew them all well and to hear this rogue’s gallery listed as a group young political activists ought to aspire to emulate was dismaying indeed. It made me think. Is selling out is the ticket to success?
Over my twenty years in politics, I have had a chance to meet a lot of liberty-minded activists. Some have remained faithful to their ideals while others have not, choosing to support and work for candidates and politicians of dubious moral character who willingly jettison their principles when the leadership tells them to do so…or the price is right. Some activists have been willing to use any tactic, without respect to morality, if they think it will achieve their goals, knowing that elected officials and party leadership will defend their actions.
As you might imagine, hearing cases of this corruption or watching it unfold firsthand has been profoundly disheartening. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Yes, having power is important. Being able to support yourself in the political world is certainly important too. But, at the end of the day, if the eager and wide-eyed novice you once were has been replaced by a callous, manipulative, and immoral professional, don’t you have to ask what was the point of getting involved in politics in the first place? Isn’t it written, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Mark 8:36 NLT). It pains me to say that I’ve crossed paths with many individuals who have apparently sold their souls and, despite any superficial claims to be godly and attempts to cosy up to the religious right, face the very real danger of damnation.
So, my friends, whatever your political leanings, I urge you to remain grounded and faithful to your principles. Never lie, cheat, or steal in order to gain glory, money, fame, or power nor should you ever knowingly follow anyone who acts in this fashion. Shouldn’t we work to instill values such as honor, courage, honesty, and steadfastness in the next generation of activists?
But, then again, what do I know? After all, there are many activists and politicians who have advanced much further than I have by stabbing others in the back, bowing down to the lobbyists, and deceiving the folks back home. And, if you asked them behind closed doors, here’s the advice they would likely give: