In October 2012 – at the height of the last presidential campaign – we offered seven (7) campaign tips from none other than Jesus of Nazareth – God in human form. While it is yet early in the 2016 electoral campaign, now may be a good time to go back to re-learn what Jesus said and did – all in the context of the next installment of America’s quadrennial drama.
7 Tips From Jesus
At the outset, let’s put a potential objection to rest. Jesus ran with the objective of losing, not winning – of virtually guaranteeing his execution. For a non-elite coming from out of the center of Jewish action, he pulled it off masterfully. For today’s campaigners, whether the objective is conquest or defeat, do it masterfully. So here, forthwith, seven tips from the master:
1. Keep it simple
Jesus mastered the KISS principle. Consider his most famous campaign speech – the Sermon on the Mount. As recounted by the gospel of Matthew, the first words out of the Jesus’ mouth were “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Like today’s putative front-runner, Hillary Clinton, Jesus ran a values campaign – centered on addressing the social, economic and religious inequalities of his day. Perhaps unlike Mrs. Clinton, Jesus recognized that corrective action comes from within the person as well as from sources external to individual resources, evidenced by his statement that “the poor will always be with you.” Conversely, Republicans have yet to figure out how to coherently address the widening gap between the haves and the have nots – perhaps the underlying domestic flash-point of the 2016 campaign.
2. Tell stories
Jesus used stories (known as parables) to convey complex ideas in terms to which everyone could relate. Even if he skipped a lot of detail in the process. The parable of the prodigal son reflects a universal theme and offers a clear message of hope for the future. The moral of the story is that God the father is always on the lookout and ready to accept his wayward children back home, no questions asked. Always a second chance.
Our presidential aspirants need stories that are real, that resonate, and that offer a hope worth reaching to achieve in the next four years (eight at best). In the midst of this nation’s greatest turmoil, Abraham Lincoln was the premiere storyteller – often to the chagrin of those around him. But his words and his actions – enigmatic though they often were – resonate to this day.
3. Stay on message
But be prepared to flex. It seems that Jesus had a set of stump speeches which were repeated in town after town, but varied to fit the needs and interests of the local listeners. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount becomes Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. Matthew’s Jesus begins by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke’s Jesus says yet more simply “Blessed are the poor.” Amazing how the meaning can shift so radically with the deletion (or addition) of just a couple of words!
The message on everyone’s minds is the future of the great American experiment known as Obamacare. Not likely to be repealed but gobbling up 50-100% more of the share of gross national product than occurs in most other western nations.
With the late June Supreme Court decision, the now worn Republican message of repeal falls flat – and everyone knows it. Democrats can savor the victory but in the absence of fixes to further increase coverage, increase transparency, and make this affordable for the nation, our ship may yet be sunk. The message needed is the “how to” of the fix – and why others should come along for the ride.
4. Don’t suffer fools
Jesus certainly wasted little time with on those who aimed to bring him down for reasons of their own personal gain. He went after the religious and social leaders of his day. He was unafraid of using tough language when required, for example, calling out the leaders of his Jewish world as follows: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?”
A little bit of Chris Christie or, God forbid, even Donald Trump comes through in the seemingly off-hand remarks of this 1st century savior. But Jesus also backed up his ad hominem personal attacks with substance. In the encounter noted above, he was criticizing the way in which the supposed leaders of his day emphasized trivialities rather than paying attention to “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”
So, don’t be afraid to take the opposition to task. Be succinct in pointing out failures that are at odds with American values of justice and equality of opportunity. And take the blow-back in stride.
5. Go long
Even in advance of football season, most of us know what this means. Perhaps not as dramatic as the “hail Mary” pass, but sell the crowd on a vision for the long term. For Jesus, his kingdom was “not of this world.” The long bomb is the pass play into the kingdom of heaven.
Our candidates are more earthly bound, but the ability to clearly articulate how tomorrow can be better for us and our kids is pivotal to a successful campaign outcome. Seven years ago, Barack. Obama sold us on the “audacity of hope.” Before that, the great communicator Ronald Reagan used the metaphor of America as “shining city on a hill” to depict his vision for a country ever “stronger,” “freer” and “in good hands.”
Americans may yet yearn for a common vision, despite deep cynicism. The candidate who can communicate an authentic vision for this as-yet early 21st century period will stand out among the crowd. What will the vision be? Hard to tell but likely something akin to our nation as an ever more diverse and changing melting-pot, the rewards of work, and care for others at home and abroad.
6. Time the peak
Jesus had an incredible (if surprising) gift for timing. He know when and how to pull in a crowd and when and how to escape through a crowd unnoticed. He seemingly timed the climax of his career with a triumphal entry surrounded by the praises of the crowd into the streets of Jerusalem – only to be put to death a week later. That result could be viewed as disaster except that, for Jesus, death and resurrection were really the point of it all.
With a presidential race that looks for one party like a marathon and the other like a coronation, the trick is not too peak too soon and certainly not to peak too late. To get to the right place at the right time, humility helps. Picture Jesus’ masterful entry into the holy city on a donkey. Who on the D or R side of the field could pull this off?
7. Wrap it in love
As in 2012, if there is an Achilles heel for the current crop of candidates (whether the few on the Democratic side or the many on the Republican), this is it. The Democratic heir-apparent stands aloof; the Republican wanna be types are engaged but narrowly focused – like the horse that can see neither to the right nor the left.
Look to the example of Jesus. When arrested, Peter showed momentary bravery by slicing off the ear of the of the high priests servant. Jesus healed the ear. When crucified, Jesus prayed that God would “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
And after resurrection, to whom did Jesus pay special attention? To Mary Magdalene who had ventured to attend him, to Peter who had betrayed him, to Thomas who doubted him.
Which of the 2016 crop will show this type of caring? Look for the candidate who will be gentle and magnanimous, sharp but patient, whether in victory or defeat.
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