Washington gossip within the beltway in an off-election cycle is n-o-i-s-e.  I think the closest the Beltway gets to the heart of the nation is via the pollsters, which is like trying to understand your beloved by reading her EKG.  The folks is Oklahoma don’t care what the folks in D.C. are saying over cocktails.  The fascination with statistical data in politics reflects a fundamental failure of leadership:  “leaders” following the polls.  The irony is that people understandably do not trust politicians simply telling them what they want to hear.  

Statistics are useful, but they are not gold.  Often they are more like pyrite, or tea leaves.    Yes there are data points, put points swirling in the bottom of a tea cup.  The one thing political or social data [as opposed to “hard scientific data”] cannot do is reveal the complexity behind the data.  People lie, people want to please, people are fickle, people are uninformed, people are shallow, people are contradictory and inconsistent.  People are, well, people.  Their answers, and even the questions, are mostly loaded dice.  Here’s a nasty truth:  D.C. politicians disdain us the voters as much as we the voters disdain them.  They view us as statistics.

The primary question is not what are the statistics, but what use will politicians make of them?  The most talented statistician is of no use if he cannot transform his raw data points into a compelling story.  You might say this is finding the soul behind the dead numbers.  Real leaders do not follow polls.  Real leaders offer options for a change in direction.  They tell a story of how people create a better life.

Statistics can point out if the population appears headed in the wrong direction.  A leader will dare to point out that misdirection, even at the risk of being rejected.  Who is willing to say:  “Wrong way!” Most of us want to be assured that all our desires should be and can be satisfied — even at the expense of future generations.  Most of us avoid change until the crisis is already up us.  We don’t want to listen to the leader who thinks of the long term common good at the expense of denying our short term gratifications.  

  Lincoln is one of my iconic heroes.  I’m confident he could never be elected in our current political culture.  He wouldn’t even make it through the primaries.  Can you imagine him being subjected to interviews on CNN or Fox?  Could he survive disclosure of his history with depression?  Would his face pass the “handsome” test for T.V. or You Tube?  Would his message of “Wrong Way” even get a platform?  Would Lincoln even choose to be a politician in the current culture?  Would he find the financial and emotional costs too high, and the system too dysfunctional?  How many potentially great leaders today make the choice to stay out of politics, or never get the endorsement of their parties?  

Here are the elements of a solution:  a) an informed, educated, and engaged voting public; b) reliable sources of information, reasonably accessible; c) a reversal of Supreme Court decisions treating money donations as political “speech” with no caps for “SuperPacs,” and Corporations; d) an end to the culture of demonization of the other party, and a new culture of civility and compromise for the common good; e) a citizenry that weans itself off short term gratifications, overspending, selfish indulgence, and cynicism; and f) an economy that is unburdened by heavy multiple levels of taxation and multiple layers of bureaucratic regulation; g) a coordinated state/federal governmental support of education and occupational training within pockets of urban poverty, with stimuli to business to locate within poor communities with jobs for a trained workforce; and h) community mentoring programs by volunteers who provide living examples of discipline, dreams, and success; i) a society that is imbued with a religious conviction of caring for the poor and hurting, however far across town they may be, and j) civility and respect among citizens in debate.  

Supreme Court decisions can be reversed, often decades later, and only with a shift in the Court’s membership.  The public can become more engaged if there is a social culture of engagement encouraged and taught in the education system, with an emphasis on “civics.”  Small and medium sized businesses are already a part of the essential economy, and they should be given more freedom to succeed through a creative partnership with government to find, educate, and refer qualified workers.  Universities and schools should discipline professors and teachers who express an open hostility to Christianity, giving it equal dignity with other religions, and allowing students the freedom to express their religious beliefs without attack or humiliation.  

Temples, Synagogues, Mosques and  Churches should encourage civic involvement based on common principles of community love and service; and their should be an active cooperation and fellowship among the religions to work together for the social good.  Needless to say, “cultural Christians” need to become “Christians of faith” with a conviction to serve their communities.  Christianity itself needs to get out of the “judgment” business and into the business of love. 

 Finally, whether in Congress, the State legislatures, or in neighborhood gatherings, there must be the realization that we are citizens of one nation, with a common purpose:  the common good.  Good people often differ because of personal experiences.  A difference of opinion does not make a person “evil” or “bad” and unworthy of kindness.  We are a diverse society.  We will see things through very different prisms.  We must cross the boundaries of our own experience to understand one another, even as we may disagree.  

If these kinds of changes are advanced, there will be space and opportunity for potential leaders to rise up as actual leaders who can say “Wrong Way!”  And, there will be a citizenry ready to make corrections in the course the Nation is taking.