They want to sit in the Oval Office. They want to fly on Air ForceOne. They want four years of being greeted by ``Hail to the Chief''everywhere they go. They want Secret Service protection and limousinerides. They both want to be the most powerful man in the world, and onlyone of them can be.
Of course, the two candidates have policy goals as well. They wantcertain tax policies, military policies, environmental policies,abortion policies, health policies. They don't just want to have power,they want to exercise power. They want to leave their imprint on thenation and the world.
The quest for power is a fascinating part of human life. The Germanphilosopher Friedrich Nietzsche celebrated what he called the ``will topower'' and described it as fundamental to human existence. Christiantheologians, too, have noted the deep desire on the part of most humanbeings to expand their influence as broadly and widely as possible.
We--most of us, anyway--want our lives to have the largest anddeepest possible impact. We are all naturally inclined to the busyexpansion of our personal kingdoms, whether we measure success in termsof money, influence, position, fame, authority, or some other parameter.
Yet the author of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes reminds us thatthe quest to build our own kingdoms is ultimately in vain: ``Vanity,vanity, all is vanity.''
It's more like building a sand castle, really; we think we havecreated something sturdy and substantial but it washes away with thenext high tide. Today George W. Bush and Al Gore capture the headlines,their every word scribbled down, their every gesture plumbed forsignificance.
One of the most notable elements of this overtime presidentialelection streetfight is the transparent use of high-flown principles tomask the raw quest for power. Both candidates, and their retainers,speak the language of democracy, justice, rights, fairness, and so on.Who knows, perhaps they even believe the words they are saying.
But what they really want is to win.
What we have here is an election that was too close to call. It fellwithin the range of human and technological error that exists in anyhuman endeavor. So what remains is the mad and ruthless scramble tocount as many of our votes and disallow as many of the other guy's votesas possible. To that end, hordes of lawyers and activists andspokespeople have pounded the state of Florida like a hurricane.
All speak the language of principle but all want to win more thananything.
What is truth? Whatever helps my guy win. What is fair, what isconstitutional, what is just? Whatever helps my guy win. Would the worldfall apart if the players just said that, instead of cloakingself-interest and partisan interest in the language of principle?
Christian theology diagnoses what is really going on in human life.It penetrates the lies and the spin to the truth about the humancondition and that is that we are a vain and foolish species, lookingalways to secure our own significance through the expansion of ourpersonal kingdoms, and looking always to find ways to lie about this toourselves and others.
There is another kingdom, and it transcends the push and pull wewatch in Tallahassee, Fla., and Washington and Austin, Texas. It is thekingdom of the one true God, who lives and reigns forever and forever,sometimes laughing, sometimes weeping, as he watches the tragicomedythat is human life.
David P. Gushee is Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy and Senior Fellow, Center for Christian Leadership, Union University.