January 2008 Column Winner

Spare me your labels, please

By Gloria Trotter, The Tecumseh Countywide News

Red or blue.

Black or white.

Male or female.

Conservative or liberal.

Republican or Democrat.

Presidential politics has become all about the labels, and that’s just wrong.

For the next nine or tenth months, this labeling is going to reach a fever pitch as the presidential campaign intensifies.

This election year, perhaps more than any other, will be a study in labels. We have the first viable female candidate. We have a very appealing black man. And of course there are a wide range of Democrats, Republicans, Yankees, Southerners and others.

Each has his or her label, plastered on by the political pundits who claim to know how America votes.

Labels have their uses, of course. They help us identify things, so we can make choices. Maybe that’s even helpful — to an extent.

But labels can also be very unfair, especially when it comes to labeling voters.

Personally, I’ve always resisted labels. I don’t like clothes displaying brand names. I feel like a walking billboard, offering up free advertising on something I’ve paid for.

And I don’t like being labeled politically, either. That’s why I’m a registered Independent. No one ever caught me marking the donkey or the elephant. I split my ticket, as do most thinking voters.

But the label that really gets to me is the one that surfaced during the last presidential election.

Evangelicals.

To many liberals, it seems to have become a dirty word used as a blanket definition for those in the so-called “Bible Belt” — the South, the Midwest. The inference is that churchgoers blindly support candidates who profess their faith during their campaigns.

How ridiculous — and insulting.

That’s just as crazy as the folks who drove me from my Southern Baptist roots by saying that electing John F. Kennedy would turn the country over to the Pope. Wickipedia says that evangelicals are people who “emphasize personal conversion and the authority of the Bible” and “share their faith with others.”

Scary, isn’t it? A lengthy piece on the Wheaton College website points out that “groups as disparate as black Baptists and Dutch Reformed Churches, Mennonites and Pentecostals, Catholic charismatics and Southern Baptists all come under the evangelical umbrella — demonstrating just how diverse the movement really is.”

Movement? Where?

What that says to me is that this is a label without a home, a meaningless attempt to lump people of faith into one somehow nefarious political group. And I resent it.

What complicates matters are America’s founding tenants of separation of church and state on the one hand, and freedom of speech on the other. But when all is said and done, it doesn’t matter if the president is a Catholic, a Baptist, a Mormon, a Jew or an atheist. Running this country does not give the president the right to impose his or her beliefs on the rest of us. It has never happened, and never will.

Given a choice, I’d prefer a president who believes in a Higher Power. But what’s important is to elect a leader who is honest, caring and has the strength of his — or her — convictions, whatever they are. How do you label that?

How about “good person”? Or “honorable public servant”?

As for the voters, labels are absurd. I’m a Methodist who used to be a Baptist who goes to church fairly regularly, but I do not terrorize my friends and neighbors with my beliefs. But to some of those political “experts,” that marks me as a charismatic. That’s not my definition, although I have nothing against charismatics. Some of my best friends are.

If you want to stick a label on me as a voter, do me a favor and just call me “undecided.” If all this rhetoric doesn’t make me crazy by November, maybe I can think of a better one.

But I won’t display it on my sweatshirt.