McCain is commanding officer

Writing a prescriptive column on ethics or norms for political consultants and operatives is risky business. You can be dismissed as a hypocrite who dispenses advice that you haven’t always followed yourself. Or your peers may label you a bossy do-gooder who judges others without any discernible moral authority. But I’ll take my chances.

The thoughts in this column have been buzzing around my head for weeks, but I finally determined to act on them in church Sunday morning. In fact, I want to confess that the framework of my comments are almost wholly plagiarized from a sermon by the Rev. Rob Renfroe. As the disclaimers always say, however, Rob deserves no blame for errors and omissions in my use of his thoughts. In fact, he deserves my apology for applying his spiritual thoughts to the devil’s workshop of politics.

The reverend was sermonizing about “the call” that Christians should hear. Like all good sermons, this one began with a central text, in this instance 2 Timothy 2:3-4: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer.”

The sermon proceeded to remind the congregation of impediments to responding to the call to be available to God. The first point was that some Christians haven’t gotten straight whom their commanding officer is. The preacher went on to say that Christians are not the COs of our lives and that someone else, someone on high, sets the strategy. He completed the thought by saying that “our goal is not to please ourselves, but to please our CO.”

It was at this moment and the mention of “strategy” that my carnal mind wandered to politics, thinking about the furor that followed the McCain campaign’s so-called “celebrity ad,” implying that Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama reads round two of ‘mean tweets’ on Kimmel Trump links WikiLeaks to media ‘voter suppression’ What will be in Obama’s Presidential Library MORE is eerily popular like glitter girls Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. I thought, “That’s the problem: Republicans don’t know that John McCainJohn McCainLots of (just) talk about 'draining the swamp' 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Is Georgia turning blue? MORE is their CO.”

I am alluding, of course, to the well-publicized criticisms that many Republican consultants and operatives leveled, through the media, at the McCain campaign’s message strategy. Consultants are always apt to try and play the game of one-upmanship, trying to get the better of their competitors.

What are they thinking? That McCain will see their remarks, fire his staff, and then hire them? I hope not and think not. Most are just caught up in the media frenzy. But as the Apostle Paul reminded a younger Timothy, “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs.” Someone needs to remind some consultants that we are soldiers, and that we have a CO.

Back to the sermon, the minister talked about the importance of watching for what the CO is doing. He went through several passages of Scripture showing that Jesus was effective because he was so competent at discerning what his Father in heaven was doing. He went on to remind Christians that most of us are not very good at imitating Christ because we have calloused and hardened hearts that prevent us from looking at all that our heavenly Father is doing. Or we just have no interest in spiritual matters. His prescription was to try and spend more time with the CO.

At this juncture, my ping-pong mind bounced back to McCain and consultants, wondering whether consultants are spending enough time getting to know the McCain talking points. Is the McCain campaign plying GOP consultants with the justification for its strategies so that so-called “senior strategists” and “GOP insiders” can rally behind their CO in the media?

The preacher concluded with the thought that “being available can be more important than being capable.” There’s a lesson there for some Republican consultants.

Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.