Reading the Old Testament book of Judges with the people of Living Water Lutheran Church in the past week has underscored an important truth articulated famously by Lord Acton: "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."
The Old Testament judges started out as people without status. But God called them to exercise military and judicial authority on behalf of His people. The judges often had success. But they often forgot that their power was from God, became selfish and self-serving.
Government, in a world composed of fallen human beings, is necessary. The Bible teaches that governmental authority is God's idea, an emergency measure necessitated by the human penchant for selfishness and injustice. Christians are enjoined in the New Testament to pray for those in authority.
But what Judges makes clear is that power is a danger to the souls of those who exercised it and therefore, a danger to those over whom power is exercised.
It seems to me that in addition to terms of office, the dangers of power might be mitigated or minimized by deciding as a society that we won't elect anyone to the presidency or any other public office who wants those offices.
Those who desire power, irrespective of their party, are probably more prone to the abuse of power and a sense of entitlement than others who are more indifferent to it.
America has been and remains fortunate that we have never had a tyrant in the presidency, partly because of the genius of our constitutional system. But we have seen in the presidency of Richard Nixon how corrupting the desire for power can be.
So far as I know, only two of our presidents came to office without seeking it: George Washington and Franklin Pierce. Washington was a triumph, worthy of historian Garry Wills' assessment that Washington is the greatest political leader in world history. Pierce was a lowest common denominator choice of pols in a smoke-filled room and was a disaster.
That 50% success rate doesn't daunt me. I would much rather opt for picking people not animated by a desire for power than for those who disingenuously insist that they only want power as a means of doing good.
It's all a pipe dream, of course. But if, by this principle, we had a 50% chance of getting an even a lower-case Washington, wouldn't it be worth trying?