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Brian D. McLaren

Brian D. McLaren

Posted: April 28, 2010 03:05 AM

If a bright young candidate runs for Congress, will anybody hear?

If he's an Evangelical not courting the Tea Party? If he's a graduate of Wheaton College, running in Wheaton's own congressional district? If he's a published author and an environmentalist? If he's consistently pro-life but not interested in fighting Roe v Wade? If he grew up in Asia and has done community organizing?

How about if he's all these things and a Democrat?

Why isn't anybody noticing Ben Lowe's audacious campaign against incumbent Peter Roskam?

I think there are at least three reasons, all of them interesting.

First, Ben isn't a millionaire, so he's trying to run a campaign based on good ideas rather than big money. Second, although the Republican machine is humming in support of Roskam, for some reason the Democratic machinery hasn't turned on for Ben -- at least not yet. Third, Ben's voice is constructive, civil, and reasonable rather than sensational, strident, and alarmist. (If he speaks at a Tea Party, it will be herbal tea!)

Idea-based rather than money-based; independent and courageous enough to move forward even if the party isn't forthcoming with support; constructive and civil rather than alarmist and strident, Ben strikes me as exactly the kind of candidate folks around the nation -- and especially in Illinois' 6th District -- would want to get behind.

On top of that, Ben represents a new generation whose civic engagement is desperately needed. With a young start in the political process, Ben could be a rising star with a positive and growing influence for decades to come.

In my days as a teacher and pastor, it was always tempting to focus nearly all my attention on the few students or parishioners who disruptively and consistently misbehaved. In so doing, I unintentionally rewarded their attention-getting devices exactly as they had hoped, and I unintentionally punished all the students who were quietly and consistently doing good work. That misguided reward-punishment system seems to be playing a part in some of our best politicians deciding to leave the profession early. And it could keep young political leaders, like Ben -- so full of potential and quietly doing good political work "the old fashioned way" -- at the margins or squeezed out of public service entirely.

That's why more and more of us need to start paying intentional attention to every politician in every party who doesn't choose to misbehave to get noticed. If you're looking for an example, I'd suggest Ben Lowe.