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Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Headshot

Can't Buy Me Love: Obama Gets a Lift in Florida

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When analysts look back at the presidential election of 2012, if President Barack Obama succeeds in getting re-elected, this may be the visual they use to understand why. Between love and hate, in politics as in life, love is the stronger and more enduring emotion. Indeed, as 1 Corinthians 13 teaches, love is the strongest motivation of all.

On Sunday, President Obama and his team went to visit Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Italian Restaurant in Fort Pierce, Fla. Their motivation was to visit the owner, Scott Van Duzer, in part to thank him for his charitable work in donating blood and encouraging others to do so. Van Duzer is a Republican, though he had voted for the President in the previous election. Van Duzer, who can bench press 350 pounds, lifted President Obama high in the air, though only after having previously checked with the Secret Service!

Twitter, Facebook and the whole blogsphere lit up almost instantly about this astonishing moment, and the regular news media were not far behind.

Yet, there are staggering amounts of money pouring into the presidential campaigns because of what is called the "Citizens United" decision by the Supreme Court. This has made "normal" political analysis nearly impossible, since PAC (political action committee) money is independent of candidates and not subject to the ordinary guidelines for political advertising. This has led to the "fact-free" approach that has been favored by the Republicans though in truth fact-checkers are working over-time on both campaigns.

Love may be stronger than death (Song of Solomon 8:6), but is it stronger than big money politics in the age of the Super PACs? Indeed, President Obama's campaign outraised the Romney campaign in August. So, it's fair to ask, how are these issues connected? Do people give because they connect emotionally with a candidate, or does the increased exposure of a candidate through advertising increase giving?

When I was President of Chicago Theological Seminary I raised money to support our educational program morning, noon and night for 10 years. I can tell you for a fact that giving money is very often highly personal and very, very emotional. People give because they connect emotionally with you and your program or cause. This kind of giving is about love, the love that the New Testament talks about called agape, a Greek word used in the New Testament that means the love that transcends personal interest for the sake of something bigger.

But that does not mean that "love conquers all" as perhaps some greeting card companies would like us to believe. After Van Duzer bear-hugged the President and the news got out, his business got negative reviews on Yelp, though positive ones outnumber the negative ones. The intensity of emotions in a political campaign cuts both ways, and love does not always "conquer all" by a long shot.

Emotional connection is crucial in deciding elections, however, as Drew Westen argues in "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation." To me that means even in elections, or perhaps I am saying, especially in elections, emotional connection comes first, and politics follows.

As a Christian and a minister, I believe that love is stronger than hate, but I also believe it is very unwise to underestimate the power of negative emotions and the role they play not only in politics, but in human life and community.

But this I do believe. You can't buy agape love.