US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Vote your values: Character matters in picking politicians

By David Paul Eich | Print this pagePrint |
Politics as usual doesn't inspire hope for one Catholic grandfather. Candidates ought to answer the tough questions about who they are, he says.

On November 7, 2006, the Democrats won both the Senate and House of Representatives, and many "blue state" supporters were already predicting a White House victory in the 2008 election. Republicans, on the other hand, were busy pointing fingers at both President Bush and party leadership for failing to maintain power in Washington.

Meanwhile, Miss Natalie Rose had just learned how to pull books through the bed rails of her crib. She discovered that "standing" gave her a new visual perspective to the world and that mashed potatoes may be the most wonderful thing on the planet.

As one network after another clamored for interviews with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a lone republican had already announced that his job was to make sure that she would be limited to a single term. Democratic leadership promised to reach across the aisle to their adversaries, and the sitting president echoed that both political parties would work together for the good of the nation.

During those days our only grandchild was more interested in a 4-foot stuffed bear named Henry. And though her eyes did occasionally drift toward the television as scores of Americans were waving the "red, white, and blue," their euphoria was of little interest to her.

As we fast-forward to the 2008 election, our granddaughter continued to grow in size and wisdom. Hours before Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States, she pulled out a wooden map and pointed to the Midwest "mitten," proudly announcing to her younger sisters, "That's where Nana and Granddad live." And cousin Connor moved to Connecticut only days after another cousin, Alessio, was born minutes away from where the president-elect had paid tribute to his supporters on a November evening in Chicago.

Now in 2010 it's politics as usual, with both sides on Capitol Hill accusing each other of numerous political atrocities. And though I bask in the glory of five grandchildren, with a sixth on the way, I remain very concerned for their future.

Having voted in countless elections I have come to the conclusion that what I think rarely matters. What candidates promise rarely happens; and that pre-election rhetoric is often mothballed until the next election when the incumbent's opponent reminds voters of broken promises.

So rather than wait for November's carnage, I want those who serve in public office to explain who they really are, what they truly stand for, and why grandparents like me should vote for them. All politicians certainly rally behind health care access, higher education standards, lower poverty rates, safer communities, more/better paying jobs, a stronger economy, bringing the troops home and protecting the American way of life. Though all these issues are critically important, voters need to probe a little deeper. Here's what I would ask the candidates:

On accountability: Will you follow the rules as dictated by the laws of this nation and the protocols expected of those in your position? Will you be able to make tough decisions and accept the consequences of those decisions? Will you accept the responsibility for the actions of those you hire, endorse, or engage? Will you share credit for successes and avoid blame for failures, regardless of political affiliation?

On appreciation: Do you have a full awareness of how blessed you are? Do you realize that the vast majority of your supporters need no reward for their endorsement other than the peace of mind that you will do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason?

On clarity: Obviously you are in the persuasion business. With that in mind, will you be straight forward in your deliberations, avoiding clever deceptions hidden in legal wrangling and obtuse language? Is it reasonable to assume you will not associate with those who suggest you conceal your agenda? And when you declare that "the American people" feel this or that way, will you back-up your statement with facts instead of blindly reading a script prepared by a staffer who gives you what he or she thinks will make you look good before the cameras? When you defend your position, will you promise not to change what you originally said or hide behind the "out of context" defense?

On compassion: Are you willing to stand up for those whose station in life is well below that which you have been given? Are you prepared to talk with the poor, not about them? Will you defend those who can't defend themselves, especially future citizens currently residing in the womb? Will "sacrifice" become your legacy reaching far beyond televised Christmas Day soup lines?

On discernment: Do you have the moral compass needed to make decisions regardless of "politically correct" agendas, pressure from special interest groups or voting alliances, or man-made arguments challenging time-honored principles?

On faith: Ultimately you will be judged by what you have done or failed to do. Will you refuse to genuflect to those whose god is a kaleidoscope of freedoms without responsibility, arrogance without humility, and debauchery without self control? Do you have the spiritual fortitude necessary to trust God, His principles, and the eternal hope He offers?

On fidelity: Will you be faithful to your vows, obligations, duties, observances, the Pledge of Allegiance, and Constitution of the United States? Will you stand behind the tenet, "a promise is a promise"?

On forbearance: Are you prepared to deal with political setbacks, betrayal, and indifference? Can you swallow your pride and move on when it is apparent that you are not going to win? And do you have the character to delay gratification and/or accept difficult circumstances?

On forgiveness: If heaven is your destination, then forgiveness is your passport. Will you have the courage to ask forgiveness and are you willing to forgive fellow colleagues for their transgressions?

On freedom: Are you in full support of the Bill of Rights and its inherent freedoms? Will you acknowledge that all citizens must control their actions, desires, and passions for the sake of personal welfare and the welfare of others? And are you willing to insist on obedience where rules and limits must be enforced while supporting those who have the authority to do so?

On integrity: Many government servants begin their career with a sincere desire to serve the public for the greater good but too often discover how the system works, necessitating a personal sea-change in philosophy, priorities, and ultimately one's character. Do you have the fortitude to resolutely face difficulties while standing strong in your beliefs? And are you willing to accept political crucifixion for these principles?

On social justice: Is it your desire that all citizens receive equal treatment in the social arena--education, economics, health care, and criminal justice? Can you demonstrate tolerance and respect for different races, religions, cultures, and customs while at the same time recognize that intolerance is sometimes necessary where common sense and/or the loss of America's founding principles are at risk?

On behalf of my grandchildren, I sincerely hope that those who will cast their votes this November will heed Abraham Lincoln's warning: "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you're to test a man's character, give him power."

Image: Flickr photo cc by farmgalphotos