The counting’s over, what now?

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Most of the ballots have been counted. The mainstream media has called the election for President Barack Obama. Many are deeply disappointed, perhaps angry. Others are over-joyed, perhaps gloating. Some are suffering, more concerned with their need for food and shelter than in the outcome of an election. Regardless of your response to the election, its now over.

A question confronts us, one that meets us every morning whether we’re attentive to it. Will anything change unless I (we) change?

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The truth that we all know (and often fail to acknowledge) is that nothing will, or even can,change unless we change.

The market will not save us. Corporations will not deliver to us a life that is marked by a sense of peace, abundance, depth, warmth, and friendship.

The government will not deliver us. It will not create within us a sense of personal dignity, a valuable vocation, generosity, or contentment.

These ultimate virtues, these deep values that give shape to a good life, can only come through faith, through gift–they can only come in the context of a particular people in a particular place. Their genesis is in your family, your neighborhood, your church.

This theme, this hope, was tapped into by Barack Obama in 2008–the hope for a better, deeper life together as a nation.

I don’t believe that he did or could deliver this, but he certainly exposed a deep yearning in many for something richer, a fuller life.

In the end, to get that sort of life we have to create it. We have to reach outside of ourselves and cultivate it in the places we live. We have to choose it–casting a ballot for a life that values something more than material prosperity or governmental deliverance.

The question I’m asking myself as I sit in a plane somewhere over the nation’s heartland is: how will I be the change I wish to see in the world, at least in my part of the world?

I’m committing to do three things to play my part in creating a better life:

1. Slowing down. I want to savor life.
2. Giving thanks. I want to count blessings.
3. Reaching out. I want to deepen friendships.

What will you do to help create a richer life?

Why I cast a ballot but not a vote

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Across social media platforms friends and acquaintances are urging one another to get out and exercise their democratic right to vote. Those who don’t vote, so the popular wisdom goes, have neither the right to complain nor the right to express a political opinion. What’s more, they cheapen the sacrifices of many women and men who have died in defense of our nation.

I see their point, and respect their opinion. However, this year I chose to do something I have never done in a presidential election since voting in my first one back in 1996. I chose to cast a ballot, but not a vote. In other words, I chose to not make a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (or a non-major candidate).

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Some of you may find this a curious choice. I wrote earlier about why I was considering not voting in the election this year. Read “The Obama Conundrum”).

I am not a political realist. I don’t care much for making a choice between candidates simply because there are only two feasible options. I don’t feel the need violate some of my deepest religious convictions.

I stand by what I wrote earlier.

If I vote for Barack Obama I am casting a ballot for one of the most pro-choice presidents. [Note: My theological belief that all humanity is created in the image of God leads me to value life. For this reason I am deeply skeptical of capital punishment, to the point of thinking there ought to be a moratorium on it. I am also deeply skeptical of war and have a hard time understanding the almost frivolous attitude of some politicians toward it.] A good society is not one that kills its unborn children. And while it may be good to help those in need, it’s also true that the government brings with it a profound ability to dehumanize those it seeks to help, simply by the scale of its operation. The government is also unable to make moral distinctions based on anything other than utilitarian concerns.

On the other hand, neither is a good society one that abandons those most vulnerable to ‘fate.’ The Republican party has become the party of economic liberalism. Taking their cue from Adam Smith’s philosophical reflections (which are predicated on a sub-Christian understanding of morals, by the way) the Republican party has come to espouse the individual as the supreme economic actor. There is no authority (or at least few) that may interfere with the economic actions of the individual. All that is require is mutual consent (analogous to cultural liberalism’s ethics above). A fair wage is what a person may command in the current market; a fair price is what the product will command. There is no moral calculus beyond this, and any effort to introduce one distorts the sovereign market.

That’s why I cast a ballot, but not a vote for the office of President of the United States.

Five reasons you should give tonight’s debate a miss

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Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet tonight for the first of their first presidential debates. Coverage of the event has been building in the news media over the last couple of weeks. Who will the winner be? The loser? Can Obama deliver a knock out blow? Can Romney dent the President’s slight lead? Presidential debates are important part of the political spectacle that precedes an election. Yet, I think you should avoid watching the debate, as I plan to do.  

I have watched presidential debates for most of my adult life. In college and graduate school it was fun to get together with friends, especially friends with varying political philosophies. Later Anna (my wife) and I would get together with a cup of tea or a glass of wine to listen and discuss what we heard. And yet, this year I am giving the debates a pass and I want to encourage you to as well. Here’s why.

  1. Debates won’t change your mind. Evidence shows that in the vast majority of cases, presidential debates only serve to strengthen a prior belief about who to vote for. If you find yourself evenly split between the two candidates, I’d still encourage you to give the debate a miss for the reasons that follow.
  2. Debates don’t deliver content. There is little content in debates. Candidates rarely answer the questions posed in anything other than a superficial way which sets them up to quickly transition into a scripted talking point. Put another way, if a candidate performed this way in a court of law he would be cited for contempt.
  3. Post-debate analysis will focus on style. In our image-saturated culture the vast majority of analysis will focus on the candidates’ performance rather than their content. If you’re interested in who appeared to be in “in control,” “empathetic” (not likely this time around), and the like then, okay, check out the debate. In reality, debates are a form of sophistry whereby the candidates project an image and provide scripted comments designed to tickle the ears of voters.
  4. Commentators will engage in a proxy war. It’s inevitable that political commentators will be brought in. Those who are members of the political class are there for a single purpose: to spin the debate performance to create the right impression of the debate ex post facto. Their “analysis” is not analysis, it is political advertisement.
  5. You’d be better spent by taking an hour to read a few legitimate political writers. If you want to get a sense of the candidates, the issues, and state of the election I’d suggest turning to one or more trusted political writers. Each of these will have a competing slant to their writing. There is, after all, no such thing as objectivity so we shouldn’t be surprised by this. I recommend David Brooks (tends to be conservative) and E. J. Dionne (tends to be progressive).

Questions. Are you planning on watching the debate? Will you do so with others? What do you hope to gain from the experience?