The Common Good

Dear Candidate: Talk About Your Goals

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It's midterm election time. How are you going to vote? Well, it's obvious, isn't it? Your side -- whichever it is -- is the only one that will save America from utter financial and moral collapse. The other side -- whichever it is -- is full of liars and hypocrites controlled by unscrupulous cabals who, for financial reasons, are willing to ruin the common man. And woman.

I am so tired of political invective. I have come close to unfriending some very nice people on Facebook because they are always saying nasty things about the only party of truth and light, i.e., the one I favor. (Though nasty internet comments are certainly not limited to discussions of politics: I just read through a long list of vicious personal attacks that had to do with the genetics of an Airedale Terrier.)

Can we for a moment lay aside our overweening sense of personal righteousness and talk reasonably about goals?

Politics is a process of people working together to achieve goals that are good for everybody. Often we agree on the goals, though we disagree violently about how to achieve them. For example, I imagine we all think that if a great-grandmother develops Alzheimer's disease and becomes difficult to care for, she should not be left in the street to fend for herself. We probably agree that all children who have the capacity to read and write should be taught to do so. The vast majority of us think it's a good idea for a large country like ours to have an interstate highway system. Nearly all of us would like to live in an economy where jobs are plentiful and wages are adequate.

Where we disagree, of course, is how to achieve our goals, and a two-or-multi-party system can stimulate our thinking by challenging our presuppositions and enlarging the range of options we consider. It's hard to believe, but several decades ago Democrats and Republicans often discussed issues respectfully and worked together to arrive at solutions. The Internet would allow us to do this again, if only we would stop calling names.

How are you going to vote in November? How about setting party labels aside and asking some goal-oriented questions of your candidates? And since many candidates are good at spinning their answers, how about setting campaign rhetoric aside and looking at what your candidates have actually accomplished in each area?

Here are ten goals that are important to me, with questions I need to consider:

  1. Which candidate's policies are more likely to help people escape from poverty? (I put this in first place because I am a Christian, and the ethical issue that receives the most space in the Bible is concern for the poor. I believe each party has a valid contribution to make to this issue, and I'd like to see both parties make it one of their major goals.)
  2. Whose policies are more likely to create long-term jobs?
  3. Whose policies will have a better effect on public health?
  4. Whose ideas are more likely to provide high-quality education for children of all socioeconomic levels?
  5. Whose ideas will better help us restore our decaying infrastructure?
  6. Who is more likely to handle finances responsibly, keeping budgets balanced and planning for the future?
  7. Who is more likely to show responsibility for the environment, keeping in mind not only our present needs but also the needs of generations to come?
  8. Who is least likely to bow to the special interests that are financing his or her campaign? Who is least likely to be influenced by lobbyists? For that matter, which special interests are behind which candidates? (Open Secrets is a nonpartisan site that will help you follow the money that is following your candidates.)
  9. Who is more likely to make accurate public statements? (Fact Check is a nonpartisan site that helps to sort out fact from fiction.) Note: It is possible to make an inaccurate statement without lying, but you probably don't want either a liar or an ignorant person representing you.
  10. Who has the better understanding of the common good -- that is, that society depends on our working together, especially to help those who can't help themselves and to build that which we can't build alone -- and not just on our getting the best possible deal for our individual selves?

I don't believe either party has a corner on morality, justice, truth, intelligence, or good will. There are a few people of integrity and a lot of scoundrels leading both parties. I'd like to see us stop bickering about means and get to the important questions -- what are we trying to accomplish in our towns, counties, states, and nation? And how can we work together to reach those goals?

portrait-lavonne-neffLaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust and at The Neff Review.

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