The Common Good

It Takes a Movement: Moral Centering and Political Recalibration

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[Editor's Note: Today is the fifth installment of a six-part series by Jim Wallis reflecting on the past two years and painting a post-election vision for people of faith and Sojourners. We encourage you to read the essays, engage in conversation with others, and support Sojourners in making this vision happen.]

An election like this one always calls for both moral centering and political recalibration. Leaders of both parties were talking the morning after the election about cooperation to solve the nation's problems. We'll see, but that will likely also take a movement.

Despite huge Democratic losses in Congress, both sides acknowledge that Barack Obama is still president so what he now does is still important. And Obama has the beginnings of a framework for more serious change in some of what he has already done or proposed, but he will have to lift up a much more powerful vision for change, risk a bolder leadership style, and work with social movements as partners in a creative tension. What's lacking is the big vision and the big movement.

Obama could go back to where he should have begun -- with the need to create real jobs and good work that rebuilds the nation's crumbling physical and moral infrastructure -- roads, bridges, airports, rail transport, schools, and a new clean energy grid; undergirded by healthy families and communities; through new innovation and creative entrepreneurial leadership in all sectors, public and private partnership, focused investment, and a clear set of values. He could offer both a work ethic and work; an entire country of homes and buildings needs to be retrofitted for a renewable energy future -- work that cannot be outsourced to other countries. And when the private market isn't providing the leadership necessary, then smart public policy must provide the catalyst and the incentives. Obama has said some of this, but the nation has not heard a clear call for shared purpose, collective sacrifice, and persistent patience to accomplish a national vision and mission. And without that vision, the people are perishing.

What are some other basic building blocks?

Obama's education reform agenda is very likely the most far reaching and potentially most impacting of everything he has done so far -- and with bipartisan support. He could bridge the ideological gap between big and small government by leading with the idea pioneered by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in providing social services by partnering with both faith-based and secular nonprofit organizations. Conservatives have better understood the importance of culture than many liberals have, and Obama's Fatherhood and Mentoring Initiative has the potential to be one of the most culture-changing, and therefore, nation-changing things he has done. Instead of running away from the still deep and divisive issues of race in the United States, Obama could much more directly address them, as he did so brilliantly in his 2008 Philadelphia speech. And prioritizing real and comprehensive immigration reform could be a key part of a positive agenda for America's multicultural future. The president's early focus on ethics in government has mostly disappeared from view, but could be transformed into what will likely be the single most important issue in recovering our democracy -- the campaign for electoral financial reform.

Finally, the president's remarkable speech in Cairo, intended to reach out to the Muslim world, could be followed up with a real action plan, beyond endless wars of occupation. And the urgent need to turn the world toward nuclear disarmament, one of the things that keeps Obama awake at night, could be one of the signature accomplishments of this president.

Never has there been a time riper for a "call" and a "response."

[Part 6 of this series, "The Next Steps," will be available on the God's Politics blog tomorrow. Sojourners is building a movement to inspire hope, over fear. That's the message that must echo in 2010. Help us make it happen.]

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.


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